Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn previews Mississippi State game

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Opening Statement…

“This is our first SEC road game of the season and at a tough place to play. It will be a good test for our team. Mississippi State had an off week last week, so they had an extra week to prepare and get their guys healthy. Offensively, it starts with their quarterback. He is a true dual-threat quarterback and he had an excellent game last game. He is getting better every week. Defensively, they have a very good scheme. They are very good up front, led by A.J. Jefferson. We have been very impressed with him on film. They are very good against the run, one of the top teams in the country. Obviously, we like to run the football and I think that will be a big factor in the game.

“It is going to be a good test. We have talked about our team improving each week and we are going to have to do that again this week. Health-wise for us, Xavier Dampeer and Kamryn Pettway will both be back. They both practiced Sunday and so we should be pretty healthy. Malik Miller did have surgery yesterday and he will hopefully be back before the end of the season.”

Importance of Sean White in the passing game against MSU…“We are going to have to stay balanced and we have gotten better at that. We are a run and play action team and we are at our best when we can run the football. We are going to have to do a good job of protecting him. They have some defensive backs that really do a good job as well. A key for us offensively is being able to run the football, but at the same time, be balanced.”

Progress of freshman wide receivers…“I think you will see that group collectively being more involved. We talked early in the season about how these guys just needed game experience to feel more comfortable. Now that they are getting the ball in their hands, you can see them getting more comfortable and their roles will grow as the season goes on.”

On using Stanton Truitt at running back…“He is very good with the ball in his hand. We are starting to define our roles better now and he is really good with the ball in his hands. That could give us a lot of flexibility moving forward the rest of the season with him at that position.’

On preparing young players for road games this late in the season…“That is a big factor. No doubt this is kind of rare to have five home games. The young guys are who you are always concerned about. We will do a good job of the things in practice as far as the crowd noise and everything that goes with that. That’ll be a big focus this week.”

Is Truitt a running back or receiver…“He is kind of a dual role, but you will see him more and more as the season goes on being able to do that.”

Does the absence of Malik Miller increase Truitt’s role…“Yes, there is no doubt, just to give us a little more depth at that position. We have already been evolving going that way. It was really unfortunate with Malik (Miller) because he was playing great football and making good runs too, but Stanton (Truitt) and Kameron Martin will fill some of that role.”

On Braden Smith’s blocking…“You can see him improving. He has a lot of experience now and he is very talented. He has that finish mentality and you are exactly right — he usually has a couple ‘wow’ blocks each game.”

On the importance of Braden Smith and Alex Kozan for Xavier Dampeer’s return…“It is going to be a big communication week. They do have the cowbells and now that they bowled that one end, it is louder than it used to be. Communication will definitely be a big part of this week. The fact that Xavier (Dampeer) has experience will do nothing but help him and those veteran guards around him will do nothing but help him.”

On Sean White’s improvement since his first start against Mississippi State last year…“I think it’s all about experience. He was still finding out about himself in college and we were still finding out about him when he made his first start last year against this group. I thought he did some really good things. He is a gutty guy and the experience factor of being able to run an offense and to be able to run the complete offense, I think that’s probably the biggest factor.”

On Jalen Harris seeing more time in the red zone…“That is one of the things that we are evaluating. We started last week thinking about the red zone and we were effective last week, but we have to keep building upon that. Like I said, it’s either scheme or personnel. Each week you will see some different things. That could be a possibility down the road.”

On Jalen Harris’ development…“He is getting better every week. He played very well last week and this whole year when he has been in there, he has done some very good things. It is starting to click for him. He was very physical last week. He’s in a good spot.”

On Marcus Davis…“He has a few health issues; we want to be smart with him. Marcus is one of our staple guys. He’ll be on the field more moving forward.”

On Ryan Davis… “He’s starting to mature. He’s very good with the ball in his hands. He goes north-south. He hits it. You can see him gaining more and more confidence in each game. This year is really his first year to get quality playing time. He has ‘miss-ability’ too. He’s very good laterally, and he’s getting consistent catching the ball.”

On the importance of the linebackers this week… “Their quarterback is a very good downhill runner. The linebackers will be a factor. Coach Williams has done a great job with that room. Our linebackers have done a very solid job with the run fits. They’re playing downhill and tackling well. We’re going to have to continue that. This will be a big test for that group as well as up front. Their quarterback run game is a big part of their offense. Their guy is a big guy who can really run, especially when he gets going downhill past the first level.”

On other kick return possibilities … “Stanton Truitt is a guy who’s been back there. Kam Martin has been getting a lot of reps in practice. We have a lot of confidence in both of those guys. Jason Smith has gotten some reps back there, too.”

Preparing for Mississippi State’s defense … “Each year is different. You have to find out what their plan is, their scheme, and their players. Coordinators can always go back years in the past to see what matches up. They’re a little bit different. They’re very good against the run. Their defensive front is very disruptive and their linebackers have experience. They play downhill and put a lot of pressure on you. Very few people have been able to run the football on them this year. That’ll be a big challenge for us.”

On Jimbo Fisher’s comment about college football rules favoring the offense…“I think we do a good job of playing within the rules.”

On Sean White’s progression throughout the season…“I think you’ve seen him get more and more comfortable each game. I think his completion percentage gets better each game. He’s been very efficient throwing the football. I think our players around him are getting more confident in him. I think we’re starting to settle in. We have to keep improving. We’re starting to settle in to who we are offensively, and he’s a big part of that.”

Does White’s performance give him confidence to throw the ball more…“Yeah, I think so. Any time you can protect the football and be efficient – a lot of times, it’s been really good to get us some pace.”

On the team’s ability to score more than 30 points against SEC teams…“I think we’re starting to figure out who we are offensively. I think we have a chance to keep improving. Of course, scoring that many points is one of our goals. We’re still working toward that, but I feel confident that we’re going to get better.”

On John Franklin III…“There’s no doubt that John is starting to feel more comfortable. He’s been getting all of the two reps for over a month now, so he’s getting more comfortable. You can see him out there on the field getting more comfortable. We’ll just see how the season goes. He’s ready and he’s improving.”

On having the fewest penalty yards in the SEC…“Of course, we’re definitely proud of that stat. I think our coaches deserve a lot of credit for that. I think our players deserve a lot of credit for being disciplined and not beating ourselves. That’s been a message that we carried over from the offseason and work extremely hard at. We have to keep doing that. When you do that, usually good things happen.”

On the performance of backup players Saturday…“The blue group was our second group, and they had a lot of quality reps. As far as depth-wise, that does nothing but help you. I really think that our blue offensive line specifically got in there two games. As far as from an execution standpoint, both games have been at a high level. That’s really what stood out to me.”

Is Chandler Cox improving… “I think so. He and Jalen (Harris) both are improving each week. That’s a huge position in our offense. It needs to be a physical point of attack position. I think you just see them both kind of getting more comfortable, both of them being in their second year in the offense. We’ve just got to continue to keep improving on that.”

On keeping Chandler Cox at H-back …“That’s the best-case scenario, to not have to play two positions. They’re completely different. But like we said in the offseason, to give us enough depth at the tailback position, he’s a very good runner, too, but we’re starting to settle in with kind of who we are now. But he’s got the ability.”

On Darius James … “I thought Darius — of course he played against LSU and when he was in there he played well — so for his first start, I thought he really did some good things. I think that really helped us moving forward with our depth and our confidence in him and his confidence in himself playing. I thought Austin Golson did an outstanding job moving to center. They presented a lot of challenges with the different blitzes they did and all the snaps were good. I just think it was a really good thing moving forward with both of those positions getting that experience.”

On more balance in the red zone … “If you really look at the history, when we’ve been really good at red zone offense, it was because we ran the football, and we were able to run the football in. I think that’s where it’s got to start, but at the same time, you’ve got to be efficient enough, especially when they know you are throwing the football. That’s when it really gets challenging. It’s third down and goal from the six to the 10, there’s a good chance you’re going to throw the football. That’s really a big emphasis on what we’re doing moving forward. But, at the same time, the run-play action things down there, there’s a time for all of it.”

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