Gus Malzahn: “Last two losses have hurt worse than any others”

gus malzahn presser

AUBURN, AL. – Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn previews the LSU game in his weekly press conference. Below are his remarks:

Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn

Press Conference previewing the LSU game

Opening Statement… “I have been at Auburn for seven years now and I have experienced some very good times, with a few rough times. The last two losses, I can honestly say, have probably hurt me worse than any of the others. I fully understand that our fan base is disappointed and they should be. The bottom line is that we have to coach our players better and that starts with me. We are close — as a matter of fact we are really close — to being a good team and we are going to get this thing turned around.

“LSU is up next. They are one of the better teams in the country. Their defense has eight starters back. They are averaging 16 points per game, which is in the top 20. Offensively they have nine starters back. It really starts with (Leonard) Fournette, one of the best players in America. He got the best of us last year and we are really going to have to do a good job of tackling him.

“As far as our team is concerned, Sean White will be the starter. John Franklin will be available if needed, but we are going to go with Sean White and we are confident with that.”

On his decision to stick with White at QB…“We feel like he gives us the best chance of winning. We have to be better around him and we have to put him in better situations from a coach’s standpoint.”

On the play of the offensive line…“After watching the tape, I thought our offensive line did a solid job. What stood out to me was the negative plays. They were ‘mesh charging’ from a defensive end standpoint, which they had never done before. We didn’t do a good enough job from a coach’s standpoint of making the adjustment quick enough. I think they had four negative plays with the mesh charge and we have to do a better job of making adjustments quicker. It looked like the offensive line wasn’t doing their job, but really it was a coaching adjustment that should have been made earlier. They hadn’t done that before, but we have to adjust better.”

Does he worry about friction between the offense and defense…“My job is to make sure that our players are all on the same page. We have an extremely close group, with great leadership, which helps with that. There will be no friction within this team. The big thing for me is that our players are playing their guts out and they are playing hard. We have to coach them better and that starts with me. We are close, and when you really look at it, we played two really good teams and had opportunities. We just have to take that next step. We are going to get this thing turned around.”

What’s a mesh charge… “It’s when the defensive end runs straight up the field at the midline of the running back and quarterback mesh. We hadn’t seen any of that until this year, other than Jacksonville State last year. We just have to make better adjustments. With defensive guys, when something works, they are all going to do it. So, it’s basically just charging the mesh of the running back and quarterback. If you take out the four negative plays, you feel better about the performance and you feel better about the outcome of the game.”

Did Texas A&M use a mesh charge on the first play of the game…“They did. You’re gathering information in the first quarter. You’re trying to figure out if it’s just one side or just one play. By the end of the first quarter, you need to have it down.”

Did Texas A&M use a mesh charge to stop a 4th-quarter play…“They did.” Was there a missed block on that play…“No, that was a missed call.”

Why hasn’t Auburn used a sixth lineman as a tight end this season…“We have different packages. Each year is a little bit different, as far as your personnel and how you feel about that. Moving forward, we’ll see. Obviously, we’re going to have some different strategies moving forward to help with that. That could be a part of it. I’m not going to incriminate what we’re doing moving forward, but we will definitely have some different things that could help with that.”

Are Auburn’s schemes too identifiable …“I think, each time you play someone, you have to look at what they’re successful with. You have to adjust from a coach’s standpoint to put your guys in the best situation possible. Whether it’s personnel, down and distance or alignments, you have to do your homework. You have to be thinking ahead.”

Concerns of facing LSU’s defense…“I think their team’s speed. When you watch them on film, one of the first things that stands out to you is their defensive team speed. They all can run. Like I said, they’ve got a lot of guys back. They’ve got eight starters back. They were very solid on defense last year. They were a top 25 defense, so they can all run.”

On defending Leonard Fournette…“We’re a different team than we were last year. We’re a different defense, but he’s one of the best players in college football. If he gets to the second level, that’s when he’s extremely tough to handle. He got to the second level on us last year, and we didn’t tackle. Obviously, with a guy like that, you have to team tackle. A big part of that is not letting him get to the second level. That will be a big challenge for us.”

Is this a redemption game for the defense…“I think each individual player on the defensive side will want to redeem themselves. It’s a big challenge. They’ve got nine of their guys back on offense. They’re going to run the football. Stopping the run will be a big part of the game. That will be a key to the outcome.”

On the difference in LSU’s offense after changing starting quarterbacks…“It looks like rhythm. I think both quarterbacks are very solid quarterbacks. They’re a little bit different, but it looks like rhythm.”

On offensive plays for negative yardage… “That is really the number one focus from the offensive staff standpoint — the negative plays. We are getting behind the chains. Like I said, a lot of that Saturday was on the mesh charge and we have to do a better job of adjusting quicker. First game there were a few of those same type situations, but our offensive line — looking at it from Saturday, we are improving. We are going to have to play well this week, but I am not going to blame all of that on the offensive line.”

Any lineup changes… “I think a big thing is when you evaluate things when you are struggling and you are not being as good as you can — you’ve got to evaluate things. You’ve got to figure out what’s not working and figure out what is working. You have to build upon those things and the negative plays probably are the number one focus right now. We need to get in some third down and shorts other than third and 11+. I think we have had 12 third down and 11+. I don’t care who you are playing. When you get in those situations, it makes it tough. It really is the main reason why we are behind the chains. The number one thing from the offensive staff standpoint that they are focusing on is no negative plays.”

Will John Franklin III play more… “I think from an offensive staff standpoint, all of those things are being evaluated. Each game unfolds a little bit different. Each game is a little bit different and maybe in the fourth quarter they are playing a little bit looser. It is just different. It’s not just as easy as watching it, but at the same time, your offensive personnel has to play to your strengths. We have three games under our belt to know what we have and to know what our strengths are. We will try to stay away from some things, but that’s part of coaching.”

On LSU’s Arden Key… “He is a factor. You have to know where he is. When he knows it is pass, he is a factor. He was a factor last year against us as a true freshman. We definitely have to be aware of him. Like I said, it goes back to when I was asked about negative plays, it is part of staying out of the negative plays. Myles Garrett (Texas A&M) and him are two of the best in the country. I think their skill sets and their explosiveness, their length and their talent — that’s what makes them unique.”

Does removing White from the game hurt his confidence… “From a coach’s standpoint, you have to take all that in. The big thing is we felt like we needed a shot in the arm and we were completely honest. We said this is what we are thinking and this is why we did it and each game unfolds differently. Really at the time, I felt like we needed a shot in the arm and it did give us some of that so that’s just part of coaching. You make decisions like that where you feel like at the time that is the best situation for your team, and that is what we felt like at the time.”

On creating explosive plays… “I really think explosive plays have more to do with opportunities. We have to give our guys more opportunities for the explosive plays to develop, specifically throwing the ball down the field. Each game is a little different as far as what you are playing against and your own personnel. Bottom line, we have to give our guys more opportunities.”

Is this the biggest game of his career… “I look at each game as being the biggest game. Every time we coach against someone, we need to get over that hump. We’re close, very close. It’s a big game, no doubt.”

On developing scoring drives against top pass rushers… “That’s what you do as a coach; you have to put your guys in the best situations possible. You have to be aware of their personnel. That’s just part of coaching.”

On coaching against coaches previously on staff … “I think you have to be aware of it. At the end of the day, when you put the ball down, your guys have to make plays and execute. Both teams will be familiar with each other.”

On John Franklin III running out of bounds on fourth down…“He’ll learn from it and he won’t do it again. He’s learning the offense. Every time he goes out there we learn something new about him. He is explosive. He just needs to feel more comfortable. We won’t be running out of bounds on fourth down anymore.”

On Franklin’s comfort level throwing the ball… “I thought he threw the ball pretty well when he went in there. We had a drop down the middle of the field, but overall I thought he threw well.”

How to keep players looking at the bigger picture after close losses… “As the leader you have to inspire them and keep them together. They know they’re close. Players know. Players know when they are in a game and have opportunities like the last game in the third quarter. I think our defense had three 3-and-outs. We had opportunities on the plus side of the field and we didn’t score. Players know when they are close. We just need to take that next step. We will do that and I’m very confident that we will do that.”

On Sean White’s confidence in changing calls at the line of scrimmage… “On certain plays, he does. And he is getting to a point where he can take charge a little bit more. And we as coaches, we need to give him a little more freedom, and that’s part of the plan moving forward. And like I said, we’ve got to put him in some better situations also.”

On the importance of getting White in a rhythm throwing the football… “I think it’s very important, and we’ve got confidence in him to do that. Like I said, we had a couple of negative plays trying to throw the ball on first down because of the mesh charge trying to get him in a rhythm, but there’s no doubt when he gets into a rhythm, he’s a very solid quarterback.”

On LSU’s Tre’Davious White… “You’ve got to be aware of where he’s at because you’re exactly right, he’s one of the best in the country. He’s a real confident guy. He’s got great ball skills. He’s their punt returner. He’s just a really good football player, and you’ve got to be aware of where he’s at. And they move him around. They do a good job of moving him around. He doesn’t line up just in one spot all the time.”

On his awareness of the fans’ frustration… “I definitely feel their pain, first of all. I know the Auburn family. I know their expectations. I don’t read social media, I just know. And they expect us to play good football, and I hurt, too. As I said, we’ve got to do a better job. I’ve got to do a better job, and we’re going to.”

Will Herb Hand be in the press box this week… “Yeah, we’re consistent. He is going to be upstairs as the eye in the sky. As far as the communication from Herb goes downstairs, I am happy. Obviously, when you’re not doing as well, you evaluate everything, and from a coach’s standpoint, how can we improve? How can we give our guys the best chance of winning? And so we are definitely evaluating that, and there will be some changes of some different things to help our guys and to help the overall offense.”

Will there be any personnel changes… “I don’t want to get into stuff like that playing an opponent, but we’re trying to improve in every area.”

Status of Woody Barrett… “He’s with us. He’s getting reps in practice. He showed up late. We didn’t get him until late July. He had an ankle injury during a scrimmage and that put him back about two weeks. But we’re working with him and trying to get him caught up. He’s a talented young man, but he just needs some extra work.”

On how Malzahn has handled struggles during his career… “As a leader, you’ve got to correct the things that aren’t going well, and that’s my job, and that’s the only thing on my mind.”

On facing Dameyune Craig… “Of course, I coached against Rhett (Lashlee) and coached against Kodi (Burns) when they were on other staffs, too, so you’ve just got to be aware that they know certain things and you’ve got to do everything you can to help your team be successful.”

On why he believes his team is close to success… “I think that when you look at the first game, we had an opportunity to win that game, and we just didn’t put points on the board when we had opportunities late in the game, so we were close. We played solid football Week 2. And even though the score didn’t dictate it, I think everybody saw in the third quarter (against Texas A&M) we had opportunities to take the lead in the quarter. So, that’s what I mean by close. That’s probably why it hurts as much as it does because, from a coach’s standpoint, you’ve got to find a way to get your team over that hump. So that’s what I mean by close, which is very factual. And it’s encouraging when you can take away the hurt, and that’s what I’m doing. We’re putting the hurt behind us. We left that on Sunday. We’re moving forward to LSU, one of the best teams in college football. They’re playing at our place. We need to play well. Our guys have put that behind them. And we are close.”

On his playcalling in the first three games… “It hasn’t been very good. It’s got to be better. It’s got to be better, and it will get better.”

On if he needs to improve his game planning or in-game adjustments… “I think it’s all of the above.”

On Landon Rice… “I’ve already answered the questions I’m going to answer regarding Landon.”

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