Chizik, Auburn Players Discuss Bowl Game

Comments from Gene Chizik, Philip Lutzenkirchen and Nosa Eguae are featured in this Chick-fil-A Bowl report.

Atlanta, Ga.--Comments are from Wednesday's Chick-fil-A Bowl Auburn press conference featuring Coach Gene Chizik, junior tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen and sophomore defensive end Nosa Eguae. Auburn will play Virginia at 6:30 p.m. CST on Saturday evening at the Georgia Dome.

Coach, talk about how your bowl week experience has been thus far.

Chizik: "It's been great. Number one, we're very blessed to be here. We feel very fortunate we were selected by the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Our kids have had a blast. The hospitality is second to none. Everything is done first class. We had a great FCA breakfast this morning that all the players got a lot out of.

"In terms of just the bowl and what these guys have been able to do in terms of having a mixture of hard work yet still being able to do some really team activities together, it's been great so we're excited to be here. We're just really excited and appreciative to be here. Like I said, it's been a great week so far."

Philip, we were talking about the battle for bowl week competitions against Virginia. Talk about what that's been like and kind of a unique experience for you guys so far.

Lutzenkirchen: It's been fun. Chick-Fil-A has been doing a great job of keeping our mind off football when we're not in practice, making it another competition with Virginia, basketball pop a shot, who can eat the most food at restaurants, stuff like that. We're all having fun, enjoying the events they're holding for us."

Nosa, what is your favorite competition going to be?

"I love the Brazilian steakhouse. Eating there has to be my favorite."

Coach, can you talk about how your tailbacks have responded in bowl practice to the opportunity they have this week?

Chizik: "I think they see this as a great opportunity. We have some young guys on the team that are going to embrace this opportunity that they have. Onterio McCalebb will obviously have to play a more significant role when it comes to carrying the football. Not that we'll change what he does. He will have to do a little bit more of it.

"Tre Mason has embraced the situation in terms of an opportunity. It's a great opportunity for a true freshman to be able to come into a game like this and have the chance to show his teammates, the Auburn family, he's going to be a really good player down the road. I think that's exciting for him.

"The other thing is I think the rest of our offense has embraced the fact that we got to take it to another level to give these guys the opportunity to run the football. I think our offensive line feels that way, the tight ends. Everybody involved in the offense, everybody has to pick it up a notch and take it to another level."

This is Gus Malzahn's swan song. When you look at the game plan he put together, are you pretty happy with what he put together and the way he wants to go out?

Chizik: "I'll tell you after the game. I'm just kidding (laughter). Gus has done a great job. I'm appreciative. Gus has a lot of irons in the fire right now. It's tough serving two masters, so to speak, but he cares enough about the players and about Auburn to stay here through the bowl game. I'm very appreciative of that.

"He's been very focused when it's time to focus on Auburn and us being able to be very competitive in the game. I think he's done a tremendous job. It's hard to balance the two, there's no question. He's trying to put together a staff, he's trying to recruit, yet he's trying to win his last game for Auburn.

"I'm very appreciative of him, him staying for the bowl game. He wouldn't have it any other way. That's the way he want it. He'll have a great game plan. I think the guys will execute it really well. No doubt about it. I'm very appreciative and I think it's going very well."

For both the players, talk about the trip to the MLK Center yesterday, what you got out of that.

Eguae: "It was a great experience just to be able to go to such an historical site and learn, not even for this, but for our nation, how it was a big development in Congressman Lewis' life, him giving us his firsthand experience. You can read about it, but when you hear it firsthand experience, there is nothing like it and it's something I'll be able to tell my kids about."

Lutzenkirchen: "Being from Atlanta I've had the chance to go there on high school field trips. I was telling the guys before what they're going to experience, the feelings that are going to be brought up. Like Nosa said, how important it is for this country. It's awesome to get the guys on this team from Alabama who haven't seen it before to get that experience as well."

Philip Lutzenkirchen (left) and Nosa Eguae (right) answer questions on Wednesday in Atlanta.

Coach, it seems like the defensive players have responded to how tough you've been as coordinator. Are you going to apply that in your search for a new coordinator, looking for a tough love guy?

Chizik: "I just want the best fit for our players. Whatever and whoever that best fits, that is my number one priority. I want a guy that's going to care about the players. I want a guy that's going to be very demanding and make the players very accountable, but making sure that he loves them as much as he coaches them and gets on them, too. I think that's the way you coach. That's the way I coach.

"I feel good about the direction that we're headed, but my number one goal will be always for these players to bring in who I think is the best fit for them and for Auburn."

Coach, building off the MLK question, can you talk about the benefit of the bowl week experience as opposed to a regular game day.

Chizik: "Well, these bowl games, it's all about the players. It's all about rewards for the players. We were talking about it on the car ride coming over here how long these seasons are. You go out there and practice 15 times to play in one game, that's not always fun. I mean, let's just be realistic about it. It's hard work. It's tough work.

"For them to be able to practice in the morning, breakaway from anything that normally, like going to different places they've gone to and experienced, to go into the Martin Luther King Center, different places they've eaten and things like that, they're not going to do that on their own. For the most part they're not going to do that.

"I think it's a great opportunity for our guys to escape football, when it's time to escape football, give them a reward for things they've worked so hard for. We've had a season, had some great times, had some tough times. I want these guys to have a great end of the season with a great bowl reward. It's invaluable they can do things outside of football that have nothing to do with football where they can learn about Martin Luther King, they can learn about different things, experience different cultures, different parts of the culture other than going to school, study hall, playing football. This gives you an opportunity to do that. That's why I embrace these times for these players."

Philip, do you have a comment on that?

Lutzenkirchen: "Yeah, just getting the opportunity to see different places. I'm from here. It's cool to have some of my teammates and friends on the team experience what I grew up around, my city, which is Atlanta. It's a good opportunity for me to learn more about me from visiting this city."

Nosa, what about you?

Eguae: "Me, being from Texas, I was here last year for the SEC championship, my brother lives here, but things that I haven't seen, the MLK Center, those type of deals, I enjoy it. Every time you get a chance to be at a bowl site, no matter where it is, you take it all in and you enjoy it."

Coach and Nosa, these bowl practices, how beneficial has it been in terms of a building block for next season?

Chizik: "Well, it's really neat to see. We finished the season, they got a couple weeks off, come back, it's neat to see some of the young guys in that two week span of being separated from football and being separated from their first year. This is almost like a pre spring practice. You can already watch those guys come back two weeks later after the last game and they already look better.

"It's really a good thing to see because we feel like the future is extremely bright. We have a lot of really good young players. You can see them just in this window of however many practices we've had, you can see them getting better. I think everybody would agree with that.

"It's definitely invaluable that we get the extra practice time. There's no question about it. The young guys, the freshmen, the redshirt freshmen, those two classes together, are big for us. I think it's invaluable."

Eguae: "I agree with Coach Chizik. Just the experience you get with the two weeks where you get to go out there every single day and get better at your craft. Teams that don't make it to a bowl game, those are two weeks you have on them.

"As far as workouts go, spring football, those are practices that are big, but two weeks you can get that, yeah, we're focusing on Virginia, but we're focusing on getting better at what we do. Every day we have to focus on getting better at one thing, continue to get better as a football team, but get better as a player, too."

Philip, in what way does the offense look different without Mike back there?

Lutzenkirchen: "I think when Mike was with us, he was the downhill type runner, power back. You saw out of Onterio and Tre the jet motion type runs, sweeps, spring passes. I think both guys are taking that personal, with a chip on their shoulder. They want to be that inside zone runner, downhill road runner. I'm sure you'll see some of that. I can't wait to see what they do on the field."

Coach, being you will have the players here that played at the Georgia Dome before, a lot of players are from Georgia, how much of a home field advantage do you think this gives your team?

Chizik: "I think anytime that you've experience the place that you're playing in, I certainly feel like it doesn't hurt. How much of a home field advantage will it be? I know the Auburn family is going to show up and they're going to be loud and they're going to do their part like they do when we play at home. How much of an advantage that will be for us, I don't know. I'm sure Virginia will bring the same amount and it will be crazy both sides.

"The one thing I do feel good about is that we've played in this venue before and it's really neat.We're going to play in this venue twice in a row, at the beginning of next year. I think we have a little bit more of a familiarity with it and that's a good thing for us. I don't know what kind of advantage that may create."

Lutzenkirchen: "I said the other day that our fans, we could play in Boise, we would have the same amount of fans travel out there. That's the kind of passion we have at Auburn. Virginia is going to travel well, too. It's their first bowl game in a couple years. They'll be all jacked up. It's going to be a great environment. Might give us a little bit of an upper hand playing on this turf before, being used to the lights, practice all week. We're excited for the opportunity to be here and play in the Georgia Dome again."

Coach Chizik, talking about Virginia, you've seen them on game film for the last couple weeks. Specifically what have you seen and what are you impressed about them?

Chizik: "I see a very well coached football team. Mike (Coach Mike London) has done a very nice job. If you just talk about the defensive side of the ball, very sound at what they do. They don't try to get flashy. They play hard, play physical.

"If you look at the stats in the ACC, defensively they're going to be in the top three or four stats in a lot of different categories. They just play hard and physical. Their coaches coach them hard. They get to the football. It's really fun to watch their defense from a defensive perspective because they do a lot of great things.

"Offensively, it's very problematic because they're all over the place. They're shifting, motion, trading. It gives them a different advantage right now when it comes to moving the football. They have running backs right now that are physical enough to run downhill, yet they can break it to the perimeter. They have great vision. When they get to the perimeter they can run.

"They've got some wide receivers that obviously can make some plays down the field. Their offensive line is big and physical. They want to run the ball first, play action off that. They can run the ball vertically down the field, too. The challenge for playing them offensively for Auburn's defense is there's a lot of moving parts to them. That's part of what makes them good, but very well coached."

You don't have a lot of seniors, but these guys have been around for a while, kind of have experienced a lot of ups and downs. Talk about the contribution those guys have made to the program, wanting to send them out the right way.

Chizik: "We do. Philip and Nosa can speak from a players' perspective. You never want your seniors to go out on a sour note. They've put a lot of time, blood, sweat and tears into Auburn. It's very important for us to win this bowl game for a lot of reasons, but one of them being them.

"They've had a lot of different scenarios. The guys that are seniors here, most of them have been through a coaching change. They got recruited by one coach, all of a sudden this other guy comes in. There's been a lot of change, but there's been a lot of great things for them, too. They've experienced a national championship, which as we all know are very hard to come by, and an SEC championship. They've experienced some bowl games, three in a row now, which is exciting for them. But, again, we want to send them out on a good note."

Coach, it's going to be a unique experience, head coach/defensive coordinator on Saturday. Has it been a greater workload since you took on that extra responsibility and any advantages to it?

Chizik: "Part A, yes. It has been a greater workload. Part B, I haven't found any advantages to it yet, but I've had a lot of fun. All joking aside, I've been defensive coordinator for 12 or 13 years, obviously. It's kind of like getting on a bike and start riding it again, but you have two jobs. It's been challenging, no question about it. Probably the thing that I've enjoyed the most about it is getting back in there in a lot of depth with the players. I miss that. Not that I don't do it as a head coach, but you're a little more spread out when you're doing the head coaching thing.

"It's been challenging, but it really has been a lot of fun for me. I've really enjoyed the part of being hands on with the guys. They've really responded well. I'm really proud of them. It's a little bit different probably in some ways, but we've had a lot of fun. I hope they can say the same thing.

Philip, can you talk about the season you've had, the progress you've had in your Auburn career, your knack for being in the end zone?

Lutzenkirchen: "I've had the most fun this season, probably the most fun I've had in all three seasons. We won the national championship last year, which was fun, a blessing last year. This year we didn't know our identity going into the season. Just being a part of helping all these younger guys grow, watching the team evolve as the season has gone on has been an amazing experience for me.

"Kind of being one of the leaders on this team, along with Nosa, has been special for me. I know I have a lot of work to do to get to where I want to be, I'm just going to keep working at it."

Coach, there's a report saying you're going to be doing guest spots on the national championship game. Seems out of character for you. Is that going to be weird putting yourself out there so much?

Chizik: "No, it's not going to be weird for me. Might be weird for the people that are watching me (laughter). But, yeah, I decided to do that. I feel like it's great exposure for Auburn, without question. I feel like me being in this league, having information about both football teams that I think would be helpful for the viewers if they want to ask me questions in regard to the game where I can impart some information I know. I think it will be fun, but again, it's great exposure for Auburn. The SEC's tradition over the last several years of playing in that game obviously is big, so I decided to do it. I decided to do it. I think it will be a lot of fun.

UVA's offense, how much motion they have, have you faced a team that has a similar offense like them?

Chizik: "No, we haven't. We faced some teams that move some, try to get you discombobulated, but this is pretty much three fourths of the games. It's kind of a catch me if you can type situation, so much movement, trading in shifts, different personnel groupings, things of that nature, it's very challenging. Nobody that we've played does quite this amount of extensive moving. So it's a little bit different than everybody we've faced this year."

The 2012 schedule came out this morning. Could you comment on that, how it came out for you guys.

Chizik: "I think we have a great schedule next year. I think our home schedule is really good. Obviously, Texas A&M joined the league so we have them. We're playing Texas A&M. We've never played those guys before. We traded Florida. If there wasn't any change in the league, we obviously would have been going to Florida to play. We've got Vanderbilt. We're excited about opening the season next year with Clemson here. Our non conference schedule right now is good.

"When you play in this league, the eight games you got to play in this conference schedule, they're a bear. We've got our work cut out for us. Obviously, we have Arkansas, Georgia, LSU, I think an A&M at home, then we have our tough road games at Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Alabama.

"At home we have the defending SEC West champions coming in, defending SEC East champions coming in. It's a good schedule. It will obviously always be challenging as long as you're in this league, but it will be fun and we're looking forward to it, starting with our opening game in the dome here."

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