Watch: What Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said before the SEC Championship 

Here’s what Auburn coach Gus Malzahn had to say about Saturday’s SEC Championship game against Georgia in Tuesday’s press conference:

Opening Statement: “Okay, had a big win Saturday. Won the SEC West. We enjoyed it Saturday. When we got to Sunday, we put it behind us. Now we are looking forward to Georgia and the SEC Championship game. You are talking about one of the more talented teams in the country in Georgia. You are talking about two of the more talented running backs in the country on the same team. Defensively, they have a whole lot of talent, a whole lot of speed. On special teams, they do a very good job. They hurt us in the return game. We are going to have to do a much better job of covering kicks. That is really one of the things that stood out to me in the last game. Overall, I am real proud of our team like I said after the game to get us to this point. We look forward to going to Atlanta and playing one of the more talented teams in the country.”

On preparing for a team you played so recently: “You know there have been other teams that have played each other during the year and then they play each other during the championship game. I think what makes this thing unique is that it was three weeks ago that we played. From a coach’s standpoint, when you play another opponent, you look at the last game there is no doubt about that. And what you could have done better. And you try to predict what they are going to do. They probably try and predict what you are going to do. But we know each other pretty well, probably from the standpoint of playing so recently.”

On (running back) Kerryon Johnson’s status: “We’ll see. I think it is going to be a day-to-day deal. He was better yesterday than the day before. So, we will see where that goes and when he is ready to get out there.”

On (running back) Kam Martin’s status: “Kam Martin will practice.”

On if Johnson’s injury is related to shoulder surgery he had: “I don’t know if that is the case. I mean, you saw the play and he landed on it kind of awkwardly.”

On if Johnson can’t practice, him being a veteran will help him play Saturday: “Oh, there is no doubt. I mean he is not just a veteran guy, he is one of the better football players in college football right now. He is a great competitor and like I said before this is a big game and he’ll do what he can. He’ll do whatever he can.”

On Johnson’s range of motion: “I am not going to get into being a doctor right now and all that stuff. That sounds like something I would ask Dr. (James) Andrews. I’ll probably ask him later in the week and get back to you.”

On his anger for the 12-men on the field penalty against Alabama: “That was a big moment in the game. We had four guys not set and in motion. That was a unique moment. That was a big play in the game with a lot on the line, so I am not going to be happy, when something like that happens.”

On if he has ever been angrier that that: “Yeah, probably. I’ve gotten pretty angry on a football field before. I was pretty worked up, but I should have been. I should have been, that was a big moment. The ruling on the field wasn’t reviewable. Anyway, that is behind us, but I was pretty worked up.”

On being able to rush four and get to the quarterback: “Any time that you can get pressure on a quarterback only rushing four, it changes everything. And that is usually the sign of a very good defense.”

On his defensive line: “They were a very talented group. We knew we had a chance to be pretty good up front this year. But what they have done is they have gotten better each week, and they are playing with that edge, that confidence. They have been controlling the line of scrimmage. And we are going to have to continue to do that. The reality is we played very well the first time we played these guys, but (Georgia) is still one of the best rushing teams in all of college football. (Georgia) is impressive in what they do and I am sure they are going to have some new wrinkles and some things like that.” 

On if this year’s defensive line is one of his best: “I think right now I would have to say yes, the way they are playing. They are playing at a high level. At times, they are dominating and getting into the opponent’s backfield. And they are putting pressure on the quarterback too. So, if you can control the line of scrimmage and put pressure on the quarterback, that is as good as it gets. We are going to have to do that again this week because like I said (Georgia) is very, very talented.”  

On defensive ends Nick Coe and Marlon Davidson: “Yeah, both those guys are so flexible and both those guys are really athletic and it gives us flexibility anytime you can do that, especially on passing downs. You can put a little bit more speed inside. That definitely helps.”

On play of free safety Tray Matthews: “Yeah, I am so proud of Tray. Tray is one of our captains and he has been battling injury for probably six or seven weeks. It’s kind of been one of those tough things for him. There were questions earlier last week if he was going to be able to play. Not only did he play, but he played at a high level and he finished the game. I know that gives him confidence moving forward but he is one of our leaders.” 

On progression of quarterback Jarrett Stidham: “You know the bigger the game, the more you learn about everything. Not just your quarterback, but any other position. He’s got a comfort right now. He is playing comfortable football and there were some guys rushing the passer last week that are dynamic and right around him, and he was real relaxed and got rid of the football before he got hit. So, he is playing a lot more comfortable than he was earlier in the year.” 

On playing away from home: “It’s the championship game. It’s going to be loud and everything that goes with it. And we’ll have a good crowd too. I am not concerned about that.”

On if Auburn’s football program is stable: “I think we gotta see. I know we talked about it a little earlier in the year about where our program is at. We felt like coming into this year we finally had some quality depth through recruiting. We got a lot of the pieces of the puzzle for what it takes. So, we are in a really good spot and the future is very bright and we have the ability to sustain that. You got to do it. You got to do all the stuff, but we are a lot more stable now than any other time I have been here at Auburn. I feel good about where we’re at.”

On Tray Matthew’s leadership: “He’s the leader. He talks, they all listen and he’s got that edge about him that really rubs off on his other teammates – not just defensively, but all teammates. He is playing at a high level and with that chip on his shoulder.”

On offense getting ball to perimeter:  “I mean to have a good offense, you have to be good between the tackles, you have to be good on the perimeter, you have to have the ability to throw the ball down the field. I think (offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey) has got this offense to where they’ve got the ability to do both. And when we play really good, we are successful at all three areas and he has built it that way. And like I said we got to continue to be good in all three areas. The challenge is we are playing a great defense again. This is a great defense. What will it be? Three out of the last four teams we have played, we have played top-5 defenses. I don’t know any other offense that is having to do that.” 

On what needs to improve on special teams: “Cover and tackle. It’s really that simple. We really have to be desperate to cover. We have to get off blocks and make some tackles and gang tackle because (Georgia’s) returner is a very talented young man and he’s scary. So, it’s really that simple to plan for.”

On moving forward from emotional wins: “You look back 2013, I was real concerned with trying to get over that because it was so crazy at the end. The way everything went, I was concerned with could we have that high of emotion and would we be able to rebound and play. This team’s a lot more stable. You’re definitely concerned but I feel great about it. We got in here Sunday for a team meeting and it was flip the page. That was over with. We will think about how fun that was after the season. I mean they’ve got the goal. They put it up there the very first day of fall camp. We want to win the SEC Championship and they weren’t like shy about it or trying to hide it from outside people. That was just what our goal was. They put it out there and now it is right in front of them and we’ve got a mature team. They are not going to be distracted, I’ll tell you that. We are playing a big-time team. We have to play them twice. Everything that goes with that. We have to play our best football. That is what we have been talking about. We have to play our best football. Very few teams can do that toward the end, so we have to play better than we did Saturday and that is what is on their minds and that is our challenge.”

On playing indoors with special teams: “Kicking inside, obviously there are no elements, and (Daniel Carlson) has a great leg so that will definitely be on our side.” 

On playing the same team twice in three weeks: “Well, the experience of how you go to this point, it helps you. I think from the standpoint of you know a lot about how your team is going to react in certain situations. It’s going to be a dogfight Saturday. There no doubt. There are going to be adversity and we are going to have to overcome it. I like where we are at and how we have gotten here. A lot of times, it’s how you get to where you are at, that can help you moving forward. We have experienced just a little bit of everything this year if you really look at it. And hopefully that will help us out on Saturday.”

On defending blitzes with Johnson: “Let me just say this. I have confidence in all of our running back and their protection. Some of them have had a lot of opportunities during games. Some of them have had limited opportunities, but just from the practices and scrimmages we have a lot of confidence in all our running backs in protection.” 

On play of linebacker Deshaun Davis: “He is playing his best football right now and I have said it before, he is kind of like a coach on the field. He can dissect things and he thinks like and offensive coordinator. He can think ahead of what is coming. He’s got a unique ability. We are practicing offense versus defense and he knows a lot of what is going on.” 

On defense when Davis and linebacker Tre’ Williams are on the field: “You’re talking about two veterans. Of course, we are confident in other guys that we rotate to, but those are two veteran players that are very hard to replace.” 

On stopping Georgia’s Sony Michel and Nick Chubb: “I mean they are one of the top rushing teams in the country, if not the best. It does start with stopping them. And when you do that, then you start to worry about the passing game and everything that goes with it. The quarterback (Jake Fromm) has more experience than when he played us three weeks ago, three more games or whatever. So, you have to stop the run. I mean their running bacs are phenomenal.” 

On Georgia’s play since the first meeting: “They drilled the two teams that they played. They can go out and put them away and played good football. You are talking about one of the best teams in the country. They are really good and they have showed that through the whole season. They are talented. They are well-coached. They are one of the top teams in the country.” 

On the LSU loss changing him as a coach: “I don’t know if it changed me. I don’t know. Anytime you go through adversity, you have to look at everything and I don’t know if it changed me, but to a point, we drew the line and said here is what we have to do if we are going to reach our goals. And a tribute to our players and our coaching staff, they just rolled up their sleeves and they got it done. When you have your back against the wall and you have to win every week on the road, at home against two No. 1 teams, that’s a lot of pressure. And I think our team fought through that and I am real proud of those guys getting us to where we are at. After that LSU game, it was the sky was falling and a lot of guys were shooting arrows at us and this group really just came together and got us to this point. And I am just real proud of them.”

On if Auburn is running out of gas: “I think from the standpoint of we have a mature bunch, a hungry bunch, I don’t think that will happen. And on Sunday when we went out, we went to practice, it was great energy. They are excited. It’s finally here, so there is something to be said for that. But, nah, we won’t have any kind of emotional letdown.” 

On if he has gotten a chance to appreciate what Auburn has accomplished: “No, I think you have to wait until after the year. And then you think about that. You have to go week to week and figure out a way to get better each week. You can’t worry. Now I need to say this too, LSU is probably one of the better teams in the country too. I know they were going through some stuff at the time, but they are really good. So, it puts things in a little better perspective when you look at the whole thing.” 

On if he had to manage Stidham: “No. If you remember in fall camp, I was saying we have to give this guy time. We know he was talented from the spring, but we got to give him time in fairness to him because he had played three-or-four games in his entire college football life and then was fixing to enter this league with the best defenses. And then we had to play Clemson at Clemson and they have one of the best defenses in the league. So, we just had to give him time to get the experience and get used to his teammates and get used to his coordinator, and let his coordinator get used to him. It took a little time for him to get more comfortable, and Chip (Lindsey) was getting to learn about him too and trying to learn his strengths and trying to put him in good situations to build around his strengths. I think it is really as simple as that. He is a really talented young man. Now that he is running the football some, it has really opened up other things. He’s playing at a high level at the quarterback position, which you got to do. If you want a chance to win the championship in our league, your quarterback has to play at a high level. And he has done that so far and hopefully he can do it again on Saturday.” 

On looking for matchups based on Stidham’s strengths: “Here is what he gives us. He can make every throw. So, when you can make every throw, from a coach’s standpoint, it opens up the playbook and it gives you more flexibility to achieve in more than one area and take advantage of more. He’s got an arm. He can go hash-to-hash, sideline-to-sideline. That helps.”

On wide receiver Ryan Davis: “Ryan’s playing with a lot of confidence right now. And Ryan’s been a young man for a while now – he is to a point now where he wants the ball and he is desperate to get open. Stidham has a comfort with him. He did a great job Saturday and he has played well really all year. 

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 25: Head coach Gus Malzahn of the Auburn Tigers reacts after a touchdown by the Alabama Crimson Tide was overturned after review during the fourth quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium on November 25, 2017 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

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