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December 3, 2017

Kirby Smart

Lincoln Riley

Pasadena, California

KAREN LINHART: The Tournament of Roses is thrilled to be hosting the No. 2 CFP ranked Oklahoma Sooners, and the No. 3 CFP ranked Georgia Bulldogs. This will be the second appearance for both teams in the Rose Bowl game and the first ever matchup between Oklahoma and Georgia. I'm joined today by Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley, and Georgia head coach Kirby Smart. I'd like to start by asking both coaches to give an opening remark. Coach Riley will go first followed by Coach Smart. Coach Riley?

LINCOLN RILEY: Yeah, thanks for having me on. Yeah, it's a thrill to be able to have a chance to come play in the Rose Bowl. It's kind of been -- it's been a great season for our team, kind of a great ride that certainly changed for me and the rest of this team in June when Coach Stoops stepped down.

Just really proud of our team, our staff and how everybody has handled this entire year. The ups and downs that come with the year and continued to keep our head down and improve, and ultimately win a Big XII Championship and put ourselves in position here to play a great Georgia team in one of the best settings not only in college football but in just sports period.

To get a chance to come do it at the Rose Bowl is very, very special to us. We're certainly very appreciative of the opportunity. Really looking forward to playing a great Georgia team. I've been able to keep up with them a little bit throughout the year. Coach Smart has done just an obviously tremendous job with that group in such a short amount of time. So I have a ton of respect for him, the coach he is, the team that they have. I know it will be a great challenge for us, and we're very much looking forward to getting down there.

KAREN LINHART: Thank you, Coach Riley. Coach Smart?

KIRBY SMART: Yeah, I'll second that statement. It's an honor anytime you get to play in a College Football Playoff or coach in it. For Lincoln and I both, first time in this type atmosphere in the College Football Playoff. I think it's awesome that it's in the Rose Bowl, so you get to go out to The Granddaddy of Them All and play in a venue that a lot of these kids in the southeast don't get an opportunity to go to.

I was very fortunate to get to coach in a game out there and thought it was probably my most memorable game of all the ones I've ever coached in just because of the stadium and where it was and all the history that's involved in it. So our guys will know about that, and they'll find out about it, and they'll be excited about it.

Really pleased with the progress and the growth of what was a really young team to start out the season. Now they seem much more experienced and seasoned along. They've improved throughout the year. Had a lot of ups and downs as well. Got a great senior class that kind of led this team through it, and proud of them bringing Georgia back to where we think Georgia should be. Excited for the opportunity.

I got to watch quite a bit of Oklahoma throughout the year. An electric team, a very good team, a team that I've had experiences with, and know a lot of their defensive coaches and defensive staff. Think they've done a tremendous job. Watched Lincoln and what he did when he was at East Carolina. Saw a lot of games and lot of points scored, so I know how explosive they are offensively.

So our guys are excited for a chance to go play and play in such that matters as much as the CFP does.

KAREN LINHART: Thank you, Coach.

Q. I was curious, you said you've watched Oklahoma a fair amount this season, and Baker Mayfield is probably going to win the Heisman. Obviously a very dynamic player. Does he remind you of anyone?
KIRBY SMART: I can't say he does. He's such a good athlete, and he's got a thick build, and he stretches and extends plays, extremely explosive. Not afraid to make any throws. It's really like when you watch Brett Favre back in the day. Obviously he's a better athlete, and he's got the gunslinger mentality that he can make all the throws. He enjoys the game and plays the game with so much passion. I've enjoyed watching the games he's played in, and just the pageantry and the passion with which he plays with. It's really what college football is about, and he's obviously a phenomenal player that makes everyone around him better.

Q. Is there anyone that you've played this season that will be similar? He's hard to prep for, obviously.
KIRBY SMART: No, we haven't played against any Heisman Trophy winners, and nobody of that caliber at that position. He's really talented because he can hurt you in so many ways. I think it's the combination of Lincoln's system and their offensive system with really the perfect quarterback for it. So you've got a good match.

Q. Coach Riley, have you faced a ground game attack this fall, you think, pretty similar to Georgia's with Michel and Swift?
LINCOLN RILEY: I don't know if we've seen anybody with the caliber of the backs that they have there. Ohio State had two pretty good backs and ended up having good years, but the two backs or really the three backs they have there are all tremendous.

Coach Chaney and those guys have done such a tremendous job this year keeping those guys all involved and being able to run the football, and being able to play action people. That's definitely going to be a challenge. We've been lucky enough here over the last few years to have some great backs of our own. You realize how special those guys are and how difficult they can make it to defend. So that's certainly going to be a big challenge for us here with the quality of backs that Georgia has.

Q. Kirby, you held, of course, both Tech and Auburn to one touchdown each. You said they're different kind of offenses, but how does your tackling compare to the Tech game and the Auburn game last night, and what kind of tackling is it going to take against this powerful Oklahoma offense?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, obviously the Tech game is extremely different. I can tell Lincoln, he doesn't even need to look at that tape and he'll be okay without looking at that Georgia Tech tape. But the Auburn game, we probably tackled a little better than we did the first time we played them. I think the kids were just a little more comfortable playing them this time than they were the last.

But tackle is something that you never perfect. So it's not like you ever pitch the perfect game in tackling. You're always going to have missed tackles. These skill players nowadays are such great athletes. You're trying to make sure that your opportunities, that your one-on-one are limited, and you can get two guys around the ball to help make the tackle, because a lot of the skill players offensively are so far ahead of the defensive players nowadays, that's why you see so many points.

Q. Lincoln, you grew up in Texas, and Kirby you grew up in the south. I'm wondering how much you guys paid attention to or cared about the Rose Bowl when you were growing up, considering it was more of a Pac-10 game than a Big 10 game back then?
LINCOLN RILEY: Yeah, I can always remember watching it, and hearing Keith Jackson call it. It seemed like it was always a great game. That was just always one of those places that you kind of put on the bucket list as far as wanting to go to that game one day and be involved in that game one day. It kind of seems like a dream kind of out there a little bit.

So, yeah, and so many of the great games over the past few years have been glued to the TV, watching it, and then talking to people here around this program who were at the Rose Bowl several years back when Bob was obviously still the head coach.

For a program that's been to as many great bowls as Oklahoma has, everybody that was present for that one just raved about the bowl, the scene, the environment, the atmosphere. So it's definitely been on my list and I'm thrilled that it worked out this way.

KIRBY SMART: Yeah, much the same for me. Growing up in a house that was a football house and dad being a football coach, we didn't miss bowl games. It was always a great tradition, new year's to come and sit around the house and watch all the games and watching the Rose Bowl always was special. There weren't very many teams, obviously, that we were familiar playing in it. But I spent many a New Year's getting to watch the Rose Bowl. And having gone out there and competed in it the one time, it really is a special place and a special venue.

Q. Kirby, what do you remember the experience was with the Sugar Bowl, and how do you think it will be different now with Coach Riley there and in his system?
KIRBY SMART: The experience of the Sugar Bowl was miserable, to be honest with you. They attacked us and did a great job. We didn't play really well. It was one of our probably most disappointing bowl performances at the time. Thought they did a tremendous job offensively. The kid had a phenomenal fake and that quarterback came out on fire and lit us up pretty good. That was a different team, different program, different time.

They've always done a tremendous job at Oklahoma. It's been a place that I've been through several times just to visit and talk ball with throughout the years and had a lot of respect for that program and their staff for a long time.

Q. I know Sony was going to undergo an MRI, can you update what you learned about that injury for Natrez and Jayson Stanley?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, Natrez and Jayson, I'm obviously disappointed in some of the actions there. But we still don't have all the information completely in from that so their discipline will be handled internally.

And then with Sony, everything looks good. He's fine. He had a little soreness in there that was bothering him, and he should be good to go.

Q. Last night it looked like Elijah Holyfield filled in for Christian Payne a little bit at fullback. How difficult was it to have him ready to go in such a big game in that position in only a week's notice, and how do you think he did?
KIRBY SMART: I think he did a good job. He works there throughout the year. It's not like it was a week's notice. I mean, he gets multiple reps in multiple positions. All good offensive coaches try to use their players in every situation they can. You want to have the best 11 on the field, and Payne's really our only fullback, so we have other guys rep there and practice there a lot. So he had done some of that before.

So I thought he did a good job last night in competing. He's a real competitive kid. He likes getting his touches, but he doesn't mind blocking as well.

Q. Kirby, you talked about that Oklahoma-Alabama Sugar Bowl a few years ago. The week after that game Baker Mayfield came to Norman and enrolled at Oklahoma, having left Texas Tech. Did that amaze you that a guy would watch the Sugar Bowl and see a quarterback who had three years eligibility remaining and say, hey, I'm going to come there and win that job?
KIRBY SMART: No, it doesn't amaze me now that I've seen Baker Mayfield. I mean, he's not one that he's going to lack confidence in himself, so he's done a hell of a job leading that team. I think you see that.

You see the same kind of things in the way he plays. His confidence level is extremely high. So, why should he be bashful about coming in and competing. There are good quarterbacks everywhere.

I think Lincoln will attest, the best quarterbacks I've been around have been the ones that came in not afraid of the competition. They came in with another good one there because they thought they were better. That's ultimately what he did?

Q. Kirby, on Malkom Parrish, what did he have that didn't enable him to play?
KIRBY SMART: Lower extremity injury.

Q. Okay, even without him, y'all obviously pretty much shut down Stidham the final three quarters there, which obviously you weren't able to do the first time around. What was the key? Was it a combination of pass rush and pass coverage?
KIRBY SMART: Well, it was a combination of a lot of things. I think disruption of the quarterback, trying to confuse and disguise some things with him. Ultimately pass rush was effective. But 21, Kerryon wasn't exactly as effective either. I don't think he was 100% healthy. So that affected their play calling as much as anything.

Q. Kirby, a little bit ago you referenced having visited Oklahoma in the past. Maybe stopped by for, I assume, maybe some ideas and exchanges with coaches there. Does that date back to Bob, I take it?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, the defensive staff when I was at Alabama, we'd go out there and visit with them from time to time. They actually came and visited with us a couple times when Bob was there. We didn't have much crossover at the time, so we'd share ideas in the offseason and things. I can't even remember what years it was, but I think it was multiple times.

Q. Do you recall your reaction to his decision to retire last summer?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, I was a little shocked. I follow Bob's career a lot, because I always respected him when he was the defensive coordinator at Florida. I always thought that would be the path that I would take from defensive coordinator to head coaching job. Of course he won the National Championship at Oklahoma. Just kind of followed him ever since.

When he did what he did, I was just kind of taken aback. First question you wonder is why. Then getting to visit with him some this fall when he came by and spoke in Athens, he was just so comfortable in his decision and what he decided to do. I just respect that. Because as a dad who was a high school coach and coached long enough and said he walked away under his own terms, I think that's really special. I thought it was a great way to do it, and getting Lincoln and his staff a way to stay intact and all those families to stay intact. That's really important in the coaching profession that you take care of your other coaches. I just think it says a lot about Bob that he did that.

KAREN LINHART: To Coach Riley and Coach Smart, thank you for taking the time out your busy schedule to join us today.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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