Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn
Tuesday, November 26 press conference previewing the Alabama game
Opening statement…"Obviously, it is a huge game for us. It is the Iron Bowl where the winner goes to the SEC championship game, which is everyone's goal. We talked about our goal this year, which is to get better each game. I feel like we have up to this point. For us to win this game, I feel like we have to play our best game and most complete game up to this point."
Did he anticipate closing the gap on Alabama this quickly…"I knew our mindset, which was to get better. There were still a lot of question marks early in the season. We learned a lot about our team. It was our overall attitude and we felt like we had some talent here also."
His coaching staff…"Well, we have a great staff. They deserve a lot of credit to where we are at right now. The most important thing was the mindset. Auburn is a great place. It was really just the mindset."
On being able to be physical in the hurry up offense…"That is what we harped on when we first got here. We felt like we needed to get our edge back, that physical, hard-nosed, blue collar edge back that starts up front. We are a run, play-action team. A lot of times you hear spread and you think pass to open up the run, but we are a run to open up the pass."
Auburn alums Dameyune Craig and Rodney Garner have played in the Iron Bowl…"First of all, both of those guys have done an amazing job for us. They understand Auburn. They played here and they have great pride. The fact that they have played in this game has definitely helped. All of our coaches have really had their A game this week. I know their players can really rely on their coach's experiences in the past."
On playing in these type of big games on a regular basis…"That is what you strive for. You strive for going to Atlanta. Any time you have a chance to play in a game like this, that tells you good things are ahead."
Can Auburn be a regular at the top…"There is no doubt. Auburn is a great place. Auburn is a place where you can win and win on a consistent basis. We have tried to get to this point. I am real proud of this team that they have gotten to this point. They have improved each game and set themselves up to go to Atlanta."
On quarterback Nick Marshall…"Nick Marshall has been a big key to our success. He didn't go through spring. We've never had a quarterback in our system not go through spring, and what he's done is really amazing. He was learning the offense on the go on Saturdays, and we were learning a lot about him. But he is a tough customer. He's mentally tough, he's physically tough and he's a great competitor. And he's earned his teammates' and coaches' respect."
Is the biggest matchup in the game Auburn's rushing offense going against Alabama's rushing defense…
"Well, I think that is one of them. Obviously, they're very good against the run, and we are pretty good running the football. I think that will be a big key, but at the same time, they've got an outstanding offense, and we've got to find a way to make them uncomfortable and slow them down."
What has he done daily to help turn the program around…"We've taken it one day at a time, and we've tried to improve each practice and each game. I've said this before -- it sounds like coach speak, but that was exactly how we did it. Our coaches have done a good job with our players of demanding that, and our players have done a good job of being disciplined enough to follow that, and that's been a big key."
How long it has taken to adjust to Alabama does defensively during a game in the past and what do they do really well…"First of all, they are extremely talented at every position. From an offensive standpoint, you look for weaknesses and all of that, and they've got very good players at every position. Usually, you have a good idea of what they are going to do; it's just a matter of being able to execute and taking advantage of things when you have them."
What has Nick Marshall done to improve his play on third downs…"As a coach, we've had a week off. You try to look back overall, and you try to improve in all areas that you feel like you need to. Third down is definitely a big key, and it will be Saturday. They're very good on third down, and we've got to get better, and that will be a big key to the game."
Does he expect the same kind of improvement Auburn had after its bye week earlier…"That's what we are hoping. Any time you have a bye week and you get a chance to remove yourself from the moment to look back at the things that you really need to improve on and build upon those things that you are good at, I think that definitely helps you."
Is there anything to add that could be beneficial to them…"I think it is more of evaluating yourself and evaluating what you can and can't do. I think there is a lot to be said for that."
On the mindset of always wanting to keep improving and to never be satisfied…
"As a coach, you definitely have your own mindset, but that's just been the formula for this year, each practice and each game. Hats off to our players. I've said it before, it doesn't make any difference who we are playing, they've found a way to get better whether it's a 1-AA opponent or whether it's a Top 10 opponent, they've had the same mindset, and they've been prepared each week, and we are going to need to do that again this Saturday."
Has he had time to ponder what the team has done…"No, there's not time. Like I told our players, we've got a job to do. We will pat ourselves on the back at the end of the year and we will see what happens, but we can't let anything distract us. You can't let your mind go there. You have a job to do; we have a huge game. We need to do exactly what we have done to get us here. That has been our approach."
Jeremy Johnson's role in the Iron Bowl…"In each game he has had a bigger plan -- it's just the way the game unfolds sometimes, either allows for more playing time or less playing time. Coach Lashlee has a very good plan for him for this game, and, at the same time, if something were to happen to Nick, we feel like he could run our entire offense."
How this Auburn team compares to the 2010 team…"Each game they have gotten better, and as the coaching staff we have learned a lot about the team. The first half of the season, we weren't there yet. We are getting closer, but there are still areas of improvement. But like I said at first, we are going to play our best game and we are going to have to improve from the last game that we had."
Similarities to Auburn's 2010 team…"Probably the focus and their ability to find ways to win at the end of the game. That's been something that I have been very impressed with about our team. They have found different ways to win; some times it's our offense or our defense or special teams. In the close games, they've won in some real pressure moments."
Did Alabama have Auburn's play codes in 2010…"I think as a coach you always have to look at yourself and the components of your offense and your communication. They were very good on defense in 2010. They did a few things that were a little bit different at that point and it took us a while to adjust. I really don't know."
About the second half of the LSU game…"Earlier in the season, I was real concerned on how our team would handle adversity, and that was my number one thing. We got behind, it was on the road in a hostile environment and we played on the verge of terrible for a quarter and a half. At halftime we had guys that were very vocal and weren't going to let what happened in the past happen. They went out there in the second half and we made it interesting. And if we would have gotten that onside kick, it could have gotten real interesting."
The magnitude of the game…"We are taking it one game at a time, and each game is bigger. Our guys understand that. I'm sure some of the younger guys are leaning on the experiences of our older guys. We aren't going to hype up things. It's already big enough. We are going to do exactly what we have done to get here, and we are going to prepare."
On the atmosphere for the game…"Our fans have been unbelievable. They have helped us win games. Obviously against Georgia, it was a big factor and I know our fans will be ready for this one. Our players are excited to play in front of them and our coaches are really looking forward to the game also."
On Nick Marshall's improvement…"Like I said, Nick has improved each game and Coach Lashlee has done a great job with him. He's starting to get more comfortable when he can actually run the offense without thinking. He can be reactive and I think that's been a big key to our success."
His players' reaction to Nick Marshall's success…"Our players have a lot of respect for him. He doesn't get too high or too low, but he's got that air about him. They really believe in him, even in pressure situations. He's going to make a play; of course he's showed that so far this year."
On AJ McCarron…"He's a very good quarterback. He has great command of the offense and you can see he does a good job getting them in good plays and getting them out of bad plays. He can make all the throws."
On Auburn's confidence…"Each week they've gotten more and more confident. After a couple big games, you could see that the momentum and confidence was better each week."
Motivating the team throughout the season…"At first, our coaches had high expectations for our players and it was more about us. We were learning about our players. Our coaching staff has done a very good job of developing relationships with our players and trust. Our players trust our coaches and our coaches trust our players."
On Corey Grant…"He's probably one of the fastest players in college football. He's been a speed guy, but he's gotten better at running between the tackles and doing the things a normal running back does. He's an even better person."
The blocked kick against Georgia…"We focused extremely hard on that. The things we need to improve on we've really focused on in the locker room and hopefully we will be better, not only in that area, but some of the other areas also."