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VIZIO BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: AUBURN v FLORIDA STATE


January 4, 2014


Gus Malzahn


PASADENA, CALIFORNIA

Q. Talk about the preparations thus far.
GUS MALZAHN: Well, first of all, our team has done a very good job this year of not getting distracted by anything. This week has been no different, even though the schedule has been a little bit chaotic at times. Once we got in our meetings, once we got to the practice field, the guys have been locked in, trying to get better and focus.

Q. Have you had a chance to reflect on those two amazing wins that helped get you here?
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, you know, when that happens, that was really something. What we told our team after both those weeks that we had the big plays that won the games, the challenge for our team was to put that behind us, and we'll enjoy that after the season. We had to worry about the championship game, and then we've got to worry about this game, and our players have done a good job with that. Every time you walk by a TV you get a chance to see one of those plays. But our guys have done a very good job of putting that behind them. We've got our hands full with this one. It's a huge game, and we'll enjoy that after the season.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, I think the bottom line is our guys have found a way to win at the end of games when the pressure has been on. They've found a way to win in different ways, so I think that's been a big key to us getting here.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, first of all, I feel like we've got the best fans in college football. We had 84,000 at our spring game coming off the season that we had last year, and I'm just real happy that our fans are enjoying some of this and having fun with it, and it's been fun to watch.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, Auburn, you can recruit well. Auburn expects to win championships. We've been here before. It's a great program, and this year is no different.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: This has been just a true joy for me to watch the team grow. We had a lot of question marks coming into this season. Our coaches really weren't for sure what we had. And I think some of our players felt the same way with everything they went through last year, and to watch them grow and improve each game, and college football it's a huge challenge to improve each game, but our guys found a way to do it, and they've just been a blessing to coach. They've done everything our coaches have asked them to do with the right attitude, on the field, off the field. It's been a blessing for me to be coaching these guys.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: You know, I think any time you're a high school head coach, there's a lot of similarities. Other than the media and the recruiting, there's a lot of similarities you're used to. And then I've been fortunate enough to be in some really good places as a coordinator, some big games, and I think all those experiences have really helped.

Q. After the LSU game (inaudible)?
GUS MALZAHN: You know, the LSU game, we got off to a very tough start at halftime. We were get being beat pretty good. I was curious to see how our team was going to respond. We had a lot of question marks still at that time about how we'd handle adversity, how we'd handle success, and at after time we had some leaders step up and say there's no way we're going to quit. We're going to keep coming out there fighting, and we came out in that second half and we fought our tail off, we got an onside kick that was really close that got overturned, and I'd have liked to have seen what would have happened if we would have got that onside kick.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, you know, the first of the year people would say, hey, what's your expectations, what's your goals about going to a bowl? We never went there. We just said, our goal is to get better each practice and each game, and that sounded like coach speak, but that's exactly how we took it. We had so many question marks. We really didn't know about our team in a lot of areas from a coaching standpoint. We just tried to stay consistent. Our first game we played Washington State, didn't play great, but our guys found a way to win. And after the Mississippi State game we got a little momentum with the way we won at the end, and they continued to get better and they continued to work on the practice field.

Q. How magical has this been for you?
GUS MALZAHN: You know, when you're in the moment of a big game and something miraculous happens, that's a special feeling that you're on the field with your team, you're in the locker room with your team and you talk to media. But once you get done and you go back home, you put that behind you. You've got to worry about the next opponent because the games get nothing but bigger. I think that's been one of the keys to our success. Our coaches and players have been able to do that.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, we knew a lot about Tre. I actually recruited him. He was a very tough kid as a freshman. He was a little bit lighter and faster, but we knew we had a tough guy there. Our line started coming together midway through the year, and he started getting stronger, and we committed to getting him the ball. He's made the most of it.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, when we first got there, we said we're not going to worry about anything that happened last year, who's fault‑‑ I told our coaches, don't even watch game film. We don't know what the situations were. Everybody has got a fresh start. I just said the bar is going to be high, and we're going to try to get our edge back. Auburn is know for that physical, hard‑nosed, blue‑collar mentality, and we had to get that back, and our guys have done that.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: I don't go there. I'm tickled to death to be here at Auburn, and I've made that clear.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, you know, they are very good at every level. I think it starts with the defensive front. They're very athletic, they're very big. Their linebackers are really fast. Some of the faster linebackers we've faced. Their DBs have better ball skills than some receivers so they're very good. At the same time they put people away so you don't have a whole lot of information. You see their twos more than you see their ones on film, but they're an excellent defense.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: You know, you've got to move on. You've got to move on. We'll think about that. We'll pat each other on the back afterwards and we'll think, wow, that was pretty neat. But we've got a job to do, and we're fortunate to be here. Our guys have found a way to win, but we've got a chance to win the National Championship, and that's the only thing on our mind. After this game we'll look back.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Dameyune Craig is one of the better coaches in college football, in my opinion. I've said about Coach Lashlee, about having the 'it' factor, having everything it takes to be successful. Dameyune Craig is the same way, and Dameyune has done a great job with our receivers. They play very good without the ball. They're very tough. He's just got everything it takes to be a big‑time coach.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, I mean, any time you're with someone and you know the program and all that, you take everything you can.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Next 48 hours is going to be exactly like it has been the previous games we've had. We're starting to get in that mode. You can really sense that our players are starting to get a little bit more in tune to the finer details of everything. So really we're looking forward to the next 48 hours to be exactly like the ones have been up to this point.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: You know, some of the fun things about coaching high school is mowing grass and moving water pipes and cleaning out locker rooms and toilets. I think that's the grass‑roots. That's where you really learn your work ethic and really your appreciation. Now that I'm in college, I feel like being a former high school coach has given me a huge advantage with those areas, but then at the same time any time you're a head coach in high school, game management stuff is exactly like college, and so that background has really helped me in a lot of different ways.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: No, but I knew that he was like a coach on the field. You know, he fought like a coach when he played, and the great quarterbacks usually do, and it was just a matter of I knew if he was going to go into the coaching profession he'd be successful. He's very good with players. He's very good under pressure. He's smart, and he's got it.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, all I know is we're finding ways to win. We found ways to win in a lot of different, unique ways. Some people call it destiny, some people call it luck. But bottom line is we play in the SEC and we played some very good opponents, and our offense responded when they've had to, our defense responded when they had to, our special teams. So we've won a lot of different ways. That's hard to do in college football, and I'm real proud of our team getting us here.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Any time you go to the National Championship you're going to have some talent, and we've got some talent, and it just all kind of came together.

Q. Rhett said you always get the best out of players (inaudible)?
GUS MALZAHN: Well, I think the way you win is you try to execute and you try to do things perfect, and you have a high standard. If it's not what you expect, you run it again. So we just have that approach with our players, our standard is high. It's all about execution, and we're fortunate enough to have some guys that have done that well.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, I think we've been the underdog a whole lot this year, so it's kind of one of those normal things. We've got to find a way to make this a close game, and so we've found ways to win when it's close.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, you've got to play well on offense and defense and special teams, and you've got to protect the football. You look at a lot of these bowl games, and the teams that protect the football and play good special teams are being successful.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, that's going to be a challenge. They've got a great defense, and that will be one of the big stories of the game, if we can move the ball on them.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, you know, the team we feel like is very prepared. I think any time, both teams, when you get the championship, you're going to be confident because you've had success. Our guys are. I know their guys are. Two really good teams playing each other.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: You know, I just feel very blessed that I've gotten the opportunity to coach college. There's a lot of high school coaches that could be doing the exact same thing that I'm doing, and I just feel blessed that I've been given the opportunity. I've been in the right situation and the right time, time and time again. This is no different.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, you know, the fact that we did this in 2010, it gave us a good idea of the time factor and everything that goes with it. But as a coach, you've got to predict what they're going to do to stop you or what they're going to do to attack you, and you've got to have answers. A long layoff, usually it's about adjustments on both sides, and I think that'll be a big key, especially early in the game.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, I think the schedule is the big thing. 30 days is a long time to play. It's like a spring practice. You've got to pick and choose your times to start focusing in. I think there's a balance of worrying about yourself and then start game planning against what you're going to get.
But at the end of the day, a long layoff, you've got to be ready for adjustments. They're going to adjust, we're going to adjust and then things will settle down, and then you can play football.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: It was a combination of both.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, the SEC has great pride and they've been very successful and won a lot in a row, but to be honest with you, we're worried about the Auburn Tigers. But in the big picture, every team represents their conference in the bowls, and you understand that.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Oh, it would be big. You can see every time we win a big game, it's a big deal. Like I said, we've got the best fans in college football. Any time you see them celebrating, that's a special thing.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, sure do.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: You know, when we talk, we don't always just talk football. We talk life, and just happy for him.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: It's possible.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, our guys have been very focused. When we got on the plane, we talked about it being a business trip, and our guys have done that. That's been their approach the whole year, and that's been one of the big keys why we're here.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: You try your best to stay in a routine. The National Championship week is fairly unique, a little bit different, but the fact that we did it three years ago, it gave us a little background. But our guys have done a solid job.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, I think any time you don't play in 30 days you're concerned. But I think the way you approach practice and try to stay sharp, I think that's very important.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, they've got the Heisman Trophy winner playing quarterback, which is always a concern. They've got NFL wide receivers. I think their offensive line is very athletic, and they've got a good running game. Our challenge is going to be keeping them off balance.

Q. What does the Florida State team do so well?
GUS MALZAHN: Well, they're good in all areas, first of all. That's what stands out. They've put people away. There's very few‑‑ really there isn't any close games and that's hard to do. So they've been dominant in all three phases. That's why they're here.

Q. How do you game plan against Jameis Winston?
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, well, the good thing is we've faced some very good quarterbacks in our league this year. Obviously he's the Heisman Trophy winner, he can throw it, he can run it. But our big challenge is going to be keeping him off balance.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, they're good up front. That's what stands out to me. Their linebackers can really run. Their secondary has got great ball skills. They've got more interceptions than anybody in college football with a lot of different guys. We're going to have to find ways to move the ball.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, we found ways to win. I mean, the Georgia win right there, the tip and all that, but the Alabama game, we won that game. Even if it would have went overtime, we liked our chances. We had the momentum. Any time you play in the SEC and you win that league, you know, and find ways to win, that's a good thing.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, I think any time you come into something new, there's a learning curve. Being in charge of everything at the college level, the good thing for me is I was a high school head coach for 14 years. There's a lot of carryover as far as dealing with players, dealing with coaches, everything, game management. The difference in college is the recruiting and dealing with the media.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: We've been the underdog all year, so we're pretty comfortable with that. Our guys have responded well when we've been underdogs.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, you know, we feel like we've earned the right to get here. There's no doubt, our guys have found different ways to win games against very good opponents, whether it's the offense one week, the defense one week or the special teams. It's been a lot of fun watching them.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, I think being battle tested, if it's a close game will definitely help you. There's no doubt that I know how our guys are going to react. They're not going to panic. They're going to believe.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, we're approaching it the same way we have as any other game. We have been the underdog. Our guys are comfortable with that role. This situation is no different.

Q. How much has your offense changed?
GUS MALZAHN: The same foundation, offense is exactly the same. We build the strengths around our quarterback and our personnel, and that's kind of the old high school way of doing things, so when you get in college you go in a new situation, that doesn't change. But each year we're a little bit different with the strengths of our quarterback.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, Paul Smith, Dave Johnson were unbelievable at throwing it. We had great receivers, and they got it done.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, we looked at what we had this year, and we evaluated our talent offensively and defensively, and we tried to build around our strengths.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: It was different. It was different than when I left. But we had 84,000 at our spring game. There was a lot of hope. There was a lot of hope, and we got great fans, and our fans have helped us get here, too. That was a great, encouraging thing for the spring game to have 84,000 people.

Q. The players were almost beaten down when you came in. How did you fix that?
GUS MALZAHN: When we first got there we were very honest with them. We said everybody's starting over, it's a new day, we're not going to worry about anything that happened last year, whose fault. I even told our coaches we're not going to watch any game film from last year. Everybody is going to get a fresh start and we're going to be very demanding. Auburn is know for that blue‑collar, hard‑nosed, hit‑you‑in‑the‑mouth mentality. We had to get that back, and our coaches worked extremely hard developing relationships with our players to develop that trust so we could strain them, and we strained them extremely hard. We were very physical in spring, very physical in fall camp. Our quarterbacks went live, and we got our edge back.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: You know, we didn't go any farther than one game at a time. We just tried to improve. We didn't know really what to expect. We just worried about ourselves, worried about getting our edge back.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, when I first started coaching, I was a Wing T background round, you still see a whole lot of Wing T, and then we've got the read‑zone to complement it with the different complements off each.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: You know, I think there's a little bit of a balance, but any time you get to a championship game, you've got strengths. Both teams will play to their strengths, there's no doubt. But at the same time, 30 days off, we expect to have a few wrinkles, they expect to have a few wrinkles, and there's a little bit of feeling‑out time. But at the end of the day, both teams will do what they do strength‑wise.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: They're extremely fast. You know, their opponents, they put them away. They dominate games. That's what stands out to you. They dominate games. You watch cut‑ups and you're watching their backups as much as you are their starters because they've dominated people.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, I think you just approach it like what you're going to do. You've got to be prepared for all the what‑ifs, the low scoring, high scoring. You really don't know there in your mind about what other teams have done. 2010 everybody was saying it was an offensive shootout and things like that, and it turned out to be a pretty low‑scoring game. As a coach you've got to be ready for all the what‑ifs and be able to adjust.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, you try your best to keep them off balance because they're extremely talented. They're good at what they do, and you've got to keep them off balance.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Keep them off balance.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Very, there's no doubt, making him uncomfortable, and doing your best to make him uncomfortable, because when he's comfortable, he is extremely tough to stop.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: No, I'm a pretty one‑track mind. Coaches look at it completely different. I think the media brings up a lot of that, stirs a lot of that stuff up, but coaches look at it different.

Q. How do coaches look at it?
GUS MALZAHN: Well, it's your livelihood.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: No, I've made it clear. I mean, I'm tickled to death to be here at Auburn, and I made that clear numerous times.

Q. How specifically do you keep Florida State off balance?
GUS MALZAHN: Well, you've got to mix things up. You've got to disguise some things. You've got to mix things up. That's the biggest challenge. And you've got to take away something, too. You've got to take away something and hope you keep them off balance enough to help.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: You know, as a coach you just try to throw out every imaginable situation you could come into and have your team prepared for each situation. It's just a matter if it comes up, your guys being prepared and ready to go.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, that's been a key to our success. Our guys are just taking it one game at a time. We've played some excellent opponents this year and found ways to win in different ways, and we're playing another big‑time opponent. We've just been trying to keep it status quo and keep it as close to a normal week as possible.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, one thing that stands out, they're faster than everybody they play by a long shot, so you can really see that they can run in all areas, and that's definitely concerning.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, just trying to stay in a routine as best you can and do exactly what has gotten you here.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: No, just to be honest with you I have not watched hardly any of the bowl games. You've got to worry about yourself. You've got to worry about preparing.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well our team has found a way to win in some big games when the pressure has been the highest, whether it's the offense one week, the defense one week or special teams, and that's definitely helped us get here.

Q. Talk about your philosophy. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, you know, work ethic, character, discipline, all those things that teams that play in championship games have.

Q. What's it going to take to become victorious?
GUS MALZAHN: We're going to have to play a good game in all three areas.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, Jay Prosch brings a huge, physical presence to our offense. He's a tough guy. He's a smart guy. He can adjust, and he's been one of our leaders.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: He's a big guy that can run, and he loves contact.

Q. What's it been like for you working with him this year?
GUS MALZAHN: He's been a blessing. He's very unselfish. He doesn't complain about anything. He's one of the reasons we're here.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, our team has been a joy to coach. They don't get too high, they don't get too low. They've really taken a businesslike approach to this week, and they've found a way to prepare each week, whether we're playing Alabama or a 1‑AA team. They've prepared the same way, they've had the same focus, and that's rare.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, it's just like a normal game the way they've approached it. We haven't had any issues off the field. They've really been focused in our meetings. Practice has been the same as it's been all year. That's been one of the keys to our success.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, you've got to give credit to our players. They've bought into what our coaches have asked them to do. Our coaches, we've strained them, tried to get our edge back, that blue‑collar, hard‑nosed edge that Auburn is known for, and our players have responded.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: It's been very unique to watch this group come together. They're an extremely close group. Our seniors deserve a lot of the credit for bringing this team together. With everything they went through last year, they had some battle scars, and they put that behind them, and they believed and they played together for each other, and they played their guts out for us.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: This team has been focused every game, whether we're playing Alabama or whether we're playing a 1‑AA team, they've found a way to get better and improve, and they've had a very good week of practice since we've been here, haven't been many distractions, and they've went about their business just like they have every other week.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: I'm one blessed guy. Any time you get Coach of the Year honors, it goes to your players, your assistant coaches and everything that goes together.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, first of all, I'm never into moral victories, but it was fairly unique that we were on the road, we played a terrible half of football, LSU had a lot to do with that, but it was one of those moments where we could either shut it down or we could man up, and our guys did that, and they fought hard, made it an interesting game. We had an onside kick that we thought we got that got reversed. I would have liked to have seen what would have happened. We had a lot of momentum. That was one of those things that as a head coach, I learned a lot about our team, that we're going to fight people, we ain't quitting, and we're not going to back down.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, he's a tough guy. We knew he was very athletic. We didn't know exactly how tough of an inside runner that he was. Obviously the read zone, he's like a magician sometimes with that, but he has been a joy to coach, and I know Rhett has coached him extremely hard, been very demanding, and he's responded well every time.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, it's very unusual. I mean, still, every other quarterback we've had went through a spring, had a good foundation of who we were. We had good information, you're talking about a guy that we learned about him playing games, probably the first four games, and he learned the offense the first four games. For him to lead us here is really something.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, Jonathan Wallace is one of the biggest winners we have on our team. He has nothing but winner in him, his attitude, he's a competitor. Really doesn't get to play much. But you never see any frown, any negativity. He's always encouraging, and that's hard to do. Guys like him and specifically him is the reason that we're here.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: I'll just answer it that our team has found a way to win in some very tough games in some different ways. One time it's the offense, one time it's the defense, one time it's the special teams, and they've responded when the pressure has been on the highest.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, and first of all, our league, we take great pride in that, and they've been very successful. Our league has been very successful in championship games, and we'd like to carry that on. But at the same time we're playing a very good team that's unique and very good in a lot of different areas.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah. They're good in all three phases, offense, defense, special teams. You look for weaknesses as a coach, and they have very few.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, Tre, he is one of the tougher running backs in all of college football, if not the toughest. He brings a physical factor to our run game the way he finishes runs.

Q. When you're prepping for this bowl preparation, knowing that they're going to have studied everything you guys have done, your tendencies, how do you (inaudible)?
GUS MALZAHN: Right. I think there's a balance. They're very good coaches over there, and our tendencies, we know their tendencies, and there's always a feeling‑out period about what their plan is, what our plan is, and things usually settle down after that.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: You know, we didn't really think about the end result. We just took it one week at a time, and we knew that we had a chance if we got better each week. We knew we played some extremely tough opponents on our schedule, and we'd be able to compete with those guys. Our guys found a way to get better and win those games at the end, and here we are.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: The fact that I was familiar with the program and a lot of the guys, it definitely helped, and I knew we had some talent in some areas, and I knew we had some deficiencies that we had to fill in different ways. The big thing was just the mindset of getting our mindset back to play together, to compete, play as a team, have that hard‑nosed, physical, blue‑collar mentality that Auburn is known for.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: It was a work in progress, there's no doubt. Every game had its own story. Washington State, our defense made a big pick in the end zone; Mississippi State we drove it 91 yards with a minute left to score a touchdown to win that one. And then you go to LSU and our guys didn't quit. Probably Texas A&M is the game that‑‑ Texas A&M was playing very good at the time. We went to their place, at the time they had the best player in college football, and for us to win that game the way we did, that gave us confidence moving forward that we felt like we could play with anybody.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: You know, I think it starts with the quarterbacks, and I think you see more of these high school programs doing a lot more of the wide‑open, spread it out, and I think the quarterbacks are more prepared than they used to be. I think that's where it really starts.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: There's no doubt. I'm just one of the few that's been blessed enough to be given the opportunity. There's some great high school coaches that could be doing exactly what I'm doing. They just need to be given the opportunities. I know the former high school coaches that are coaching college now, we've kind of got our own little group, and we're going to do everything in our power to give more opportunities to high school coaches.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: You know, football is football. You play with 11 guys. There's only a few things they can do if they're sound. So the football part and dealing with players is no different at all than high school. The challenge is the recruiting part, the media, the boosters. That's really the only difference.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, Todd Graham, Chad Morris, those are guys that‑‑ Mike Norvell.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, well, first of all, Houston Nutt gave me a great opportunity to get in college football from high school. I've been in the right situation at the right time. You've got to have players, and at Tulsa we had some outstanding skill guys. Then I come to Auburn, and it was a great situation. Then I went to Arkansas State and it was a great situation. Now we're back at Auburn and here we are. I've been very blessed to be in the right situation at the right time with the right coaches and the right administration.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, I have no idea. They had the same rules pretty much for a long time, and I just think what you see is people adjusting to playing to their strengths. You look at football, and it usually evolves and goes back, and it it's just challenging the defenses, and defenses are challenging a little bit more than they were in the past.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: You know, I had a relationship with him. He was one of the better athletic directors anywhere.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, we learned a lot about our team there. We had a chance to shut her down. Our guys didn't do it. They came out fighting against a very good opponent on the road, and we made it interesting, I think.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, we learned a lot about him. He didn't go through spring, so the first half of the season we were learning about him. We had an off week after that LSU week and we kind of settled down into what his strengths are, and he's really taken it to another level.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: We knew we had a chance if we improved each game to be a good team at the end. You look at our schedule, some of the tougher opponents were towards the end, and our goal was to get better to be able to compete with those guys. We ended up winning those games. We got better each week, which is extremely tough to do, and here we are.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: You know, each game had its own story that we improved and found a way to win. But the Texas A&M game, at the time Texas A&M was a top 10 team, they were playing their best football, and at the time they had the best player in college football. The way we won that game, our offense drove the field, a minute left against Johnny Manziel, up to that point nobody had stopped them at their home field, and we sacked him at the end. We came off that field, and you could tell our team was different, and you could tell we had that feeling that we could play with anybody.

Q. Jeremy comes from Alabama. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, there is some similarities, but Jeremy does have his own wrinkle, but there are some similarities, and I'm sure he'll lean on that game we played against Alabama.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, it's very important. There are a lot of great players, but really the state of Alabama is very important to us, too. That's definitely a priority.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, we're just in the same routine, whether we're at home or whether we're here at the championship game. We'll do exactly what we've done before to prepare, same timetable, same meeting schedule. We're not going to change anything.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, I think if it's a close game, our guys have responded extremely well. They've been battle tested, and we've found ways to win in different ways. If it gets to that point, I know our guys will be calm and I know they'll be under control.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, I just think you can tell our program is going the right direction. I feel very good. I think our best years are ahead. I know we've had a great year, and we've found ways to get here, but I think we've got a chance to sustain this thing. We have the right coaches, and our players, we're a young team. 2010 it was completely different, so we got‑‑ we're laying the groundwork. Early in the year I said we're a work in progress, and our guys found a way to get us here. But I think our best years are ahead.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, they're multitalented. That's pretty impressive. I didn't know he could do that.

Q. What's it say about what kind of season you're having that (inaudible)?
GUS MALZAHN: They were really special plays when the moment was the biggest and the pressure was on at home, found ways to win. But there was other moments that we found ways to win earlier in the year that doesn't get a lot of attention. But the bottom line is our guys, they're battle tested. They know how to respond in a tough spot. The pressure and the moment is not too big for them.

Q. Now that the game is approaching, what do you tell your guys?
GUS MALZAHN: Well, we're locking in, and we're getting in our routine like we have on our Thursday‑type approach, and we'll treat it like any other game from this point forward.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, the fact that I was here before for three years and it was the best three years of my life, my family's life, you know, Auburn is‑‑ I'm an Auburn man. I love our fans. I love what Auburn is about.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, I'd say talent, offensively, defensively and special teams, they don't have any weaknesses.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, we're doing this thing together. It all started in the spring game with 84,000 after everything they went through the year before. They gave our players a shot in the arm. We tried to give them hope, and we're doing this thing together.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, Dameyune is an outstanding recruiter. He's a great coach. You know, he's one of the best in the business.

Q. How important is Ryan Russell?
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, Ryan Russell is a big reason we're here. He laid the groundwork right when we first got here, the expectations, the work ethic, the consistency. He's very demanding. There's no gray area at all. I think he laid the foundation before our coaches even got to work with our guys.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Rodney is a big reason why we're here, too. He loves Auburn. He's a tough guy. He understands Auburn, and we had worked real hard to get that blue‑collar hard‑nosed edge that makes Auburn special, and he's been a big part of bringing that back.

Q. He said he wanted to give something back to Auburn. Have you seen him a little bit more amped up?
GUS MALZAHN: No, he's consistent no matter who we're playing, but he loves Auburn and he understands Auburn. He's a big reason why we're here.

Q. Have there been points in the year when having a veteran like Rodney kind of helped things?
GUS MALZAHN: Well, I think the big thing is this staff is a veteran staff. We've been together. There's no egos, there's no distractions within our staff. We are truly a staff that is together. Our players have seen that consistency, and I've got to believe that's helped.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: No, I really don't. I think we've got a veteran staff. We've got guys that have won big games before and had really good seasons. But you know, the fact that we've went through what we went through in 2010, I think your guard is up a little bit more than it normally would be.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: No, I've made it clear, I love Auburn, and this is where I want to be.

Q. So you'll be back next year?
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, yeah. I think you see more and more teams doing up‑tempo stuff. I think you see more and more high school teams developing quarterbacks for the up‑tempo type offenses. That's just where the direction of college football is going.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, I mean, no matter what you're doing, you've got to figure out a way to try to stay ahead and wrinkles and everything like that.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Physically he's probably as good as anybody that I've got a chance to coach. Coach Grimes has done a great job with him. He's come a long way in one year, and his ceiling is very high. He's capable of getting quite a bit better as far as technique and everything that goes with it.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, I really don't know much about that because I haven't been with him. But you look at him on film, and they beat people. They had zero close games, and they put people away.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, Cam really drove our team. He was a leader offensively and defensively, but at the same time we had a lot of seniors this year that were extremely talented that have been battle‑tested, and I think that combination really helped.

Q. What do you think it takes to be a winner?
GUS MALZAHN: You know, a winner for me is not just on the field. I think being a winner is off the field, being disciplined, a hard worker, character, everything that it takes‑‑ when we talk about winners with our group, that's what we talk about.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, Jay Prosch is a big reason we're here, where we're at. His physical presence, his physical toughness, you know, at the point of attack he's about as good as it gets in college football.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Well, our coaches have a great relationships with our players. Our players know that our coaches care about them more than what they can just do on the field. Our coaches have tried to reach out to him. But he's one of our leaders, and he's a joy to coach.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: No, they're a good group. They're having fun. We'll laugh about it after the season.

Q. Florida State this year has been kind of the team to beat really from the beginning of the season all the way up until now, and you guys kind of slid under the radar for most of the season. Florida State still has some shine on them. Does your team have any resentment towards that? Do they feel like they have something to prove?
GUS MALZAHN: No, nothing at all. They've earned that right. I mean, they've been consistent all year. They've blown people away. They had zero close games, and they've earned the right to get here. Our guys have respect for them. Our journey has been different. We tried to play to that.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, yeah, we do. Real proud of him. They made the playoffs, and he's capable of being one of the best to ever play.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah. He's a winner. He's got the unique ability to make his teammates better and believe.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, real happy for our players. They're enjoying the moment. They've earned the right to get here, and fun to watch these guys have some smiles on their faces and be able to relax a little bit.

Q. You've been in this environment before of the National Championship, but you were sitting at a round table rather than the big table. How has it changed?
GUS MALZAHN: You know, really there's not a whole lot of difference, other than the fact you're in charge of the whole program and the defense. But it feels very similar. The fact that I kind of knew what to expect and the routine has really helped.

Q. When you take a look at this team, and I think it's unfair, my personal opinion (inaudible), if you had to characterize this team and why they're playing in the National Championship Game, what would you say?
GUS MALZAHN: Well, this is one of the few teams in college football that actually improved each week. Our guys have found a way to get up and have our "A" game, whether we're playing Alabama or a 1‑AA team. That's rare in college football.
The unique thing is our guys have found ways to win in different ways, offense one week, defense one week, special teams one week, and they've done it when the pressure has been the highest. There's very few teams that can do that, and that's one of the reasons why we're here.

Q. When you look at this team top to bottom, offense, defense, special teams, and you talk about the progress they've all made as a whole, what about the progress that they've made in terms of emotional?
GUS MALZAHN: You know, that's been a big key. Our seniors have really been the leaders of this group. They've kept everything together. Our coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for developing relationships with players and trust so they can train them and make them the best they can be.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, we'll worry about that later. We're blessed to be here and can't wait.

Q. I know it's a team game, but off the top of your head are there a couple of guys on this squad that you felt helped keep this team together?
GUS MALZAHN: I think you've got to put our seniors in a group. We're a senior‑led team. When we first got here we had a lot of meetings with just our seniors and wanted to make sure that we were all together. I just put those guys in a group, and they're a big reason why we're here.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, I think the biggest thing is to keep the guys off balance. They're very good at what they do, throwing and running, and we've got to keep them off balance.

Q. How do you guys keep them off balance?
GUS MALZAHN: You know, stopping the run, putting pressure on the quarterback, making him uncomfortable.

Q. (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: You know, I think so. The fact that we've been in some very pressure situations, our offense is one week, defense one week, special teams, I know our guys will be calm and I know they'll be expecting to win if we get to that point and it's a close game in the fourth quarter.

Q. Nick Marshall has been your quarterback a relatively short amount of time (Inaudible.)
GUS MALZAHN: It's really amazing when you think about it, didn't go through spring. We were still learning about him midway through the year, and we just hung our hat on what we felt like his strengths were. The sky's the limit. He's got unbelievable potential. This off period has really helped him, and can't wait to get him in the spring.

Q. Tre Mason, why is he better today than he was a year ago?
GUS MALZAHN: Well, I think it's a combination of a lot of things. He's very strong. He's as good an inside runner as there is in college football. He finishes runs. I think our offensive line has improved each week and is playing their best right now.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports




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