Gus Malzahn Press Conference Review: Ole Miss Preview
Gus Malzahn during Tiger Walk before the Clemson game on September 9
(Photo: Auburn Athletics/Todd Van Emst)
Malzahn addressed the 11 A.M. kickoff, which will be the earliest kickoff for Auburn this season by four hours. He then went on to describe this week's opponent, Ole Miss. Malzahn has praise for the talent on the offensive side of the ball, and compares Rebel quarterback Shea Patterson to an SEC legend.
"When you look at Ole Miss offensively, really the thing that stands out to me is their offensive skill. I think at receiver they are as good as anybody in the league. I think their quarterback is a guy that can really make things happen when things break down. He has a little Johnny Manziel in him as far as being able to create things on his own, and he is a very good athlete."
This will also be the first time that Malzahn will face off against former defensive backs coach, Wesley McGriff.
"Defensively, Wesley McGriff is their defensive coordinator, an excellent coach. He was with us last year and does a super job as far as that goes. Really, I think it will be a good test for us. I know they had a tough game last week. We are expecting their best. Our guys understand that they are talented and we’ve got to be ready to play."
Malzahn also took time to recognize an upcoming achievement for an Auburn football fan.
"On a side note, one of the all-time Auburn greats, Buddy Davidson, is going to have his 700th-consecutive game, and I think that is a really big deal. He has meant a lot to Auburn for a really long period of time, really devoted his life to Auburn, so I just wanted to give him a shout out. I think that is very impressive.”
Pettway has missed two games this season, one due to suspension, the other due to rest. With his health still not where anyone wants it to be, would this be a good week for him to sit?
“I think with him and Kerryon Johnson... we’ve got to be very smart with those guys in practice. We will see where we’re at as it gets closer to the game. At the same time, Kam Martin was also banged up going into the last game. We were able to rest him -- I think that’s good. I really expect all the guys to be ready to play. It’s just a matter of how healthy we can get them before the game starts.”
Has Pettway shown signs of frustration due to the limitations due to injury?
"He hasn’t been 100 percent in any of the games yet, and I know that has been frustrating for him. We’ve got to get him healthy, and when we get him healthy, I think he will be in a good spot.”
Auburn's offense has found success in both running and passing over the last two games, outscoring the opposition by more than 37 points in both games.
“We talked about that at the very first of the season. That was one of our goals -- to be more balanced -- and the last two weeks we’ve done that. We were able to hit some explosive plays in the pass game and really play with tempo, too. I think that is a combination that was really good and we need to continue to build upon those things.”
After sitting out the 2016 season, quarterback Jarrett Stidham is now in midseason form. Malzahn says that this is not a surprise to him to see the sophomore finally feel comfortable.
"The very first game, he looked like a guy that hadn’t played in a long time, which is to be expected. With all the expectations, I tried to lay the groundwork before the season started that we needed to let the guy grow a little bit. We needed to let him get some experience before we started really judging him, and he got better. Obviously, the second game (the Clemson game) was a very tough experience for him and everybody, and then the last three weeks you’re really starting to see him kind of get more comfortable and get more of a command of the offense. He’s been very efficient, and we’ve got to continue that. When we protect him, I think he’s got good decision-making; he just needs more experience. He’s still like a freshman as far as game experience is concerned, and so we’ve got to keep that in mind, but I’ve been very impressed with him in the last three weeks.”
Since the Clemson game, Stidham only has 12 incompletions.
"We knew he could throw it. And then, obviously, being with him in the spring and fall camp, he’s a guy that can make all the throws, but you’ve got to do it in game situations. It’s tough to complete 82 or 83 percent on air, but he’s been able to do that and that was impressive.”
Backup Running Backs:
One of the more noticeable features about Auburn's offense over the last two games, is the amount of players recording carries. Malzahn has been impressed with Devan Barrett and Malik Miller in the backfield.
“Devan has really come on. They’ve given him short roles and I’m sure that’ll be added to because he has done a really good job. Malik has done a good job of really running hard. He ran through some tackles and I think you will see him more and more as the season goes on.”
Improving in the passing department:
Jarrett Stidham had four passes of longer than 47 yards last week, including a deep pass on first and 10 from inside his own 1-yard-line. Auburn has become more aggressive in the offensive playcalling department.
"That is something Chip (Lindsey) has really emphasized. He wants more explosive plays. We have been able to do that the last two weeks and it has changed everything. He will continue to build upon those things. I think you see our wide receivers starting to grow up and have more confidence. They are getting more opportunities and the last two weeks they have seized the moment. We just need to continue to build upon it.”
Since the departure of Sean White, Malik Willis has seen significant playing time as Auburn's second-string quarterback, and has impressed everyone. Is there a possibility of Malzahn or Lindsey creating a special package that allows Willis to get in the game more?
“We’ll see where that goes and what Chip wants to do with that. It’s been good to get Malik in the game the last two weeks. Obviously, that one explosive run that he made was really something, so we’ll see where that goes and what Chip wants to do with that.”
The old saying goes, "defense wins championships." Auburn's defense is the only unit in college football that has yet to allow more than 14 points to an opponent this season.
"The offensives are so explosive and everybody is playing with tempo, everybody is doing spread out stuff. I think the top defenses are the ones that can handle that. It looks like it as of right now. I’m very pleased with our defense right now. I think that is great to have and I think we can keep building and keep improving.”
Malzahn also likes the fact that this defense is still strong, despite the fact that Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams are now in the NFL.
"It is a team defense. We talked about how are we going to replace Carl or Mon? Well, the message has been as a collective group. It’s been someone new every game. Obviously, when it’s been pass situations, Jeff Holland has really come on and is playing at a high level. It is really just the unit. It is the second year with Coach Steele and our guys really understand his expectations and schemes. He is allowing our guys to play fast and that is important.”
How to stay consistent:
Everything seems to be firing on all cylinders for the Auburn Tigers now, how does Malzahn plan to keep things moving in the right direction?
"Few teams are around the country are able to improve each week with execution and getting better at who they are and what they do. That is really the formula. With that being said, injuries to impact players are big. You can handle injuries a lot of times, but if it’s your impact players then that sometimes causes a little bit of a lull. It is about getting better each week, though, and the teams that we had that have done that are playing well at the end.”
Facing "Crime Dog":
Ole Miss' defense is led by Wesley McGriff, the defensive backs coach at Auburn one season ago. Malzahn says that his team is a touch different than when McGriff was on the plains:
“Obviously, he was with our players and he does know personnel, but some of our guys, obviously, have improved since last year. The fact that Chip is calling the plays and we are different in a lot of ways, it’s not like you would think, but he is definitely familiar. I’ve got a lot of respect for Wesley McGriff. He’s an excellent coach, he’s an excellent person and I know he’ll have his guys prepared.”
Avoiding the "let down game":
For the third week in a row, Auburn will face a team that was blown out by their opponent a week prior (Missouri lost 35-3 to Purdue, Mississippi State lost 37-7 to Georgia). Auburn has won the previous two games by more than 37 points. Ole Miss is coming off a 66-3 loss at Alabama. How does Malzahn and the rest of the staff keep their players from being too confident heading into games of this magnitude?
“I think it’s like what we talked about earlier, each week is unique in its own right, especially in our league. You can’t take anything for granted. And we’ve talked about that with our players. Our leaders understand that. You can turn on the film and you can see they’re a talented team. They’re very scary on offense with their receivers and their quarterback throwing the ball down the field. Defensively, they run to the football. So, we’ve addressed it. Like we’ve talked about, the teams that are there at the end, they find a way to get up each week. You can’t buy into what last week was, not in this league, and we’re expecting their best, and that’s our approach.”
Over the last few weeks, Malzahn has mentioned that there is an open competition at punter. Last week, Aiden Marshall got his chance, punting three times with a long of 47 yards. What's his story?
“Coach (Scott) Fountain recruited him for six months or so and knew he was a solid punter, a guy who could come in here and compete. He’s been in the competition, but as of late, he’s been very consistent, and I thought he did a very good job the other night. I didn’t think the moment was too big, and I thought he did a solid job.”