Rhett Lashlee: Thank you. Obviously we're excited to be here. We've had about two days here now. The bowl committee had some really neat things for our guys to do. I think they've done a good job balancing it out having some things our guys can do to enjoy the experience. At the same time they understand this is probably a little bit more of a business trip than most bowl experiences. Our guys have had a good first day of practice, and we're ready to go today.
Rhett, Coach Pruitt was in, this is for you and Reese and Nick, as well. Coach Pruitt was in here earlier smiling saying everyone knows they're going to run it but they do it anyway and no one has been able to stop it. Why not?
RHETT LASHLEE: You know, overall I think it's just a combination of things. Our guys have really bought into what we're doing. Reese and these guys up front have done a really good job. J. B. Grimes has done a fantastic job with our offensive line, just covering up at least the down guys and giving Nick and Tre and Corey and Cam and those guys at least a chance to get started.
I don't know. I can't explain it. Just our guys have bought in. We get momentum in games a lot of times, and it goes our way.
Obviously Jeremy and them have done a really good job of stopping people. They're No. 1 in the country in the most important category, which is points per game, as well as top three or four in a bunch of other ones. I would think they're going to do what they do. They've been really good at it, as well, so it's a great challenge for us.
Reese Dismukes: I mean, we kind of just stick to what we do, and that's run the football. You know, Coach Malzahn and Coach Lashlee, they do a great job of putting us in the best situation with the right plays and that kind of thing. We stick to our guns, and like Coach Grimes said every week we're going to put the saddles on your back and ride you out to the end of the game. We've just done that and stuck to it, and why stop it when it's working.
Florida State has got a great defense, and we're going to have to play our best to win.
Nick Marshall: That's something that's something we take pride in, running the football, it's just something we do. Like Coach Lashlee and Coach Malzahn tell us, we're going to run the football at them until they stop us. We're going to go out there and keep doing what we've been doing this whole year and just hope we come out with this win.
Reese and Nick, given how you've won several of your games this season, people have begun to refer to it as lucky. How do you feel about that when they use that word to describe wins by you guys?
REESE DISMUKES: I mean, deep down inside, I don't think we look at it as luck. I mean, we went out and I think we rushed for nearly 300 yards against Georgia and Alabama that were not giving up that much at all. I think Alabama was No. 1 in rush defense, and Georgia was up there, too.
I mean, we know deep down inside while we win games, if it happens like it happens at the end of the game, then oh well. We're just trying to win football games. All that matters at the end is the W.
NICK Marshall: You really can't just say at the end of the game the coaches always tell us in the fourth quarter that we're going to find a way to win the game, so that's what we've been doing since day one. We're going to find a way to win the game when it comes down to it.
Reese, this is for you: Timmy Jernigan was in here earlier saying that he feels like his match up against you is one of the key match ups because he said they have to really plug the middle to have any chance at stopping your run game. Do you relish that assignment of getting a hat on a hat and trying to move him?
REESE DISMUKES: Yeah, he's a great player and a destructive force in the middle. I mean, I'm going to have to play my best game along with the other four guys next to me. We're five guys, and we play together. We're going to have to all play our best game to be a key factor in the game.
Coach Lashlee, you've played under Coach Malzahn in high school in Arkansas. Talk about how you've seen Coach Malzahn develop from that time in Arkansas up until now at Auburn?
RHETT LASHLEE: You know, the core of who he is hasn't changed. He's a perfectionist, works extremely hard. The details are all that matter. I think what he's done has been very true to himself which has helped him be successful. Coach has always been great at taking a team of players, a team of coaches and getting them to all do what they do best and probably getting you to perform maybe better than you could on your own. I remember that as a player. I felt like he always got the best out of us as players, pushed us to be better than we thought we could be. I played quarterback for him, 9 of 10 wasn't acceptable. 9 of 10 wasn't acceptable. He's always pushing you to be the best you can be.
He's done that, and he's just adapted to the college level as far as it doesn't matter if you're in high school, college, it's 11 on 11, it's Xs and Os. The players are older, they're probably faster and bigger, but the game is the same. He's been able to adapt in areas you have to as far as that goes, and I think he's stayed true to himself and doing what got him here. I think, like I said, bottom line, he's been pretty consistent.
This question is for coach and Reese: Guys, it seems as though no matter who is in the end zone, everyone is happy offensively, whether they're blocking, whether they're scoring. Can you just talk about the unselfishness of the entire offense?
RHETT LASHLEE: Yeah, I'll let Reese talk about it a little more, but that's the coolest part when we score, but when a guy scores, the first thing that ball carrier does is he hands the ball to the official and he looks for these linemen because they're usually a big reason we got there. Of course all the wideouts and running backs are always rallying to it, too, and Reese has had some pretty good fist pumps after some touchdowns this year.
REESE DISMUKES: Yeah, I think just after kind of what we went through last year, 3 9, we really didn't score a lot of points. When you go through something like that, you take advantage of every opportunity to celebrate after you score a touchdown. But I think that's just really the big thing.
It's really a team effort with us. Nick and the rest of the guys, we all take pride in each other and just so happy for one another when something good happens.
Christian Jones of FSU was saying he thinks his defense is as good as any SEC team out there or better. What do you think of that?
RHETT LASHLEE: It very well could be. Statistically they're the best. I think they've got great team speed, and I don't think they really have a weakness. They're good at every spot from Jernigan and those guys up front to the Smith brothers in the middle, you've got really good cover corners that can press you up and lock you down. Their safeties are really good players. Jeremy does a fantastic job, what he's done in just his first year there. From a team wise, they give up 10 points a game second, they're second in the country in turnovers, they're best against the pass, top five, ten against the run. Like I said, I think seven games they've given up less than double digit points. I think only one team scored over 17.
When you're playing for the whole thing, you want to play the best, and I think we've got our best challenge yet. We feel like we've played some really good defenses, Missouri, Alabama, Georgia, on down the line in our league, so hopefully that prepares us for this. But I think our guys fully respect and understand the magnitude of the defense we're about to play.
Rhett and Nick, this is for you, you talked about Coach Malzahn and the way he pushes players. Does that create some tense moments sometimes in practice between coach and offensive coordinator, coach and player, coach and quarterback?
RHETT LASHLEE: Not between he and I. They may get mad at us every now and then. I tell Nick and those guys in practice, there's probably going to be some days you don't like us. That's our job, though. We make sure these guys know we care about them a whole lot off the field, and I think they know we've invested in trying to develop relationships with them outside of just football. But on the football field, I'm not doing them justice, we're not doing them justice as coaches if we allow them to do something that's just a hair off because our job is to prepare them to be successful and have the best chance they can to win on game day.
So we allow them to take one lazy step or just say, hey, that's okay and settle for anything less than perfection, we're not doing them justice.
NICK MARSHALL: That's just something our coaches do. They're going to train us so they get the best out of us, there's a presence throughout the week. I just take it as a compliment that the coaches just keep telling you what you need to do. You know they're still working with you but they still telling you to do things, you know you need to start working. I just take that and use that to my ability to get better every day.
If you guys could talk about the connection with Dameyune Craig having come from Florida State over there. Does that give any advantage? Is Dameyune going to be able to come up with one or two points that might help something?
RHETT LASHLEE: I mean, I think obviously he played in college for Jimbo, and he was there, he knows the players, recruited a lot of the guys that they have. I know he's close to a lot of them.
I think in a game like this, though, there's a lot of connections both ways for people that are going to have some things they know back and forth. You get a month, you get 30 days to kind of find out anything and everything you possibly can about each other. They're doing the same things. Both teams will try to use those things to their advantage. Usually at the end of the day those things get blown out of proportion more than they really are. It definitely doesn't hurt, but when the game gets played, those 60 minutes it's usually about those players on the field playing each other in those moments more times than not.
Rhett, because it's Auburn and because it's the National Championship Game, there's been an easy comparison made that Nick reminds some people of Cam. Do you see that, and if so, in what ways? And then Nick, do you see it, or is there another player whose game is more similar to yours?
RHETT LASHLEE: I mean, I think it's always unfair to compare one player to another because there's just so many differences not only in them as individuals but in the variables that surround their situations. But one thing they do have in common, I think, is they've gotten us to the National Championship game, and they both are extremely – they're guys that know how to win. They're extremely tough guys that win.
They both lead our guys by example, especially on game day, with what they do. Nick and Cam, they're different, and they're different in good ways. Cam did a lot of great things and Nick has done a lot of great things for us. I don't think it's fair to compare them directly, other than the fact that they both have led Auburn to a National Championship game.
NICK MARSHALL: Cam Newton, I mean, I've been watching him ever since I came into college, and he's a great all around player on and off the field. I tell you some of the things that he do to try to put in my category to be the best man that I can because he's a great man on and off the field.
You really can't compare us. We're great in both ways. I really just look up to him and just keep doing what I've been doing best.
Rhett, in general in the BCS there is a team that comes into this game with the hot offense at the end of the regular season tends to cool off or stall almost when the defense has had time to prepare for the championship game. Over this long layoff what can you do to try to keep this thing as sharp as it was at the end of the regular season?
RHETT LASHLEE: Well, their offense is pretty good, too, so I don't know who that'll affect the most. In general you've got 30 days. That gives the defense more time to look into tendencies and develop a plan longer than when you have a week. That also gives an offense the same amount of time, though, too, in fairness. The other thing, too, is I think sometimes you throw the ball, timing, things like that, that you can practice, but until you're in game, sometimes you can start off rusty. That probably has something to do with it.
I know when we played Oregon both offenses were playing pretty well and it was a 38 day layoff and we probably both didn't play our best game that day.
We tried to do everything we could to get our guys peaking at the right time. We've tried to keep the routine of things the same as far as the times we practice, the days we practice, how those practice formats are. We tried not to over think and do anything different than we normally would. Obviously that gives you more time as an offense to go back and study yourself, tendencies and things like that, that normally you don't have when you have six days to get ready for somebody.
I don't know if I can put my finger on it other than it makes sense maybe when you have – you get in a rhythm and you're playing well, and then all of a sudden you have 30 days off. Maybe it takes you a little bit of time to get going again.
The thing about offense, it takes all 11 guys executing to perfection. You can have 10 guys do the right thing, and if one guy is off, the play won't work. The defense may stop you sometimes, but it may not be necessarily because they stopped you, you just mis executed. You've got to execute at a high level on offense no matter who you're playing to be successful.
Coach Pruitt, of course, came from Alabama. Do you guys see a lot of similarities when you look at their defense to Alabama's defense in scheme and in talent?
RHETT LASHLEE: You're talking about Jeremy Pruitt coming from Alabama? Yeah, very similar in schemes. Jeremy has his own things he's added to it. They do a really good job with their pressure schemes and all that.
There are some similarities, no doubt. Obviously their base scheme probably is very similar. You've got similarities with them and Alabama like you probably do us and Clemson and people like that.
Those things happen, but at the end of the day, they've made their defense the best in the country by doing it their way, too, and being specific to the personnel they have. I don't know about these guys.
REESE DISMUKES: Yeah, you see similarities there. They do a lot of the same things Alabama does. But I mean, personnel wise, I think they're a little different. They're faster at the linebacker position. They don't have the big C.J. Mosley in the middle. I think they're a little more active up front.
But other than that, scheme wise, you see a lot of the same. They've just got different personnel in there.
Reese, what was the low point last season as specifically as you can describe it? And then Rhett, what did you discover in terms of the collective confidence of the group that you inherited?
REESE DISMUKES: Last season, I think the low point for me was after we lost six games, we weren't going to a bowl game, and you kind of look at yourself in the mirror, like what are you playing for? Obviously you're a competitor so you want to go out there and win every week. But I mean, it was almost like you'd go out there and everything would go wrong, kind of like a domino effect.
I don't think there was really just one point in the season where it was – that low point. I think kind of the season as a whole was pretty bad itself. It was all low.
RHETT LASHLEE: Yeah, whenever you're losing or you're not successful, everybody is going to look around and try to blame somebody, and that's just human nature. When we got there, I don't know if we had a team that was completely fractured but we didn't have a tight team, and that makes sense because they had had a pretty poor season. I don't know if anyone blamed anybody necessarily there, but it's human nature. I thought Coach Malzahn did a great job when we first got there because you could tell there was a little split, there wasn't any confidence and probably rightfully so. The first thing we did, in and say, guys, it's a new day. It wasn't just something we said. We had actions that backed it up. For example, as an offensive staff, still to this day, we haven't watched one full game from last year. We never did that. I told our guys if coach said it's a new day, for us to give these guys in spring ball and winter workouts a completely brand new slate, we can't go back and have any preconceived ideas about them, as well. You maybe could look back last year and see some things and make you think negatively of somebody. We didn't need to do that. We gave all these guy completely fresh start.
I thought the fact that Coach Malzahn led that change to not only saying it, but doing it, I thought it, over time, gave these guys – I want to say it helped our relationship with them, maybe gave them some belief in us that we care about them, they're going to start fresh from winter workouts to spring ball, everybody had a chance to win a starting job. It was new, it was fresh, and we developed our own opinions about these guys, and they did about us.
I thought the biggest thing was we came out of spring ball, we weren't very good, but we scored a few times on offense in the spring game, our defense made a few plays in turnovers, both sides came in thinking, we trust the coaches and buy into what they're asking us to do, we have a chance to be pretty good. We'll have a chance. But more importantly, they bought into coach saying it's a new day and we're going to be a tight team, be together, and we did a lot of things together from taking them bowling to moving them all into dorms together, do things to make them be tight together, and that's why we won games this year at the end of the day, close games, miracle games, whatever you want to call it. We've got a team. We don't have one guy that stands out and gets all the glory. We win as a team together.
Reese, in that same vein, talking about the tightness of the team, the offensive line probably has to be tighter than any group in the team. Talk about the relationship of the five guys up front, how you get along, any quirks involved with the guys? Nick, do they let you in their group or do they make you be an outsider?
NICK MARSHALL: No, they let me in their group because those are my guys. They protect me with everything they have in them. I just believe in them and they believe in me, also. I believe we've got the best offensive line there is because they work so hard at what they do, they just take pride and to block, how they block their scheme, and it's just something that's just like a brotherhood we have with each other. It's just like another family. I'm just proud to be an Auburn man.
Obviously they are, too, so it's just something that we just look at and just like love one another.
REESE DISMUKES: Yeah, I mean, us five up front, we're pretty close. Kind of like the whole team itself, we do a lot of stuff together. I mean, I think really as a group, I think it really starts off with Coach J. B. Grimes. Really we just go out there every day, and he teaches us that you go out there and you have the same attitude every day, whether you're not feeling well or maybe something is not going on right. You've just got to go out there every day and approach it as a workday and just get better. That's really kind of the motto that our offensive line has taken.
We just go out there and try to get work, and kind of like when you get in the game, the most important play is not the first play of the game or the last play of the game, it's that play right there. You play one play at a time and you play that play, and whether it's good or bad, you move on to the next play, and then that's the most important play. You just play 70 to 85 snaps a game and you play every snap like it's your last.
It usually ends up good for us.
If you guys can talk about, this seems to be one of the teams that I've seen that gets more publicity for its blocking. We're usually talking about the guys throwing, catching and running the ball. Let's talk about the fullback Jay Prosch if you will. He seems to be an offensive lineman that gets a running head start to be a blocker. Can you talk about what he adds to the table and the fact that you guys, your blocking is getting headlines instead of the catching and throwing, as well?
REESE DISMUKES: Yeah, Jay Prosch, I don't think enough can be said about him. He's one of the main reasons that we roll the way we do. He's a great player, and even a better person.
I mean, I don't think enough can be said about him. He's the all around guy. He's like Hercules. He looks like Hulk. I don't know if you all have seen him, but he's like a statue.
He's a great football player, and he's one of the reasons we are very successful at offense. I don't think we could do what we do without him.
RHETT LASHLEE: You know, yeah, Jay is a guy that I call him the glue guy for what we do. Obviously the offensive line is great up front, all the skill guys, what they do. I think, though, with Jay, you've got a guy that if he wasn't on the field, the average fan may think, oh, that's not a big deal. But if he wasn't on the field for us you'd notice a big difference in our output, in the production of the offense. He does so many things well that maybe don't get recognition because he doesn't have the ball or this or that. He kind of makes us go.
I think also you could say the same about our wide receivers. We've some good wideout. We've got some wideouts who've made big plays, but they've all bought into the fact that for our offense to be successful, it can't just be the five up front and Jay Prosch. We've got to block on the perimeter extremely well. That's the difference from an 8 yard gain and a 70 yard touchdown. Coach Craig does a great job preaching to those guys about that every day and they've really bought in, too.
NICK MARSHALL: Yeah, Jay Prosch, he's a machine out there on the field. Our offense is going to get to rolling, if you are running our offense. I'm just glad to have Jay Prosch on our team, because he does a lot of dirty work for us, like people don't really recognize, like I remember the Tennessee game, he had a busted up nose and he was out there bloody from all the work he's been doing. It's just awesome to have a guy like that on your team do the dirty work for you like that.
Rhett, Gus Malzahn is known in many circles as an offensive genius. How long did it take you to figure out what is swimming around in his head, and how much of this offense is his, how much is yours?
RHETT LASHLEE: You know, I think coach would be the first to tell you that there's a lot of people help him get to where he's at, and I think as coaches over the years you try to do what you're good at but you evolve over time and try to add and tweak things, whether it be the schemes you're seeing or whether it just be trying to evolve to your players and such.
I got a chance to do something unique. I had a chance to play quarterback in our system early, early on when Coach Malzahn started running this system I was an eighth grader. I was the second high school quarterback to play in it, but we were no huddling when I was in eighth and ninth grade when my junior high team.
So I had a chance to play in the system and now I've had a chance to coach in it, which allows me to have a unique perspective of what we do.
I think also with coach and I's relationship, obviously over time as a coach and that relationship changes because of the type of coach you are working with him or whatnot, but you develop and you grow in that relationship, but I also remember playing for him as a quarterback, and he's calling plays and I'm out there running them, so over time you get so in tune with one another, I kind of knew the play he was about to call before he'd call it as a player.
So I think that helps. I'd like to think even when I was playing to coaching over the years with him that we've collaborated and added some things, but make no mistake about it, I think Coach Malzahn is the best play caller in the country. He has a great feel for the game. The thing I've learned from him, the most, I think it goes back to his high school days, is you take your guys and you ask them to do what they're really good at. You still work on deficiencies and all those things, but you really try to accentuate the things they do well, and I think so many times in our game you may see people that try to make a square peg fit in a round hole and make guys do things they want them to do but maybe they're not best at and we just try to take the opposite approach with that.
Nick, looking back at how things started out for you at Georgia and where your life's path has taken you, as you sort of put what's going on into perspective, what means the most to you right now?
NICK MARSHALL: What means the most to me right now is Coach Malzahn and Coach Lashlee giving me the second chance to come back into the SEC to play football. It's just something that when I was at Georgia, I try not to think about it. It's just something I put behind me and thank the man above that I got a second chance to play college football again.