"It'll be a great challenge for us. I think this will give us another step in the direction of finding out how good we really are. As I think everybody knows, West Virginia is a very talented football team; they've got great team speed. It's going to be a great challenge for us. So, we've got our work cut out, and we've got to get much better, like I said, at what we do here in Auburn for us to win the game." What are some things that you know you have to work on?
"Well, a couple of things. Obviously, the ones that stand out the most special teams-wise is that we are just not getting enough positive yards on our return teams. We're basically putting ourselves 80 yards away on every kickoff return, and you can't consistently drive 80 yards. Percentages would say that you can't consistently drive 80 yards and score--If you've got to do that, if that's your starting point all night long. That's glaring.
"Our punt return issues, again, those are glaring. Even our coverage team, even though we've been good a lot of the time, we're still giving up to many hidden yards on our kickoff team. Some of it was late in the game, but still at the end of the day, right now, we've got to measure every inch and those things we've got shore up offensively and defensively, just the thing you see: too many three-and-outs on offense, putting our defense in a bind, defensively not enough third down stops--we're two or three third down stops away from being a different defense for different reasons, but those are the things in game three that we're going to have to improve on to win this game."
If you had been told before the season that your team would have 1,100 yards right now of total offense, would you be excited about it or more expectant of it?
"I'd be excited. I think kind of the thing about going into the season was we didn't know what to expect. We still don't know what to expect. We've only played two games So, that's why we're trying to make it clear that we've played two games. You know, we're not as bad as we seem, we're not as good as we seem, but we do know this: we know we've got a lot of room for improvement, that is very evident everywhere. But if you'd said that at the beginning of the year, I think anybody would be happy with that. "
With the early success of the offense, do you worry about your team becoming complacent and not working as hard?
"I don't. I don't think that A) that's who we're going to let them be; and B) I don't think that's really who they are. When you sit in a film session, and you sit in and you watch all of the things that we're not doing well, I don't know how you could walk out of that meeting and feel good about where we're at, anywhere offensively, defensively, special teams. I don't know how a player could walk out and feel good about it."
If you could update Tommy Trott's situation, and either way, who would you be looking at tight end besides him, if he can't play?
"Well, obviously we've got Philip (Lutzenkirchen) — that's encouraging. He's a young guy that's going to be a very good player, and we are going to up his responsibility in his role. Obviously, Gabe McKenzie has played a lot of football here. And then we've got a lot of other guys--the John Douglas' of the world, the Eric Smith's of the world, who can jump in there and do a little bit of both. Obviously, Tommy is day by day. We're going to look at it without me going into great detail, but we've got a plan."
What are your expectations of the fans, and how do their expectations of the team influence the season?
"Here's how I feel about our fans here at Auburn: Number one, we've got the greatest fans in the world, and they do their job as good as it gets. And I want them to be excited about the future. It's going to be very bright. As I said earlier in the week, we're not ready to buy stock in Auburn football yet. It's just not where we're at. We're just so far from that, but I do want our fans to be excited.
As a matter of fact, one of the things that really excites our football players is our fans. And our fans need to know that our football team gets so much energy from them. And just like we're trying to up our game this week, we've got to take it to a new level, we want our fans to be the absolute loudest stadium in the country. And we're going to challenge them because they are phenomenal. I've been to the best places--stadiums, other than the SEC, in the country. I‘ve been to the Ohio State's, the USC's and the Texas'--this (Auburn) is second to none, and we're going to ask our fans to step it up a notch more. But they are awesome, and I want them to be excited because we're excited. But we have not arrived, and I guess that is the final point." Did you look at the four home games in a row and think ‘this is a good thing to have before we get on the road, to figure out where we are?'
"Oh, there's no question about it. It's really just as the way the schedule would unfold, it's really interesting. It's a building block every week for a better team or a team that, you know, gives you different issues. Not necessarily that one is better than the other, this is a really good football team that we're playing. They are different in the fact that their speed element and what they do offensively, and things of that matter, challenges you in different ways than the first two.
"Defensively as well, they are more of a three-down team, with speedy linebackers, and just issues that give you different challenges every week, which has been great for our team. And I think that after Saturday night we will have another step in the direction of knowing who we are. Because again, we are a work in progress and I'm not sure who we are yet. "
Talk about Noel Divine and what he brings to the table.
"He's a big-play guy. He's as fast as probably anybody in the country--rushing for 1,200 or 1,300 yards a year ago. He really came into his own. He's exactly what you look at. You know you tackle him a few times, then he makes you miss and hits a crack, then the next thing you know, he's hitting his head on the goal post. I mean, that's how fast he gets in the end zone. He's a really good player, and he's not the only one, but he's a really good player that we are going to have to get under control."
Explain how the defense West Virginia runs confuses opposing players?
"Let me tell you, they are excellent at their trade. They are really, really good at what they do in terms of three-down defense. And that's why, if you look at them over the course of time, those guys know exactly where they are suppose to be. And they've got so much speed.
"You can tell they really built their defense around that speed, but there also is so much carry-over of knowledge. In my opinion, there's just a comfort level with those guys on that defense, and it's challenging because you don't see that defense every week. You usually see a defense with four down linemen up front. Well, when one of those down lineman basically become a speed linebacker, you know, it changes the element of everything that you are trying to do both in protections and running the ball. So, there are a lot of challenges to it."
Jarrett Brown passed for four TDs last week for West Virginia.
What would you say about (WVU quarterback Jarrett Brown), who had a big game last week?
"He is very athletic. I remember him when he was coming out of high school. He is just a great athlete. He can throw it and run it. When you see him hit a 46-yard touchdown pass the other day against East Carolina from off his back foot, and when you see him at third-and-4 or third-and-5, he has just got so much scramble ability right now that you have issues with down field. We say that you have to cover him twice, but then you have to contain him on third downs, which we have been average at right now when it comes to quarterback scrambles. So, he brings a lot to the table in terms of what he can do for them and making plays with his feet. He is a very good quarterback."
As a head coach, do you like to play these high-profile teams in intersectional games.
"I love it. I really love this because this is a great challenge for us and a great way to see where we are at. It comes at a great time. We are ready to play this type of game right now. I don't know if we would open with them. I think it is time for us to play a team that is this good and just see where we are Sunday morning. I think it will be a great challenge for us."
How do you keep your players confidence levels up while also making sure they know that they have a long road ahead?
"I think it's a fine line between being confident verses being arrogant. Here's the deal, we've got to keep our guys so focused that they don't have time to be anything except work oriented.
"We challenge every guy and tell him that if you want to change the team, then change yourself. So, that means individually, every guy has got to do something to up his game, and if everybody does that, then our team gets better.
"If they don't, then we don't so that's the challenge for every guy and I promise you, as I said earlier, every guy comes out of a meeting after watching a film, and if he walks out of that meeting feeling really that he really has arrived, then I will be shocked. Because I promise you, for every guy on our football team, there is enough to go around for everyone to get better."
How close are you to getting that rotation that you want with the defensive front seven?
"I do think we are getting closer. We had some guys that are getting healthy and then all of a sudden you saw Zach Clayton get added to the mix. We always want to have continuity, that's really important. The rotation is very important and with new guys coming back in then where do people fit into the rotation? That's where we are working and it's a work in progress right now, but I think we are getting closer."
With the offense doing so well, how much freedom do you give to your defense?
"As coach (Ted) Roof got up and talked to our offensive team Sunday, it was neat because he was talking about the perspective of calling a game with the offense moving the ball and doing some things and it does. It's no different than if you are on offense right now and your defense is getting a bunch of three and outs, it all ties in and everybody is connected. So, from a defensive perspective right now, for us to call a game defensively and for us to feel that our offense can get us out of some binds periodically, and that we can move the football, that's really important.
"Let me flip it. Offensively, as we call the game and as we feel confident that our defense can get the ball back and be very productive, it's just a comforting feeling on both sides if that's what is happening during the game. It's not always happening during the game, but when it's not, sometimes its 80/20 offense and sometimes its 80/20 defense, but as long as its 100 percent than you're good. One side is not going to play well all the time, and that was Saturday. We had three 3-and-outs, defense had to step up, and then the offense had to answer the bell when it was time to score. As long as you're 100 percent all the way around, it doesn't matter whether your 70/30, 60/40, or 80/20, because it will all balance out at the end if we are all playing hard and doing what we are suppose to do."
Does it help you become more aggressive on defense when your offense is doing so well?
"I think it does but there is a fine line with that, Let me give you an example, third-and-12 or 13 the other night trying to get takeaways, we had a chance to get off the field, and we went for the interception instead of the tackle and trying to get off the field turned into points. So, in that particular instance, aggressiveness was not the right choice at that point in time. So, you've got to be smart about when you take your chances. Yes you can be aggressive, you can be aggressive on how you call the game, but you also have to understand the situations and all that comes in to play."
How do you feel about your offensive line?
"I think they are getting better every week. I am really proud of the way I think the five are coming together. When you rush for 390 yards, it's not all the tailbacks. Our tailbacks know that, so I think our offensive line is starting to play enough together now and play long enough together. In this scheme they have been together long enough in the spring, fall, and now a couple of football games, so they are starting to get it and starting to play together as a unit, and I think that Coach (Jeff) Grimes has done a great job at trying to orchestrate that.
Again, they have not arrived, but I think they are getting better and I can just see them really playing together and that is what excites me about them."
It seems that Kodi Burns has really found his niche on the team and seems to be taking well to the fact that he is not the starting quarterback.
"He is a great team guy and he is an Auburn man. That's who he is, that's what he does. I don't think anybody on our coaching staff is one bit surprised with the production that he has had. He is not satisfied with it. He was responsible for three touchdown runs this past Saturday night but he also knows that it took a lot of people to get him down there, him being one of them. That is who Kodi is, and that's what we have been saying since day one."