Malzahn and Missouri coach Gary Pinkel answered questions at the Georgia Dome, the site of Saturday's game.
Malzahn: "First of all, we're extremely excited to be here. I'm very happy with our team. They found a way to improve each week. They found a way to win games when the pressure's on in the game-type scenarios. Just looking forward to tomorrow."
With the quick success you had, was there a point in the season when you truly believed you could really get on a little bit of a run here?
Malzahn: "We were a work in progress during the year. We won the Mississippi State game at the very end of the game. That gave us some confidence moving forward. Probably the Texas A&M game, the way we won it, on the road, at the time they were a Top 10 team. Our defense stopped them at the end of the game. That was probably the game that gave our guys a lot of confidence moving forward."
Coming here to Atlanta, are there any benefits or drawbacks to playing in Atlanta, a place different than Auburn? p> Malzahn: "Well, of course, in this conference, this is what you dream about coming here. The fact that we're only about an hour and a half down away...We played in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl game, we played here in 2010. We do have some players that are familiar and we're really looking forward to it."
Do you try to bring your team back down to earth after the Georgia and Alabama games?
"The challenge on emotional wins like that is you got to put it behind you. You have to move on to the next week. Against Georgia, we had a week off. It made it easier. Alabama, we haven't had but a week. Our guys showed up for their Sunday practice, went about their business like normal. I thought that was a very good sign. Had a very good week of practice.
"Our guys, they understand. You can turn the film on from Missouri. We got to play our best game, play better than we did last week to win the game. Our guys have gone about the season like that all year. We're going to have to do the same thing this week."
Can you talk about Nick Marshall's maturation through the season, his focus in the critical moments.
Malzahn: "It's really been amazing to watch his progress. You're talking about a guy, the very first game knew 25 percent of our offense. He got better each week. He's very unique. He's at his best when the game is on the line. When the pressure is the most, he finds a way to get it done. He's been a lot of fun to coach and a lot of fun to watch."
Do you think your defense sort of improperly has been left out of the narrative of your season?
Malzahn: "You're exactly right. Our defense has really complemented our offense. They came through time and time again when our offense was struggling or needed a lift.
"You think about last week, fourth quarter, big stops. We've been one of the better teams in the red zone. That's really helped us, but or defense deserves a lot of credit for why we're here."
You have been so strong in the run game. They are strong on the defensive front. How do you look at that matchup?
Malzahn: "That's going to be one of the keys to the game. They have an attacking style defensive front. They do a lot of slanting and twisting, doing some things to create some problems up front. Their linebackers are very good run-fitters. That will be a big key in the game, their defensive front vs. our offensive line."
Chris Davis, standing ovations in class. How will it be for him this week?
Malzahn: "First of all, Chris is a senior. He understands you can't get too high or too low, you've got to keep going on about your business. He has had a very good week of practice. We do have some challenges. There's no double. Those big receivers are fast and long. They give him one-one-one opportunities, but Chris has faced some very good receivers before. We got a lot of confidence in Chris."
Your very first press conference when you accepted this job, you said that this team is going to win championships. Less than a year later you're here at the SEC Championship. Was there ever a second when you thought maybe you weren't going to get this done?
Malzahn: "We really never let our minds go there. We were just worried about ourselves, building that mental and physical toughness, that hard-nosed, blue-collar edge that Auburn is known for. We were worried about ourselves. We took it one game at a time. We didn't look ahead. Our goal was to get better each week. I know that sounds like coach-speak, but that's all we thought about. We didn't think about anything else. What do you know, we're here. I told our team we need to improve again this week."
Do you believe whoever wins the SEC title game should play for the BCS title game?
Malzahn: "All I know is we've got the best league in college football. I'm focused on the Missouri Tigers. We'll worry about that after the game."
Malzhan and Pinkel are shown on Friday at the Georgia Dome where their 11-1 teams will square on Saturday at 3 p.m. CST.
Nick's running stats in October and November have been outstanding. In the second half he drops off considerably. What are some of the in-game adjustments you look to make at halftime so that doesn't happen?
Malzahn: "You do whatever. May be taking Nick away at halftime because he's had some good first halves. As a coach, you do your best whether it's run your quarterback, run your tailback or throw the football. It's all about adjustments. This game will be the same way."
Obviously you show a lot of enthusiasm and energy on the sidelines. How much do you think that rubs off on your guys?
Malzahn: "That's who I am as a coach. I like to coach excited. Our players, they know what they're going to get from me. That's just the way I do it."
Nationally, Auburn has gotten a lot more respect than Missouri has. Do you feel that's right?
Malzahn: "Well, I'll just say this. Missouri is one of the better teams in college football. Anytime you win 11 games in this conference, I think they're very similar to us. You're talking about a team that's gotten better each week. They've risen to the occasion. They've won under extreme pressure situations the last couple weeks. They're one of the best teams in college football, bottom line."
Gary Pinkel was talking about Don James, who he described as his mentor. Who was your mentor?
Malzahn: "There were a couple high school coaches in the state of Arkansas that I really looked up to. Barry Lunney, Sr., being one. As a coach I was a head coach my second year and didn't get a chance to learn under anyone. Kind of took bits and pieces from different high school coaches. That's how I went about it."
Do you ever pinch yourself and realize you get to do what you do, change kids' lives?
Malzahn: "I feel very blessed to be doing what I'm doing. When I got in this business I guess 23 years ago, I was happy to be a high school coach. Every situation I've been in, I've had good administration. I got a chance to get in college football and the same thing has happened. I feel very blessed to be doing what I'm doing. There's a lot of high school coaches out there that could be doing the exact same things I'm doing if given the opportunity."
Sheldon Richardson last year termed the phrase 'old man football' up at Mizzou. How important is that in the SEC?
Malzahn: "Old man football? Are you talking about old school football?"
Malzahn: "I would say this is a league, it's a physical league. Games are won up front in this league offensively and defensively so I would agree."
Could you talk about the gauntlet that is in the SEC Conference, the games you play almost every single week, how that's prepared your team mentally and the way you've won the last two games. What has that done for your team?
Malzahn: "First of all, this league is a complete grind. Every week you have to find a way to get your team prepared. You've got to be ready. There's no off weeks. The strong survive. The way we won the last two games, I got to believe that helps us. Kind of like I said last week, close games, our guys believe they can win. They found a way to win numerous times."
Do you feel comfortable now that you have to throw it 25, 30 times with Nick if the run game is being stopped, that you'll be able to be successful?
Malzahn: "You know, you do what got you here. You hope you're successful with your strengths, but that's one of their strengths, too. I think that will be a big key to the game. I really believe Nick Marshall can throw the football. He's gotten better each week with his decision making. He's got a great arm. I really believe if he's called upon, he'll be able to do it."
When you prepare for this game, what would you say to Charlie Patrick for giving you that opportunity?
Malzahn: "Charlie Patrick was the AD at Hughes High School that gave me my first job. I learned a lot under him. He kind of showed me the ropes early on about how to treat kids, how to push kids. He was like a second father. Very thankful for him."
Seems like both teams fed off the lack of respect coming into the season. Do you think both are still using that at this point?"
Malzahn: "I don't know if we were early in the season. We were just worried about ourselves. We were worried about how we would handle adversity, would we play together, play with that winning attitude. We found a way to win the first game. Each game they improved. That's how we're here."