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December 26, 2019

Lincoln Riley

Atlanta, Georgia

Q. You and Ed Orgeron have had sort of different paths to get here. He's older than you, has been a lot of different places. Does that speak to the nature of college football, that it's such a diverse sport, all different kinds of ways to get things done, how people arrive at places?
LINCOLN RILEY: I think it does. I think universities are so different, university leadership it's different. And then I think the game and how opportunities are given have certainly evolved.

I mean, you didn't see a lot of -- just a lot of really young coaches, a lot of people being hired from within, maybe. It's probably not as much as you see right now. Certainly a little unprecedented that all four playoff teams had that from within.

But it is. It's a diverse sport. It is. There's a lot of different ways to get opportunities. A lot of us have had kind of different paths to get there. But certainly respect the path that he's taken.

Q. You mentioned about Alex trying to change the defense, compared to how you tried to change the offense when you got here. Is it a culture change when you're changing an offense? Because LSU is doing the same thing this year. Is it a culture change, a mindset change because it's defense or different because it's offense?
LINCOLN RILEY: I think there are more similarities than differences. You have to marry it all together. What do you think this group needs? If you've been brought in in a situation like that where maybe a group hasn't performed at the level that you would expect or hope, then you got to diagnose the problem first.

And then, yeah, I think it's culture. I think the culture's got to fit in with scheme. I think the scheme's got to fit with the personnel that you have right there.

A lot of times, obviously, when you come in, it's not you're like you're bringing in all your own players or hand-picked guys. I think it takes all of it, but it starts with culture and mentality.

Q. When you went back and watched the title game tape and saw what Tre Brown did on the 55-yard sprint, when you saw him make that play, what were your thoughts?
LINCOLN RILEY: It's kind of similar plays we've made all year. Delarrin had one, I think, in the Tech game too that was similar that we ended up having a goal line stand on.

So I wasn't surprised, but it was fitting for such a pivotal play in that game to come down to just pure effort from us, especially on the defensive side of the ball. I wasn't surprised he made it. I wasn't surprised we were playing that hard. It's awesome to see how far we've come.

Q. Your plans to get ready for a game like this, this is the third year in a row.
LINCOLN RILEY: It is helpful. These college football games have a little bit different vibe around them, a lot more hype. A lot of buildup.

It doesn't make the difference by itself, but it's certainly an advantage for us, and we've got to handle it like it is.

Q. Having the experience of being here before you think will give you an edge?
LINCOLN RILEY: It helps our team, I know that. It helps our team. This is not new for the majority of our staff and the majority of our players.

You've still got to go do something with it. You've got to act on it, you've got to handle yourself well. It will be an edge for us.

Q. What about the opposite of that, the fact that you haven't won a playoff game. Does that weigh on the program? Do you think about that? Motivation or a burden?
LINCOLN RILEY: No. Each team is its own team. Those other games are so far away in the past. I think you're just trying to do the best in the moment right now to play your best and to win this one game.

So you certainly want to do it for the program, but you can't -- all those other things don't help right now. They don't have an impact on it. You're just trying to win this one with the guys you have right now.

It's kind of like each and every week. So, no, I don't -- it's not discussed with our team, and I don't think it's really on anybody's mind.

Q. It's not personally on your mind? Does it gnaw on you at all?
LINCOLN RILEY: I think at some point when we're gone, you'll look back at things you hope you've done. It's hard. There's well over 120, 130 teams that could be here right now, and only four are.

It's so hard to get here. So you certainly -- any time you've got a chance to win a National Championship, you want to put your best foot forward and try to take advantage of the opportunities. No matter who you are, they're not going to come every year.

We've had a historic run of being able to get here four out of five years. But the numbers are against you doing that so I think at some point, it will be important. But right now, again, none of that matters. It's just about trying to play and coach our best.

Q. Is there anything you can learn, anything you look back on, on any of those losses, is there a theme at all? Anything you take from them that you've learned that you can use in this game?
LINCOLN RILEY: No. The games have all been different. We've had periods in those games where we played really well and periods where we haven't played well.

Sounds simple, but you've got to try to play as high level as you possibly can. You've got to understand, you're playing in the playoff. Every team is going to have the other team make runs against them. You've got to be able to handle those big momentum swings.

So I think more of learning, again, all the hype around it, the different scheduling options that you have with so much time.

This year's been a little bit different in that, but there's a lot of things we've learned through the years that we try to carry over.

Q. What stands out about LSU's secondary?
LINCOLN RILEY: They're talented. Good length. Guys move around well. Done a good job of making some competitive plays throughout the year.

So talented group that's well coached.

Q. Have you gone back to see how Jalen reacted to Dave Aranda (no microphone). Have you looked at that at all?
LINCOLN RILEY: I wouldn't say if we had or not, sorry.

Q. Is there a game on your schedule this year that has best prepared you for what LSU brings?
LINCOLN RILEY: There's bits and pieces from just about every one of them. It's all about the different battles you've been in as a team. Big game atmosphere, important games, playing against other great players.

This will certainly be one of the more, if not the most, talented team that we've played. So they're a really good team. I think you just kind of grow throughout the year.

I don't know that there's one I would sit there and say they compare most to LSU. That's hard to say.

Q. When you don't play a game for three weeks, Coach, especially when it comes to offense, timing and everything, is there anxiety to be the same team you were in the championship game?
LINCOLN RILEY: I hope we're a lot better, especially offensively. So no. I mean, it's actually been a lot less time than normal this year. It honestly feels like it's gotten here faster than what we've had in the past.

We've had a good schedule. We've had good work. I don't have anxiety about it. Our guys are ready to play.

Q. (No microphone)
LINCOLN RILEY: Just still where we were the other day. Nothing I would add.

Q. Some of your players said we see Heisman Trophy guys in practice all the time. That's what you've had over the years. They won't be in awe going against the Heisman Trophy winner?
LINCOLN RILEY: I don't think awe, but there's certain respect. How can you not respect what Joe's done. You're right. It's not like our guys haven't had a chance to practice and compete against good quarterbacks. Not taking anything away from Joe. He's had a fabulous year. He's going to be the best quarterback we've faced.

Q. You mentioned how hard it is to get there. Specifically for Jalen, (no microphone)?
LINCOLN RILEY: It will mean things later. I think he, kind of like all of us right now, is focused on trying to play our very best. We know that's what it takes in these moments.

So there will be time for reflection. I know he's excited to be here and have a chance to be in the playoff again and have a chance to win a National Championship. We all are.

But having been there, you know that the key to it, to taking advantage of the opportunity, is playing your very best.

Q. You guys have been the favorite every game you played this year. With being a double-digit underdog, is something you use at all? Is that something the players use for motivation?
LINCOLN RILEY: Underdog label, that comes from the outside. We're confident in who we are as a team. We're just trying to play our very best.

Q. Jalen, regarding his development as a player, what are you most proud of from when you've gotten him and now terms of where he's grown?
LINCOLN RILEY: He's grown in a lot of areas. Just to be able to execute our offense to the level we have and the level he has on such short time, with so many other new players, especially on the front. All those guys kind of going through it here, being so new for them. That's been a big change.

He's handled it well. I think he's grown as a thrower. Decision-making, I think he's playing a little bit looser.

Q. Coach Ed said that Edwards-Helaire is going to try to play, but he's not 100 percent for sure -- might not play at all. If he's not there or not 100 percent, how does that factor in?
LINCOLN RILEY: I don't think a ton. I mean, they're LSU. They've got -- it's not like they have a bunch of bombs behind them. So they've done a good job offensively. I don't think they'll change a bunch.

He's a good player. No question, he's been a key for them. But just like us in some positions, that's part of the end of the season and you've got to -- these games here at the end tend to test your depth.

Q. Stylistically, when you play the way that you do offensively and LSU has begun to play this year, what's the impact it has on your defense? When you're scoring fast and playing fast, how much does that challenge your own defense to kind of be prepared for that tempo and style?
LINCOLN RILEY: It can. A lot of it depends on how the game unfolds. Each week can be different. Less breaks out there, a little quicker. The potential to play more plays will test the depth of different defenses.

You've got to be able to do both. Going fast is great, but you've got to be able to mix it up. I think each set of coaches in the moment are going to do what they think is best to help put the whole team in position.

Offense is obviously just one part of it, but it does have an impact.

Q. When you bring in Alex, is there a conversation like this is what we're going to do offensively. Is there a way to make the defense work with it?
LINCOLN RILEY: It's not a cookie-cutter answer. Each week, each quarter, each game, it all changes. So, I mean, if you were some team that just went fast every single snap, you know, maybe. But those are conversations you have about -- you break down different sides of the ball and what you think you need to do to win. But there's got to be an overall perspective on what gives us the best chance to win this game this week.

So those are things that you work through the week, this game being no different. You have a plan going in. Then, like any game, with the unpredictability of it, you have to be ready to adjust.

Q. Coach, I know Coach Dabo and Clemson has talked all year about them playing the underdog. Nobody wants them in the final four, though they've been undefeated.
For you guys to be down by such a great margin in the first Baylor game and find a way to crawl back and find yourself here, is that really the turning point of the season for you, that comeback?

LINCOLN RILEY: I don't know turning point, but it was obviously a key point, absolutely. It was a key point. It was a big game. Those road conference games against top ten opponents, they're always hard. That one certainly was and we didn't play good early and dug ourself in a hole.

I think the team kind of found out what it was made of in that moment. I think that's fair to say. To be able to come back in the fashion we did, dominate the game when kind of everything was going against us said a lot. Yeah, I thought it was a big part of the reason we're here.

Q. In terms of just grit from the players, you must have learned something about some guys that day.
LINCOLN RILEY: Sure. We've got a tough team, I think a team that always expects to win, that expected to win that game, even when probably 99 percent of the country at that point did not.

So that's just kind of our guys right now.

Q. I think this is the first time we've gotten to talk to Gabe Brkic. How would you describe his personality?
LINCOLN RILEY: He's a fun kid, man. He's kind of quirky in some ways. But kind of enjoy the moment kind of kid. Yeah, fun. Always got a smile on his face, always in a good mood. He's got a great demeanor and obviously he's done a fabulous job for us this year.

Q. How much confidence? It seems like he said every time he walks on --

Q. How much confidence do you have in him?
LINCOLN RILEY: A ton, as much as any kicker we have.

Q. How much does it help you've been here before, third year in a row?
LINCOLN RILEY: I think it does. It helps. I think the planning, you've had some things to compare it against. Your coaches, staff, your players have kind of been through it. So not all this is new.

And then I think just all the hype and buildup around the game, we've experienced that. It doesn't make the difference by itself, but if we handle it the right way, it should be an advantage for us.

Q. How much different is your plan? Your defense is better than the last team you brought, how does that affect your planning for this game?
LINCOLN RILEY: Each game, you're looking at matchups and what do you think gives you the best chance to win.

So is it different? Yeah. I mean, there's a lot of things different about our team right now, there's a lot of things different about the opponent we're facing. So, I mean, it's different week to week too.

Hard question to compare years. It changes week to week because it's all about your recipe for winning and what do you think on all three sides of the ball. And then from an overall perspective, what do you think gives you the best chance to win each week.

In that way, it's kind of no different from us.

Q. Coach, obviously, three great quarterbacks you've had the last three years. What makes Jalen different from Baker and Kyler?
LINCOLN RILEY: Well, I mean, a lot's different. I mean, his time here, just the length of time here is very different. He's a different kind of leader, different kind of processor. They all were.

Obviously, his running ability is different than those two guys. Been able to do things with him running that's been very valuable.

There's a lot of similarities too, the quality of those guys, the way they've been able to produce. All winners, all extremely competitive. That's the fun in it, when you have a new quarterback, is all the differences and building it around what they do well and being able to communicate with him what you want. So it's been a fun journey.

Q. A lot of people say you have a way with quarterbacks. As a coach, how humbling is that to hear when you see your quarterbacks have that much success?
LINCOLN RILEY: Well, I mean, it takes -- I'm proud of what those guys have done. It takes so many people. It's their teammates, all the other coaches.

I mean, for something to run well on a football field, the amount of time and effort that goes into that from so many people is a lot. So, I mean, I'm excited with how well they played and the opportunities they've created for themselves, but, also, for all the people that have helped them get there.

Q. When you lose players -- like you lost some guys that are not going to play -- at any point, do you have to talk about the next guy up, or do they take that on themselves?
LINCOLN RILEY: Our team's had that all year. We've had one of the least healthy years, probably the least healthy year we've had since we've been at OU. We've had a million different lineup changes it seems through the year.

We had a lot of big injuries, especially early defensively. Our guys have kind of just carried on. So it's business as usual. It's not a hot topic for us. They understand the expectation.

Q. Coach, one of our guys talked about how bowl preparation was a little different this year than past years. What drove your thinking to try to shake up the schedule?
LINCOLN RILEY: Well, this calendar is a lot different, number one. It's a week shorter. So that was a huge change. And then I think it's what do you think gives your team the best chance to play their very best? The calendar's different. This team is different. So when we sat back and took a look at it as coaches, we mapped out a schedule we thought made the most sense for our group right now.

It's not a cookie-cutter answer, man. There's so many -- can't say what we did this last year. It's what we're doing. It's so many different pieces that we just had to try to find the very best we could for our group right now.

Q. Coach, did you know that Grant Delpit (no microphone)?
LINCOLN RILEY: I didn't until -- I think CeeDee mentioned something when we were here for the awards deal a week or so ago, mentioned they played against or with each other. Being down from that area, it doesn't surprise me.

Q. I told Grant, there will probably be some talking.
LINCOLN RILEY: Yeah, they'll have fun.

Q. CeeDee has had a different QB the last three years (no microphone). What do you think has sort of contributed to that?
LINCOLN RILEY: You he's had three pretty good QBs and a lot of other good players around him. He's a talented kid who came in ready to play at a young age, and he's continued to develop and grow and get better. He's continued to stay coachable even when he's had some success.

Yeah, he's been a very steady player, loves the game, loves to practice. Practices hard and consistently gets better because of that.

Q. I talked to a couple of the DBs who say he's 100 percent every practice.
LINCOLN RILEY: Well, that's why he gets the opportunities that he does and why he makes a lot of the plays that he does. That's the only way you get better. You build the quarterback's trust, you build coach's trust, you improve yourself as a player. You keep doing those things as a receiver, you're going to keep commanding the ball and keep commanding opportunities.

Q. (No microphone)
LINCOLN RILEY: He's got a lot of poise. He's very -- he's football smart. I mean, he understands the game. Yeah, I would say probably coming in and not -- he did a great job handling the team, and I'm not this guy coming in from this other program that's done this and that.

He just came in and tried to learn about our team and our culture, our players. So had a very kind of humble approach when he got there, took his time to learn this place and learn the team, and I think our guys really respected that about him.

Q. Is that a unique thing to have from a guy like him?
LINCOLN RILEY: You never know exactly how that's going to go when you bring in a guy to your program that's that far along in his career, especially one that's had the kind of career he had leading up to this.

But yeah, I would say just the maturity with how he handled the situation was pretty unique.

Q. Did you deal with him much in his improvement (no microphone)?
LINCOLN RILEY: No, not much. We've talked about it a few times. But it was kind of different times, and I certainly remember him and remember him coming out, known his dad for a long time and aware of the great things they did down there.

No, we didn't cross paths until we started recruiting him to come to OU.

Q. Playoffs have been frustrating with your team the last few years. How is this different?
LINCOLN RILEY: It's a different team. It's not overcoming the history. We're trying to beat LSU on Saturday. It's a different team, different staff, different year. It's all the same so we put ourselves in position here. It's hard to do it. You've got to go play your very best. We've been on the door step of doing it with some other teams. But those don't help you win this one. You got to go play your best.

Q. If you were writing a scouting report on Joe, what does it look like?
LINCOLN RILEY: I mean, yeah, he's very comfortable in their schemes, he does a great job getting the ball out of his hands, very accurate passer. And then he's made so many huge plays outside the pocket this year, extending time, whether it's taken off or whether he's making plays on the move. That's where he's really hurt people. And plays a lot of the style that Baker did for us. Very, very similar in a lot of ways, and it's very, very effective, very difficult to defend.

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