Gus Malzahn Press Conference Review: Mizzou Week
Gus Malzahn greets a young fan before boarding the bus to Clemson (Photo: Auburn Athletics/Todd Van Emst)
This week is the SEC opener for Coach Gus Malzahn and his 15th-ranked Auburn Tigers. While the road trip to Missouri is well on the mind of the team, a majority of the press conference was spent discussing the main issue regarding Auburn Football over the last three days, quarterback.
Here is the rundown:
Malzahn first addressed the latest breaking news surrounding his program, the announcement of defensive lineman Byron Cowart leaving the program. The Head Coach described the moves leading up to the announcement.
"Byron Cowart has come to me numerous times over the last couple of weeks disappointed with playing time. Yesterday he came to me and said he wants to quit to pursue other opportunities. We wish him nothing but the best moving forward."
He then spent time discussing this weekend's opponent, Missouri.
"You look at Missouri, they’ve got playmakers on the offensive side of the football, they’ve got a lot of speed at wide receiver, they’ve got a quarterback that can throw it and they are very explosive on the offensive side of the football. Defensively, Coach Barry Odom is taking over the defense. I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a coach. He does a lot of good things. When I look at their defense, their defensive front is disruptive, and probably the biggest thing is trying to predict how they are going to play. Their coordinator is no longer with them and Coach Odom is calling the plays. Overall, it’s a good challenge for us. When you’re on the road in the SEC, you’ve always got to be prepared. Our message has been that we have to get better each week and now that SEC play is here, we have to play our best football, so we’re excited for that.”
Malzahn spent an ample amount of time on this topic, and rightfully so. Monday, it was announced that backup quarterback, and 16-game starter, Sean White, had been dismissed from the team following his arrest early Sunday Morning near Downtown Auburn. The decision to dismiss White was a tough one for Malzahn, but he did not speculate what "bad decisions" the former Auburn quarterback made, leading to a two-game suspension to open the season.
Prior to spring practice, Auburn had five scholarship quarterbacks on roster, six counting John Franklin III, who moved to receiver. Now? The Tigers only have two, Jarrett Stidham, and Malik Willis. Where do they go from here? First, naming the second string man.
"Malik Willis will be the No. 2 quarterback. We’ve been saying for a while that we feel really good about him. The way he has performed in fall camp, specifically the scrimmages, was very impressive. He started out the first two weeks as our No. 2 guy anyway, so he got a lot of reps with the twos, some with the ones, and we feel good about him moving forward if something were to happen to Jarrett Stidham.”
While no one had a name in mind as to who the third string quarterback would be, Malzahn did drop a surprise on the media Tuesday morning, by mentioning a player from another position as a possible backup choice.
"Ryan Davis is a guy that we are also going to take a look at, with some snaps he got last year."
Davis being a player considered for a possible backup role blindsided many, but Malzahn also wants fans to remember another quarterback, walk-on Devin Adams.
"Obviously, you saw him in some mop-up roles as far as that goes. Every time he gets an opportunity to get in a game, whether it’s the spring game or whether it’s the game, he makes plays. Devin is in the room with them and he at least knows the base offense. He’s been spending time with the scout team, so he will have to be more involved with that. He can run the base offense. The biggest challenge he has is that he has been with the scout team. Chip Lindsey has got a good plan for him to be with the offense more than he has been.”
But, to focus on the first string quarterback, Malzahn says that he likes what he sees from Stidham three games in.
"He’s still a freshman as far as experience is concerned, and I even said that before the year that we’ve got to keep that in mind. The thing about him is he corrects his mistakes. We didn’t throw the ball away out of the pocket the first game or two. You saw him Saturday do that, so I think he’ll continue to improve.”
The running back position has had some concern early in the season, with Kamryn Pettway missing the first game, Pettway being overworked in games two and three due to Kerryon Johnson's injury, and the lack of diversity when it comes to running the football. Last week, Pettway and Stidham were the only two players to carry the football against Mercer. Malzahn hit on some key points regarding this position.
“That’s my biggest concern right now. We’ve got to be able to run the football better. Obviously Clemson has a great defense and they shut us down in the run game, but last week we did not execute like we need to, and we’ve got to do a better job of executing in the run game, because when you get into league play you’re going to have to run the football effectively to win consistently. Our coaches understand that, and that’s really been a big point of emphasis.”
What about Pettway getting roughly all carries over the last two games?
“What did (Pettway) carry it? Two games, 20-plus times back-to-back? Obviously, we’ve got to take care of our guys, but like I said, as (the Mercer game) unfolded it was a close game and a game we should have won and we should have won by more, so I think that had a lot to do with it.”
Will Johnson be back for the game on Saturday?
"I’m not going to say he’s 100 percent, but he practiced some last week, he practiced Sunday and he’s ready to play. I’m not going to predict right now.”
Some questions were raised regarding both the offensive and defensive lines during Tuesday's press conference. First, starting with how the offensive line will look after Darius James suffered an injury during last week's game with Mercer.
“Darius (James) -- he’ll practice today non-contact and we’ll see how he progresses during the week. What you’ll probably see if Darius can’t play is something very similar to the way the game ended late. But, we’re hopefully that Darius will be back, and I think we’ll know more probably tomorrow.”
With Byron Cowart leaving the program, what does that do for depth?
“Nick Coe has the ability to come inside, too. Tyrone Truesdell is coming on and Andrew Williams obviously is already in the mix, so we feel good. I think right now our defense is the No. 2 defense in the country, and our defensive line has a lot to do with that. We feel good about that position and we feel good about the depth there.”
Ian Shannon's 39.9 yards per punt is not enough for Malzahn, and says that the job has officially opened up.
"We have to be better punting the football. We have to get the ball down the field."
Daniel Carlson is in the mix for taking over the role.
Last week, Auburn turned the ball over five times, four being due to fumbles. Ball security is a point of emphasis for Malzahn this week.
"The coaches understand that there will be a high attention to detail in the ball security of everyone on the offensive side and everyone that touches the ball on special teams, because anytime that happens, that is coaching. That starts with me as a head coach. The penalties and the turnovers are unacceptable and our coaches understand that. And it will be a huge emphasis moving forward, not that it wasn’t an emphasis before, but obviously whatever product you put out on the field, you have to correct it.”