"Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. It's Iron Bowl week and it's a week that we all look forward to – most people for 365 days. We all have, as coaches and players, a lot of work to do before we get to this game every year, but it's always a fun week. This year it is going to be a fun two weeks of analyzing, talking about it, looking at it, and going over things. For us, we needed these two weeks for a lot of reasons. We've had a lot of work to do on both sides of the ball and also needed to get some people healthy.
"We have had good practices. Everything has been going well, and we've had a few more guys practicing every day and by the time we get to the end of the week, we should be in pretty good shape. We've been barring injuries at practice every day, but so far, things are going pretty good. They're all intense. The players have different looks on their faces and they're into it. They're into every snap and every practice.
"We're looking forward to getting ready to play a very good football team in Alabama. They're the number one team in the country and we'll probably be a huge underdog. We've got a lot of work we need to do to try to get into this game, in terms of having a chance to win. Our players know that and our coaches know that. We're playing on the road, but again, it's only one game and we might as well give it a three-hour shot. We've had great preparation for it and we'll see what happens.
"They are much improved. I think that their offensive coordinator has done an outstanding job of taking the talent that he has and molding it into an offense. Obviously, with a fifth year senior in John Parker Wilson, it helps. He's a guy that's been there, been in a lot of big games, made plays, won a lot of games and been in some tough situations. You can tell that he's grown up a little bit more each year and obviously this season.
"It all starts with the offensive line. They're big, they're physical and they come off the ball and do a good job for their running backs. They don't live off the pass, they live off the run and look a lot like we used to look in the past. Again, they do a good job of moving the football, controlling it and keeping time of possession in order to give their defense a chance to watch from the sidelines in most games this year.
"Defensively, they've got speed. They're all over the field. They play a lot of man coverage. They blitz a lot. They pressure you and try to give you bad plays in order to get the ball back for an offense that's going to hold possession of the ball. They've played very good team football all year long. They don't make a lot of mistakes and they don't beat themselves because they're very disciplined. By watching them on film, you can tell that they've got a lot of confidence. Their special teams are an added addition to a good offense and defense and they make a lot of plays and they do a good job with field position for their team. They make their field goals and extra points. They do a good job with punt returns. They're a good football team and that's the reason why they're the number one-ranked football team in the nation, at least by most.
"It'll be a tough assignment for us, but our guys have looked at film and they've studied them and we feel like we've got a good game plan. We've got to put it in now and have to build confidence as the week goes on and see what happens. Again, it's a rival game like no other. I've been in a lot of them and I've said it before--it means so much to the fans on both sides. Obviously, there's a lot riding on the game this week. For Alabama, they're the number one team in the country. We've been there and we understand that. It's hard and it gets harder every day during the year when you keep winning. But good teams overcome it by making plays and they get it done. This year, they've done that.
"We've got a tough assignment. We know that. We haven't been a great football team this year. Not one time this year do I think that we've played up to our potential for several reasons, but our coaches and players have worked very hard. We competed in the last game, the best that I think we've competed all year long, against a very good Georgia team, but we've got to continue to get better and we know that. This team coming in this week, is a much more physical football team than Georgia. They've got a lot of good players and you just look at what they did to Georgia in the first half on their home field back about two months ago. It goes to show you what kind of football team they have.
"It's a very important game in this state, in this conference, and nationally. I think that a lot of people will be watching, obviously, for the simple reason that is the ranking of Alabama and where they're at. There's a lot of focus on the BCS as there always is. Someone is going to get left out as they always do. Sooner or later, we're going to figure this thing out, but for now, this is the only opportunity that we have to get number one and two to play at the end of the year. So, there will be a lot of talk as we go through the next two weeks. It's always interesting to hear things for the last few weeks and to hear different people complaining about when they get their foot into the ring and feel like they might have a chance to get in, but it might look like they get left out.
"Again, this is a very interesting week for us. This is Thanksgiving. Our players have a lot of opportunity to watch film, practice, lift weights and get their minds focused, and I know that both sets of fans are looking forward to it. It's always an interesting game no matter what happens."
(On preparing for Alabama noseguard Terrence Cody)
"Well, we thought about dressing Coach Dunn and putting him out there (laughs) and blocking him, but we actually brought that up in practice today. But it's hard. Cody is a big guy that can move and gets a lot of penetration. He bull-rushes one on one and gets a lot of pass penetration. It's hard to stage that in practice, but you challenge your offensive linemen, your center and your two guards--whoever he's going to be over – and you go from there. Of course, you try to game-plan things to try to confuse him or try to get double teams, but everybody you play has big guys in the middle. It's very unusual that you have a big guy that's this talented. He has great agility, good movement, quick lateral feet, terrific explosion and it's one of the reasons why they're sitting where they're sitting right now in the polls--because he has been a force so far with everybody to block and it won't be any different for us."
(On watching Rod Smith go from a walk-on to leading the team as a receiver)
"It's one of those things that you like to talk about. Over the years from now, we'll get together and talk about guys who walked on at our program, laid it on the line, and earned scholarships. Over our past 10 years, I'd say that probably 15 guys have earned scholarships and they've gone on to the NFL: Kevin Hobbs, Roderick Hood, and Rod Smith will be another guy who will have that chance. Young guys mature a lot mentally and physically when they get to college and that's why it's so tough to predict the future when you're recruiting out of high school. There are a lot of players who are overlooked and continue to grow. Like Dewayne Curry (Demarcus Ware), who went to Auburn High School, went to Troy and went on to be one of the best players in the NFL. It's hard, but guys like Rod Smith have a soft spot in my heart because I was a walk-on."
(On approaching this week's game plan)
"We haven't brought up bowl game or streaks this week. This is a different team, different year, and different group of seniors that sit on the front row. This is what we have talked about, sending our seniors out on a positive note. Nobody in our groups has lost to our in-state rival for several years, but it really means nothing until you get over it, see what happens, see if it goes on, or stops. Everybody wants to go on streaks, but it is so hard in this business. The one thing that we have talked about all week long is poise and for our team to enjoy the week. They'll go back when they're 50-60 years old and tell their kids and grandkids about the week that they played in the Iron Bowl and what happened that week.
"There is a lot of camaraderie built. Our players go to their dorm room and have nothing to do in terms of studying, so it is all football. I was down in the training room earlier this morning listening to guys tell past stories about other Iron Bowls, what they did and how they prepared so it is always a memorable week for everybody--coaches, players, and trainers. One reason that a lot of these guys decided to come to Auburn, and I'm sure the same thing at Alabama, is that they want to get a good education at a good SEC school and to play in this game. You don't want to waste that opportunity, no matter how the season has gone, this is an opportunity to play and be a part of history in this game and that is how we approach it every year."
(On Auburn's six-year winning streak)
"It is satisfying obviously, because when I was hired I was told, and I'm sure Nick Saban and everybody that coaches at Alabama have been told, that you have to win the Iron Bowl matchup. In this game, winning is for bragging rights. You want to give your fans the opportunity to walk in to a restaurant, Wal-Mart, or business and be able to brag about the game. And, it is only a game; it is not life or death. If there is anything close to that, then it would probably be the emotions of this game in terms of fans. Most players will have the opportunity to come back and play in it next year, so it is not the end of the world, but the fans really enjoy it; probably even more than the coaches or players."
(On a late season win)
"We look at this season as one that didn't go our way and is not near what we would have wanted it to be when we started out, but when you get to the last game of the year you really forget about everything else that has happened. For the first time in a while I have seen smiles on guys' faces, out in practice running around with an extra step and a lot more jump. It's good to see them start to relax a little bit. A lot of that probably is because the season might be coming close to an end. It's hard to play college football. It is a full-time job and the academic part is also full-time. I want them to relax and enjoy this week no matter what has happened. Most of these guys have been on the other side, where we were riding on this game to determine a lot. For us, this year pride is what we are playing for. We want to go into this game understanding that no matter what has happened, the only thing we can control is this game."
(On Wes Byrum's struggle)
"Being a sophomore, last year he kicked in 13 games, and sometimes you come back with a little bit of confidence and when you lose it, it is hard to regain it. It is hard to put yourself in a kicker's frame of mind in this conference because there is so much pressure, especially for us this year with our games being on the line, as it was the last few years. The kick could have meant being successful or not successful, which sometimes plays a role in a young man's head in terms of confidence. Wes Byrum has done very well for us in the past, it just hasn't been a great year for him or anybody, me included, quarterbacks. We're not blaming anything on Wes Byrum, he has just struggled. Hopefully he can get back. He's started to kick a little bit more after taking a week off. We will decide at game time who will be kicking for us."
(On taking down an undefeated Alabama team)
"They have good coaches. Nick Saban is a good coach; he has won a national championship. It's the old cliché, play each game one at a time. If you look to tomorrow, it could be the end of you. In our business it is a 13-game playoff and Alabama is in a situation where they have a great opportunity in this conference. If you go undefeated in this league, you have accomplished a huge feat. I'm not putting other conferences down, but in this league it is so hard. Just take it one day at a time and see what happens. We have had an opportunity this week to look at every game that Alabama has played in this season. They are much improved. They've had their bad moments, but have been able to overcome those. They are well coached and well prepared each week. You can tell they are focused on what they are doing.
"We will give it our best shot this week. Alabama will come to play and they want to enjoy this game also. This is not a game where they are just going to walk out there and think that they are going to win the game. They know and understand that each game no matter who you are playing, you have to get ready to play."
(On John Parker Wilson's progression)
"He is a fifth-year senior quarterback and looks a lot like Brandon Cox. The biggest thing about quarterbacks and experience is making decisions. He has a lot more confidence in the people around him. Just by looking at Alabama from the outside, last year there was some hesitation. He was holding the ball a little bit too long. The new coordinator has gotten the ball out of his hands much quicker. They do a good job of that. The running game has helped; yet again it all starts with the five offensive linemen. Their linemen are much, much improved over the years. They have made a huge difference in their football team."