Transcript: Malzahn looks ahead to SEC Championship game

Source: WSFA 12 News
Source: WSFA 12 News

Transcript of Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn's Monday news conference regarding Iron Bowl and upcoming SEC Championship game [Provided by: Auburn Athletics Dept.]

Opening Statement…"Obviously, it is a big game. Our kids are excited about going to Atlanta and playing in the SEC championship game. We are playing against a very good, all-around team. We are talking about one of the best offensive teams in college football. They have the ability to hurt you with the run. They have huge receivers that can run on the outside. Their quarterback is a dual-threat guy. They present a lot of challenges in that area. We are also talking about one of the top 20 rush defenses in the country. They also have the ability with their front four to put pressure on the quarterback without blitzing, which is a sign of a good defensive team. They are extremely well-coached and well-disciplined. They make you earn it. It will be a big challenge for our team."

Helping his team move on from the win…"You have to be as honest with them as you can. That is our biggest challenge as a team. It was a very emotional win. It was a physical game, but we have to put it behind us and we have to put all of our attention on Missouri. We are talking about a top five team and a chance to win the SEC Championship. Every time we have challenged this team this year, they have risen to the occasion. They were pretty locked in last night at practice."

On the team dealing with adversity and success…"I think they have handled them well in both areas, whether it is adversity and that ability to win, and the way they have handled it after big wins. I think back to the Texas A&M game. That was a very emotional game for us. I was concerned how we would respond the next week and the guys came out and played well and were very focused. We need to do that same thing again."

On the outside distractions…"I think any time you have a week to get over the emotion of a game, it definitely helps. This is a challenge that is a little bit different. We only have one week. I really believe that any chance you get to go to Atlanta and you are playing for the SEC Championship, which is everyone's goal in this league, you shouldn't be distracted. You should be focusing up, and I really believe our players will."

Does he see a difference in his team in close games…"I think so. I think it is unique and it is rare that you have teams that believe they are going to win no matter how bad it looks. They still have bright eyes and belief in each other and that is what our guys have found a way to do. We talked all week before last week's game that we have to get it close to the fourth quarter and we will win the game. And they believed it and they found a way to do it.

"I think any time you win 11 games in this league -- the best league in college football -- you have to be a pretty good team. Teams that find a way to win, that is rare. Our team has found different ways to win and I am very proud of them."

Similarities between Missouri and Auburn…"When I look at Missouri, they do remind me of our team in a lot of ways. Their team has gotten better each week. They play together. They are very confident. They make plays when they have to. They have played in some big games, especially these last two weeks. They went to Ole Miss, which is a tough place to play, and they won. They played against the best player in college football in Texas A&M and they shut him down for the most part. So you are talking about a team that can rise to the occasion."

Nick Marshall's progression from August to now…"I am going to say this again, he has only been here for what, six months? What he has done to lead our team and put us where we are at is really unbelievable. He has gotten more comfortable, but that is to be expected. He was learning the offense the first four weeks and each week he is getting more comfortable. His teammates are playing hard for him. You are talking about the best players in America, and I think at this point in the season, you have to start mentioning his name with a bunch of these other guys."

Nick's decision-making on the field…"He is starting to protect the football in the passing game. He is making good decisions on when to not throw it, when to throw it away and when to take off. That is a sign of experience and a sign of a good quarterback."

Would he vote for Marshall if he had a Heisman vote…"He should be in the mix, no doubt. I don't get to watch other teams like all of you do but he should be in the mix. He is one of the better players in college football. He is leading our team."

On Tre Mason…"He is leading the SEC in rushing, which is extremely tough to do. He is a hard-nosed runner, a very physical runner. To get the rushing yards he did against the team last week, that's rare and he deserves a lot of credit."

Looking ahead to having the same starting quarterback for a second year…"It's going to be a lot of fun. It will be our first time to ever do that, but like I said, we will talk about that after the season."

The outlook for the quarterbacks entering this season…"We had our two quarterbacks in the spring and evaluated them, and nobody really separated themselves. Jeremy Johnson we felt like would be an excellent quarterback, and then we brought Nick in and we opened it up. It was all four guys and I think three weeks before the season we actually went live. It was all four guys, which is pretty rare. Nick won the job and he has gotten better each week."

Was quarterback the only position needing a change from last year…"Our offensive line has really done a great job; they have gotten better each week. Our receivers I feel like have improved each week. Tre Mason is running harder and better than he has ever run; Jay Prosch in my opinion is the best fullback in college football. So I think there are a lot of factors that go into that, but Nick is a huge part of our success offensively."

Marshall's ability to improvise…"When things break down, that's the sign of a really good quarterback. They make plays with their feet or they make plays with their arm, or they throw the ball away. I think that's a big key in being a successful quarterback specifically in our league."

Marshall's last touchdown pass in the Alabama game…"It's an outstanding play, I know we run it every week in practice. Coach Lashlee had him prepared but it was a great play, especially in the moment."

Progress of the defensive line…"Our defensive line has gotten better each practice, each game. Coach Garner has a lot of guys rotating in. He keeps them fresh and that's been a big key to our success also, our front four on defense."

On Tre Mason's performance against Alabama…"It's tough to get yards against those guys; it says a lot about him. I think he's one of the better running backs in the entire country, too. I think it says a lot about our offensive line because the offensive line won the battle up front."

On the recognition Chris Davis is receiving… "We are very proud of him but I think the key to this week will be how we handle success. It's great and all that, but we have to move on and put all of our energy on the Missouri Tigers, a top five team. We can pat ourselves on the back after the season."

On the Missouri defense…"They are very aggressive, they can run, they play together, they play extremely hard -- that's the thing that stands out to me. They make you earn it. When you watch them on film, there are very few cheap plays. They make you have drives put together. They are very impressive."

On Jeremy Johnson's role…"Kind of like I said last week, we have a plan in place for him every week but how the game unfolds determines a lot of things."

Has Malzahn ever been part of something like the fourth quarter…"I don't think I have. Probably every coach been a part of a situation like that with that much on the line, in that big of a game. I am very proud of our team to rise to the occasion. To come up big defensively, come up big offensively, and to come up big in special teams, that's the sign of a good team."

Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes…"I have known JB for a long time; he's an old Arkansas guy like me. We have had a relationship for a long time. When I got to Arkansas State he was the first guy we called and he did a great job last year -- I think we led our league in rushing. We brought him here and I think he's done a great job. I think he is one of the better teachers I've ever seen up front, but his biggest strength is the relationship he has with his players and they play extremely hard for him."

Preparing to play a team on a week's notice…"You try to put a little extra time in earlier in the week just to get familiar with them, but after you get going, teams at this point in the year, they do pretty much what got them there. Like I said, they're a very good football team."

Does Missouri remind him of any team Auburn has played this year…"Like I said, they are the second best rush defense in our league. That says a lot. They rush the football extremely well. They're a very good football team."

On watching Missouri's game against Ole Miss to pick up tendencies…"Ole Miss doesn't run the ball as much as we do, but they did a great job defending them. They played at Ole Miss and for the most part shut their offense down, so that says a lot."

How long did it take him to unwind Saturday night…"It took a little bit to unwind. No matter who we play, it takes me a little bit to unwind. (I have to) sit down and take everything in. (I) probably went to sleep around two o'clock. That's about normal, and got up the next morning early ready to go."

On how early he got up Sunday morning…"Pretty early."

Will Auburn follow the same schedule this week as a normal game week…"Yeah, we are going to keep everything the same."

Did he go to Waffle House Saturday night after the Iron Bowl…"No, I didn't go to Waffle House. It was a little bit too crazy out there. I barely got off the field, so I figured I would wait until things calmed down a little bit."

Did he know Waffle House had reserved a table for him…"I didn't hear all of that, but I was going to stay in that night."

Keeping the team from being distracted by all of the hype of the game and BCS speculation…"I'm really not worried about our team at all in that area. This game is big enough. We are playing for the SEC championship, so they are going to be focused on that. There's no doubt in my mind. We'll worry about all of that afterward and see what happens."

Steven Clark's performance in the Iron Bowl and the importance of field position…"There were two big punts down there. I think we got them on the one and the two. Those were huge plays in the game. Give them credit. They came out and they had good offensive plays to get off the goal line. Our special teams have been a strength of ours all year. They've got good special teams, too, so that will be a big key to the game. We are going to need to play extremely well on special teams."

On the importance of having a lot of players who are familiar with playing in the Georgia Dome…

"I think it will probably help. I think we played the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in 2011. 2010 there are too many guys still left off that team that played in the SEC championship, but hopefully the seniors that were there and played will be able to provide some experience for the younger guys."

What makes Nick Marshall different from any other quarterback that he has coached…"The fact that he didn't go through spring probably is the biggest factor"

What does he feel is most important about a quarterback going through spring practice…"I always say we are a quarterback-oriented offense. If our quarterback plays well, we play well, and if he doesn't, we don't. We put a lot of pressure on the guy as far as not just when the ball is snapped, but before the ball is snapped, after the ball is snapped and we rely on him a lot. I think it is a tribute to Nick. I think it is a tribute to Rhett Lashlee for getting him prepared. It's really something when you really think about it big picture -- it's really something what he's done."

Will he will wear a sweater vest on Saturday…"Oh, I'm going to wear a sweater vest. There's no doubt about that."

Did Jay Prosch have a failed assignment on Auburn's failed fourth-and-short…"It wasn't his fault."

On Auburn being picked fifth in the West and Missouri sixth in the East in the preseason…"I think both teams have gotten better each game. I think that the teams that get better each game find a way to win at the end, and I think both teams, you could say that about them."