"We're off to another week. First of all, let's talk about last week. I thought last week's game was probably one of the bigger games for us since I've been here, in terms of coming off of a loss to LSU and how we played and reacted. We know that we're still not hitting on all cylinders, but the effort was outstanding. I was a little bit worried during last week because of the emotion of our team and how we practiced. Sometimes you've just got to win on pure want and desire and playing hard, and that's basically what we did last week. It wasn't pretty and we made a lot of mistakes, but we did get the win and it gave us two wins in the conference.
"We're now headed to a very tough game, in terms of an opponent who is playing with a lot of emotion in Vanderbilt. They've got a good football team. Bobby Johnson is doing a great job. He works a lot of difficult situations in terms of recruits who he can get into school and I think that he's done as good a job as anybody over the years. They've done a very good job, they've stuck to what they're doing, and they've got a lot of good athletes. Going back and looking at last year's film, even though they lost a lot of players, they're playing at a higher level and playing with a lot of confidence. They've won on the road and at home, so we've got to prepare for a very tough battle. But, as we always do, we've got to worry about ourselves.
"We've got a lot of work to do, but that's good, knowing that where we're at at this point, we've still got room for improvement. The potential is still there for us to get much better and the potential will still be there as the year goes on. Sometimes it might not look like it, like last week, but we did get better. We made some progress and we'll get better this week.
"We had a good practice today with a lot of emphasis on the kicking game. Vanderbilt has got a great kicking game and they've got a great returner. They've got guys that can make plays. They've set up some of their wins with turnovers on the kicking game and we have not been hitting on all cylinders. We've got to improve on offense, obviously, and we also have a lot of other areas where we have to make a lot of improvement in a hurry.
"We're going into a tough environment this week against a ranked team with an open weekend. It's an ESPN game and there's a lot of excitement around it. I know our guys are looking forward to it. We've kind of got everything off of us and we're a lot more relaxed than we were after the LSU game and I like the attitude of our team.
"There are not a lot of injuries. (There are) still a few guys who are little bit beat up. Tristan Davis was back today as was Brad Lester. We should have a lot of guys who will, hopefully, have fresh legs. We are going into our sixth game and then into our seventh and then finally into that open date. Everybody goes through this. Again, I'm excited about the future and I'm very excited about the win last week knowing that we had to play as well as they did with their backs against the wall. We were in the same situation and we managed to get the win."
Was Tray Blackmon at practice today?
"He practiced. He's going to have to have a club on his hand for a while. I've noticed that over the years, there have been a number of great linebackers who have played well with that same kind of club. It's unfortunate and he's going to have to get used to it. Right now, it's going to be bigger than it will in the next couple of weeks and that's a part of the game."
Talk about how Josh Bynes played last week.
"Josh Bynes played excellent. The thing that I liked about Josh was how he took command of the defense at middle linebacker. He has to get people lined up in formations and work with the different personnel. He can play a little bit more aggressive, but he was a little bit apprehensive at the time, but that's just from not playing. He attacked the ball and made good open-field tackles. The main thing about that guy in the middle is that everybody has to have confidence that he knows what he's talking about. Going into that game, I was very concerned about that because he had made some mental mistakes before in the LSU game with our fronts. I felt that Josh went in and took control early, played with a lot of enthusiasm and had a lot of fun. He didn't play great, but he's got a lot of potential and he'll get better each week. It's good to know that you've got a pretty good one-two punch."
Have you considered putting Tray (Blackmon) on the field with Josh
"We've talked about that, but right now our outside is in pretty good shape, physically and mentally, in terms of depth. I think we'd just be shooting ourselves in the foot doing that. Tray has got to get over the soreness and I think that moving him to another position and trying to learn the new things that Coach Rhoads has brought in for the outside guys would be detrimental to him. (Tray) was playing pretty well and has been playing as well as he has since he's been here. It's unfortunate, but he'll be back after just a few weeks in his cast. He'll be back going full speed."
How do you correct the mistakes made by the offensive line?
"It's just a lack of focus and that happens. We didn't handle the crowd noise very well at Mississippi State and we probably made more mistakes there than we have in the last two weeks. It's always a concern and it's happening with everybody, not just with one or two. (Lee) Ziemba has had a few more, but we don't point the blame at anybody. We've just got to focus better. Making the transition after we've played five games, I think we've played pretty well. As I've said, we've got a lot of room for improvement and that's one of the areas. We're playing hard. We're playing more aggressive each week. The things that we've added and taken away, I think, have helped the offense to run. But sooner or later, we're going to play a game where everything is going to click. We're not going to shoot ourselves in the foot. We talk about offensive line, but everybody makes mistakes on both sides of the ball and also in the kicking game. We don't blame anybody, but that's part of the game. Everybody is going to make some mistakes. The way we're doing on offense, any small thing puts concern in your mind that things aren't working, but we've just got to fight through it."
Talk about the battle right now for the kicking position.
"They both kicked well today and made all of them. Wes (Byrum) will be our kicker. As we talk about any position, the big thing is the fundamentals. Sometimes he loses his technique and you get into a slump. I think he's missed three in a row if I'm not mistaken, but I don't keep count. When you lose your confidence and your technique, you've got to go back to square one and we've been doing that with him and hopefully he'll get back on the right track."
Could the "War Eagle" formation with Mario Fannin expand into
something where you throw the ball too?
"Yeah, but you can't do a whole lot with it. What you want to do is three or four things a game and if you add something to it, we'd probably drop something that we did last week. We try to match things up with our personnel and what they're doing. Sometimes you'll run it and sometimes you won't, but only if you think it will help. Mario will give you an extra dimension in the back field. He can throw the ball and he played this position in high school when they played this formation. It's new to him, especially on this level, but he understands it more than somebody who you threw out there into the mix and had them run it. I liked it. I think it gives you a couple of options, so we'll see how it works out."
Is Mario Fannin going to see any more play at wide receiver this year?
"We'll move him around. He's too good of an athlete not to get the ball in his hands and play more. He'll start to play a little bit more as we go along. Everybody looks to get more plays in with their best players, just like it was with (Darren) McFadden last year running in the ‘Wild Hog' formation. Even Tennessee did that with us last weekend and that guy gave us fits. It's tough when you're out there playing and all of a sudden they run something new. The first thing that you've got to do is get lined up and then you've got to execute. Mario is somebody who is great and has got a lot of athletic ability and that makes things tough."
Are you taking any role in the offense?
"You want me to take the blame? (laughs) Every week, I play the same role. I sit down with the offense and the defense, we look at film and I get my two cents worth. One thing I like about Tony (Franklin) is that of course with the media he is pretty blunt. He'll give the coaches perspective. I'm more political. Sometimes you can handle the truth and sometimes you can't handle the truth. The things we try to do as a staff is number one as a head coach, I make sure that we are all on the same page. When we walk out on the field on Tuesday mornings, we are all sold on what we are going to do. We are not going to go out there unless we are. I love this offense. It is going to be great. I'm glad we've gone to it. It's going to give us some options. We are 4-1 and have played a very tough schedule up until this point and we have hardly seen anything from this offense. Once we get going, it is going to be much better. There is no panic mode. I make sure we give our players the opportunity with the talent we have. One day we will have the talent where we can run 100% of what Tony (Franklin) likes to run. Right now we don't have that talent in some areas. We have to take advantage of our offensive talent versus the defenses we play. Some weeks we will look a little different and some weeks we will look the same but I like it. We meet Sunday mornings early then Sunday afternoons and I meet with them on Mondays. After Monday, we are all on the same page. We don't add much after Monday. We go into practice on Tuesday and everybody is on the same page. We get after it and we rep it. Then we take it to the game on Saturday and start it over again. We evaluate what we have done and go at it again."
What is it do you think that has allowed Vanderbilt to come out after
the second half and get the lead?
"They have created turnovers, but they play hard. They are well coached. They are not going to go out and do anything fancy in terms of making mistakes. Bobby (Johnson) has done this forever. He gets his guys lined up. He lets them play hard. We do the same thing. We're not real fancy. Sometimes you'll do something a little different. Maybe take a chance here or there but in the second half you can tell that they are in great shape. Everybody else has got a lot of confidence in them, and they get the job done."
Are you committed to running this offense into next year?
"We will always tweak it. We don't run Tony Franklin's spread offense. This is Auburn's offense. It's like our defense. We are going to run what works and what we are going to match up better with the other teams. Everybody has to do that. You can't put a square peg in a round hole. Why would you do that? I'm here to win games. I'm not here to win friends and run for public office. Our players understand that. You get in these battles and these games that we are in and you better go in with some confidence, not just with your coaches but for your players. You have to have confidence that it is going to work. The spread offense is a heck of an offense. We are going to run more of it as we go. Heck, we might run it 100 percent this week just depending on the situation. I like it. I think it's good. I think that our coaches are fired up about it. It has obviously helped us in recruiting. We are about done. The up side is tremendous. We are about as good as we were last year on offense at this time other than being able to run the ball a little bit more solid. Throwing the ball down the field has been a lot better. We have been able to make third down conversions better with two new quarterbacks. We don't have a quarterback that has been around the world in this stuff. We are all learning as we go, but this is going to be very good for us."
Do you feel like Chris Todd lost confidence after seeing Kodi Burns go
"Every team plays two quarterbacks. You might not play them every week but sooner or later you are going to have to play them. That is just a process of being mature and learning and understanding that sometimes Mario Fannin is going to go in. He's going to come out. Kodi's going to go in. Then he's going to come out. It's tough on everybody. We switch defensive line every three plays, linebackers probably every five plays and receivers every play. Quarterbacks are not any different. They have got to be mentally ready to play when their number is called."
Do you discuss booing from the fans?
"No, that is just part of it. I always talk with the quarterbacks. They are going to get a lot of both. They are going to get love and people aren't going to like them depending on how they play. That is just the process of growing up and being a quarterback in this league or any other league. That just goes with the territory. That is no big deal. You learn a lot in this business. My job when these kids come in here that when they leave they learn life. That's most important. Quarterbacks have a lot of opportunities to learn about good and bad, how to be accountable and being able to handle those ups and downs. There are a lot of times that they might not play very well and we still win. They have got to get their head up because everybody on the team looks at them. As I've always said quarterbacks are always the ones people rally around in terms of team leaders."
Defensively how do you feel about Vanderbilt this week?
"They have got some good receivers. One quarterback throws more than the other. They like to run it, but our defense is pretty good against the run. We've seen a lot of running teams lately. We run a lot as an offense. Our guys go against our guys a lot. It will be great challenge for us to see what we have learned defensively over the last five games. A lot of younger guys are starting to play more and we are getting more depth. It is cooling off. It is supposed to be cool this weekend. I always worry about every game, but I really worry about games after you've lost a game in terms of how younger players are going to handle it. I thought our younger players handled it well last week."
Do you see some of the same characteristics in Jerraud Powers as you
did in Carlos Rogers?
"Yeah. You have a few of those guys every once in a while that they don't fatigue. They are able to go. It's not just about being able to be out there on the field. It's being able to get the job done and mentally know what you are doing too. Carlos Rogers went every snap at corner and was on every special team and volunteered to get on more. Jerraud is the same way. We asked him last week to go back and return a punt in a crucial situation on the 10-yard line. He was just fired up. He said, ‘I can just hear my name over the loud speaker, ‘Jerraud Powers is back for Decatur High School.'' He has fun. That's what it is about. He's a heck of a football player. Walt McFadden also never comes out. I was a little worried about it at the beginning of the season in the heat but now that it's getting cooler it's a little easier on them. It's hard to play 60 or 70 snaps and then 20 on special teams."
Were you surprised with the way this past weekend went in terms of
"What did I say? It isn't over. Remember the national champion had two loses last year. They lost their last home game. I think this conference is starting to get a lot more recognition in terms of how good it is. You have to have that nationally. It doesn't make any difference what we think. There has got to be votes coming from everywhere for a team with two loses to stay up there. It didn't take long to start getting beat up. There are a lot of tough games as we go through the season. We aren't out of this thing by any stretch of the imagination. We feel good about where we are. We just have to get better and worry about ourselves. We don't talk much about the future, but we do talk about still having the ability to control what happens in the end."
Do you think the team is nervous about going into an atmosphere at
Vanderbilt where they are so successful?
"Our guys thrive on that. You have got to learn to play on the road and enjoy going into a stadium where you don't have a lot of people there rooting for you. We didn't play great at Mississippi State but we found a way to win. When you go on the road, you've got to have a good defense. You can't go in with a great offense and an average defense. That is where you are susceptible but you've got to play good defense. We've have success on the road and always look forward to the challenge. I think this is even inspiring our guys. This is going to be a great opportunity to go in on national television, GameDay, ranked team and undefeated. They had a week off and are going to see if we can go prove something. We might not be able to. They might be a lot better than us, but you never know until you play."