Allstate Sugar Bowl Head Coaches’ Teleconference
December 4, 2016
JOHN SUDSBURY: We’re very excited for the 83rd Allstate Sugar Bowl. We’re going to have the Auburn Tigers and the Oklahoma Sooners. Without further ado, I’m going to introduce Coach Gus Malzahn from Auburn.
COACH MALZAHN: First of all, our players and our coaches are extremely excited to be playing in the Sugar Bowl against a very good opponent, the Oklahoma Sooners. I know our fan base is going to be very excited, and it ought to be a good game.
Q. Obviously this is the second matchup ever between these two schools. Just to go against a team you guys have never seen before, a bunch of your fan base has never seen your team play against before.
COACH MALZAHN: With Oklahoma from the standpoint of traditionally being one of the best programs in all of college football and obviously playing in the four team playoff last year, this year we got a chance to watch them a little bit on TV. Yesterday I got a chance to watch the Oklahoma State game. And a good offense to go with a very good defense. We have a lot of respect for them.
Q. First of all, how big an Alabama fan were you yesterday? And, secondly, recently in this game, it’s been some underdogs that play teams that maybe came up the team that was supposed to win didn’t maybe play with as much motivation as Oklahoma and Alabama two or three years ago. How much do you feel like your team is going to be able to feed off of that underdog mentality going into this game?
COACH MALZAHN: Well, we will definitely be motivated. We’re playing one of the top teams in the country. Our team is extremely excited to be at the Sugar Bowl, and that’s a very big deal. And our players understand that.
We have got really strong leadership on this team, and we will be ready to play and we have to be ready to play. We had a good chance of making the Sugar Bowl, so it’s been it’s been kind of an up and down season. We started out, had a tough way the first couple of games. Very proud of the way our team responded and just came back strong and finished strong. And then at the very end, we’re tickled to death to be playing in the Sugar Bowl.
Q. First of all, how healthy do you expect your team to be, you know, months from now for the bowl game? And I’m guessing the motivation level will be pretty high too for a game like this?
COACH MALZAHN: Yeah. I feel pretty certain we will be close to 100%. You know, like I just said, we had some key injuries, and they were to impact players late in the season. And it really hurt us. And I feel pretty confident now that 30 days away or whatever that we will have everyone a very good football during that stretch run as we were growing and when our impact players were healthy.
Q. How different of a team were you in November without those two stars?
COACH MALZAHN: Those two guys were playing at such a high level when we were making that stretch run. Sean was very efficient. I think he was one of the conference leaders as far as completion, quarterback ratings, and everything that went with it. Of course, Kamryn Pettway was really one of the better offensive players in our league. And then, of course, when Sean got hurt late in the game against Ole Miss, just never really recovered.
And Pettway late in the game against Vanderbilt. And, of course, he was not even close to being 100% last game. But feeling very confident they will be close to 100% by the time we play Oklahoma. Like I said, we were playing very good football at that point. And I feel like we can have a chance to do the same thing.
Q. Gus, I know you talked about the offensive guys but Rudy (Ford) in particular, I know he was a little banged up in the Alabama game. Is he going to be good to go, do you think?
COACH MALZAHN: Yes. Yes, he will, along with Josh Holsey, too. Both those guys just the other day were walking around a lot better. And then giving them a few more weeks right there, that will really help. We won’t practice until not this coming week but the week after, so that ought to help. But I feel very confident both of those guys will be close to 100% too.
Q. And just a follow up, how important obviously playing Oklahoma with Dede Westbrook and those guys, having your secondary back to full, how important is that to you guys?
COACH MALZAHN: I think it’s very important. The thing that stands out to me about Oklahoma is they’re one of the better offenses in college football. They run the football so well. I know that Baker Mayfield gets a lot of the credit, which he is well deserving. He throws it well and things break down, but they run the football so well. So it will be a challenge for our defense.
Q. I know that you came under some pressure earlier this season, and I don’t know you well enough personally obviously to ask how you deal with that kind of thing, how you deal with criticism with regard to your job. But I take it you might feel vindicated after what you have done with your team this year. Is that an accurate way to put it?
COACH MALZAHN: Really, from a football coach’s standpoint, I mean, there’s a lot of ups and downs, a lot of times from week to week. And we got off to a tough start. There’s high expectations here at Auburn, and I have high expectations.
Got off to a tough start. Of course, obviously we played a very good schedule early on with Clemson being one of those teams and almost beat them. But our guys really rallied. We had a very young team, very few starters back on offense. And it kind of took some growing time, and we started playing very good in the middle of the season.
We’re still a young team. But as far as everything goes about coaching, we play the next game and there’s high expectations here and I understand that.
Q. Coach, you talked a little bit about their offense but you obviously have one of the better defenses in the country. How much do you think that the guys on defense are looking forward to that in particular?
COACH MALZAHN: It’s going to be a huge challenge. There’s no Doubt about that. But we have played consistently good defense all year. That was one of our goals coming into this season. We felt like we had a chance to play good defense. Our impact players stayed healthy. Coach Steele did a super job with our guys. And played solid all year. We’re going to have to play solid again, talking about a team that is very impressive on offense.
And like I said earlier, the thing that really stands out to me right now is they run the football so well. Of course, they have got the explosive guys down the field and they have got one of the better quarterbacks in college football. So it will be a good challenge. I think that will probably be a key to the game, their offense versus our defense.
Q. As far as Wesley McGriff, he’s obviously somebody that a lot of people are going to be taking a look at. Has anyone contacted you to talk with him about a job?
COACH MALZAHN: No, they haven’t. He is a great coach, and he has just done a super job this year. And our back end has played extremely well. We hadn’t given up a whole lot of explosive plays over the top, and he has a lot to do with that. He is a great coach and a great person.
COACH STOOPS: Just everybody in Oklahoma, just to be Big 12 champs once again, to be working down to the Sugar Bowl and playing a great bowl game, a great city. Loved our last time we were down there.
And playing an excellent team in Auburn, another excellent football team. So it will be a big challenge, but we’re all excited about it and looking forward to it.
Q. Coach, I was just looking at your final coach’s ballot and saw you had Auburn behind Florida. I can understand having your own team quite highly ranked. Coach Malzahn did as well. I was curious if you thought you should be playing Auburn this game based on your rankings because it seemed like you wanted to play (inaudible.)
COACH STOOPS: No. You know what? Didn’t feel like at the end of the day coach’s ballot meant a whole bunch. The bottom line was, you know, the committee is going to make the selection. So I couldn’t hear part of your question, but asking where anybody is ranked that’s probably what it is about.
Q. Coach, you and this team about three years ago pulled off the biggest upset in Sugar Bowl history. I know you don’t pay attention to the betting lines. But the odds favor you. What can you do to get your team motivated with this team? Because you’re not in the playoffs. What do you do to have your team motivated? And do you have any concerns about that?
COACH STOOPS: No, no concerns. I mean, at the end of the day, it’s a great bowl game. We’re playing an excellent football team. We just got to be in a position to play the best we can.
And I apologize about the noise. I’m in a helicopter landing in New York City.
But at the end of the day, bottom line is that we have got to play well and our guys know that. And if you do, you have got an excellent experience. If you don’t, it’s a bad experience.
Q. Coach, there’s been a lot of talk in recent weeks about how the SEC is down this season, outside of Alabama. I don’t know how much you had a chance to watch the league or see it, but what are your thoughts on the league in general.
COACH STOOPS: I don’t have any thoughts on the league. I think every league is good. Every league is pretty much the same. You got your top teams that are all very good. You got middle of the road teams that are really good. And then you’ve got your bottom of the league that are all kind of fighting to get really good.
So I think it’s pretty much the same across the board. I have said that for a long time. But again, I have great respect for all of the teams in the SEC as well as the Big 12, Big Ten, on and on. And, you know, got great respect for Auburn coming into this game.
Q. They obviously had one of the better defenses in the country, and you have one of the better offenses. How much do you think your guys are looking forward to that matchup going against the Auburn defense?
COACH STOOPS: I’m sure it will be a challenge. I haven’t seen that much of Auburn, to be quite honest with you yet. So we just found out today. I have been traveling all day. So I’m sure our guys will be excited about the challenge. We will have great respect, you know, for Auburn and the way they play. And we do everyone that we play, so we will be anxious to do our best, to be our best that day.
Q. First, I got to ask, where did you get a helicopter?
COACH STOOPS: Well, I didn’t. I got good buddies. So I came to the College Football Hall of Fame banquet and landed, had a helicopter land. So I don’t know how they do it. But when you have good friends, that’s what happens.
Q. Real quick, do you know Gus Malzahn at all? Do you have any kind of relationship with him? Just curious if you crossed his path much.
COACH STOOPS: I just know Coach Malzahn a little bit. We haven’t been around each other a whole lot. But I have great respect for what he’s done, the coach that he is, the way his team has played. But we don’t have we haven’t been around each other a whole bunch.
Q. I know Coach Boulware was on the Auburn staff and when Gus was the offensive coordinator at Auburn. I’m just wondering how much you kind of talked to him about on what Gus does on offense and everything and trying prepare for the game?
COACH STOOPS: I’m sure we will get back in that when we get back to recruiting and get a chance to work on the game plan.
Q. Hi, Coach. Baker had said after the game he plans to come back next year. How thrilled are you to hear that announcement and get that out of the way a little early in?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, it’s great, you know.
The biggest plus about it, it’s a huge boost in recruiting. Players know that Baker is going to be back and have a chance to continue to work the way we have, so it’s a big boost. And you know, that’s just like him to do it early and let everyone know this is his intention. And it will really help us in recruiting, I think, as much as anything.
Q. I would love to get your thoughts on everything that you guys accomplished on the offensive season and how tough are you guys about getting the running game going as well as you did on Saturday?
COACH STOOPS: The offense has been very prolific. There’s no doubt it all; it begins with Mayfield and his ability to get us in and out of plays and, you know, just his incredible accuracy.
And then the offensive line has been so positive, with great backs and a great and Dede Westbrook. So there are threats everywhere you look. So it’s been one of our really, in my 18 years, if not the most prolific, it’s right there with the 2008 offense that set some records and was really strong with Sam Bradford, DeMarco Murray, and Jermaine Gresham, on and on and on. So, anyways, it’s one of our better ones.