By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - The second he walked off the bus, Travis Williams realized this was no ordinary football game.
"I remember Tiger Walk was one of the biggest I've ever been a part of," Williams recalled. "Overall, just an awesome bowl to be a part of."
A junior linebacker on Auburn's 2004 SEC Champion team, Williams and the Tigers beat Virginia Tech 16-13 in the 2005 Sugar Bowl to cap a 13-0 season, earning a No. 2 ranking.
"It was a great experience," Williams said. "It's a great bowl. We were undefeated. Playing a great Virginia Tech team. We were excited to be there. We were in New Orleans. They do a really great job at that bowl site."
After three quarters, the Tigers led 16-0. The Hokies scored 13 points in the final 7 minutes.
"We knew they had a pretty good defense," Williams said. "We knew we had a good defense. We had a shutout for most of the game until the end. Just a great atmosphere, coming out of the tunnel, seeing them coming out of the tunnel. It was awesome. Playing in the dome was really good. I think every college student-athlete would want to experience the Sugar Bowl."
Williams, the Tigers' linebackers coach, will experience the Allstate Sugar Bowl again when No. 14 Auburn plays No. 7 Oklahoma on Jan. 2 at 7:30 p.m.
"I know one thing, they've got a really good quarterback and a really good team," Williams said. "They lost two games early, then won nine straight, which is very impressive. It's going to be a really good game. We're playing a really good team."
After time off this week for final exams, Auburn will begin preparing for the Sooners. Williams has already crafted the message he'll deliver to his linebackers.
"Embrace it," he said. "Continue to be part of the process of getting better. Once we get there, it's their time. It's something they earned, so embrace it and have fun. But have a plan of coming out and playing our best football on the 2nd."
Auburn will try to strike the right balance between a reward and a business trip.
"When we're in the meetings, it's meeting time," Williams said. "When we're at practice, it's practice time. When they have time to go on their own, it's time to have fun, the right way. They earned a chance to be in New Orleans at a big-time bowl. You want them to have fun. You're going down there to win the game. That's the main focus, to go win the game."
Williams remembers savoring the city's famous culinary reputation.
"Really just enjoying the culture," he said. "Eating a lot of Cajun food. There's a lot of food from down there that I don't usually eat. My wife is from New Orleans. That part of it was really good. Seafood and things like that, they give you a chance to experience the culture. I really like that part of it."
Just like he did a dozen years ago, Williams looks forward to getting off the bus two hours before kickoff at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
"It was awesome," he said. "We have the best fans in college football. It's not even close. They travel to every game for Tiger Walk, rain or sun or cold, they're there. I'm very thankful for the fans that we have. They give us that extra boost when we're out there on the field. It's been great ever since I was a player.
"While I'm a coach, it's still great. It's always good to go out at Tiger Walk and shake hands and hug babies and all of that good stuff. That's one of the favorite parts of gameday for me."
In his first season as an assistant coach on Gus Malzahn's staff, Williams' linebackers have contributed to an Auburn defense ranked fifth in the nation in scoring, allowing only 15.6 points per game.
"They really took on the challenge this year," Williams said. "We've got one game to go. Every game is another chapter in our book. At the end of the season we want to be able to read our book and hopefully it's a good book to read. Every game, I tell them, `It's just a new chapter.'
"And we just keep a mindset that nobody thought we were going to be worth very much. We've got to keep that mindset. After this next game, it's a new chapter. It's a new book we get to write next year. So if we just keep that mentality and keep that chip on our shoulder, and getting better, we should be a good group."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer