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Monday, December 20, 2010

Pre-practice notes: Auburn preparing itself to play on college football's biggest stage

Freshman running back Mike Dyer hoped to play in a national championship game sometime during his career at Auburn. He didn't know the opportunity would come so fast, though.

"I just wanted to come in here and be part of something special," Dyer said. "I think that we are and I think our team has just done a tremendous job of winning and coming back for wins. There's a lot of things that happened this year for a freshman and I'm just really happy to be in this position and coming out and play for a national championship my first year."

It's been more than two weeks since the Tigers found out they would play Oregon in the BCS national championship game in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 10.

The ides is still sinking in with most of them.

"It's something that I haven't really sat down and thought about it," redshirt freshman defensive end Nosa Eguae said. "Being able to play in the biggest game in my career and and pretty much everybody's career, I mean, it's the Super Bowl of college football. It's something that's going to be big and that I'm looking forward to."

Head coach Gene Chizik said this is the goal of every team in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Getting here is a boon to the team's exposure.

"I think it’s obvious what it does for your program in terms of exposure, in terms of young guys saying, ‘Wow, this is a place that is going to have a chance to be in contention. This is a team that’s in a great league that’s on the rise,'" he said.

"I think it helps in every way, shape and form for our program, both the players that are here and the ones that are considering coming. I think it’s huge.”

Auburn's not getting overwhelmed by the moment, though.

“Coach (Gus) Malzahn always says, ‘The moment can never be too big for a player to make a play,’" quarterback Cam Newton said. " We have to believe that as much as anything for this game. It’s probably the biggest game of everybody’s career right now, but we can’t look at it as if it’s something with that great magnitude. We just have to go out and play Auburn football like we’ve been playing every week in the past.”

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Here are some more notes and quotes from Monday's interviews:
  • Plenty of praise for Oregon all around Monday. "Just getting a chance to look at them again more and more as the days go by, it becomes increasingly clear that this is not a good team but a great team," Chizik said. "We have our work cut out for us."
  • The Ducks play fast. So does Auburn's offense (sometimes). This might help the Tigers in their preparation. "It’ll be one of those things we’re practicing for right now," defensive tackle Zach Clayton said. "Obviously we go against our offense when they do their pace. It’s similar in a lot of aspects, but you don’t quite get the feel for the pace just watching film. You see a couple teams that won’t be quite lined up when they’re ready to snap the ball and everything. Obviously they’ve got a pretty good pace, and it’s worked well for them this season. It’s something we’ll definitely have to watch out for.”
  • How does Auburn combat it? "They make sure that the stuff that we can handle, as far as being in shape and doing those type of things, making sure we're aligned and we know our assignment and we communicate," Eguae said. "That's stuff I think you can take care of before the game even starts. So that's stuff we try to make sure we stay oempo is fast but it's stuff that we have seen, so we know. I feel we have to come out there and n top of and make sure we can handle."
  • Dyer on what he thinks his first carry will be like: "It's going to be an anxious moment. I'm ready to just go out there and just play hard, just try to get about 4 yards."
  • Apparently Lache Seastrunk, a highly ranked running back recruit last year, is playing Dyer on Oregon's scout team. The two got to know each other well during the recruiting process. "It's the same thing about Marcus Lattimore, going against him in the championship," Dyer said. "This is even better. It's just one of those things where top running backs seem to play each other in special games. It's just fun right now."
  • Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen has lined up in a blocking position, almost as another tackle, in many situations this year. "You're not getting a running start like you do from the fullback spot, getting to get some momentum," he said. "You've just got to brace in for the d-lineman coming at you from the get-go." Lutzenkirchen was mostly a receiving threat when he arrived. Could he have handled such a role two years ago? "Not at all," he said.
  • Here's how Lutzenkirchen identified his position: "I'd say a tight end. If you look in the NFL now, there's a tight end and then there's kind of an H-back guy that's in motion and kicking out ends. I feel like I'm kind of a combo of those two."
  • Chizik commented about unscrupulous NFL agents contacting potential draft-bound players. What's the key to preventing it? "Education," he said. "That’s what we have to do. We have to educate them, and they have to have a commitment and an allegiance to the people on their football team, to their university, to their coaches. It’s just that simple. We have to educate them, and they have to do what’s right and it’s no more difficult than that.”
  • The offensive players were obviously glad to get Malzahn back for at least another year. "I think he's going to probably spend another year here and then probably weigh his options," Dyer said. "But he's a real great guy. I really appreciate all the hard work he's put in and we just kind of support him either way."
  • Dyer said Malzahn is a perfectionist. "If the play he called doesn't work, and he drew it up, he's going to go back and fix it," he said. "I think he's going to be a little harder on himself than normal coaches. I think he's been that way through his whole lifetime. I've seen him getting upset about a marker not working because he needed a marker so he could draw a play up. It's just little things that you'll be like shocked, because it's easy to get another marker. But he wanted that marker. He's a great guy. We just love him, because he cares about us and about the game."
  • Lutzenkirchen on Malzahn: "When coach took us to the water park, he was just going around on the rides talking to people about football, picking people out and telling them what they did wrong on this or what they did wrong on that and how to get better. He's definitely an interesting personality where he is just always on his business."
  • Auburn has a long layoff until the game, which doesn't take place until Jan. 10. That's a 37-day break from the Tigers' last game. "As far as being that far off from the next game, you just have to stay focused," Eguae said. "It does no good to be ready to play right now. Just remain focused and make sure we stay on top of our keys and we know the game will come, and it will come faster than we expect."