"We have obviously another great challenge for Auburn this week. We have an early game with Vanderbilt. This is a very good football team, and if you look at just how they're playing, even in their last game last week with Florida just a very hard fought game down to the end.
"This is a team that, if you look at their record, it's not going to be impressive on paper, as is ours, but they've had some really, really good football teams that they've played. Their four losses have come to teams that are very good. Three of those four obviously are Top 15 teams in the country at some point or another. They had a very good win on the road against Missouri so they played really, really well on the road in an SEC game. This is a good football team. It's going to be a great challenge for us.
"We're looking forward to another opportunity to go out there and play. We're continuing to work in that direction. I have to give Coach (James) Franklin a lot of credit for his team that really, really plays hard on both sides of the ball. They're very impressive to watch on film. Again, I think it's going to be a great challenge for us, and we'll have to play very well to beat them Saturday at their place. They're a football team that's very active and very well coached."
What is the biggest challenge at this point of the season?
"Our focus every day is to improve and win. We have challenges on our team in every phase. I think that's obvious if you watch us play. We have one goal, and just like I talked to them, we're not coming off the goal. The goal is to every day stay positive and every day to go out to practice and work to continue to improve. That probably sounds very simplistic, but that is the message."
On keeping team morale high?
"When you get to these situations for young guys it requires leadership and a lot of an unbending mentality in the direction that you have to head and how to try to get there. I am the leader of the team and the leader of the group, and I'm unbending with how I approach every day with our football team.
"In your life and in football certainly, which has a lot of parallels, you have one choice. You keep fighting on and you keeping doing the things that you have to do to improve in life, your quality of life, or in football, your quality of football. That's really the message. There's no magic.
"Obviously, our players are disappointed. They're in a place that's been really uncharted waters for anybody that's been here, including myself, but as coaches, that's our job--to lead young men and lead them through the pits and valleys of tough times.
"There's no magic formula to it. You have to get up every day, and you have to make a conscious choice to come in and work. I am proud of our team because every practice that we've had, certainly in the last couple of weeks they've really tried to stay on track on the track to improvement. That's all I can ask out of our football team."
On practice going well, but not seeing it in the game results?
"There really can't be anything that compounds the frustration more than losing. When you go out there and you work and you feel like you're making strides on the practice field and they don't necessarily always show up on Saturday, certainly that is something that we have to overcome.
"I think that if you look, there are glaring moments when plays have to be made at certain times in the games, particularly when the game is close on the line in the fourth quarter, that aren't being made. You can point to, over the last few weeks, several things that we just did not execute. We've had receivers who had two or three steps on the DBs, and we overthrow it.
"Even Saturday, there's 9:48 left in the game, and we have the ball, and it's a seven-point game. It's third and one, and we're going to get the first down. Except, third and one is a lot different than third and six, and we jump offside. Those are the execution issues that keep showing up that we know we have to improve. I can go down several of those types of moments. When you keep hearing the same things...because you guys keep asking me the same questions so I'm going to keep giving you the same answer--it's execution. We have to improve."
Have you decided on a starting quarterback?
"We have to look at the health of Kiehl (Frazier) and see where he is today, but to answer your question at this moment, no. I think we're going to have to play it by ear and let it be similar to last week. When you have health issues--which quarterback isn't going to be the only place--we have those decisions to make. You can't make those on a Tuesday before you've even practiced."
Will there be more personnel changes?
"We're going to look at some young guys again. I think if you just kind of look at the evolution of some of the defensive guys right now--prime examples being Jonathan Jones and Josh Holsey–there are two true freshmen starting corners. There are going to be guys like that, both offensively and defensively that we're going to look at seeing if they're ready to get on the field and execute. We'd like to work in that direction with some younger guys. We'll start evaluating each guy to see exactly if they're ready by Saturday, and if they are, then you could see some younger guys out there."
"Day by day. I think that's going to be another example of we're not really going to know until Wednesday-ish. We'll see where they are today obviously. By Wednesday, we usually have a pretty good idea where they're going to be headed health-wise by Saturday."
What is the status of Reese Dismukes for this week's game?
"Yes, same situation. When you talk about health issues, there are some that you have really good ideas early in the week, depending on the severity of the injury. You're not at liberty to say because I'm not a doctor, and I'm not qualified to do that. Some are pretty glaring early in the week. Some are not. All those situations are different."
On limiting the outside distractions with the team struggling?
"With our football team, when we were 14-0 and we were on that run, we constantly talked about eliminating all of the outside distractions because there can be outside distractions, whether you're doing great or whether you're doing not as well as you would certainly like to be doing.
"The great thing about college football is everybody has an opinion. It's the greatest sport on the planet, and part of what makes it so great in this part of the country is that everybody does have an opinion. When you get into this, if you're not strong enough to handle that, then you're in the wrong business, both as a player and a coach.
"For the players--because they are in a different generation and a different time and world--when they go out and they leave the building, they are going to read and hear everything out there. We're not going to be able to control that, but it all comes down to how you process that mentally. You have to be strong enough to block out all of the positives when they are telling you how great you are because you're never that great, and you have to be able to block out the negatives when they tell you how bad you are, because you're never that bad.
"That's the message I give to our team on a daily basis. Now, how much they choose to listen and buy into what everybody's opinion is, I can't control that, but I can control it while they are here and try to educate them and teach them that that's the way it will be the rest of their life.
"For me personally, I don't live my life that way. That's just not how I live my life. I know exactly what I want, and I know exactly what my direction is, and I don't get influenced by the opinions of other people, and that will never change with me.
"Now, can I speak for 125 guys when they walk out of this building? No, but I can try to educate them. I've been through tremendous, fantastic things as a coach in college football. I've been through some valleys so I understand how the whole ebb and flow of the nature of a college football season may go, good or bad. My job is to really help young guys that really, really want to win and really, really want to be good and they want to be the best at their trade and when there are struggles going on how to deal with those; that's my job.
"That's what we try to do here, as all of our coaches do. I think most of our kids really hear that and they understand, and I think they learn lessons because there are a lot of our guys on our team that heard the same story two years ago, but it was flipped. I love our guys. They are trying to battle through a tough time and we are going to help them do it."
On Pat Dye's comments on radio show questioning the toughness of the quarterbacks and the quality of play of the offense:
"Coach Dye was a tremendous football coach, and I've got a lot of respect for Coach Dye without question. I can't spend a lot of time and energy in deliberation about whether what somebody said--whether it was Coach Dye or whether it was an alum from 1968 that nobody knows who he or she is. I don't have an opinion on that, because my day, when I walk through the door, consists of my coaches and my players and the direction we're headed.
"I'll go back to what I said before. What makes college football great is that there are going to be people on the radio, on the TV, and there's going to be people outside now that can say and do whatever they want and it can be as public as it can be, and hey, that's great, that's great. But if I concern myself with all of that, then that would suck then energy and the life out of me trying to do a job here that I know I've got to stay concentrated on one thing--trying to keep my coaches and my players on the path of improvement. I've got a high level of respect for Coach Dye. I heard what you said, I respect what you said, but I can't spend my time one way or the other with that type of stuff."
Did you anticipate it might take time to develop an offensive identity when switching to a pro-style offense?
"It's been a struggle, there's no question about it. I can't say that I had this magical day that I thought it was all of a sudden going to be okay. For me to stand up here and say that I am okay with where we are, that's not true.
"We've got so much improvement to go--pretty much in every facet of our offensive game--but to know when it would click, I can't say that I know that. To be honest with you, that's not something that I can spend a lot of time and energy worrying about or thinking about. I've got to figure, and we've got to figure out as a staff, how to move forward and improve and that's the energy we use every day we step into the building."
On if there is anything he thinks he can do better as a coach to turn the season around?
"I come in here every day and I do all the things within the program that I feel can have an impact on coaches and players. As a coach, that's what I concentrate on every day, and there are numerous things we can all get better at. For me to stand up here and say right now that I'm doing everything right and everybody else is doing everything wrong, that would not be true and that would certainly not be the right message. I can improve just as well as everybody else; again, we're all working in that direction."
On Vanderbilt's football team?
"I just think, as I mentioned about Vanderbilt earlier, that this is a team that you can tell when you turn on the film they play extremely hard. Offensively, they've got a tailback that is extremely, extremely talented; they have a couple of different wideouts that are very, very good; and the quarterback is a guy that can really manage the offense.
"Defensively, the thing that is most impressive about them--it's really been difficult for people to throw the ball on them. That's one of the things that stands out and then just how hard they play defensively is very, very impressive.
"If you just go back and look at the Florida game from last week, if you look at the final score, I'm not sure what you think, but it was certain not indicative of how the game flowed and how close it really was against a very, very good football team, as we know. So, again, it's a very good team, and we've got our work cut out for us to go there on an early game on Saturday and beat these guys."
Tre Mason is a sophomore who leads the team in rushing.
Has Tre Mason established himself as Auburn's feature running back?
"I think that he certainly in the last couple of games has run the ball extremely tough. He has run for some tough yards. I would feel safe to say that we feel very confident in giving him the football and letting him try to get into a groove, but we have some other backs that can run the ball, too. But just the toughness and the physicality that he's run the ball with have been very promising."
Are there any durability concerns with Mason that are preventing him from running the ball more?
"Again, it just depends on the defenses that you are given. It depends on the ebb and flow of the game. There are circumstances in the game that you are trying to mix up different types of your run game, and if there are eight or nine down in there every time, then you don't really feel like you can afford to keep running a tailback up in there with nine guys. That's going to deter you from doing that. It really wasn't a durability factor; it was more of circumstances."
What is your opinion on being an underdog against Vanderbilt?
"I pay absolutely no attention to that. Zero."