Gus Malzahn Press Conference Review: October 25
Head Coach Gus Malzahn (Photo: Auburn Athletics)
Head Coach Gus Malzahn held his weekly press conference on Tuesday, to recap the crucial win over Arkansas, and to preview Saturday’s road contest at Ole Miss. Malzahn was pleased with his team’s performance last Saturday, stating that it was a complete game in all three phases. He quickly moved on to Ole Miss. In this series, the road team has won the last two seasons. In the 2014 game in Oxford, #3 Auburn defeated Ole Miss, 35-31. The game was sealed when Rebel receiver Laquon Treadwell fumbled the ball in the end zone, and Auburn recovered with 1:30 remaining in the game. The play, while huge, ended in infamy. On the play, Treadwell landed awkwardly near the end zone. The result was a broken leg and the end of his season. Malzahn says that Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is a tough place to play and that they have one of the better head coaches in the conference in Hugh Freeze. Ole Miss is entering the game on a two-game losing streak, but Malzahn is not letting that fool him. “They played Alabama closer than anyone has and beat Georgia by 31 points,”said Malzahn of Ole Miss. “They have the talent. They are a good team and we went there two years ago and it went down to the very end.” Individually, he notes that quarterback Chad Kelly and defensive end Marquis Haynes are the players that each side of the ball builds around. Malzahn says that Kelly is like a running back at the quarterback position due to him making plays with his feet. He credits Haynes with speed and motor. In order to win, Malzahn wants to see his team play a complete game just like last week, and has to make minimal mistakes. Injury Report: Malzahn was asked about three different injured players: Jamel Deen, Jeremiah Dinson, and Kerryon Johnson. The report was negative for two players, and the other’s status is still up in the air. Dinson separated his shoulder and tore three ligaments in his knee during last season’s game at Texas A&M when he was on the wrong side of a blindside block by Aggie receiver Ricky Seals-Jones. Deen injured his knee during fall camp. Both have been ruled out until Spring Practice at the least. Malzahn wants to give both guys a few more months to heal. As far as Johnson is concerned, he will have a better idea by the end of the week. The Running Game: In Kerryon Johnson’s absence last week, six players rushed for over 35 yards. Malzahn has been impressed with how each player has stepped up. “One of the big questions this year coming into the season was our running back depth,” said Malzahn, “They did a super job running the football and protecting the football, so we definitely have some depth to that position.” Freshman Kam Martin had 80 yards and a touchdown on 7 carries against Arkansas. Martin is making an impression on Malzahn. “We talked to our freshmen about after the midway point of the season saying that they are no longer freshmen. He really responded like that, as well as a lot of our other freshmen. He is a very talented young man.” Having multiple running backs is a great problem to have Malzahn said, he goes back to 2013 when the situation was very similar. “I’ll take you back to 2013 when we had the running back crew that we had, so I think Coach (Rhett) Lashlee can be a little bit more creative at times with personnel, but it is good that we have that many running backs and explosive players that we have.” Stanton Truitt, who has since moved to running back from wide receiver, had two touchdowns rushing, and one receiving. The decision to move Truitt came down to many reasons, but it began with the type of player that he was in High School. “He was a running quarterback in high school. He was very good at running between the tackles.” Malzahn says that he has worked very hard to transition, and got his opportunity to shine last Saturday. Malzahn also says that Kamryn Pettway has great vision. “Once he breaks past that first level, it’s really a challenge to tackle him one-on-one, at least high. He’s usually looking for people.” On improving in the red zone: Scoring touchdowns in the red zone was a dominant factor in Auburn’s early struggles. However, the offense is now 51% in red zone touchdowns, up from 44% in week four. Many things have changed since the win over LSU, including philosophy. “It’s like anything else, if you can actually slow down and focus on one area, you have a chance to improve on it. It says a lot about our players to be able to focus and execute. The offensive staff I think did an outstanding job identifying the things that we felt like we were good at that we could do. But the bottom line about being a good red zone offense -- you’ve got to run the football, and it’s hard when they get extra bodies and they know there’s a good chance of running.” Offensive Line Rotation: Since Xavier Dampeer’s injury, there has been a shake-up on the offensive line. Austin Golson has moved from left tackle, to center, and Darius James has moved into the left tackle slot. The recent success of the offensive line has given Malzahn plenty to think, as far as a permanent situation. He mentioned on Saturday following the Arkansas game that the current lineup would more than likely stay where it is. On Tuesday, he addressed it further. “The way I look at it is we’ve got six starters. Obviously, we played very well the other night, but we’ve got six guys we feel great about, and that’s kind of our approach.”
What has changed since the beginning of the season?: Auburn has quickly become one of the most improved teams in the country over the past month. After beginning 1-2, Auburn has won four consecutive games and has found themselves in the hunt for a trip to Atlanta. Other than Rhett Lashlee taking over offensive play calling, and Malzahn switching from hats to visors, many other aspects have changed on the Plains. “I think it’s a matter of getting used to playing together and getting experience,” Malzahn said. He cites that defensive players have gotten used to Kevin Steele, and vise verse. Also, the quarterback situation has been settled. He believes that everyone hit a learning curve early, and it is starting to take shape. “We’re starting to settle in, but we haven’t arrived. We have to keep working and keep improving. That’s our mindset.” Staying on top in the SEC: No matter the record, the best football can be found in the SEC. Malzahn is a firm believer in that statement. “You are talking about an Ole Miss team that’s really talented. I told our guys, ‘Don’t let that record deceive you. They’re one of the top groups in our league.’ In this league it doesn’t matter who it is, anybody can beat anybody. It’s a grind. It’s a survival of the fittest.” Malzahn says to have a chance in this league, you need to have talent, toughness, and discipline. Auburn battles Ole Miss on Saturday inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:15 P.M.