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December 1, 2017

Gus Malzahn

Atlanta, Georgia

THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by the head coach of the SEC Western Division Champion Auburn Tigers, Coach Gus Malzahn.

GUS MALZAHN: First of all, we're very excited to be here. Thank you to Commissioner Sankey and the SEC for putting on a great event. This is really the most first class event that I've been fortunate enough to be a part of in the past.

I know our team, real proud of those guys as far as getting us here with the journey that we've had. Playing a great Georgia team, one of the better teams in college football, one of the most talented teams in college football. And the challenge of playing those guys again for the second time, and, of course, it was just a couple of weeks ago, which makes it very unique. But excited for our players, excited for our coaches and our fans.

Q. Jarrett earlier in the week was talking about his growth. He seemed to focus more on whether it was the loss against Clemson or LSU. How much easier is it for you to coach a guy that seems motivated by those losses rather than talking about his wins?
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, I mean, that's the type of player he is or the character he has. He's a great competitor, very tough on himself. You're talking about a guy the first game was very inexperienced. I think he only had four games under his belt when he got here, and you've seen him get more and more comfortable each week.

Like you said, he went through some adversity, and when you go through adversity, you find out truly what's in you. He rolled his sleeves up. He's been protecting the football. He's been using his legs more, which has opened up things for us in our offense. He's playing at a high level right now.

Q. Coach Malzahn, you said earlier this week that this team is more emotionally stable, steady than your 2013 team. How is that? How have you seen this team kind of grow and develop that way?
GUS MALZAHN: First of all, our 2013 team was outstanding. It was just a matter of we were on a journey and we didn't have as much information about our players and everything that goes with that as we do now, is what I meant by that, because 2013 was one of those special teams that I think everybody will remember for a long time.

What I meant by it is we've had five top ten recruiting classes in a row. We've got to this point, and we're just in a lot more stable position. We're in a position that I think we can sustain this type of level for a period of time. So that's what I meant by that.

Q. Remembering back to the last time you guys played, the midfield meeting, where you said see you in Atlanta, and he said something along the lines of I'll tell Nick. What made you confident that you would be seeing this team again?
GUS MALZAHN: I think I said, hope to see you in Atlanta, but regardless, I'll just say this. Kirby and I, we went against each other numerous times. We have a lot of respect for each other. I just had a feeling we'd play again.

Q. Since it happened so infrequently, could you address the rematch factor and the revenge motive Georgia might have, and what can you tell us about Kerryon?
GUS MALZAHN: I think the unique thing about playing a team again is it was just a couple weeks ago. As far as the revenge, and I'm sure they're going to have some of it, but this is a Championship Game. This game is as big as it gets for our conference, and the winner wins the Conference Championship. So I know both teams are going to be motivated.

As far as Kerryon is concerned, he did do some practice things on a limited basis. We're going to see how he is in pregame. It will be a game-time decision. Obviously, you know how important he is to our success, and he's helped get us here. We're very confident in our other running backs if he can't go. We'll see happens.

Q. You obviously went against Kirby a lot when he was defensive coordinator at Alabama. What does it say about him to have Georgia in this position his second year as a head coach?
GUS MALZAHN: Kirby's a great coach. I think everyone knows that. We went against each other numerous times in a lot of big games, and I've got a lot of respect for him the way he goes about his business. He went to Georgia, and he's just done a very good job getting them here this quick. What's impressive is he's doing it in his second year. He's a very good coach. He's got a very good staff, a very talented team. You're talking about one of the top teams in all of college football. And the challenge for us is playing them again.

Q. Is Jeff Holland developing into one of the better defensive players you've been able to coach the way he's played lately at Auburn?
GUS MALZAHN: I'll tell you, the thing about Jeff is he's really grown. You saw it in the spring that he showed flashes of really taking his game to the next level. Since the season started, he's been one of our impact players. When you have a guy that is an impact player, it really draws a lot of attention, and it helps other players.

But he's playing at an extremely high level. He's rushing the passer well. He's playing the run well. I know that's one area that he really focused on in the spring. Just done a good job for us.

Q. Coach, how valuable has Daniel Carlson been not only, obviously, for this season, but throughout his career and throughout his tenure?
GUS MALZAHN: Daniel Carlson will go down as probably one of the better kickers in college football. He's broke every record in the SEC, and there's been some great kickers come through our league. Just that confidence that, if we get the ball across the 40 yard line, we've got a good chance of getting three points. He's been a weapon as far as the kickoffs, and he's one of our leaders. He's not just a kicker. He's one of our team leaders. He's earned that right.

I know him. He had a chance to come out last year. He chose to come back, and he chose to come back for moments like this.

Q. If Kerryon can't go, how ready is Malik Miller to step up in a big game like this? And what makes you believe that, that you've seen in his development over time?
GUS MALZAHN: Malik and Kam Martin has gotten a lot of reps in practice probably the last five weeks. They've gotten a lot of reps in fall camp. We're very confident in both those guys. Devan Barrett is a guy you could see on the field too. If KJ can't go, we'll do it by committee, but we've got confidence in all those guys.

Q. You guys had a really emotional win last week against Alabama. How have the players handled it in practice this week? How's the team's mindset?
GUS MALZAHN: You know, we have experience with that because in 2013 it was similar as far as the emotion and everything. You've got to put that game behind you. I know, after our Sunday meeting, after we watched the film however many times, I hadn't heard anyone say anything about it. It was definitely a very emotional game. It was a very physical game too.

But like I was saying earlier, because the stakes are so high and this is for the Championship. Our guys, they've had a very good week of practice. It's kind of been business as usual as far as our preparation up to this point, and really that's the way it needs to be.

Q. Gus, you scored, I guess, 116 points in two games in this game as a head coach and as a coordinator. Is there some difference in what you do in preparing for a game like this than if this was a game in October?
GUS MALZAHN: I don't know. You have a lot of information this time of year. You know a lot about your team, and you try your best to play to your strengths. We have played well both times you're talking about. We'll need to do the same thing tomorrow against a great defense.

Q. Gus, with Kerryon, just how limited has his range of motion been this week with that shoulder?
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, I'm not going to get into specifics about all that and give you doctor's details. But I will tell you he was limited. He did do a few things. I'll be curious to see how he moves around in pregame. I'll be watching just like you.

I know he wants to. He is a great competitor. He is extremely tough. But at the same time, we'll see, and we'll know more in pregame.

Q. Coach, you've gotten down into the red zone 53 times. Each time you get in there, you come out -- 48 out of 53, you've come out with points. What is it about this team that makes it so efficient once it gets into the red zone?
GUS MALZAHN: I think, to be effective in the red zone, you have to be able to run it in. I think at times we've been effective doing that. And then, of course, you throw in Daniel Carlson that we talked about earlier, he's just a huge weapon down there. So that's been a big key to our success getting here is our red zone points.

Q. Gus, your friend Wally Hall wrote a column asking you to come home to Arkansas. There's a report that your agents have presented terms to President Leath for a new contract at Auburn. Have your agents presented your desire for a new contract at Auburn?
GUS MALZAHN: I think you asked me something similar to that. I'm focused on this game. This is for the SEC Championship, and I'm the head coach of Auburn.

Q. Coach, since that second half in Baton Rouge in mid-October, your team has really rallied. Tell us about the maturity and growth of your team since then.
GUS MALZAHN: When you go through extreme adversity, which that was extreme adversity the way we lost -- we lost a 20-point lead at LSU, and that was some tough times -- it's kind of one of those moments, defining moments for your team. We talked about that in the locker room after that game. This is going to be our defining moment. Are we going to fold our tent, or are we going to roll up our sleeves?

Now, at that time, I knew we had a good team, and I think our players knew too. It was just a matter of we just took it one game at a time. We started a countdown. We started counting one, two, three, four, five, and after each game, okay, we got there. They just got it done, and they got us to this point.

Q. Gus, you mentioned the 2013 and how special that will always be. Does this in some ways feel more rewarding though because of what you've been through the last couple of years? And even like you said, this season, to get to this -- maybe not quite the whirlwind that 2013 was.
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, I've got to be cautious about comparing because that was an unbelievable experience. That was a great team in 2013. This is a different journey. Like I said, the only difference is I think we're a little more stable long term. We have a little more information about our team and our staff and everything that goes with that.

But I'll just say this. Both of those seasons and those games were very rewarding, and we'll be able to look back on this season once it's all said and done and probably feel the same way.

Q. Gus, when you've had a top tier offensive player go down with injuries, whether it's the last couple years, quarterback, running backs, your offense has really struggled. You've had issues getting backups to perform at a high level. Do you have any of the same issues that could possibly pop up if Kerryon is not able to go?
GUS MALZAHN: You know, I think the last two years, you're exactly right. There's been some injuries to keep people at times. This team is different. I think everybody sees it. Any time you've got one of the best players in all of college football and you're not for sure if he's going to play, as a coach, it concerns you. But our team, I think we got depth. I really think that, if he can't go, our guys will rise to the occasion.

Q. Obviously, the past few weeks Jordan-Hare has been a big factor for you guys, been extremely loud in there. Obviously, this is not Jordan-Hare. How is that going to affect you guys, if anything?
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, I'm sure there will be more Georgia fans than Auburn fans from what I understand, but we will -- our fans will be extremely loud. We have played on the road a lot in some pretty loud environments, and I really believe that those experiences will help us.

Q. With Kerryon and the wildcat, you've had him running it for the last couple years and had so much confidence in him. Is that dependent on him, or do you look to others in a short week to try to prepare?
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, I'd rather not expose our game plan as far as if we are going to use it if he can't play and who that would be. I know Chip's got a good plan. He's thought about all the what ifs -- if he can play, if he can't play, and all that.

Q. Was there a moment this season after a game where you said to maybe somebody in your life that this team had the ability to do something special?
GUS MALZAHN: You know, I'll take you back to fall camp. I felt like we had a chance to be a good team, a really good team as far as our defense plays very well last year, we had a lot of guys coming back. Offensively, we knew Jarrett was talented, and we figured it would just be a matter of time before he started getting more comfortable. So probably after somewhere around that LSU game, you could see our team playing their best football.

Like I've said before, there's not a whole lot of teams in college football playing their best football right now, and I really like the way that we got here. The last couple of weeks, we've been peaking. Now, the hard part is to continue to do that because you've got to do that every single week from here on out because you're playing great opponents, like Georgia. But that's our challenge, to continue at that level.

Q. Coach, Stidham is averaging 220 yards a game, and you've got Kerryon running for 127. He's thrown for 16 passes, and Kerryon has ran for 17 touchdowns. So my question is how important is it to this team to have that such balanced offense?
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, I think -- when we hired Chip Lindsey, that was really the first thing we talked about in his opening press conference. He was hired to bring balance. He's done exactly that. I think we're one of the most balanced teams in our league. Really, that's been a big key, and the better team that you play or the more talented defense you play, the more balanced you have to be to be successful.

Q. You talked about Kerryon and a lot of questions about him, but having Jarrett, the way he's played but not only protected the football, how does that change the mindset of a team the way he's done and knowing how you can overcome it with a pass, and maybe you haven't been able to do that in the past?
GUS MALZAHN: He's been very efficient. When we have thrown it, we've been able to complete at a high level. A lot of times, those intermediate passes, short passes have got us in pace. He's got the ability to really stretch the field with his arm. When he has time, you've seen that he has done that. I think that's really opened up a lot of different things. He's been a big key to our success offensively.

Q. Gus, there's no real way to get a strictly neutral field. Georgia -- I mean, Atlanta's kind of considered everybody's home city in the SEC, but is there any solution to not -- I mean, you've already said it's probably not going to be a neutral crowd. Is there any solution? Is Atlanta the best that the league can do in that regard? How do you feel about it?
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, I'm just -- to be honest with you, I'm just tickled to death we're here. SEC can think about that. I like the fact that we play in Atlanta. I think this is an unbelievable venue. I think our SEC office does a super job putting this on, kind of like I was saying before. As far as them having more fans, I think a lot of their people have more boxes and all that, from what I understand. But I know the fans that we do have here tomorrow, they're going to have their A-game, and we're going to be loud too.

Q. You've had so many different offensive lines. Talk about Austin Golson and Braden Smith being seniors who have played for so many years and how they've stabilized things for you.
GUS MALZAHN: You know, that's probably been the most unique thing, as far as us having a good year offensively, that I've never been a part of, this many different starting lineups up front. You're talking about Austin Golson, a guy that's played all five offensive positions, started at four. I've never heard of that. That's really a tribute to him because he's played at a high level. And, of course, Braden Smith is one of the better linemen in the country. They've led the way. And Coach Herb Hand has done a super job with our offensive line.

But we talked about depth this year, and it's shown. We've played seven guys, and all seven have been very effective when they've been in there.

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