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December 27, 2019
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by head coach of the Big 12 champion and fourth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners, head coach Lincoln Riley and head coach of the SEC champion and Number 1 ranked LSU Tigers, Ed Orgeron.
Coaches, we'll start with an opening statement. Coach Riley, we'll start with you. If you could talk about so far your experience in Atlanta and the Bowl Week and how it's compared with other bowl trips you've had in the past.
LINCOLN RILEY: First, just want to offer our thanks, appreciation to everybody involved with the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Having been in a few of these, these bowls can be a difficult balance. There's the experience of the bowl, getting to meet all the people, all the people involved with it, getting to enjoy the city. And then certainly in these playoff games, you're balancing trying to give the teams a great experience but, also, kind of the space to get ready for obviously an important game. These guys have done as good a job of any that I've been around of balancing that.
Our team has really enjoyed the city of Atlanta, enjoyed this week. So very much appreciate it. First class all the way.
Had a great week of practice. At this point, I think everybody is just ready for the game to be here. We certainly can't wait to play.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Coach.
ED ORGERON: Want to thank Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, City of Atlanta, all the guys that work tireless hours. I think it's very well organized.
They gave us a chance to come here and have a playoff-type mentality and still have a bowl experience. I think that the time that they access to do things was very short, it was very entertaining for our football players. It was great to spend time with Coach Riley and his family, get to see the staff, get to see his fine football team. I thought our teams interacted well together.
There was some competitive games and stuff that was fun. The food's been great. The facility's been great. Just a great atmosphere.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach. We'll open it up to questions.
Q. Lincoln, the last few years since you've been at OU, you've set the standard for offense in college football. You have another great offensive team this year. LSU's kind of the talk of college football offensively a little bit this year.
When you look at their offense, what do you see and how much does it remind you what you guys do offensively when you look at LSU?
LINCOLN RILEY: I see a really, really good offense. They've done a great job.
The quarterback has certainly made them go, like a lot of great offenses. He's a tremendous player. We've thought that for a long time, even when we offered him many years back.
So Joe's been phenomenal for them all year and they just don't have a ton of weaknesses. Offensive line has obviously played well. They've got weapons on the outside, weapons at running back, and they've got a scheme that's very creative in the way they use those guys and create match-ups. So a lot of respect for the way they've played.
You watch them, there are certainly some things that are similar and then there's a lot of things that are different that make them unique.
So, I mean, the whole thing to me, it doesn't matter where it came from. It's how you package it. How do you make it fit the strengths of your team and your players, and they've certainly done a tremendous job of that.
Q. Coach Orgeron, your two very talented freshmen running backs, Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery, how much have they matured since the beginning of the year and are they ready to play on such a big stage.
ED ORGERON: Both of them are ready to play, along with Chris Curry. All three of them have different talents. Clyde can do all three things. All three of them are different. All three of them can do some of the things Clyde does. Not all that they do.
They've matured. The game's have gotten them ready. John's improved on the things he had to improve on. Tyrion is a big bull. He's very physical. Chris Curry has learned the offense and can go in there and give us some plays. So I think all three have improved, but they'll have to play very well, if they play, against a very stiff Oklahoma defense.
Q. Lincoln, we talked a little bit about this in August, but now that you've had a season of perspective, how has Jalen handled stepping into the footsteps of Baker and Kyler and the kind of standard and performance level they set? How has he handled that entire specter of having to replace quarterbacks like that?
LINCOLN RILEY: I think his maturity has shown in that he hasn't tried to be those guys. He's been in big moments. He's been in big games, big scenarios. I don't feel like that was much of a factor with him, which as a coach, that's exactly how you would hope he would handle it.
I think he's learned from them, certainly. Studying the tapes, different things we've done, how we've done it, I think, has helped him.
But he's also added his own flavor to it. So I think he's handled it well. I think he's tried to be himself, tried to learn it and do the very best he can. And he's a guy that's got a pretty singular focus, and that's probably helped him in this situation when you're following two pretty decent players.
Q. The last time these two teams met was in the 2004 Sugar Bowl, the National Championship game. Of course, LSU won 21-14. I was wondering from both of you guys, did you know about the history of that? Two, have you watched it? And, three, how -- so yeah, those two questions, basically.
ED ORGERON: I'll start. First of all, I was at another university, playing in a big-time game that day too. So, no, I didn't watch it.
Obviously, it was a big game for both schools, obviously two great traditional schools. Obviously, Sugar Bowl, the National Championship is a big deal, and it was a big deal to LSU. Did we watch it, did we study it? No.
LINCOLN RILEY: I remember watching it. I was probably like 15 years old at the time. Yeah, I haven't thought much about it since then. So no, no. I remember watching it. I remember it being heck of a game.
THE MODERATOR: There's nothing you can glean from the film from that game that can help you?
LINCOLN RILEY: No, it's changed just a little bit.
Q. Ed, I got to ask, is there an update on Clyde? What is the latest on Edwards-Helaire's progress?
ED ORGERON: He's not practiced yet. He worked out with the trainers. He felt a little sore after he worked out. I talked to him last night. Obviously, if Clyde's ready to play, we're going to let him play. That's going to be a game-time decision.
The trainers are going to let us know if he's able to play, first of all. Then I'm going to ask him: Are you ready to play? Knowing Clyde, he's going to want to play. Do I think he plays? Yeah. How much he plays, I don't know. That's still -- we still got a ways to go there. He's still a little sore. He's not 100 percent healthy, obviously.
I don't know if he can cut yet, and he doesn't know if he can cut yet. We'll see.
Q. For both coaches, in terms of your respective fan base, obviously, Coach O, the Tigers were just here three weeks be ago. A lot of Georgia fans that day. Your expectations for LSU fans showing up.
For Coach Riley, how much do you expect Sooner Nation to show up this weekend?
LINCOLN RILEY: We've always traveled historically well. I can remember being at the Rose Bowl, week 3 this year, and there was a lot of red in that stadium, a lot of crimson in the stadium.
So I expect our fans to be here to enjoy it. They've always been incredibly supportive, and I know this will be no different.
ED ORGERON: If the elevator at 6:00 in the morning in my hotel is any indication, it will be full of purple and gold.
Q. Lincoln, your teams have historically gotten better, improved as the season has gone along. Can you describe how that's gone this year all the way through the preparation for this game, where the team is?
LINCOLN RILEY: Yeah. I mean, I don't think you're sitting here at the College Football Playoff if your team hasn't gotten quite a bit better. I think we have.
I think we've had different challenges throughout the year and we've been able to face most of them and come out on the good end.
So probably more for me right now would be the preparation we've had in the last several weeks. Our goal has been to play our very best game, and we put forth a schedule that had that and only that in mind. And our players, coaches, everybody have executed that extremely well.
So that's been our goal from day one, when we found out that we were going to be in the playoff and playing a really good LSU team was: Let's play our very best. I think we've done the work to get that done.
Q. Ed, how has Jalen improved since you've last seen him on the field?
ED ORGERON: Well, obviously, he was a young player when we played him. They're doing more things with him. He's the leader of this football team. He looks like -- to me, he's the heart and soul of this football team. I have to commend him, going into a new situation and obviously have won it over by, I'm assuming, the way he works. Knowing him and his character and what he's done, working with Coach Riley, I think that those guys have a tremendous system, a tremendous program. He's very smart. He's very difficult to stop. I'm going to tell you what. The scheme makes it tough. And those guys got more -- they block more people in the box than you have, and then they have CeeDee Lamb sitting out there.
Very difficult scheme. They know how to call the right plays. But he runs the ball like a big tailback back there and also throws the ball well and also has come back from a deficit to lead his team to victory. I do believe he's a great leader.
Q. Lincoln, I'm sure this is your favorite question of all time, so I apologize for asking it again.
LINCOLN RILEY: Here we go.
Q. As you go into tomorrow, are you looking at this as a chance to represent the Big 12, or are you just representing the 2019 OU football team?
LINCOLN RILEY: I do think it's a chance to represent your league. I wouldn't shy away from that. I think you are, but I don't think this is necessarily about the Big 12 versus the SEC or anything else.
So I don't know. Maybe I'm straddling the fence there, but I do see it as a chance to represent your league, certainly. Now, this matchup is about Oklahoma and LSU, and that's certainly what it's going to come down to.
But these are big stages. I think it's great representing your league, just getting here because, obviously, with the current format, not every league is going to be represented in the College Football Playoff.
So we're excited to be here and excited to play our best.
Q. Ed, the whole year, offensively, your team, even in the biggest games, has been able to play free and loose offensively.
How does that carry over? This is, I guess, the first time you'll be in a one-and-done situation this year. Does that concern you at all?
ED ORGERON: You know, you hear about guys winning the Heisman and how they're going to play after and all that stuff. We made sure that Joe's rested. We made sure that we have blocked off all the noise. We haven't talked about any individual awards, accomplishments in our meetings.
So I think we've left that stuff behind, and we haven't talked about the pressures of the playoff game or nothing like this. We've approached this game just like any other game.
The only thing I've told them, we've come to a playoff game, not a Bowl. I do believe we're going to play loose if it's any indication of the way they've been all week. They've been loose all week. They've had great practices. I don't think the pressure of a big-time game is going to get to these guys.
They have great leadership. But we'll see. You never can tell until the game comes.
Q. Coach Orgeron, as you're here, I couldn't help but think about some players that may be playing in part of this, who if they had not entered the transfer portal, are going somewhere else. Can you speak to that and can you maybe mention two or three guys on this team who stuck it out, who could have made that choice and are now part of this?
ED ORGERON: I do believe that the transfer portal in some situations is very good. I do believe that. There's no question about that. If a player can transfer -- is not playing at a school and can transfer, like both of these quarterbacks, and go there and lead their team to a championship season, I think it's phenomenal.
I think everybody needs that chance. I think if a player is going through some hard times, and he's just wanting to quit and he's not wanting to persevere and he's wanting to take the easy way out, I think it's a bad thing for football. I think that everybody needs to stick to it.
We've had some players that have transferred and have not had success. I think they wish they'd still be on the football team. We've had some players on our football team that thought about transferring and have come back, and they're glad that they stuck it out.
Q. Coach Riley, earlier in the week you guys practiced at Georgia State stadium, which used to be Turner Field. I was just wondering how was your experience and how did it feel to be practicing in such a place like that, which used to be a baseball field?
Also, how was your players' experience from that?
LINCOLN RILEY: We definitely enjoyed getting there, getting outside. Pretty cool to be in a stadium like that where a lot of championships have been won, a lot of great players have played.
Looks like they've done a lot of work certainly around that area. The facility was great. People were great there. It was a very positive experience.
Q. Coach Orgeron, I don't need you to give me too many trade secrets, but CeeDee Lamb and the matchup problems he presents, I'm assuming you're going to have to mix a lot of different coverages.
ED ORGERON: Well, just talking to the coaches from Opelousas, the one that got away.
ED ORGERON: No question about it. That was the first thing I heard about that. He played on the Peewee League with Grant Delpit. I can just about imagine how well that Peewee League was. Obviously, Coach and them do a great job of recruiting Texas. A lot of our players went to Texas.
They've done a great job with him. He's big and he's strong. He's one of the best receivers we've seen. We've faced some really good receivers. We see some really good receivers every day in practice. But he's different.
Yards after the catch from this guy are phenomenal. You're going to have to cover one-on-one. You just can't put a safety over the top of him and stop Jalen Hurts all day. You have to mix it up. You can't give them the same thing every time. This guy is too good of a play caller. You have to mix it up, take your shots.
The biggest key is to keep him in front of you and tackle him. The yards after the catch is where he's really dangerous.
Q. Ed, building a culture within your program and maintaining that throughout this season, I mean, with all the success, behind the scenes, how have you approached maintaining that and...
ED ORGERON: I do believe it's the leadership of coaches that we have, the support system that we have. We have a lot of help at LSU and for that, we're very fortunate.
When you have a guy like Kevin Faulk that's around, that's able to talk to these guys on a daily basis, that helps.
When you recruit character, it helps. But I do believe that the leadership of this football team, the coaches that we have and the character, you know, when we recruit -- and I'm sure Coach is the same way. Character counts. If there are any red flags, we're looking at the football player, not bringing them in.
I think that has changed our perception here at LSU. We have guys that are great players with great character. I think the daily process and the focus that we have on the football team has helped that.
Q. Lincoln, you guys have been here obviously three years in a row. Anything you learned from the last three years that maybe will help you this year in terms of this game?
Do you handle it just like a big game, like OU/Texas, or is it -- obviously there's much more media. Just what you've learned, how it can help with this week's workouts.
LINCOLN RILEY: I think it's helpful for a lot of our staff and players that have been here. They understand the scope of it and all the attention and hype that comes around with this game.
I think personally, for me, probably the biggest help is having gone through this a few different times is within the scheduling. There's so much -- you've got a lot of different choices on how you can handle this amount of time. This year's been different than the others, like we've said a thousand times now, because of being a week shorter.
But it has helped us in some trial-and-error before, some things that we did from a scheduling perspective when we practiced, how we practiced. I would say that's evolved and now we feel like we've got a pretty good plan going forward and some of that's based on what we have learned in the past.
Q. For both coaches, how much does having the significance of a championship game help keep your team's attention? Obviously, in bowl games, guys get different agendas late in the year. Might be thinking about themselves. How much has having this extra game behind you really helped focus your team?
LINCOLN RILEY: Honestly, it's kind of hard for me to compare because the three years we've been in it. Hopefully, I'm never in that situation.
But, yeah, I can imagine it probably helps some. I mean, there's a lot going on for guys at the end of the year. I think at that point, you hope the leadership of your team, the culture that you have, is able to keep the team together.
The one year at OU that we weren't in the playoff -- 2016, I think -- we had a lot of guys that were NFL-ready, some guys that left early. But all of our guys stayed and played. The team held it together, beat a really good Auburn team.
So I think in those moments, it certainly depends on the culture, the kind of guys you have, the leadership, how committed they are to the program and team because bowl games are important.
I know everybody wants to talk about the playoffs, and the playoffs are great. All these other bowl games, you ask a coach, player, staff member that's been part of it, they're important. You remember them, all of them.
Hopefully, we continue seeing a trend of -- hopefully college football can stay in the place where we don't take away the importance and guys understand that. Because if they don't put value on it or they just skip it or do this and that, they're going to look back and regret it. Those are moments in time you get with your team, your brothers, your coaches that you never get back.
When you get on the back side of it, you'll definitely remember.
ED ORGERON: Yeah, it's been definitely different for us. This is a playoff game. A bowl is your final destination. It's the last game. Guys want to have fun, the seniors and guys that are going out.
We're talking about what we're going to do recruiting and stuff like that. This, for us, has been completely different. It's another week of practice. It's a playoff game. Everything's on the line. All the focus is playing our best game on Saturday.
Q. Ed and Lincoln, you guys both promoted from within the staff. The majority of college football hires are not that way. All four of you guys in the playoff were promoted from within. Could that set off a trend, where schools now look more closely at assistant coaches, rather than just going after the hottest guy on the market?
ED ORGERON: You know, I hope it is. There are some guys that -- you know, when you work with somebody every day, you know what you got. There's pluses and minuses with everybody.
The grass always looks greener on the other side. I think there are some assistants that are very deserving. They've recruited these players. They know the school. Some of them are great fits. That's why they're at the school and they're very valuable. They know the ins and outs. They know what's good for the school. They know what you should do at the school, what you shouldn't do at that school.
So I think it could be a big advantage, and I hope that the assistants at schools that are very deserving get the job, because they're the best guy, just because they're not the hottest ticket.
LINCOLN RILEY: I would just hope this speaks to anybody out there that has the responsibility of hiring coaches, that they just try to hire the very best person. They don't set a -- they don't have an initial idea of it has to come from outside or this or that. Just hire the very best person. Wherever they're at, whether it's internal, whether it's external, that to me, doesn't matter.
And hopefully, you continue to see guys, like we all did, get those chances if they are deserving. So I think it's been a positive trend.
Q. This seemed like a year where four teams getting into the playoffs worked. Obviously, a lot of talk about going to eight. If you guys had a vote, would you say four is good, or would you be okay with expanding the field?
LINCOLN RILEY: That's a question you get back and forth. I would say this. I do think we have a great system. I mean, I think the playoffs have brought a lot of attention. I think you've got national champions out of it that are very deserving, and that's the end goal.
Deep down, do I believe at some point we're going to have to have all the conference champions involved? It's hard to say no to that, just because conference championships, at this level, are so hard to win. College football is different because leagues are different. Leagues are different year to year, and sometimes it's tough to compare one team's schedule or how one conference does it or how one conference sets up their conference championship game to other leagues.
So I do think we have a great product right now. I think we've got a great system. But a system down the road that maybe guaranteed all the conference champions in, I don't know that I would disagree with that.
ED ORGERON: I think it's good the way it is. Obviously, that's out of my wheel house. I don't have a vote. If it goes to eight, it goes to eight. Stays at four, stays at four. We just want to play.
Q. Coach O, I was wondering if, during this process, heading into the playoffs, you leaned on anyone from your past or any of your mentors just to get advice or seek any kind of counsel.
ED ORGERON: I have Coach Robinson on my staff, obviously, so he's with me every day. That helps. Having Kevin Faulk with me that's been with Belichick, so that helps.
Any time -- I don't even have to pick up the phone. I just have to walk down the hall and ask them a question. So that's very, very helpful to us.
I look at the things that we did at Miami, I look at the things that we did with Coach Carroll. If I have to call, I can call Coach Carroll and ask him a couple of questions. I still have the same practice plans that we used when we were back there, the same game plans.
Every once in a while, I'll look at that. But it's more or less, I learned it, and it's more or less those programs, the Miami program and the USC program, is what we're doing today.
Q. Coach Riley, a lot of eyes will be on the Derek Stingley and CeeDee Lamb matchup. What have you seen out of the true freshman this season?
LINCOLN RILEY: He's a very good player. Impressive, the way he's been able to play, some of the plays he's been able to make in some important games. And certainly being able to do that as a young guy, it's -- he's certainly one of the better young corners I can remember seeing in the last several years.
They've done a great job with him schematically and he's kind of hung in there through the year, gotten better and better. It looks like he's stayed pretty healthy, been able to be on the field, and take a large quantity of reps. Yeah, he's an impressive kid.
Q. Coach O, we spoke to Coach Aranda this week, and he talked about how Jalen Hurts was the most dangerous scrambler since the Ole Miss quarterback and talked about that was a rough afternoon for you.
What did you learn from that experience, moving forward, having to defend Hurts?
ED ORGERON: I think we were a little surprised by the Ole Miss quarterback. We knew he could run. They had a scheme that really got to us a little bit. We weren't as prepared for that scheme as we thought we'd be. He was faster, and they were bigger.
I don't think this is going to be the case. That doesn't mean we're going to stop him. We know this guy's a great player. We know they have a great scheme. We know they're going to make plays.
We're just not going to shut down this offense, but we need to be in the right place at the right time. We need to play our blocks. We need to tackle in space and we need to keep coming after it.
This is going to be a war. This is going to be one of the hardest offenses we've tried to stop since I've been here at LSU, and Jalen is one of the best players. We know that. He's beaten us twice already.
He has the ultimate respect of the head coach here and everybody on our staff.
Q. Lincoln, there hasn't been much made this week of the fact you're playing without four really good football players. How did you address the club about that, and how does that impact the game and how you approach it?
LINCOLN RILEY: I didn't address our team at all about it. Of all the years in Oklahoma, this has probably been the year we've had the most lineup changes, major injuries, guys out for games. We've dealt with that all season.
So, honestly, this is nothing new for us, other than probably a little bit easier in the fact that you had some time to plan for it. So, no, our guys know the deal. That's our culture there. If somebody's down for whatever reason, it's next man up. I don't think it's fazed our team at all. We're used to it and we have confidence in the guys that will step up in that place.
Q. This is for both coaches, what advantages do you guys both think you guys have for y'all's team?
LINCOLN RILEY: Like Coach just said, this game is going to be a heavy hitter. You get to the College Football Playoff, both teams are good. Both coaching staffs are good, both teams are good. There's good players on all three sides of the ball.
I think, literally, you just go in and try to do the very best, and control what you can control and play your very best game. It's going to be a game of probably not a ton of huge advantages either spot, and that's why these playoffs are so great.
ED ORGERON: Go out and play. Play your game. Play to the LSU standard performance. Control what you can control.
Q. Ed, someone asked you about the OU/LSU Sugar Bowl, which you didn't have a part of. The next year, it's USC/Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl for the title. You were part of that, though you took the Ole Miss job. I don't know if you were in Miami for that game.
Your memories of that game and whether you were there or not. I'm sure you watched it. Why did you think such a big-time matchup got so lopsided one way for the Trojans?
ED ORGERON: I don't want to say this boastfully, but I was there, and I remember it.
The biggest thing I remember is Adrian Peterson. I recruited Adrian Peterson to go to USC. It came down to Oklahoma and USC. He and I had a great relationship. I looked forward to playing against him.
It was one of those nights, we were playing great. We had our best game. A lot of respect for Oklahoma, obviously, playing in an Orange Bowl, playing against a great player like Adrian Peterson. We had a lot of great players on the football team. That was probably one of Coach Carroll's best teams. It was a tremendous night.
I remember we beat Oklahoma that night. The next morning, I had to drive to Orlando to catch a flight to Ole Miss at 3:30 in the morning. I didn't get to enjoy it much, but I remember it.
Again, a lot of respect for Oklahoma and a lot of respect for Adrian Peterson.
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