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Gus Malzahn Press Conference Review: September 20

Auburn Head Coach Gus Malzahn (Photo: Auburn Athletics/Dakota Sumpter)

Head Coach Gus Malzahn had a bit of a somber tone to his voice when he met with the media Tuesday afternoon. “The last two losses, I can honestly say, have probably hurt me worse than any of the others. I fully understand that our fan base is disappointed, and they should be.” Malzahn said in his opening statement.

In three games, Auburn has lost two games to two of the best offenses in the nation in Clemson and Texas A&M. This week’s contest will not be any easier. LSU comes to town this Saturday, and the last three matchups have seen the home team win by two touchdowns or more. LSU will bring in one of the most talented running backs in the country, as well as a new quarterback who is coming off of a 200-yard passing performance in his first start.

What about Auburn?

For starters, Malzahn says that the quarterback spot will go to Sean White, and that John Franklin III will be used when needed. Malzahn left the impression that there could be a change at quarterback following Saturday night’s loss to Texas A&M, when Franklin entered the game in the fourth quarter. Following the game, Malzahn said that a “shot in the arm” was needed, and that the quarterback situation would be assessed.

Here is a recap of today’s mid-week press conference:

Quarterback Situation:

When White was taken out on Saturday night, Malzahn quickly shot down any question of Sean’s performance during the game, he simply said “we needed a shot in the arm.” Malzahn said that he was honest with White on Saturday, and that it was strictly a coaching decision. On Tuesday, he confirmed that his decision was to start White at quarterback against LSU. “We feel like he gives us the best chance of winning. We have to be better around him and we have to put him in better situations from a coach’s standpoint.” When Malzahn made the announcement that White would start, he also said that Franklin would be available if needed. What does that mean for Franklin going forward? “I think from an offensive staff standpoint, all of those things are being evaluated.” said Malzahn on Franklin’s chances of playing in the LSU game and beyond. “We have three games under our belt to know what we have and to know what our strengths are. We will try to stay away from some things, but that’s part of coaching.”

Offensive Line Play:

The Auburn offensive line went up against two of the better defensive ends in the country in Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall on Saturday night. Malzahn says that he believes that the offensive line played well, but the Aggies success in adjusting game plans, which is what Texas A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin said played a big part in winning the game, made the offensive line look bad. Malzahn said that the play of the offensive line was the result of coaching adjustments on Auburn’s part not being made fast enough. The media also learned a lesson about “mesh change”. Malzahn described it as “It’s when the defensive end runs straight up the field at the midline of the running back and quarterback mesh.” Malzahn also provided examples of the Aggie defense performing a “mesh change”: once in the first quarter, and once more in the fourth quarter.

Has everyone figured Malzahn out?

One question that Malzahn was asked on Tuesday, was “are your schemes becoming too identifiable?” His answer: “I think, each time you play someone, you have to look at what they’re successful with. You have to adjust from a coach’s standpoint to put your guys in the best situation possible. Whether it’s personnel, down and distance or alignments, you have to do your homework. You have to be thinking ahead.”

What is the role of a tight end in Auburn’s offense?:

One question on everyone’s mind, is the play of the tight end. Jalen Harris has not seen significant playing time in the first three games of the season, it has primarily been Chandler Cox at the H-Back position that has led the blocking from the position. Will the offense begin using Harris, or another tight end, to help with blocking? “Moving forward, we’ll see. Obviously, we’re going to have some different strategies moving forward to help with that. That could be a part of it. I’m not going to incriminate what we’re doing moving forward, but we will definitely have some different things that could help with that.”

On LSU running back, Leonard Fournette:

Moving onto this week’s game against LSU, Malzahn said that Saturday’s game would be tough. He mentioned one player specifically, Leonard Fournette. Fournette rushed for 228 yards and three touchdowns last season against Auburn, and Malzahn does not want a repeat performance. Malzahn says that the key to stopping Fournette, is to keep him out of the second level, and to do a better job of tackling than last season.

LSU’s quarterback situation:

Auburn is not the only SEC program to experience a dilemma when it comes to quarterbacks. Brandon Harris has been the primary starter over the last few season in Baton Rouge, but Purdue transfer Danny Etling got the start last weekend over Mississippi State, and has played in all three games. Malzahn says the difference in Harris and Etling is the rhythm that each possesses.

On blocking linebacker Arden Key:

Malzahn says that Arden Key was a factor as a true freshman in last season’s game, and will most certainly provide the same havoc, if not more, on Saturday night. Key has 14 total tackles so far this season, with five sacks and three quarterback hurries. “He is a factor. You have to know where he is. When he knows it is pass, he is a factor.” Malzahn said of Arden Key. “Myles Garrett (Texas A&M) and him are two of the best in the country. I think their skill sets and their explosiveness, their length and their talent -- that’s what makes them unique.”

On facing Dameyune Craig:

Former Auburn Quarterback, wide receivers coach, and current LSU wide receivers coach, Dameyune Craig will return to the Plains for the first time since leaving Auburn to take the job at LSU. Malzahn says that he will have to be extra careful when calling plays on Saturday. “You’ve just got to be aware that they know certain things and you’ve got to do everything you can to help your team be successful.” On the other hand, Auburn Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele will be coaching against LSU for the first time since leaving the program last December to join Auburn’s staff.

Is Auburn close to becoming a threat again?:

Along with Texas A&M and LSU, Malzahn fielded questions personal to the program. Malzahn said in his opening statement that he is hurting just as much as the fanbase is about how the season has started. Judging by his low-spirited tone of voice, he meant it. “I think that when you look at the first game, we had an opportunity to win that game, and we just didn’t put points on the board when we had opportunities late in the game, so we were close. We played solid football Week 2. And even though the score didn’t dictate it, I think everybody saw in the third quarter (against Texas A&M) we had opportunities to take the lead in the quarter. So, that’s what I mean by close. That’s probably why it hurts as much as it does because, from a coach’s standpoint, you’ve got to find a way to get your team over that hump. So that’s what I mean by close, which is very factual. And it’s encouraging when you can take away the hurt, and that’s what I’m doing. We’re putting the hurt behind us. We left that on Sunday. We’re moving forward to LSU, one of the best teams in college football. They’re playing at our place. We need to play well. Our guys have put that behind them. And we are close.”

On his current struggle as a head coach:

“I have been at Auburn for seven years now and I have experienced some very good times, with a few rough times. The last two losses, I can honestly say, have probably hurt me worse than any of the others.” Malzahn said in his opening statement on Tuesday, in reference to his recent struggles, which is arguably the toughest skid he has been a part of since joining the college ranks in 2006.

Is he aware of fans frustrations?

Gus has a twitter account. Even though he does not tweet as much as most college football coaches, he is aware of the frustrations that Auburn twitter has with the current team. “I definitely feel their pain, first of all. I know the Auburn family. I know their expectations. I don’t read social media, I just know. And they expect us to play good football, and I hurt, too. As I said, we’ve got to do a better job. I’ve got to do a better job, and we’re going to.”

Gus Malzahn and the Auburn Tigers are set to battle LSU on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium at 5PM.

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