Gus Malzahn Press Conference Review: November 1st
Head Coach Gus Malzahn (Photo: Auburn Athletics)
Auburn Football returns home on Saturday to face the Vanderbilt Commodores in inter-conference play. Vanderbilt enters the game on a two-game winning streak, and have played tough games with the likes of Florida, Kentucky, and South Carolina. Like Auburn, Vanderbilt’s offense is considered balanced, as they post 308 yards of total offense per game. Head Coach Gus Malzahn spoke about this week’s game during his weekly press conference that was held this afternoon. He also discussed last week’s game at Ole Miss and even updated the media on news surrounding his team, including a provided injury report. Malzahn opened by saying how happy he was about his team’s efforts in the face of adversity during last Saturday’s win at Ole Miss. He quickly shifted focus to this week’s opponent, saying that Vanderbilt is a team that “makes you earn it.” “They are a very good, disciplined team. They lead the league in turnover margin, they protect the football and they are one of the best in penalties. They don’t beat themselves.” Malzahn said about the Commodores. Defensively, Malzahn is impressed with Vanderbilt’s physicality, and their ability to limit conference opponents in scoring, as they enter the game allowing 15.5 points per game to Southeastern Conference teams. Offensively, running back Ralph Webb is the key guy according to Malzahn. Webb has 855 yards on 164 carries and six touchdowns on the season, and Malzahn understands why opposing defenses focus on him in their preparation. Vanderbilt has Malzahn and every player’s full attention. Injury Report: Malzahn addressed several injuries that the Tigers are currently facing, and for the most part, it was a good report. Malik Miller- Freshman running back Malik Miller went down during the game with ULM on October 1st and was required to have surgery on his knee. Malzahn says that Miller has progressed well, and has even started jogging. Paul James III- The transfer from Illinois injured his knee during practice, as the Tigers prepared for LSU in late September. The report is that James is rehabbing, and hopes to return to the practice field during spring training. Tony Stevens- Last week, Stevens was held out of the Ole Miss game, and Malzahn hopes to have him back this weekend. Malzahn provided a more in-depth look at the decision to sit Stevens, “He tried to practice last week, I think it was Tuesday, and we had to pull him out of practice because he was hurting pretty good. We were hoping maybe Thursday it would feel better. He didn’t feel a whole lot better. That’s a tough injury. So this week we are hoping to get him back. We’ll see today at practice -- let him move around -- see how he’s doing.” Auburn offense: The offense has improved in many areas since the loss to Texas A&M in September, as Auburn has won five consecutive games, and has improved in problem areas such as red zone scoring. Malzahn says that the offense began to click during the 18-13 win over LSU. “LSU was the first time that we figured out that we have a chance if we can get the ball in the red zone,” Malzahn said of his offense. “Sean (White) started getting more comfortable and people around him started being in the spots they needed to be and we were able to run the football. Our line started coming together and our running backs started feeling more comfortable. I think it was just a process, but the LSU game made us realize we could move the ball against a good defense.” Kamryn Pettway: In an “overnight success” style of season, running back Kamryn Pettway has quickly found himself on many radar screens. Entering this week, Pettway is the SEC’s leader in rushing yards with 933 on 148 attempts, and all-purpose yards with 947 yards. Pettway was not always considered a running back under Malzahn’s offense, he began his career as a fullback, who would transition. “Last year, we had a lot of running back depth, so to get him on the field, he had to play H-back,” Malzahn said of the Sophomore from Prattville. “We moved him to running back in the spring and you could tell he picked right up where he left off in high school; we knew in the spring that he had a good chance to be a good running back. He is still learning as he goes, but he is a real weapon right now.” Malzahn also talked about his intimidating playing style, and how he has the tendency to run defenders over. “I told it’s ok every now and then to fake and run by them, but he really likes looking them up and running them over.” Sean White: Sean White played a key role in Auburn pulling ahead, and getting the victory at Ole Miss last Saturday night, especially late in the game. Malzahn is pleased with the way that he is improving in playmaking, and his teammates gain more respect for him each week. “He is starting to do the little things that a good quarterback in this league does. His teammates and his coaches have respect for his toughness and that has been there all along. Last year, he played when he probably shouldn’t have played, but that’s just his competitive fire.” Robert Leff: Robert Leff has played a key role in the offensive line’s improvement this season. Malzahn likes his consistency. “He’s pass protected extremely well. When running behind him and running to him, he’s been one of those consistent guys. He’s playing his best football. He’s a senior. He’s had a role up to this season. He’s really established himself as one of our better offensive players.” Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham: One of the conference’s best linebackers belongs to Vanderbilt, and that is linebacker Zach Cunningham. Cunningham, a graduate of Pinson Valley High School in metro Birmingham, leads the SEC with 85 total tackles on the season and is second in the league with 13.5 tackles for loss. His ability to shed blocks sticks out to Malzahn. “The way he sheds blocks is very impressive. He comes off blocks and makes plays as good as any linebacker in our league.” Malzahn says that he recruited Cunningham while he was the Head Coach at Arkansas State. Vanderbilt Head Coach Derek Mason: Derek Mason is in his third season with the Vanderbilt Commodores, after serving as a defensive assistant at Stanford from 2010-13. Malzahn is impressed with the way that he coaches his defense, saying that they are tough, play team defense, and play extremely hard. Is Auburn looking ahead?: With the recent success, many fans are beginning to look forward to the Georgia game next week, the Iron Bowl later this month, and Auburn’s possible bowl destination. The Tigers goal has remained the same all season, that’s focusing on the next opponent. “If you look ahead in this league, you’ll get burned.” Malzahn said, “We have not said one word about anything left on the schedule. I don’t know what everybody else is saying, but in our house and little room here with our coaches and players, we’re locked in on Vanderbilt. That’s it.” Auburn takes on Vanderbilt this Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, kickoff is scheduled for 11:00 A.M.