Here’s a video from today’s early interviews. It’s got left tackle Lee Ziemba, tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen and linebacker Craig Stevens. Back with more later.
The quarterback, who now a Heisman Trophy contender, accounted for 334 yards and five touchdowns, including his signature moment — a 54-yard touchdown run up the sideline in the first quarter that he punctuated by leaping head first in the end zone the final 7 yards.
“In everyone’s mind that we all thought, ‘Wow, he’s the real deal and this team is going to do something special this year,'” tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said. “So that was kind of the turning point for our season.”
Newton remained unavailable to the media Tuesday. The quarterback, whose father has been accused of having pay-for-play discussions during his son’s recruitment to Mississippi State last year, last spoke with reporters on Nov. 9.
Lutzenkrichen said Newton continues to go about his business — in his own way.
“Business as usual for Cam is just straight goofball,” he said. “He’s always joking around, always messing with everyone. That hasn’t changed at all throughout this year throughout any of this. So it’s just good to have regular ol’ Cam.”
Head coach Gene Chizik declined to answer a question about Newton’s lack of media availability. He also refused to address a question about whether or not Auburn would abide by the SEC rule that mandates all players be available to the press following the conference championship game.
In an e-mail Tuesday, SEC spokesman Charles Bloom cited the rule that outlines the punishment for failing to adhere to the rule: “Failure to comply with these rules and regulations may subject the coach and/or the institution to a fine by the Commissioner.”
Here are some quick notes and quotes from early interviews today:
- Lutzenkirchen has taken a lot of grief for his dance after catching the game-winning touchdown against Alabama. “Just one of those things where I was so excited I really didn’t know what I was doing,” he said. “I’ve heard Riverdance, jig, a bunch of different stuff.”
- LT Lee Ziemba added “leprechaun dance” to the list. “It was a pretty bad dance,” Ziemba said. “Coach (Gus) Malzahn was saying: ‘They’ll be playing this touchdown to your grandchildren someday and then … oh wow, look at that.'”
- Does Lutzenkirchen think it’ll catch on? “I hope it doesn’t,” he said. “I really hope it doesn’t. It’s all fun and games.”
- I’m doing a Lutzenkirchen story today or tomorrow, so I’ll have more in that, but the sophomore has 12 catches this year, five of which have gone for touchdowns. “It’s just kind of coach Malzahn’s offense where the fullback/tight end kind of is used as a blocker for most of the game and kind of slips out in the red zone and people forget about it and it just happens to be a touchdown catch,” he said.
- His thoughts on catching a wide open pass? “Don’t drop it,” he said. “Everything kind of slows down and you’ve really got to focus in and make sure you see the ball into your hands and pray that you don’t drop it.”
- Lutzenkirchen on the team’s goals every year: “At the beginning of the season, the first goal is to win the West. Well, the first goal is to beat Bama. The second goal is to win the West. And the third goal is to hopefully win the SEC championship if everything lines up. We’re really trying to stay humble with it and knowing that this is the next game. It’s the biggest game so far.”
- Alabama stuffed Newton on the run last week, holding him to 39 yards on 22 carries. Ziemba thinks the offense is to blame. “We weren’t playing as well as we needed to be at some points in the first half,” he said. “The game plan didn’t change from the first half to the second half. Their game plan didn’t change. Ours didn’t either. It’s a matter of executing and getting all 11 guys doing the same thing.”
- Auburn has started out slow in games (witness, its 24-0 hole against Alabama). LB Craig Stevens thinks that needs to change. “I think overall we have to go into games with more focus,” he said. “Last week we kind of let our emotions take control of us to the point where sometimes we got out of line a little bit, out of whack a little bit. We just have to calm down and play our game, not wait for a team to get up on us.”
- Stevens on South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore: “Oh yeah, he’s a good player. He kind of reminds me of (Alabama’s Trent) Richardson with how hard he runs. He runs through a lot of tackles. It will be a tough task to slow him down. “You either hit him low or you’ve got to wrap him up when you tackle him. That’s one of those things, he’s not going to go down with just a shoulder. You gotta wrap him up. He has strong legs and he carries the ball forward. We’ve got to do a good job of rallying to the ball on him.”
- Stevens said Lattimore doesn’t do too much trash-talking on the field. That was before he had 1,114 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. “He can talk now,” Stevens said.
- Of all the games Auburn has played in this year, Stevens felt more fortunate to come away with a win in the Clemson game. “They were that close,” he said. “That guy missed that field goal. That game right there, we took a deep breath after slipping by those guys.”
- The players have not been in this undefeated situation before. Chizik has, as part of the 2004 Auburn team that finished 13-0 and Texas’ 2005 national championship team. “None of us have been in this situation before and he has a few times,” Ziemba said. “He does a good job of making sure our focus is in the right, making sure we’re not looking ahead to different things and we’re focusing on the task at hand. He check us frequently each week. That really brings us to the place we’re supposed to be.”
- Ziemba was asked about some fans not exactly embracing the Chizik hire two years ago. “I trust the guys who hired him,” he said. “I wouldn’t second guess them or anything.”
- Also of note: Auburn will show SEC championship game on high-definition video boards in Auburn Arena following women’s basketball game against Temple. Admission free at halftime.
- “Exciting times for us here at Auburn. Obviously it’s going to be a great football team Saturday. Our team is really, really looking forward to playing in the championship game.”
- On SC: “They were a very, very good football team when we played them eight weeks ago. They’ve kept improving.”
- Said SC is No. 3 in SEC in scoring defense. “That’s the ultimate stat.”
- “I think they’ve steadily improved since we played last.”
- Said defensively Auburn has made some strides. Said Tigers have been sporadic, though, which is a concern going up against Stephen Garcia and Alshon Jeffery.
- “I think we’ve been through a lot in finding different ways to win since then.”
- On handling the pressure of a big game: “We’ve been through a lot of big games the last five weeks. I think that’s helped.”
- On playing bad in the first half: “I see guys who are out of position. I see guys who aren’t maybe communicating like they should. You prepare for things and then teams change, you’ve got to adjust to what you’re seeing. That’s certainly not an excuse. I don’t care what we’re seeing, we need to play better. Not acceptable.”
- On personal vindication: “That’s not how I live. That’s not what’s important to me.”
- On going through his third perfect regular season: “It’s extremely difficult to do. Just being able to be blessed to go through it two other times, there are things I can pull to help our coaches.”
- On playing in Atlanta, a big market: “I think it’s great. In the history of Auburn, there have been so many great players that have come out of Georgia. Atlanta is so close. Knowing that that’s a huge recruiting base for what you’re trying to do, it’s a huge inspiration for our guys to go back to that area. It’s neat for our guys to be able to do that.”
- On Cam Newton in the first SC game: “That was a special game for him. That was eye-opening for us at that point in time. That was a learning moment for us coaches on what he was going to be able to do.”
- On the 2004 experience being able to help him this time: “Every team has a different identity. This team is different in its own way. I think the dynamic is different, just so many true freshmen a part of what we’re doing, with a good mixture of older guys. 2004 was different, because there weren’t a whole lot of times where we had to come back and win games.”
- On the punt return game: “We’re going to evaluate that this week. Obviously we’re not happy. That was a potentially game-changing event.”
- On if he anticipates Newton speaking to the media again: only commenting on Newton’s first 12 games.
- Pointed out that SEC mandates all players have to be available after the conference championship game. Chizik again chose not to comment.
- On seeing signs of support around town for Newton: “This is a great community. This community was built on family. It was built on supporting one another. When you pull up after a bus ride from Tuscaloosa and come up to hundreds of fans, that’s what it’s all about.”
- On winning the first SC game: “It means nothing.”
- On if there are worries about being the favorite: “Those are all things for the media and the outside people to speculate about.”
- On the Iron Bowl being a classic: “I don’t know how many teams in the course of history would have been able to do that. But that was an incredible challenging task at the time, and our guys rose up to it. I’m sure when all the smoke clears, we’ll look back on that and go, ‘Wow.'”
- On Marcus Lattimore: “He’s a great football player. They do a great job of utilizing him the right way.” Said SC uses him well in the passing game.
- On Mike Dyer‘s evolution: “You can tell his comfort level has improved drastically since the beginning of the year.”
- On Alabama slowing down Newton in the run: “They’re very physical up front. They’re well coached. They’ve got some good players.”
- On Gus Malzahn being up for the Broyles Award: “He’s huge to us and our staff. Gus has been a huge part of what we’ve done here. He’s a great football coach and anything he gets, I’m all in. He deserves it.”
And that’s a wrap.
- QB Cam Newton: Offensive POTW against Arkansas State, South Carolina, Arkansas, LSU, Georgia, Alabama
- DT Nick Fairley: Defensive POTW against Mississippi State, D-line POTW against Louisiana-Monroe, Arkansas, LSU, Alabama
- LB Josh Bynes: Defensive POTW against Clemson
- DT Mike Blanc: D-line POTW against South Carolina
- PK Wes Byrum: Special teams POTW against Kentucky
- CB Demond Washington: Special teams POTW against Ole Miss
- RB Mike Dyer: Rookie OTW against Ole Miss
- LG Mike Berry: O-line POTW against Georgia
Here’s a video I put together from tonight’s interviews. Lighting issues across the board for my flip cam. I blame the spotlight from one of the TV cameras. ANYWAY, it’s got defensive coordinator Ted Roof, left guard Mike Berry, linebacker Josh Bynes and safety Zac Etheridge.
Auburn called for a cornerback blitz early in the Alabama game, but T’Sharvan Bell couldn’t quite get to the quarterback in time. The Tigers went back to it late in the fourth quarter, and Bell made a game-changing play.
The junior sacked Crimson Tide quarterback Greg McElroy on third-and-12, knocking Alabama out of field goal range.
“I was licking my chops when coach called the blitz,” Bell said. “I really wanted to get him, just make some kind of play. And I did. My eyes got big, heart beat a little faster. I was just happy.”
Bell ducked the tackle to get the quarterback, slinging McElroy around by the jersey and into the ground for a 4-yard loss, forcing Alabama to punt with Auburn leading 28-27.
It was Bell’s first career sack and knocked McElroy out of the game with a concussion.
“Nick (Fairley) taught me that,” Bell said, referring to Auburn’s sack leader. “He taught me everything this week.”
Bell also made a tackle earlier in the game, splitting two linemen to stop a sweep play near the end zone, something he wouldn’t have done a year ago.
“I’m not even sure it was a play he would have attempted to make last year,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “And that excites you when you see kids grow and lay their bodies out for the football team.”
Quite a few interviews tonight. Here are some notes and quotes:
- In case you missed the previous post, Auburn is back at No. 1 in the BCS rankings. “It really doesn’t matter,” linebacker Josh Bynes said. “The only thing we have to do is take care of what we’re supposed to do this week against South Carolina. We know what’s going to happen after that. In order to get there, we have to play that one game. If we take this opponent lightly or we play that kind of game where we give them the SEC championship, then we won’t get there.”
- Roof on Sunday’s practice: “It was a little more involved than most Sundays, because we had an extra day in between when we played last. It gave us a little more time as a staff to evaluate and watch tape than we normally would have on a Sunday when you’re grading your own tape and you’re trying to get ready for your next opponent. So we’re a little bit further ahead than we would be on a Sunday.”
- How hard will it be to get back up for the SEC championship game after a draining Iron Bowl? “How many games have we had that haven’t been very draining and emotional?” Roof said. “Most of our games, there’s been something involved in it that’s been very emotional. You know what? This is to win the championship. And as a competitor, that makes your competitive juices flow when you know you start talking about championships and rings and things of that nature. So there’s absolutely no problem getting juiced up for this one.”
- RG Byron Isom doesn’t think it will be a problem. “It’s just another notch under your belt and you move on to the next week,” he said. “In this conference you play good teams all the time, and I think we did a good job on this season putting the wins behind us and moving on to the next step, and I don’t think it will really affect us this week.”
- The regular season is barely over, but head coaching vacancies exist already at Minnesota, Colorado, Vanderbilt, Miami and Indiana, among others. With Auburn’s assistant coaches — especially offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn — expected to be potential candidates, head coach Gene Chizik cut off things before they could begin Sunday, refusing to answer any coaching vacancy questions. “I don’t want to address any potential rumors and coaching issues out there that are flying around,” he said.
- Chizik was more forthcoming about helping assistants land better jobs last week. “It’s a fine line, because when you have a great coach, it is human nature to be selfish and to want to keep him as long as you can,” he said. “But in the same breath, without trying to talk out of both sides of my mouth, these guys, if they have great opportunities out there, I want them to be able to achieve their own goals as well. And I certainly want to try to help guys do that.”
- Lots of talk about the team’s first-half performance against Alabama. Roof boiled it down to its simplest terms: “We can’t play another first half like we did, because we won’t be able to overcome it.”
- Roof wouldn’t pin the problems on the secondary. “We all made too many mistakes,” he said. “We win and lose together, and there is no one particular group that is great. We were all bad in the first half. We win and lose as a team. That’s how we approach it. We’ve all got to get better.”
- Safety Zac Etheridge doesn’t like the fact that the secondary gets a lot of the blame. “We get tired of hearing about the secondary not playing as well, but when you look at it, with the game on the line, we get the job done, so we don’t really go into statistics,” he said. “We just play the game until the last seconds tick off the clock. Every defense, you’ve got to stop the run. If they’ve got both of them going at the same time, that’s definitely hard to stop. So you’ve got to stop the run and try to control the pass.”
- Is there a stern message for the secondary, though? “We’ve got a stern message for all of us,”Roof said. “Let’s get better now real quick. Let’s get a lot better real quick. That’s the message.”
- Bynes agreed: “If we put together a truly complete, four-quarter game, this team would be a lot better. This team would be unstoppable. That second half showed what kind of team we are — regardless of what the scoreboard shows.”
- More stuff from Roof on Bell, who wasn’t the most physical player his first two seasons. “I think that you’ve got to be very honest with your evaluation, so you can address problems,” Roof said. “Because if the problems aren’t brought to the forefront, sometimes they can fester and become a huge problem. So he’s a good kid who cares about this football team and we owe it to him to address the truth. He did something about it and I’ve got a lot of respect for people that do that. And like I said, he’s grown a lot. Not to be confused with enough. There’s still a lot of room for growth, this week preferably.”
- Bell’s response to being called not physical enough last year? “It felt bad to me to know first what my family stands for,” he said. “To know that my dad and my mom never raised a soft kid. I took it personal, I really did. I guess that’s the kind of chip on my shoulder I came out with.”
- Etheridge had high praise for Bell. “He will do whatever he can to sacrifice his body for the team and the Auburn family,” he said. “So he just goes out and throws all 180 or 170 or whatever into somebody. He just plays with his heart and gives his body up for the team.”
- One series that was somewhat overlooked was the defense stepping up after Quindarius Carr fumbled a punt in the third quarter. Alabama had great field position but couldn’t get a first down and had to settle for a field goal to only go ahead 27-21. “That was really huge from a momentum swing,” Roof said. “We all make mistakes, and that’s being a team. That’s our job. Our job is to go and respond, and when we’re put in that situation to make them attempt a field goal and not just let them take it down on us for a touchdown. So we did what we were supposed to do.”
- Roof said LB Eltoro Freeman earned his start the other day (the junior made 9 tackles, 2 TFLs and a sack) with his practice performance. Roof said he and Daren Bates will still both get a shot at starting next week, though. “We’re evaluating that constantly, because it’s our job as coaches to try to get the best group out there,” he said. “Also, there are some incentives out there to practice too. There are rewards for performance.”
- Freeman was a little worked up early (he whiffed on McElroy on one tackle) but Bynes had a talk with him. “He was a little down because he missed tackles or whatever,” Bynes said. “I told him: You have to calm down. Let’s calm down. If you calm down, things are going to happen and it’s going to be perfect for you. When he did that, he went out there and played great. It was a great scenario for him.”
- Roof said South Carolina is playing with more confidence now, especially quarterback Stephen Garcia: “He’s making good decisions and taking care of the football. You see him against everybody, where he’s moving the sticks with his feet. Anytime you get a quarterback who’s got mobility back there, that presents a whole other set of issues. So we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
- WR Alshon Jeffery had eight catches for 192 yards and two touchdowns the first time he played Auburn. “He’s a different player now than he was the first time we met him,” Bell said. “He’s stepped his level of play up, and we’ve definitely got to step ours up. We just haven’t been getting it done on the back side, speaking for the secondary. We know what’s at stake this weekend. We’re going to do everything we can.”
- More Alshon love from Etheridge: “I mean, he’s big. All of us know it on the back end. He has great hands and he uses his body very well. We’ve got to find ways to stop him. He’s one of our main focuses. He’s probably one of their best players on offense. This game, we’ve definitely got to step up on the back end and try to stop him.”
- RB Marcus Lattimore is pretty good too, although Auburn did a good job of corralling him the first time (14 rushes, 33 yards, 1 TD). “He was a guy who keeps his feet moving after contact,” Bynes said. “When he gets wrapped up, he’s still trying to strangle, to get up out of there for an extra yard or two. He’ll keep his hand on the ground and bust out of there and take it for 20 if he wants to. He’s still the same kind of guy we saw earlier in the year. We know our offense has increased in terms of having a lot better energy and physicality since then.
- Auburn and South Carolina have played before, obviously. Left guard Mike Berry said the team can take some things from that game, especially up front. “From a pass-rush standpoint, you’ve pretty much got a feel for what they’re going to do,” he said. “But other than that, it’s one of those things where they also have the advantage of they might know a couple calls here and there. At the end of the day, it comes down to who wants it more and who’s going to be physical.”
- Isom is from Jonesboro, Ga., so playing in the Georgia Dome is a homecoming of sorts for him. “It’s definitely special,” he said. “I never got to play in the Dome. We played in the Peach Bowl, but that was my redshirt year. We didn’t make it to the state playoffs in high school, so I’m really excited to play in it.”
- TE Philip Lutzenkirchen did a little jig after scoring the game-winning touchdown against Alabama. Isom asked him about it. “I definitely saw it,” he said. “It looked like a Riverdance to me. That’s what I tell him. I asked him what he was thinking. He said he just blacked out.”
- Bynes came down to Auburn and South Carolina during his recruiting four years ago. He chose Auburn, obviously. “Auburn was a family kind of atmosphere,” he said. “When I went to other schools, it didn’t feel comfortable. It didn’t feel like him to me. It was all about Auburn. There were a lot of Florida guys here. You felt like you already were part of the team and not like an outcast. I’m not saying South Carolina made me feel like that. When I came here, I felt like I was already on the team.”
- Isom, on the Iron Bowl celebration: “It was a celebration like no other. You can’t really put into words, to go in there against your rival in the Iron Bowl and to come out victorious.”
Auburn is back at No. 1 in the Bowl Championship Rankings … by a hair.
The Tigers jumped Oregon by .0002 points in the latest rankings, which were released Sunday night. Auburn’s BCS average is .9779. Oregon was at .9777.
TCU was third, .06 behind the two leaders. Stanford was fourth, followed by Wisconsin.
Auburn was No. 1 when the second set of rankings were released Oct. 24. The Tigers were passed the next week by the Ducks, who they trailed for four weeks.
Here’s what Chizik had to say:
- “South Carolina is probably playing the best football it has played all year.”
- Chizik not answering questions about Cam Newton‘s off-the-field issues. Also not talking about coaching rumors for his assistants. Lots of restrictions this week. Is he a football coach or a CIA agent?
- On the defense turning things around, said Ted Roof does a good job of making halftime adjustments. Also, “the consistency of what we’re trying to do has not always been there entirely on defense. A lot of times that’s why you’re seeing a tale of two halves.”
- On Alshon Jeffery: “I don’t think there’s any question: he’s playing as confident football right now as anyone in America. … Earlier in the year, I think everyone knew he was one of the best in America. But he’s gotten better.” Said the QB-WR connection has gotten better as the year has gone on. “It’s a tall order to stop this one.”
- On confidence: “I think our team is confident all the time. We just need to obviously execute earlier in the football game. We can’t start that slow.”
- On Darvin Adams‘ arm, which he was apparently shaking during the Alabama game: “He’s doing fine.”
- On the team not panicking after falling behind early: “We tell them every week there are storms that you have to weather every week.”
- “I’ve never been around a group of guys who have that resolve.”
- On facing Spurrier: “I think he’s a tremendous football coach, there’s no question. He’s one of the coaches who are going to be considered one of the great ones of all time.”
- Said the first thing you do at halftime while making adjustments is simplifying things. “Usually they’re very minor, but again, the devil’s in the details.”
- On playing teams twice in the same season: “It’s a little bit of a different dynamic. When you haven’t played anybody before, you have your best educated guess” on how a team is going to play you. “You’re not going to have wholehearted changes anywhere on your team, because obviously you’ve done something good enough to get you to the championship game.” Said you can narrow down the subtle things that you can do.
- On the players thinking there’s an advantage in already having beaten South Carolina: “I’m hoping it doesn’t. This is a brand new team. That was eight or nine weeks ago.”
- RB Onterio McCalebb limped off the field apparently. Chizik said he’s fine.
- On South Carolina’s improvements: “They’re running the ball extremely physical now. Not that they weren’t before, but you can just tell when they make improvements.”
- Also said the timing between QB Stephen Garcia and the receivers is good. Also praised the defense. A more succinct answer would have been: “Everything.”
- On stopping Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery: “I don’t know if you can completely stop both of them. That’s a phenomenal 1-2 punch.” Said you need to do a mix of things to slow both. “And that’s still a tall order.”
- On playing in a dome and noise: “You really deal with that on the road week-in and week-out anyways.”
- On when he knew Newton would be special: Chizik cited the long touchdown run he had in the first game against Arkansas State. “When he broke those big runs early in the year, we said, ‘Wow, he’s definitely got the ability to improvise.'” Said the Clemson game he showed how good of a passer he could be.
- On Newton: “He’s maintained his focus just the way he did in every football game this week and was able to prepare the same every week.”
- On what he thought he’d get out of Mike Dyer this year: “You never know how the tailbacks are going to respond, simply because there’s so many more things than running the football that they have to do.” Thought he would get playing time and get better as the year went on. “Didn’t have any preconceived number of plays that he would play, but we thought if he continued to improve, he could be a contributor in our running game. And he’s done that.”
- “He needs to be that guy who can run in between the tackles from that tailback spot.”
- Said teams are squeezing more people into the box to stop Auburn’s QB running game. “I think that’s everybody’s idea going in when it comes to stopping the run game. That’s what we’re seeing from most games.”
- On the big stage of the SEC championship game: “This is a little different feel, because everybody else is watching. It’s a unique feel.”
- “The good thing for us is the environment we’ll go into is going to be the same as we play in every week, home or away.”
Spurrier was up first. Here’s what he said:
- “Our team has played very well the past three games, probably about as well as we’ve played all year.”
- “I really respect what they’ve done this year. I wouldn’t say the surprise team, but they have been one of the best teams in the country, if not the best team, the first 12 games.”
- On the improvement since the first Auburn game: “I think the biggest improvement we made is pass defense. That’s what certainly has given us a chance to win.” Also said special teams play.
- On if he thought making title game was possible at SC: “That was our goal here at South Carolina: to be there and win the game there. And obviously it still is our goal. We didn’t think we had the team until maybe this year.”
- On backing the SEC championship game: “This game has helped more teams than it has hurt in the SEC. … This is like a tournament right here.” Said every team has a chance. “It’s clear what you have to do. You don’t have to worry about people voting, you don’t have to worry about your schedule. I think it gives every team hope to have a championship year when you can play for your conference championship.”
- On the haters who said he’d never make it to an SEC title game: “That was probably a fair assessment when you look at the history of South Carolina football.” Told his wife in 2004: “