Cotton Bowl Press Conference 12/22

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Ethan Hughes
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We've got a ginormous press conference today. Dan Mullen, Todd Grantham, Brian Johnson, Kyle Trask, Justin Shorter, Kaiir Elam and James Houston will all speak with us starting at 1:30. Follow along for updates.

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Mullen says they're excited to be a part of the Cotton Bowl, and this is such a historic bowl. They've got quality opponent in Alabama. They're well-coached, and they're trying to compete for championships regularly like them.
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He says Kyle Trask leads the nation by far in yards and TDs. It's hard to say anybody's meant more to their team than Trask has to them. If the Heisman's looking for the most outstanding player, the guy who has a double-digit lead in TD passes against all SEC opponents should be considered. He thinks he's well deserving of being a first-team player, but that's up for the different voters to figure out.
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He says Oklahoma is very explosive on offense and has won a lot of games. Sometimes, that can skew your defensive statistics. From what he's seen, they have an excellent defense, and he doesn't know if that's ever really changed. They've always had a lot of talented defensive players.
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He says he's watched Dak Prescott play in AT&T Stadium before, so he's familiar with the place. They regularly play in some of the best venues in the world, so he doesn't think the stadium will be that overwhelming for them.
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Mullen says Kadarius Toney has playmaking ability, which draws comparison between him and Percy Harvin. However, he doesn't like to compare players. Toney is his own player, and he's one of the best every-down receivers in the country. He can also run the ball and return kicks. He might have the strongest arm on the team, and he's become a very technical route-runner with great hands. He thinks Toney will have an unbelievable pro career.
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He says there are a lot more serious issues in the world than a football game, and he's used the Keyontae Johnson situation to reinforce that message. If the worst thing that happens to you today is you drop a pass, you're living a pretty good life. He adds that everybody is praying for Johnson, and he's getting some of the best medical care possible.
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He says he's expecting one or two more opt-outs, but he'll let those guys announce their decisions.
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He says Oklahoma is similar offensively as they were in 2008, but they're different schematically on defense. They still have great talent and pride in their program.
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Mullen says winning the national title in 2006 as massive underdogs started the SEC's run of dominance. In 2008, Alabama was ranked No. 1 heading into the SEC Championship Game and they were No. 2 or 3, which started the trend of the SEC title game essentially becoming an extension of the playoff. Numerous teams have competed for championships and won them since then. That's what's made this conference so strong. It's not just one or two teams.
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He says there's no build up to the game this year. They won't have the developmental practices or the activities surrounding bowl week. They won't get the full Cotton Bowl experience. This is a 9-day preparation, so it's almost like a normal game week.
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He says they'll have less practice time for this game than a normal game week. So, the development of the young guys might have to wait until the spring. This will be a great opportunity for Kemore Gamble and Keon Zipperer and some other guys in the game.
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He says it's easy to jump to conclusions regarding the defense and where the problem lies. He looks at things differently. Just because the defense gave up a ton of yards or points, doesn't mean they coached terribly. They had chances to get off the field against Alabama and made some stupid mistakes. "If my wrist hurts, I don't just go and cut off my arm." He adds that he'll evaluate everything after the season and go from there.
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Mullen says they have guys that love playing football, and this is an opportunity to do that on a national stage against a great opponent. He doesn't think motivation will be an issue.
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He says the bubble environment that they're using for this game is a pretty smart idea. They'll only be there for a couple of days, which will make it easier to manage. It will be an easy transition between this game and the playoff semifinal two days later.
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He says the recruiting violations have been resolved, and it's something they'll continue to try to improve moving forward.

That's all for Mullen.
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Grantham says his concern is on their next opponent. They've had some challenges this year with everything going on. This will be their third straight New Year's Six game, and they were good enough to win the East. They're six points away from being SEC Champions. It really gets down to wins and losses. His focus is doing what it takes to win games.
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He says Alabama is very talented. In the first half, they hurt themselves with third-down penalties and the fumbled INT return. They have to eliminate those things. They've actually played better third-down defense this year than last year. It's about understanding the discipline involved in the game, and he hopes to see that approach in this game to send the seniors out right and get the returning guys some playing time.
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He says he's proud of Kaiir Elam. It's hard for guys sometimes to be critical of themselves, but he's embraced it. He's a competitor. He's smart and tries to understand everything happening around him. He can blitz, support the run and cover. He's a perfectionist at his craft.
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He says it's an honor to play in the Cotton Bowl. There's a lot of tradition in this game, and they understand that they have a great challenge in Oklahoma. They want to play to their standard, send the seniors out right and let the young guys know what type of work they're going to have to put in this offseason.
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Grantham says Oklahoma has a dynamic and explosive running back, and QB Spencer Rattler has gotten more comfortable in the system every game. He has the ability to make plays with his feet and scramble to get guys open. They're going to have to stick tight to receivers when he scrambles.
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He says the players believe in what they're doing, as evidenced by the way they fought back in the second half against Alabama.
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He says Brad Stewart moved to nickel due to depth reasons. It's a good role for him, and he embraced it. That freed them up to keep guys at other positions. He's continued to progress, and he understands leverages and getting off of blocks. He fit naturally, and it allowed them to get their best 11 players on the field.
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He says Zachary Carter is a very talented player and a great leader. He can play early downs as an end, which creates a mismatch. He's versatile enough to slide inside on third down to create mismatches inside. He's big and fast and has worked hard to increase his core strength. He expects him to become a dominant player who plays on Sundays in the next couple of years.
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That's all for Grantham. Johnson will be here at 2:30.
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Johnson says he can't put into words how much respect he has for Mullen as a coach and as a person. He's really appreciative of everything he's done for him and can't say enough great things about what he's meant to him and the program.
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He says this game will provide a great opportunity for some of their young skill players. Zipperer and Gamble have filled in for Pitts before, and this is a chance for them to get big reps against a great Oklahoma team.
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Oklahoma is very active up front. They pursue the ball and shed blocks to make plays in the backfield. They play with great patience and ball skills at cornerback. They're excited for the opportunity to compete against them.
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He says the object of the bowl game is to win, not necessarily just play younger guys.
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Johnson says Mullen is extremely down to earth and will talk to you about things other than football. Players love playing for him, and he has a great personality. He connects with people of all different backgrounds.
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He says the Cotton Bowl is an unbelievable opportunity. He grew up in Texas, so it'll be cool to play in the game for the first time. Oklahoma is a great program, and Lincoln Riley is a great coach.
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He says the players have bought into what they've wanted to accomplish from day one, which has allowed them to make three straight NY6 bowls. The younger guys in the program are excited to continue to build the program to a point where Gator Nation is proud.
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He says they have a lot of great players on offense, so it's hard to single anybody out as someone to watch for next year. He's really excited for Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson. They've learned a lot from watching how Trask prepares.
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Johnson says playing 11 SEC games is an accomplishment unto itself. It takes a great physical and mental strain, similar to the NFL. Every team is capable of beating you if you don't play well.
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"I would tell them that I have some oceanfront property in Idaho to sell," he says about those who don't think Trask is the best QB in the country. He's proud of the way he's taken advantage of his opportunities. He's been amazing all season long.
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