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.”
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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."