KNOXVILLE, Tenn. Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn met with reporters following Saturday's game against Tennessee, which saw the Tigers emerge with a 55-23 victory in their final road game of the year.
A transcript of his comments are provided below, with video from his postgame press conference at the bottom of this article.
A very big win for us on the road against a team that has been playing extremely well at home. It was a great crowd. It was loud down there. It was a true team effort. We faced some adversity early. I was real proud of our special teams. Two special teams touchdowns, there were momentum plays that helped turn the game around. I was real proud of our discipline. We had one penalty, I believe. It was an offsides, lined up in the neutral zone. I was real happy with our team. It was a true team effort. It was a big victory in a tough place to play.
On the unusual flow of the game:
We were just trying to feel them out early. We were curious how they were going to play us. We figured they would try to stop the run, roll an extra guy down and play a single-high, and they did that. We hit the score early and we kind of figured out what was going on and we were able to run the football.
On the two turnovers and blocked extra point:
That was only negative of the day I felt like. We had the turnover after a four or five-yard play and then we threw a pick six. ... Our players are playing together, they're showing some mental toughness. They're not panicking. They're believing and they're playing together.
On Nick Marshall:
He's a great athlete. He's starting to understand the offense, he's making the right decisions and when he gets the ball out in space, he can really do some things.
On the kick and punt return touchdowns:
That was big. The punt return was a long punt return. We had really good blocking at the point of attack. Corey Grant cut it back across the field. He's got real speed. Our guys did a really good job. (Special teams) Coach (Scott) Fountain has worked extremely hard on the little things the last couple weeks. We felt like we were close in a couple areas. Him and his staff have done a really good job focusing in. Those were two huge plays that helped us win the game.
On the pick six, and responding with a TD of their own:
That was momentum. They had all the momentum and the place was going crazy and we came back and answered, and that was really a big plus.
What ares they feel they need to improve on from here:
We made those two critical mistakes: fumbling the football and throwing the pick six. Besides that I felt like we got better. You have to give those guys credit. They're a good team, and like I said earlier, they play extremely well at home with a lot of young talent.
On Tennessee's pick six:
The kid (Tennessee defensive end) (Jacques Smith) made a great play, there's no doubt. I think he was trying to throw ball away down at the ground and the guy made a really good catch and anticipated the play, so hey, that's just part of it. We'll go to the next play. That's one of Nick's strengths: he doesn't get too high or too low, and he came back and responded extremely well.
On not passing very much:
When you're running the football, just keep doing it. That's kind of who we're developing into. I still believe we can throw the football. There's no doubt in my mind that we can, but when you don't have to, there's a pretty good feeling when you can line up and run the football at will.
On Chris Davis:
Chris Davis is a veteran guy and you could see he made some great moves. He went north-south. He didn't dance around, he made a couple of really great moves and had enough speed to take it to the house.
On Tre Mason's fumble:
The thing about Tre is that he's madder than anybody else. He's madder than the coaches. He's really hard on himself, and he bounced back and he's done that most of the year.
On the blocking on the outside by receivers:
Our receivers are doing a great job blocking. That stood out to me just kind of watching. They did a good job of covering up people, allowing Nick to get out there and at least get on the single high safety one-on-one.
On what he told the team after the game:
I just told them to enjoy it. It was a big win. This is a tough place to play and I was very concerned about this one. I just told them, 'Hey, don't think about anything.' We'll start worrying about next week tomorrow. I told them to enjoy it. They've earned it. I just told them I'm proud of them.
On the second quarter:
We started out trying to get a feel for them. We tried to throw it a couple of times and then we kind of got into a rhythm. We kind of saw how they were playing us, what they were giving us, what they were taking away. (Offensive coordinator) Coach (Rhett) Lashlee and his staff did a really good job with adjustments and we were able to run the ball and get some momentum, and any time we get some first downs and we're able to pace, that's kind of when we're at our best and that's what happened in the second quarter.
On how important it is for the team to be playing their best football down the stretch:
Any time you're playing good teams, you've got to play your best football. We talked about improving each practice and each game, and I feel like for the most part we've done that all season. We're going to have to do that because you're talking about two of the better teams (Georgia and Alabama) in college football.
On being done with road games
The first quarter we were on the verge of being terrible against LSU and I think everybody saw that. After that first quarter ,we played pretty good football on the road. This is the toughest conference in the country, especially on the road, so we're glad the road is behind us.
On his red zone defense:
"That's kind of been our M.O. all year. Our defense has really rose up. Once we get in the red zone, we're one of the better defense in college football in the red zone. That's been a big factor and I think vice-versa on the other side of the football, too.
On the special teams as a whole:
Coach Fountain and his staff have done a great job. We've got one of the better kickers in college football, we've got one of the better punters in college football. Now we're starting to get our return game right. Guys are starting to do their assignments, and if we can continue to improve in that area it will really help us.
On if at the beginning of the year they thought they'd be a one-loss team at this point in the season:
I didn't let my mind go there. We just took it one game at a time. I told our guys that as long as we improve each practice and each game, we'll see what happens. I was curious just like our team was, how we'd do and how we'd improve. They found a way and they bought into what we asked them to do and I'm proud of them for that.