Gus Malzahn Press Conference Review: October 4
Coach Gus Malzahn (Photo: Auburn Athletics)
For the first time all season, Head Coach Gus Malzahn and the Auburn Tigers hit the road for a conference showdown with Mississippi State.
Last week’s game with ULM came at a great time. With three of the first four games being against top-20 teams, Auburn needed a week for their starters to rest, for inexperienced players to get their feet wet, and just to work on issues that need to improve before heading into the remainder of the conference schedule.
On Tuesday, Malzahn met with the media to further breakdown the win over ULM, and to preview the game on Saturday against Mississippi State. In his opening statement, Malzahn addressed the status of three injured Tigers: Kamryn Pettway, Xavier Dampeer, and Malik Miller. Pettway and Dampeer did not play in the ULM game. Not due to a serious injury, but to allow extra time to heal. Malik Miller left the game on Saturday with an injury. Malzahn confirmed an earlier report that Miller had undergone knee surgery, and hopes that he will be available later in the season.
As for Mississippi State, he says that their offense begins with their true dual threat quarterback, Nick Fitzgerald. Malzahn complimented his play in their last game, as he had 415 total yards against UMass. Malzahn also mentioned the defensive line, and how they have one of the top units in the country.
Here is the rest of the story:
Sean White’s Importance:
White has improved in every game this season. Malzahn said that in order for White, and the whole offense for that matter, to be successful, is to present a balanced attack, and to protect White. “We are going to have to do a good job of protecting him. They have some defensive backs that really do a good job as well. A key for us offensively is being able to run the football, but at the same time, be balanced.”
Malzahn reflected on White’s start last year against Mississippi State, and says that he has improved since then as a quarterback, and a leader. “He was still finding out about himself in college and we were still finding out about him when he made his first start last year against this group. I thought he did some really good things. He is a gutty guy and the experience factor of being able to run an offense and to be able to run the complete offense, I think that’s probably the biggest factor.”
Wide Receiver Stanton Truitt has more rushing yards (58), than he does receiving yards (20). What exactly is Truitt’s role on offense? “He is kind of a dual role, but you will see him more and more as the season goes on being able to do that.”
With him having a double role, will he get more carries, or catches, as the season goes on? “We are starting to define our roles better now and he is really good with the ball in his hands. That could give us a lot of flexibility moving forward the rest of the season with him at that position.”
Will Malik Miller’s injury be a factor in how he contributes to the offense? It was really unfortunate with Malik (Miller) because he was playing great football and making good runs too, but Stanton (Truitt) and Kameron Martin will fill some of that role.”
The Offensive Line:
Xavier Dampeer will return to the offensive line this week, which means that everyone will move back to their original position. That helps, however, Malzahn is more worried about communication. Mississippi State is notorious for using “cowbells” to make noise, and that will play a factor in communicating.
Preparing for Mississippi State’s defense:
Malzahn mentioned earlier that protecting White, and being balanced, will be important for the Auburn offense. Auburn likes to run the ball, and Mississippi State’s defense allows 110 rushing yards per game, which is 4th best in the SEC. “Their defensive front is very disruptive and their linebackers have experience. They play downhill and put a lot of pressure on you. Very few people have been able to run the football on them this year. That’ll be a big challenge for us.”
As far as scoring is concerned, Malzahn feels that the offense is on the brink of finding out their identity. He was asked about scoring more than 30 points in an SEC game. Malzahn feels that the team can do that. “Of course, scoring that many points is one of our goals. We’re still working toward that, but I feel confident that we’re going to get better.”
The Red Zone Offense:
Auburn’s kryptonite this season, has been scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Last week, Auburn was 4-of-5 against ULM, which improved their season percentage to 41%. Entering the ULM game, Auburn scored touchdowns in the red zone on 32% of their trips. Heading into a tough road environment for an SEC game, Auburn needs to have success within the 20’s. “If you really look at the history, when we’ve been really good at red zone offense, it was because we ran the football, and we were able to run the football in. I think that’s where it’s got to start, but at the same time, you’ve got to be efficient enough, especially when they know you are throwing the football.”
Auburn has the fewest penalty yards in all of the SEC. Entering this week, Auburn averages 34.2 yards per game in penalties. Next in line is Vanderbilt, and they average 43.2 yards per game. Malzahn gives credit to his coaches for that stat. “Of course, we’re definitely proud of that stat. I think our coaches deserve a lot of credit for that. I think our players deserve a lot of credit for being disciplined and not beating ourselves. That’s been a message that we carried over from the offseason and work extremely hard at. We have to keep doing that. When you do that, usually good things happen.”
In what was a bit of a surprising news story, Florida State Head Football Coach Jimbo Fisher made a statement during his Monday press conference about run-pass-option teams, saying that they should be “illegal” and that “rules are bent for them”. When asked to be more specific, he mysteriously called out Auburn’s 2013 win over Alabama. The play that Fisher was referring to, was Nick Marshall’s touchdown pass to Sammie Coates in the fourth quarter. The Crimson Tide defense was convinced that Marshall was going to keep the ball after a read, but instead tossed a pass to a wide open Coates. That touchdown tied the game at 28, with 0:33 remaining in the 4th quarter. Fisher also strangely said that the play specifically kept Alabama from winning a national title that season. Strange, because Fisher’s team won the National Championship that season.
Malzahn did gives his thoughts, but did not spend as much time on the matter as Fisher did. Malzahn simply said “I think we do a good job of playing within the rules.”
Auburn travels to Starkville on Saturday, to battle Mississippi State. Kickoff is slated for 11:00 A.M.