Transcript of Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn Wednesday, December 18 previewing the BCS National Championship game provided by Auburn University Athletics Dept.
Opening statement…"We are back on the practice field this week after a week of finals. Our players are very excited to get out there. We focused on our younger guys so far, and are trying to keep our older guys fundamentally sound. We will transition into Florida State later in the week. Overall, I really like their attitude and a willingness to get better.
"On another note, I am very excited that we signed three junior college players today. It starts with the No. 1 player in junior college in D'haquille Williams, a wide receiver from Gulf Coast Community College. He is a dynamic player that can run, catch and do all of the things it takes to be a great receiver. Offensive lineman Xavier Dampeer from Copiah-Lincoln has the ability to play center and guard. He is a big strong kid. Derrick Moncrief from Gulf Coast Community College is a big guy that can tackle and has good cover skills. That is what happened this morning, and we will get on to practice in the afternoon."
On facing dynamic quarterbacks…"We have faced some dynamic quarterbacks. They are a little bit different, but have won a lot of games. I hope that will help us. Obviously we are playing the Heisman Trophy winner, the best player in college football, so we have our work cut out for us. Any time you play good quarterbacks, it has to help."
On Nick Marshall's athleticism…"When we signed him, we knew he was a good athlete. We had to transition that over to the quarterback position. I think you can see that once he gets out into space and in one-on-one situations, he is extremely hard to tackle. He is very tough. He is a very good athlete and he is very tough. He has really impressed us this year."
On Tre Mason's progression throughout the year…"Tre has gotten more confident each game. He was pretty confident coming into the year. We knew he was a very solid running back. It seems like he was playing his best football when we were playing our best opponents. He really wanted the ball. He earned a lot of hard yards in between the tackles. He was a true physical presence. He is playing his best ball right now, and we will need another great effort from him in our next game."
On selling his attitude in spring to the offensive line…"In spring, we were as physical as we could be every day. We thought it was important that we got our edge back. We were really physical in fall camp too. We were a little banged up going into the year, but we felt like that is what we needed. That is what Auburn is. We are probably the only team in the country that actually let our quarterbacks go live in the fall too. That really helped us get to where we are at. That is who we are."
How does he know what Auburn is…"Auburn is blue collar, hard-nosed, physically and mentally tough. That is who we are and that is how we win football games here. That is how they have done it for a long time. That is the one thing we realized that we have to get back. That is what we focused on."
On the offensive line…"We knew going into the season that the offensive line was going to be one of our strengths. They got better and better. They started to gel. Coach J.B. Grimes did a wonderful job with them. The unique thing is we are fairly deep. We have a lot of depth there, and any time you have depth, that creates competition. We have stayed pretty healthy up front, too, which is a big factor. Any time you can run the football and people know you are going to run the football against the defenses we have, the offensive line deserves a lot of credit."
Will the Iron Bowl and SEC Championship prepare Auburn for the National Championship…"I think if you look at our entire schedule, I would like to think we are battle-tested. We've been in some true dog-fight games. We've been in some games where the pressure was on on the road, at home, and our guys have responded. In big games I know they are not going to panic, so I've got to believe that will help us moving forward."
On Reese Dismukes becoming a team leader…"Reese is one of our overall team leaders. He and Chris Davis go out for coin flips as our team captains each game, but he's a leader in practice. He's an extension of his coaches; he demands that the other offensive players practice at a high level, and that is what it takes. To have a championship-type team, you've got to have leaders that really raise the bar for the rest of their teammates. It can't just be coaches."
Challenges of facing Florida State's secondary…"They're extremely fast. Their defensive backs -- you can tell -- have very good ball skills, and then they've had the ability to get big leads on people and make them throw the football. When they know that you are going to throw it, they're very good at it."
On Florida State cornerback Lamarcus Joyner…"He tackles well. He plays very well near the line of scrimmage. He covers well. He's just one of the top players defensively in the country."
On Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt…"Jeremy Pruitt is an old high school coach. I got the chance to coach against him a couple of times when he was at Alabama. I've talked to him numerous times. I've got a lot of respect for him. The high school coaches kind of stick together a little bit."
On Tre Mason…"He's got some old school in him. There's no doubt. He's a tough guy. Any time you carry the ball 40-plus times, he still wants it. I've said this before -- I think we could have given it to him 10 more times if the game was on the line, as a matter of fact, I know we could. That sounds a little crazy, but that's his mentality, and he's got great passion to win, to want to win, and he's a big reason why we are here."
On signing the No. 1 JUCO wide receiver D'haquille Williams despite being a run-heavy offense this year…
"Well, this year -- but if you look back, we've had years where we've thrown it a lot, and we are going to get more and more balanced next year. Any time you've got a dynamic guy like him coming, that's a really good thing."
On Auburn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes…"Of course, I coached with J.B. last year. Of course, he's an old Arkansas guy, so we go way back. I already knew him pretty well, but he's one of the best teachers that I've ever been around. If a toe is two inches too wide, he's not happy. He's very specific. He has a knack that he has great relationships with his players, they respond to him and he's one of the best in the country."
What the extra time off means for quarterback Nick Marshall…"It means a lot. It means a lot that we can kind of slow down. We can really work hard on just some minor details that we weren't able to do in fall camp. We had to start game planning after he was named the starter, and so Coach (Rhett) Lashlee is going to get the chance to really work on the fine-tuning of his footwork and delivery and everything that goes with it. I've got to believe this will be a very big help for him."
Many of the top teams in the country being from the same region…"Of course, this is a great area as far as recruiting, as far as talent, and they're extremely talented. I would probably put their talent up against anybody in the country."
How much Dameyune Craig knows about Florida State…"Of course, Dameyune was there, and he knows some of their players, but it's like anything else. We've played a lot of different teams. You get an idea, but at the end of the day, year to year is different."
Will any of Auburn's JUCO signees participate in bowl practice…"We're still working on that."
The importance of giving Florida State something they haven't seen…"I think any time you've got a long period of time, there's going to be some gamesmanship. There are going to be some wrinkles on both sides of the football. Usually it takes a quarter and you start to get in a rhythm and you understand what they are doing and they understand what you are doing. But at the end of the day, they're going to do what they are really good at, and we are going to do what we are really good at, and we'll see what happens."
On Chris Davis' improvement…"Since the Alabama game, he's still the same person, but what I've seen is that all year, he's continued to improve. His leadership on our team has continued to improve. He wanted to return punts. He made that very adamant with us. So I'm glad our coaches gave him an opportunity. It really helped us in a big way. Obviously that return was one of the defining moments of our season. He's done a great job for us. He was injured there for a game or two, and it hurt us. He's one of our top players, top playmakers and top leaders."
Making Chris Davis a captain…"I had a relationship with him before when I was here. He's got leadership ability; he's a tough guy. He earned that through spring, and through fall camp. His teammates have a lot of respect for him."
Sammie Coates' development as a wide receiver…"Sammie can really run. Coach Craig has done a wonderful job with him. He's improved each game. Obviously he gives us a deep threat. Any time you've got a guy who can run as tall as him, and can jump, that's a threat. When his time has come, and when his number has been called, he's delivered this year."
How Coates has improved mentally since spring… "I think he's greatly improved. He's become a better player without the ball. That's hard to do for receivers."
On Nick Marshall improving on fumbles…"You're exactly right. That's what we're focusing on. We've got to protect the football. Of course that's where it starts -- with the quarterback. Coach Lashlee's on top of that. I really believe we'll get that correct."
On redshirt players starting to stand out…"It's really hard to see one guy sticking out, but we're letting them compete. Overall, I've been happy with the whole group. They're excited. When looking at a lot of those guys on the scout team in the middle of the season, it's hard for position coaches to really get a good look at them. They really responded well. It's good for our coaches to evaluate those guys and spend time with them. It's been a really good thing the last couple days."
What stands out about Tre Mason…"He's a playmaker. You just give him the ball and things happen. He can go get it; he can run. You can hand it to him. He's got all the tools."
On the conditioning of the defense…"Coach Russell first of all has done an outstanding job with our whole team as far as our conditioning. We have all but one game. We've really performed well in the fourth quarter. Our defensive line coach, Coach Garner, has done a good job of keeping his guys fresh in the fourth quarter, especially against these top quarterbacks that can throw it so well."
Jay Prosch's ability to lead on and off the field…"He's very valuable to us, and he gets overlooked a lot with stats. You don't get a chance to really see in the paper the stats the next day, but he has a physical presence. A lot of times he's a point of attack guy. He gets us started. He's a good tough guy. He makes everybody on our team tougher. He's just a winner."
On putting together his coaching staff…"The first thing we wanted to do was get men of character that were great examples for our players. That's where we started. Then we went after guys at the same time that had very good resumes. We hired our coordinators first. I gave the coordinators some ownership. I thought being a former coordinator it was very important that your roots are close. We really have something special with our staff. They have done a wonderful job, and they are a big reason why we are here."
His defensive involvement…"I try to do my best at being an overall head coach, game management and everything that goes with it. Obviously any time you're an offensive minded guy, you kind of have a good idea at what possibly could be coming. We will communicate, but at the same time I have a lot of confidence in Ellis Johnson. He's one of the best to ever coach in our league."
Strength coach Ryan Russell's impact on the team…"He's a very energetic guy, and he has a high standard. There's no grey area. He's very consistent. I think that's where it started from the discipline and accountability part. Then we are a no-huddle team; everything we do is fast. He's very big on the stretching and the recovery. Our guys really like working out, and he works the dog out of them. I think that's a tribute to him."
Preparing for Florida State's receivers…"We've played some really talented receivers. It's a complete defensive deal. It's not just receivers versus defensive backs. We need to find a way to put pressure on the quarterback. Everything works together, but the main thing is we need to keep away from the big play. That's the number one thing we've been preaching to our guys."
On Dee Ford…"Dee Ford is our leader. There's no doubt he is an impact player. He has the ability to make a play when the game is on the line. He's showed that this year. He plays his best games in the biggest moments, and we are going to need him to do that again."
The offensive line's push against defenses…"That's been a key to our running game. We've done a good job of not giving up penetration, because Missouri was a very attacking defense with a lot of movement -- more movement than a lot of people we've seen. We felt if we kept away from penetration and got Tre going with a little push -- that's what they were able to do. That will be a big challenge for us this next game. Any time you get to this game, you're going to be pretty good up front with your offensive line. In 2010, we had a veteran group, one of the strengths of our team. This year is no different. The offensive line is one of our strengths, if not our strength, and they've helped us get here."
On Alex Kozan…"You know all positions we opened up. The other four had returning starters, but we opened up every one of them. That one took a little bit longer, but Alex had an excellent year. He's a great competitor. He's a tough guy. He's gotten better and better each game. He's got a very bright future."
On signing Derrick Moncrief early…"That will be very big. Obviously we are very thin at the safety position, and we are losing a senior. That will be big in the spring and provide us depth."
Does he have a backup plan if there isn't a Waffle House in Pasadena…"No, not yet."
Florida State's similarities to other teams Auburn faced…"Really the best way to answer that is they are probably the fastest defense that we've faced. We've faced some really fast ones, but they may be the fastest. They can really run, and they are good tacklers."