Steen Says Tide Must Win Up Front

Many, many years ago in a conversation about an upcoming college football game between two teams I knew little about, I was advised to "Go with the best coach." That advice came from the greatest coach I've ever known.

As Alabama prepares to play Auburn Saturday, there is little question that the greatest football coach of this era will be on the Crimson Tide sideline. Nick Saban is acknowledged by all but the most delusional of haters as the best in college football.

Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn, though, is certainly due praise for the job he has done this year. The Tigers were winless in the Southeastern Conference last year and have rebounded to have a chance to play for the SEC championship with essentially the same players.

Alabama offensive guard Anthony Steen, a veteran starter on two Bama national championship teams, sees the difference in Auburn this year.

"From what I've seen, it's the same team," Steen said. "They just have something a little more to fight for. I know the coach there will give them something to fight for and that goes a long way, honestly. They know what they want; they know what we want. It's going to be a fight."

Steen, a 6-3, 309-pound senior from Clarksdale, Miss., not only recognizes the difference in 2012 Auburn and 2013 Auburn, he understands it. When Alabama played the Tigers last season, Auburn had already lost eight games. "They're not going to play as hard," Steen said. "Last year they had lost so many games that they kind of gave up when we started scoring."

Alabama scored and scored and scored against Auburn last year. The Tide's first seven possessions resulted in seven touchdowns and the starters had much of the day off in the 49-0 win.

"They're a different team this year," Steen said. "They may be the same guys, but they have a different mindset and they play harder.

"So we know it's going to be a tough game."

Auburn has a 10-1 record, including a 6-1 record in SEC games. The Tigers are ranked fourth in the nation. Alabama, winners of the past two national championships and ranked first in the nation all year, is 11-0 overall and 7-0 in conference games. The winner of Saturday's game will represent the Western Division in the SEC Championship Game a week from Saturday.

Kickoff at Auburn Saturday will be at 2:30 p.m. CST. CBS will televise the game. Steen said he can tell this is a different week, even though preparation is the same as every game week. "We're doing the same thing," he said. "As players, I notice out there we're practicing a little harder. We should. We should treat it as a big game. It's the biggest game we've had. I know I practiced a little harder today. At the end of practice I realized I was pretty tired. Right now, we're having a good week."

Steen wasn't the only one who noticed a bit of fatigue in a two-hour, full gear practice in the indoor facility. Steen said that's when quarterback A.J. McCarron shows leadership.

"Like today, when we started to get a little tired toward the end of practice, he stepped in and said something and tried to keep us going and push ourselves," Steen said. "He's one of those guys that will push us when we start getting tired. He does a great job of that."

Steen wasn't on the trip for the Alabama win over the Tigers in Auburn in 2009 and said he didn't really remember much about the 2011 victory in Auburn in 2011, even though he was the starter at right guard. "Not a whole lot," he said when asked of his memories of that 2011 game. "I don't really look at the past all that much. What was the score? Forty-something? [42-14] Hopeuflly, we'll go out there and do it again. But it's the SEC. It's always tough."

Steen does remember playing against Auburn defensive lineman Gabe Wright the past two years. "He's always been a great player, I thought," Steen said. "From what I've heard, he's gotten pretty good this year. The other tackle is supposedly just as good. I heard a few comments on 30 (defensive end Dee Ford) and 94 (end Nosa Eguae) and 55 (end Carl Lawson). They're pretty good; probably will be the best D-line we face. That's why we're here practicing our hardest so we get prepared."

Steen said he and his teammates have watched "a good bit of film on them, mostly the recent games. From what we've seen, it's going to be physical up front. We've got to win up front if we want to win this game."

Steen practiced with a soft cover on his hand in practice. "We're just being a little cautious for this game," he said. "It's a big game, as you all know."

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