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December 30, 2017
THE MODERATOR: Coach, talk about how your Bowl Week experience has been so far.
ERIK CHINANDER: It's been a tremendous experience for both the staff and the players, first-rate treatment here by the people of Atlanta and also by the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. Unbelievable hotel, unbelievable facilities. Great activities for the kids to participate in, as well as the staff.
It's just been a great experience for me and for also our players to experience a Bowl game like this and be treated like this. It's going to be very exciting for me to do this to finish this season off right with a team that, quite frankly, I have a lot of love for, for the players on this team, for the coaches on this team.
To watch these guys play one more game together because of how much they love each other, and to also get to play against a team that I have great respect for. Auburn is an unbelievable football team, and it's going to be awesome to watch the battle go down in a couple days.
So just very proud to be here, very excited to be here, and I can't thank everybody that's put this Bowl game on enough.
THE MODERATOR: Shaquem, I know there have been a lot of activities and it's been a long week so far. What memory, what moment, are you going to take away with you from the week you've had so far?
SHAQUEM GRIFFIN: For me, definitely going inside the stadium. When we first got in there, everybody's heads went up, and it's funny because right before we went inside the stadium, Coach Frost said, don't get distracted by the stadium.
As soon as you walk in, everybody's head starts snapping up to the top of the stadium, looking at the screen. So we had to get used to being inside there. That's a really fun experience. It was kind of cold when we first got here, but when we got in the stadium it felt warm. Being inside the Dome for the first time was such an amazing experience, and we're so excited to play in it.
All the events, just the Bowl itself, it's showing us so much love. It's been awhile since we been to an event like this, and being able to do so many things and have so much fun and interact with each other and have friendly competitions, it's just been a really great experience we're going to take with us and remember forever.
Q. Shaquem, you're one of nine players, I believe, that were here for that Fiesta Bowl win and then the 0-12 and now this season. Who do you credit for that turnaround from when it looked so bleak to where you're at right now?
SHAQUEM GRIFFIN: I credit our 0-12 season. We learned so much from that. Obviously we was a team who was winning a lot, and being able to learn from experience and being able to go through that 0-12 season and knowing how it feels to lose every single game, you will get that toughness about yourself, about what it's going to take for us to start winning again.
Being able to have new coaches and their support for us and their love for us and being able to get an opportunity for us to be better than what we were before, you know, we're allowed to open up more and be ourselves and not worry about the season before us, even though going 0-12.
Obviously it was tough for us, and you know, we are blessed to have coaches help get us out of that, and ever since then we never looked back. I think that's the good thing for us, and going through the season, we never looked back just because we know what the feeling of losing is like. We just kept pushing forward. And when it comes to this game, we're going to understand what's at stake, and we're going to give it everything we got. Because we know what it's going to take from the team and the coaches and the expectations that we give to each other, and we know that we need to get this job done.
Q. Shaquem, you and A.K. were both state champions in track and field in high school. How does your track background and the speed mean to this team, UCF fast?
SHAQUEM GRIFFIN: You said it yourself, UCF fast. That's something we're really big on. Having a track background, football players do that to stay in shape and have good form to transition to football. Obviously, it plays a big part. But you know you're going against a team with speed also, and you have to make sure that we come ready and we ready to go fast every single play.
I feel that when it comes to games like this, you can't take plays off. I mean, you got to be willing to go fast every play and make sure you can make tackles and make cuts and do anything possible to create plays even when plays seem not to be there.
A.K. is really fast. I'm really fast. The team is really fast. They don't call us UC Fast for nothing.
Q. Just what are the particular challenges that Kerryon Johnson presents to the defense and to the linebackers?
ERIK CHINANDER: Obviously very, very good football player. I don't think you get to play in a game like this if you don't have a lot of really good football players and a very talented football team.
The whole scheme is going to present problems for the linebackers, the defensive backs. But in this kind of game, when you have a lot of time to prepare, I think it's about us. It's about us more than it is about them. It's about us getting lined up. It's about us being prepared to play. It's about us executing every single play and winning some one-on-one match-ups.
These bowl games, you know, especially when you get to a Bowl game of this magnitude, everybody's fast and everybody's big and everybody's got really good football players. It's going to come down to who loves football more, who can execute every single play, who can line up and beat their man a hundred times in a row.
So he definitely presents a lot, a lot of issues, and I have nothing but the most respect for him. He's a great football player. But we need to do our job and if we can do our job, then we're going to be happy at the end of the game.
SHAQUEM GRIFFIN: I mean, Coach really said it all. But I think as a team, a defense, we have to make sure that we play together and stay true to our keys and trust that the coaches are putting us in the right positions. You know, we always did that and we wouldn't be here if we didn't. He's a really good football player. And I think for us, we just have to make sure that we play ball and that we support each other. Watching film on him, he can make good cuts and break tackles, so as a defense, you have to really rally to the ball and make sure we support each other every step of the way.
Q. Obviously you watch a lot of film on Auburn, but for both you guys, you get to interact with them and size them up. What are your impressions of being here in Atlanta with Auburn?
ERIK CHINANDER: You know, it's funny, you know, the way that college football works. I think a lot of times people think that we don't know the other players or we don't know the other coaches, but I know a lot of their coaches very well. A lot of really good football coaches and a lot of really good men on their staff. I've also had the opportunity to see a lot of their players up close and in person from recruiting them, whether I was recruiting them or recruiting someone else on their team or a game they were at.
I had a very close recruiting relationship with Jarrett Stidham, trying to get him out to Oregon, along with Coach Frost. So I kind of knew what we were getting into when we came in here, and they have a great-looking football team. We saw them last night up in person.
Like we said before, everybody that gets to a Bowl game of this magnitude has a big team, has a strong team, has a fast team, and that goes full on on Auburn. They have a great-looking team, and I am looking forward to watching our guys match up with them.
SHAQUEM GRIFFIN: Just to add on to that, just knowing the players already and having a guy like Ryan Davis -- we went to high school together, so already knew him obviously. We grew up together back home.
You know, seeing them up close, they have a good-sized team. The guys look good. Just like Coach said, you wouldn't be here if you didn't have good players, big people and guys who are willing to do the right thing to be in this position. Just know the competition is not done yet, and you know, we've been enjoying that throughout the process.
Like I say, Auburn is pretty smart when it comes to trivia. You know, watching those guys and being up close and being able to talk to guys, pretty good guys, you know, it's going to be a fun game to watch.
Q. The way that the season ended, you win both games, but I'm sure defensively you weren't happy with giving up a thousand yards. Have you made adjustments or what was it that you addressed going into this to get it right?
ERIK CHINANDER: Yeah, we made a few adjustments. Obviously Memphis was the No. 2 team in the country on offense coming into the football game and USF is a good football team on offense, as well. We made some adjustments. They exploited some things in the scheme that we haven't seen before, and they have really good coaches, too.
The first part of this Bowl prep was addressing some of the issues we had, and the second part was getting ready to play Auburn. Obviously, that was the biggest chunk of what we needed to get done. And a lot of those things were some self-inflicted wounds, some guys that maybe communication wasn't great. Maybe some guys were misaligned, and I think we spent some time getting that corrected.
And you're right, we don't like giving up all those yards in those games, but W is the most important stat for us. It was a great team win. In both games we ended the game with a turnover which is -- it's kind of twofold. Obviously, you look back and say, that was a lot of yards given up and a lot of points on the board. Do I like that? No. But do I love the fact that those guys didn't lose their edge, didn't lose their camaraderie, didn't give up and came back and won the game for the team? Absolutely.
We have a team full of fighters. We've had fighters since we got here, whether we walked in and it was 0-12 or last year when we went from 0-12 to 6-7, and this year to what we've done. We knew we had fighters the whole time. We're going to fight to the end of this game. We're going to fight to the end of the Peach Bowl, and it's going to be an awesome game to watch.
Q. Talking about the 0-12 season and how that sort of spurred what's happening right now, what do you remember from when you guys came in and took over that team? What did you have to do to sort of build them back up?
ERIK CHINANDER: I think when we walked in there, you know, I met Shaquem fairly quickly. I met a lot of the players. I didn't really want to turn the film on because I didn't want to get a bad taste in my mouth about what I was going to walk into. I relied a lot on Sean Beckton and Travis Fisher, who had been there to tell me kind of who were the players or what position they need to start in.
As we got through the mat drills, the winter conditioning, I kind of looked around and said, we don't have bad football players. We have good football players. We have good athletes on this team. I think the culture was broken a little bit.
Obviously Coach O'Leary for a long time did a great job with this program, won a lot of football games, won conference championships, won a Fiesta Bowl. What he did for UCF will never be taken for granted. But every once in awhile, change is needed. That 0-12 team probably didn't need to be an 0-12 team. It probably spiraled a little bit out of control.
But all it needed was a little spark. It needed a little change in culture. It needed a little love from the coaches to the players, from the players to the players, from the players to the coaches. And it didn't take long. Once we got into spring practice, we knew that this wasn't going to take long. This is not an 0-12 football team. This is a really good football program we were left with, just under some bad circumstances.
So we got -- we were very fortunate to take over that program, being in the situation it was, although it was an 0-12 season, it was a huge turnaround. In my eyes, it wasn't going to take a ton and, hopefully, we've left this program in a better place than we found it.
Q. I just saw on Twitter that offensive lineman, Austin Golson, said that you're probably the best pass rusher he'll face all season. What does that mean to you, considering that he's in a league of a lot of great pass rushers?
SHAQUEM GRIFFIN: I mean, it means a lot obviously, and you know, Auburn has a really good O-Line, and it's going to be a really fun experience come Monday. Just to get praise like that, it means a lot. It shows that I'm doing something right.
He's a really good offensive lineman. It's funny because before I even came in here, I already knew he said that. He told me about that, and it was funny because I just said, I feel like this is going to be probably the best O-Line we go against or we see this season. So we're already giving praise to each other without even knowing it.
So we already know that it's going to be a hard-fought game. It's going to be a lot of spin moves and all kind of moves out there. We going to be battling just to see who is going to be the best person, who is going to come out on top. You know, there's going to be a lot of trash talk, but we're going to make sure we enjoy it at the end of the day. I'm excited to go against him and see what he's got, and I'm pretty sure he's excited also.
Q. Just wondering, what are some of the biggest lessons this coaching staff has imparted on you during the two years you've worked with them, and is there any part of you that wants to win this game to send them out with a W?
SHAQUEM GRIFFIN: I mean, the biggest thing for me was the love the coaches gave us; the way they react to each other, the way they talk to each other, it's kind of grown on us.
And just doing events and being around each other. I mean, we was going bowling and it wasn't about football at that moment. It was just about us having fun and enjoying each other as company. That meant a lot to me because I wasn't used to that.
You know, being a freshman and watching that Fiesta Bowl, we had a coach where -- you know, we got this group was going to stick with each other. You have the older guys going to be with each other, and sometimes the older guys will talk to the younger guys but that was their coach. And for the new coaches to come in and create a culture for us, it's unbelievable.
I mean, we're closer than ever. You don't see safeties hanging out just with safeties. You see safeties hanging out with O-linemen, and you see defensive linemen hanging out with receivers. It's a culture that's not all about positions or where you're from or who you hang with. We're one team and we preach all the time, one team, one family.
It's just amazing. That's something that I'm going to take with me forever when it comes to any team or whatever I'm doing. Having that culture, to support each other, even when it's not about football, is so much. And I think that's what creates the fight in us.
I remember the 0-12 season when something went wrong, we used to clash at each other. We don't have that anymore. When something goes wrong, we make sure we pick each other up, no matter if it's offense, defense, or special teams. And I think that's what shows a lot and shows what kind of team we are; even when we're down, you're going to see the fight actually really come out of us. We know that we have to help support each other no matter what's going on.
You know offense is going to have a day, defense is going to have a day, and special teams is going to have a day. At the end of the day, the team is one, and we're going to fight for each other no matter what the circumstances are.
Q. What was it like to walk around the College Football Hall of Fame last night? Was there anything that caught your eye besides the Heisman and National Championship? Is there anything you liked or read about and learned something?
SHAQUEM GRIFFIN: Walking in there, everything caught my eye, so it's kind of hard to pinpoint one thing. It's my first time in there, and even from the food, it caught my eye. So the moment I walked in, you had to walk past the food before you go sit down. My attention turned to that first.
I mean, it was an amazing place to be, and watching the video, I literally caught chills watching the video and watching the Hall of Famers talk about their circumstances or how they came up and what it took to be great players. You know, it's just something about football where you just see something like that and you're catching chills when it's not even cold inside the room.
I mean, there was lot of us in there, some big guys; it was a room, and it was kind of hot. When you're catching chills in a hot room, it goes to show that the experience that we're having here and being able to see the Heisman Trophy and the National Championship Trophy, it was just amazing. Seeing all the Hall of Famers, and it tells a story, and it tells what they went through and the path they took to get to where they were.
It's amazing and it just goes to show that working hard and staying dedicated to what you want out of life, you can be great like them one day.
Q. Can you talk about the experience of meeting the two twins on Wednesday?
SHAQUEM GRIFFIN: It was a great impact on me. I mean, it was an amazing experience.
Just coming from Florida or St. Petersburg and being able to meet twins that kind of relate to me and my brother. I remember just watching them talk during an interview and telling their story about how they would mimic each other. It's fun, because even when I was doing something and it might not be right, my brother would mimic me just because he don't know if it's right or wrong, but they want to do everything alike.
And you know, it's hard to see, but that's the bond that it creates with each other. When my brother talks about being on the field -- and we don't have to say much, but we know what each other is thinking, it starts at that age.
For them to mimic each other, you know, once they get older or play any sports or do anything, it's going to be the ultimate bond where they don't have to speak no more because they know what each other is thinking. It's funny. They're going to be protective of each other just like me and my brother. Just watching -- I didn't have to say too much, just looking at them, it reminded me of having my brother. When we was younger, he was so protective, and I was the one that was out there no matter what it was, climbing a tree, catching a ball, wrestling with my older brothers.
My brother was, I don't think so, I don't know, I'm going straight for it or whatever happens, happens. Just hearing the stories how he was, like, he'll see a ball, he'll just go jump; he don't know how he's going to grab it, but he's going to try to grab it. It's how me and my brother was. It's kind of cool to see a younger version of me all over again.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports