Cotton Bowl Journal - Day 3

As we hit the next day into practices and one day closer to the Cotton Bowl, we went through another round of pressers, this time with some of the Auburn defensive players and the offensive players from Nebraska. And if there was one theme you could get from both, it was pretty simple: Can someone ask an original question, please?

"So, Zac, you're a quarterback. Ummm, so yeah, Zac, uhhh, this is the last game of your career. Yeah, that's probably a pretty big deal, huh? Umm, so, you're the quarterback. You throw the ball, right?"

I'm obviously overstated this imaginary line of questioning, but it's meant only to illustrate the point of press conferences, regardless of whether they precede a regular season game or in this case, the 2007 Cotton Bowl.

And it's only exaggerated when you are interviewing a senior, the most prominent player on the team, and a person who has had his life reported on, written about, studied and every single play he's been a part of has been scrutinized………to a degree.

Zac Taylor has it down

So, when you ask him about Auburn, what kind of test they represent and what he thinks about the importance of winning this game, you get exactly what you expect:

"They're great, it's a huge test and this would be a big win for the team."

It gets me all misty just listening to it.

You can't blame Nebraska's offensive leader, though, nor can you blame anyone that's been down this road potentially 40 times before this. If you are going to get the same questions, you are probably going to give the same answers.

Then there's Auburn, and I personally have never had the luxury of interviewing any of them, nor have I ever heard any of them in any other interviews. It's not like I am expecting the talented group from the SEC to be any different, because the reporters in the south ask the same questions as reporters in the Midwest.

But it's different players, and with different players you sometimes hear things you maybe didn't expect.

One of the great guys from the Auburn site on told me that senior cornerback David Irons was a great interview. He said that Irons was just a cut-up of sorts, and you never knew what you would hear.

Prior to me actually activating my camera to record the Q&A, David insisted that his brother and Auburn starting running back Kenny Irons, was actually adopted, because nobody that slow could be an Irons.

Another young man who I was told to listen to, because of his quality sound bytes, was senior linebacker Karibi Dede. I never liked someone referring to someone else as "well spoken," because for me that would imply that they shouldn't be, maybe because they are a football player. But even if you are talking about any person you might meet on the street, Dede was as articulate as they come.

I was particularly interested to interview Auburn's current sack-mater Quentin Groves. Anyone that plays that well probably plays with a lot of confidence. Groves had that and then some, perhaps even coming off a little cocky about what he thought of the match up between Auburn and Nebraska.

I certainly don't begrudge him that confidence, though, as he and his team have earned the respect they have gotten. But you do get a sense from him that this game isn't a statement for Auburn as much as it is one I think that Groves feels will show just what it's like to play in the SEC. Auburn, a team that didn't make the SEC title game, is still a top 10 squad. I think that this last game for their season is an opportunity Groves feels is there for the taking.

As for Nebraska, it's a bit different. Had Nebraska not played some of the teams they have played this year, the storyline of this game could be how Nebraska could possibly match up against a team, which just from perception, appears superior in almost every way. Having played USC and Texas, though, Nebraska doesn't have to worry about the awe factor kicking in.

I mean, this is Nebraska after all, and while the players on the current team don't know what it was like to be the Nebraska that beat everyone and their dog, they still have a sense of that tradition and the expectations that go with it.

Auburn is a great team, but are they the best team Nebraska has face all year? I don't know. I guess we'll have to wait until after the game to truly know the answer to that one.

With facing that kind of competition, Nebraska has seen stellar team speed, along with two of the most talented teams in the country in the Trojans and the Longhorns. They have seen quick and athletic defensive ends and very effective and potent running backs. They've seen fast corners and ferocious linebackers.

It's been there, done that, bout the t-shirt.

So, when you ask the Nebraska players what it's like to face Auburn, they do indicate Nebraska's record against top 10 teams since Bill Callahan arrived, as a slight monkey on their back. But it's not a monkey that haven't had plenty of opportunities to eradicate. This will be opportunity number four for the big red this year.

That's what they talk about. It isn't about who they are playing, but the ranking of that team instead. They don't talk about Auburn's big weapons, because they have seen some of the biggest weapons in Division 1-A. If there is any one thing you won't see from this Nebraska team in this particular game, it's the mental battle being bigger than the physical one. They know what they are facing. They just think it's now a matter of getting it done and coming out with a win.


If you want a theme for this bowl game, and something that should have been put on t-shirts instead of the usual bland nonsense about this being an epic battle between two tradition powers, this one might have worked the best:


Pick one, but as we talked to the Auburn players, they seemed to say in unison that they knew they wouldn't be as big, especially when it was Auburn's defense against Nebraska's offense, but big isn't what got them to this point this year. They did it with a combination of good power, but even better speed with a huge emphasis on just sheer athleticism.

It's not to say Nebraska doesn't have that, but you only need to just look at the Husker offensive line and you can tell instantly that this group was built for sturdiness and dependability in being able to lead for a running game. The pass protection is a necessity, but if Nebraska could do nothing but run and win, that's precisely what they will do.

Auburn knows that, and for Groves and his teammates, the key to their success in this game is making Nebraska one-dimensional and hoping that Zac Taylor can repeat his woeful performance in the Big 12 title game against Oklahoma, where he threw three interceptions.


Nebraska's running back situation has been perhaps the one most eyed during the time between the Oklahoma game and now. Junior running back Kenny Wilson is finally practicing at full speed again and sophomore running back Marlon Lucky appears ready to go as well. Even Brandon Jackson is better than he was, the cast being removed from his hand, replaced by a more manageable splint. Fellow sophomore running back Cody Glenn wasn't as fortunate though. For the second day in a row Glenn was held out of practice, but with the aid of a brace for that midfoot sprain, you could see Glenn back on the field tomorrow.

Sophomore offensive guard Matt Slauson is nursing an injury of his own, the ankle still giving him fits. Slauson is still projected as the starter for the Cotton Bowl, but he's currently not at 100 percent.

Head coach Bill Callahan said that today's practice was really up tempo, and now that the game plan has been installed completely and they have gone over it more than once by now, it's a lot of fine honing until the actual game arrives.


Tomorrow is another round of press conferences, this time the Nebraska defensive players taking the podium while the Auburn offensive players will go in front of the media. The team will resume practice at 11:30, which will be followed by the aforementioned P.C.

After that, it's off to the Lowry's Beef Bowl, where Nebraska players will take their stab at taking in a whole lot of free beef and see who, out of both Auburn and Nebraska, rests firmly at the top.

Well, when it comes to eating meat that is.

As for me, I have my questions all wrote up for tomorrow. I was thinking of answering entirely new questions, the kind nobody asks, which means I will get responses that nobody else will get.

Then I thought about it, and if it's even remotely related to football, it has already been asked. Maybe I will ask them what their favorite soup is, or maybe one of those cool ones like: "If you were an Enchilada, what kind of Enchilada would you be?,".

Ok, maybe not, but it would be different, and when it comes to these things, that's pretty darn hard to do.

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