VIZIO BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME AUBURN PRESS CONFERENCE
January 1, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI: I want to thank you for coming here to the Disneyland Resort and here at the ESPNZone, as we begin the countdown officially to the January 6, 2014, Vizio BCS National Championship Game. This is a journey that began this long, wonderful season on August 29th, and it ends this Monday night, January 6th, and there's two remaining coaches. One of them is here now with us. Happy to introduce the coach of the 12?1 Auburn Tigers, coach Gus Malzahn.
You're just off the plane, the madness begins now. Any opening comments?
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, well, first of all, we're glad to be here. Our players are real excited, you could tell on the plane. It's finally here. They had two really good weeks of practice I thought was very important, and I feel good about where we're at right now, we just need to have another good week of practice before we play.
GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI: I want to read you a stat. Throughout your career, high school and college, distinguished high school career, your teams have played for championships, including this game, 13 of 22 times. How do those experiences, how do you use them to prepare for a game like this?
GUS MALZAHN: First of all, I've been blessed to have a lot of really good players and a lot of really good coaches, just like this year, to get to that point. Any time you play for championships, if you have experience before, it's got to help. Hopefully we'll be able to lean on some of that.
GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI: Speaking of experience, you were the offensive coordinator for that 2010 Auburn team that won the National Championship. You have, I believe, a total of 11 players on that roster who played in that game in 2010. How does that experience, your coaching experience in that game, and those players translate to something like this?
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, any time you play in the National Championship there's a lot that goes with it. First of all, there's a long layoff, so strategically you've got to plan your practices and everything that goes with that, and then once you get here it's not a normal bowl week. There's a lot of extra stuff that goes with it. So that past experience has got to help, and the fact that we do have some players that experienced it, I know some older guys have talked to the younger guys and kind of told them what to expect.
Hopefully that will definitely help us moving forward next week.
GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI: When we spoke recently at Auburn, you said that you get about four hours a night of sleep. The other 20 hours you're basically thinking about football. Given the circumstances here in this game, are you able to even turn your mind off during this kind of week preparing for it?
GUS MALZAHN: Well, you just try your best to stay in the same routine, so that's what we'll do. Like I said, we've had this experience before, so it's got to help. But I'll still get about four hours of sleep and try to stay in the same routine.
GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI: Let's bring out a couple of your players, beginning with one of the best centers in the country, Reese Dismukes, and one of the star defensive ends in the country, that would be Dee Ford.
Dee, I'm going to start with you. This is a team that was not even ranked in the Top 25 preseason. You weren't even listed under others receiving votes. How do you explain to people what happened this season?
DEE FORD: Oh, man, we took it back to square one. Coach Malzahn came in, did a great job of really getting us to trust in what the coaches were doing, and it started with spring practice. We took it from square one, we said we were going to take it one practice at a time and one day at a time, one game at a time when the season came around. We were just able to execute and really change who we were as players.
GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI: Reese, let me ask you, there are a lot of great moments in the season to choose from. Do you have a favorite?
REESE DISMUKES: Yeah, I think down at Kyle Field, we were playing Texas A&M, and no one really gave us a shot, and I think we just kind of went in there and really it was a team effort playing Johnny Football, defense had to play their best game, and we went in there and we had to go down and score and the defense held them. I think that was really a turning point in our season.
GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI: Dee, this was a team that was 3?9 last year, winless in the SEC. What did this guy to your right, what did he do to turn this thing around?
DEE FORD: He came in and he really focused on the players and what we had to bring to the table. He really did a great job of letting us know that it had to come from the players. It had to be a player?driven team, and we really had to buckle down and work hard. It was going to be hard. He told us that the entire year it was going to be very hard. We have to trust in each other and really focus, focus on the task at hand, and that's what we were able to do.
GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI: Reese, when he came in and put in this offense and you saw how it worked, was there a part of you that kind of felt sorry for what opposing defenses were going to be facing?
REESE DISMUKES: A little bit. I ran it back in 2011 when Coach Malzahn was there then, and kind of saw?? we go faster now, but kind of saw the toll it can take on defenses.
I guess you're out there, sometimes you can feel sorry for them when you know they're really gasping for air and stuff like that.
GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI: Coach, 13 months almost to the day you were hired as the head coach at Auburn. Do you remember what you were doing the night of this game last year?
GUS MALZAHN: The night of this game of course I was thinking about recruiting and I was thinking about our players and getting our staff together and everything that goes with that. There was a lot of moving parts a year ago.
GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI: Did you watch the National Championship Game?
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, I did. I watched parts of it. But like I said, I was kind of focused on what we were doing.
GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI: Was there any part of you that thought a year from now this team could be there?
GUS MALZAHN: You know, it was a process and I never let me mind go there. Auburn is a great place. They expect championships, and I knew we would get back to it, I just didn't know when, and here we are.
Q. Guys, talk about the focus and intensity that it will require for you guys to come out victorious on that day, seeing how you're around so much lavishness with Disneyland and all the other things around here.
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, I'll just say this about these guys: They've found a way to stay focused and get prepared each week, no matter who we were playing, whether we were playing Alabama or a 1?AA school. This group has been extremely focused. They've worked hard. They've acted exactly the same way in practice. So there's no doubt in my mind, we're not going to be distracted.
Q. Reese and Dee, what were your initial thoughts when the bus pulled up here to Disneyland, you saw Mickey and Minnie and the characters, and just being here?
REESE DISMUKES: I think just taking the experience and enjoying everything that's going on. When it's time to go to work you've got to go to work and just things like that, just enjoy what's going on and accept what's happening.
DEE FORD: Yeah, definitely wanted to enjoy the moment. You know, it was a blessing as far as me as a senior, my last time here, being able to enjoy this with my teammates. I definitely want to soak in the moment and also be focused when it's time.
Q. Did you guys watch the National Championship Game last year, and did you ever think that you'd be in this spot in one year?
DEE FORD: Yeah, I mean, I'm a fan of football. I watch all football. I watched every bowl game, including the National Championship. You know, when you put in work, you expect results, but like coach said, you don't really process that into your mind. You really stay focused on the task at hand. You don't look at the big picture and say I want to win a National Championship. You focus on the task at hand, which at that time was the off?season for me.
REESE DISMUKES: Yeah, like Dee said, last year at this time just sitting around watching all the bowl games. Really in the back of your head you just want to get to a bowl game. You don't want to be sitting at home in December and January. That's not fun at all. But just came in, had to work hard and just get back to the situation we're in right now.
Q. What are the priorities at practice at Cal Irvine once you get started tomorrow?
GUS MALZAHN: Like I said earlier, it's going to be a routine. We're going to try to go about a Tuesday practice, a Wednesday practice, a Thursday practice and do exactly what got us here.
Q. Gus, Big Ten officials for this game. I don't think they have anybody in their league that wants to go as fast as you guys want to go. Does that concern you at all? Will you be able to have a moment with the officials or will somebody from Auburn be able to talk with the officials about what you want to do and the speed with which you play and what you would expect from them?
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, as a head coach you always talk to the lead official and umpire before the game. We'll talk about that. But there's a few teams that try to go fast in that league, so I don't have any concerns at all.
GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI: Dee, this is a team that at various times this season has been sort of the underdog. You are the underdog again against No.1 Florida State. Why do you think this team has been able to respond to that role?
DEE FORD: Because that's what we say that we want. We sit in these meetings player?wise, and the seniors talk to the younger guys and we ask them what do they want? We let them know this is what we want. We want to fight to the end. That's just what we do, we just come in and we fight. We're going to play every play just like the 'Bama game. We're going to play every play like it's our last. We really mean that. It's really helped us get to where we are now.
GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI: Reese, you mentioned the Texas A&M game as a pivotal moment in this season. Do you find yourself going back and watching the end of that Georgia game or the end of the Iron Bowl and just kind of relive it at all?
REESE DISMUKES: I mean, you obviously see those plays on ESPN pretty much every time you turn on the television, but I mean, every time I see the play, I just think about what was going on at that time and just enjoy it at that second but try not to get caught up in it too much because of what's at stake right now. We've got to focus on beating Florida State, and like Coach Malzahn says, we can enjoy all the accolades and everything that's happened this season when it's all over with. We can't pat ourselves on the back yet.
GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI: Finally, Coach, you have to get them prepared for this game, but did you go to anybody or get advice from anybody on how to prepare for a National Championship game, given the layoff situation?
GUS MALZAHN: Well, the fact that, like we talked about earlier, that I went through it as a coordinator, and so I kind of know what to expect as far as that goes, we're very blessed to have a veteran staff that has won a lot of games and won championships, so we feel pretty prepared.
GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI: Best of luck to you. It's going to be a great game. Thank you all for coming today, and I think that concludes it.