Gus Malzahn Press Conference Review: October 18
Head Coach Gus Malzahn (Photo: Auburn Athletics)
Head Coach Gus Malzahn held his weekly press conference on Tuesday, and discussed various topics from injury reports, to last season’s matchup with Saturday’s opponent, Arkansas. This weekend’s game is special for many reasons. Malzahn played Wide Receiver for Arkansas from 1984-85, before completing his college career at Henderson State. Malzahn also served as offensive coordinator for Coach Houston Nutt’s staff at Arkansas in 2006. That season, he coached student-athletes such as Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Mitch Mustain, and Peyton Hillis. The 2006 Razorbacks went on to compete in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta, ultimately falling to the eventual National Champion, Florida Gators. Two other members of the current staff also played for the Razorbacks. Offensive Coordinator, Rhett Lashlee was a quarterback for Arkansas from 2002-2004, and running backs coach Tim Horton played split end for the Hogs from 1986-89. Horton was a four-year letter winner at split end and returner. Malzahn opened Tuesday’s press conference by saying that his thoughts are with the family of Quentin Groves. The former Auburn defensive end passed away last Saturday while visiting Trinidad, the home country of his wife. Malzahn called Groves “one of the better pass rushers to ever come through Auburn.” He then discussed Arkansas, and what sticks out to him about the team. Arkansas enters the weekend ranked 17th in the country. Like Auburn, Arkansas has two losses on the season, both to current undefeated teams. Malzahn notices how well Arkansas scores points, and that it all starts with the first-year starter at quarterback, Austin Allen. Malzahn says that Allen manages games well, which makes him seem more like a seasoned veteran than a first-year starter. Razorback running back Rawleigh Williams is another factor that stands out to Malzahn, as well as their defense. Malzahn reported that the bye week came at a great time. It helped players heal, and gave them a head start in preparing for Arkansas. Kerryon Johnson: Running Back Kerryon Johnson suffered an ankle injury against Mississippi State two weeks ago. Kamryn Pettway stepped up and ran for 169 yards on 39 carries. Malzahn says that Johnson has been practicing, and will continue to practice. He hopes to have a better idea on if Johnson will play on Saturday after Tuesday’s practice. What was the tone of the bye week?: Auburn’s only bye week came last weekend. Malzahn said that the open date allowed for injured players to heal, and for younger players to get more reps. “Now it has to carry over to the game,” Malzahn said. “That’s our challenge and our message is very simple. We have to get better each week. It is as simple as that.” How does the team handle prosperity?: Malzahn says that leadership has been key this season with his team. Because of that, Malzahn says that it has carried over to the younger players. “Our younger guys really listen to them. They’ve found a way to practice. They’re ready to go every practice. There haven’t been any kinds of practices where I’d say, ‘Oh, we just survived through practice.’ That’s a tribute to our leaders. Things are going better now. This is a well-grounded team. There won’t be any issues as far as patting ourselves on the back.” How much has changed since Lashlee took over play calling duties?: Auburn last lost on September 17th to Texas A&M. Since then, Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee has taken over play-calling duties, Malzahn has updated his wardrobe to accommodate hats, and Auburn is 3-0. Malzahn says that since that decision was made, he has seen many things in a different light. “It’s been refreshing from my standpoint,” Malzahn said of his changed role. “At the same time, Rhett and the offensive staff have all raised their level. They’ve done a very good job. I feel like we’re going in the right direction.” Other people have taken notice of Malzahn’s changed demeanor. He says that his wife, Kristi, has noticed that he has become calmer since the Texas A&M game. How has Auburn improved since the preseason?: “We have more new starters and freshmen than I can remember,” Malzahn said about the 2016 edition of the Auburn Football Tigers. Offensively, Auburn has four seniors, two juniors, and a host of sophomores and freshmen. Despite the youth, Malzahn has been impressed with what he has seen thus far and believes that it will have a major future impact. Malzahn also believes that this team has improved vastly since the first game against Clemson. The Offensive Line: The last two games have seen a different lineup on the offensive line than the first four games. Austin Golson took over center from left tackle in order to fill in for injured Xavier Dampeer. Because of that, Darius James has gotten two starts at left tackle. Malzahn has been pleased with the way that James has stepped up. “His competitive side has come out,” Malzahn said of Darius James. “I thought he’s been pretty efficient for the first time starting, especially in our league.” But, will this lineup be the same heading into the Arkansas game? “We will make that call later in the week.” Sean White: Last season, quarterback Sean White was still figuring it all out. At the same time, the coaches were figuring everything out about White. In last season’s 4 overtime thriller, White completed 13 passes for 254 yards. White has grown up since then. He has leadership qualities and has improved every game. “He showed a lot of toughness that game,” Malzahn said of White’s performance during last season’s game in Fayetteville. “ I think he responded really well. He’s a year older now. He’s been through a lot more situations. He’s in a really good spot right now.” What is the team’s mentality heading into this week?: Now, moving on to Arkansas week preparations. Malzahn’s mindset is the same this week, as it has been a majority of the season, “just get better.” “We’re not taking anything for granted. We’re just trying to move forward.” On last season’s loss to Arkansas: Arkansas needed four overtimes to defeat Auburn last season in Fayetteville. It was a very clean game… Only one turnover was committed, only five penalties between the two teams and each team gained over 400 yards in the game. Malzahn says that the game was a turning point, because of the tough schedule that awaited Auburn following the Arkansas game. “Every year is different. Every situation is different. They’re a new team. We’re a new team. We’re playing at home. A lot of times you don’t really know about those pivotal games until the end of the season.” Malzahn feels that Auburn has improved tremendously, especially in the number of dropped passes since last season’s game. “Our receivers -- even though we’ve got a bunch of young, green guys -- they’ve done a solid job as far as that’s concerned,” Malzahn said of his receiving corp. On Arkansas Quarterback Austin Allen: Last season, Razorback Quarterback Brandon Allen threw for three touchdowns and 233 yards against Auburn. He has since graduated. However, Auburn will get another dose of an Arkansas quarterback named Allen, as Brandon’s brother, Austin has taken over. Malzahn mention in his opening statement that Austin has the demeanor of a seasoned veteran. “I’ve been real impressed with the guy this year. He’s making some really good plays. He’s shown a lot of toughness. He’s been very impressive.” #21 Auburn hosts #17 Arkansas on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 5:00 P.M.