No. 13 Auburn previews trip to Death Valley against No. 3 Clemson

AUBURN, Al – The No. 13 Auburn Tigers prepare for their trip to Death Valley to take on the No. 3 Clemson Tigers on Saturday, September 9. Below is a preview from Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn’s press conference courtesy of Auburn Sports Information.

Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn press conference

Previewing the Clemson game

Opening Statement…“Obviously, it is a big week, a big game. We’re playing Clemson, the defending national champions who played in the last two national championship games. We’re playing them on their home field, one of the toughest places to play in college football. It will really be a good measuring stick of where we are at from a team standpoint, and that’s my message to the team. Their defense has a lot of experience back. I’m very impressed with them — not just their defensive front, which I think is one of the best in college football — but I think they are good all around. Coach Brent Venables, their defensive coordinator, does a good job of mixing things up. He is very aggressive. He likes to put pressure on offenses. Their offense is very balanced. Their co-offensive coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott do a super job of working together and taking what the defense gives you. I’m very impressed with those guys. Their new quarterback played very well last week, too, so we’re expecting to have to play well to beat these guys. We’re looking forward to it and it ought to be a good one.”

On Kerryon Johnson’s injury…“He didn’t practice Sunday. We are hopeful, but that is the best status I can give you right now. Later in the week I’ll know more. There was a diagnosis, but I’m not going to get into the specifics of injuries. He was injured.”

On Kamryn Pettway returning…“He is ready. He repped all fall camp and all last week. He’ll be fresh and in good shape.”

Will Kam Martin back up Pettway…“We’ll see. Malik Miller is also in the mix. All three of those guys will be available.”

Would Malik Willis see time if the starting QB was injured…“If it is a long-term injury, then Malik Willis would be the next guy in. If it is just a play or two, then we will try to be as smart as we can. Malik is ready though. He has impressed us numerous times and he has got a lot of practice reps. If called upon, he will be ready.”

Did he think about playing Malik vs. Georgia Southern…“No, not so much. We just wanted to get through this game and we will have a strategy for the rest of the year.”

How did the offensive line play…“I thought they did some good things. We were able to run the football effectively. One of the pass protection issues where we got hit was more of a miscommunication than anything. It is a new group working together beside each other. It more than anything just confirmed that we have a chance to be really good up front.”

Allowing tackles for loss…“There was some miscommunication that we have to get cleaned up. We can’t get behind the chains like we did last year against these guys. They got after us pretty good on first down and put us in some negative situations. We can’t have that this week.”

Tucker Brown’s performance…“Tucker did a solid job. He had a couple intimidation blocks. He is a guy who played in the bowl game last year and I thought he played pretty well then. Coach Larry Porter is impressed with him. He and Jalen Harris both get opportunities to play at that tight end position.”

Will Hastings’ keys to success moving forward…“I think more than anything it is experience. Last year was his first rodeo and he is a little older now. He has gone through a spring now with a new offensive coordinator, and he has been pretty consistent. I think that is probably the biggest thing – experience and the consistency that it takes to play at a high level.”

On the defensive line’s performance…“They played extremely hard, which is what stood out to me, outstanding effort. They were physical and played with great effort. That’s what we will have to do this week. We are playing one of the best offenses in college football right now. We are going to have to be very physical and we are going to have to play our guts out.”

Evaluating Jarrett Stidham’s performance…“I thought he did a whole lot of good things. Really the biggest thing that stood out to me is him just needing experience – a guy that hasn’t played in 600 days or something like that. I think I brought that up this time last week that it was probably the biggest concern I had, because he has performed very well in practices and scrimmages, but there is nothing like a real game. To go out there and play another team and the different things that go with it, and communication up front, communication with your teammates and taking command of the offense, I thought he did a good job. He is extremely tough on himself, which is usually a sign of a really good quarterback, and I expect him to play better this week.”

On the performance of the nine true freshmen who played…“They all got in there and I thought for the most part they played hard. There were some mistakes, but that’s just what goes with it. When you play true freshmen, there are going to be mistakes, but the key is they don’t make the same mistake twice. I thought their effort and their attitude was good.”

On Nate Craig-Myers…“Each game is different. Each game plan is different. Nate Craig-Myers is a guy who will be a big factor this year. Each game is a little different.”

Performance of Mike Horton and Prince Tega Wanogho…“I thought Mike Horton did a solid job. Mike is a physical guy. Of course he got a chance to play quite a bit last year. This is Prince Tega’s first real action, and I think he really played well and did a good job. He just needs experience, too. You’re talking about a guy who has only been playing football for a short period of time anyway, and the fact that it was his first start and everything that goes with it. He is very talented and I thought he played well.”

Importance of having a backup quarterback with so many injuries nationally…“There is no doubt about that. I think we have learned in the past two years that we have to have that No. 2 guy ready and possibly the No. 3 guy ready. With defenses nowadays, you have to have those other guys ready.”

On Will Hastings using the “skipping route”…“Timing and everything that goes with integrity of a route and a concept. When he does it, he doesn’t always get the ball – other people get the ball. It’s the timing and integrity of a certain play. We’ve got a couple others that you may see do it.”

Play of Clemson defensive line and Dexter Lawrence…“He played well last year against us. He’s not the only one. Their defensive front, like I said, I believe it’s one of the top in the country and when you turn on the film, it doesn’t take long to figure that out. It’ll be a big test for our guys up front. We’re not only going to have to run the football, but we’ll have to protect the quarterback, so that’ll be a big key to the game.”

Did Jarrett Stidham hold the ball too long…“There were some times where he was holding the ball too long. There were certain things and certain looks that maybe weren’t as open as we thought they’d be. There were times where he held the ball too long and he knows that and he’ll learn from it.” Can that can be ‘easily corrected’…“Yeah, I think so. It comes from not playing for 600 days. There’s nothing like the real thing.”

Is Ryan Davis ready to have a breakout season…“I think so. He’s explosive when he has the ball in his hands. He’s very confident. He’s one of the veteran guys. It’s his third year to play, so our expectations are real high for him. Darius Slayton is another guy that is a little bit older. Those two guys need to lead the charge as far as the receiver group.”

On Kyle Davis…“Kyle Davis will be in the game plan and he’ll play a lot. He’s got a lot of big play ability. I think we saw that last year as a true freshman and I think he’s improved from last year. We’re excited to have him out there.”

On Stidham’s improvisation skills…“He’s got that ability. Once things break down, he gets outside the pocket. He does a good job at keeping his eyes down the field. He can make the throws on the run. That one you are talking about was a very good throw. It was a scramble play off one of our base routes and I thought that was a good thing.”

On not trying many deep passes versus Georgia Southern…“Some of it had to do with the way they were playing. Some of it had to do with the way the game had unfolded. When we had the turnovers early, we knew it was going to be a matter of time when we could wear them down and run the football. Each game unfolds different. I thought Chip Lindsey did a really good job. That will still be our emphasis on throwing the ball vertically down the field. I think we had one that we actually dropped that, if it was caught, it could have changed the dynamics of the game early on.”

On the Clemson secondary…“They’re real defensive backs. They have played in big games. They have played against the best receivers in the country. They have the experience. They have big game experience. I’m very impressed with them.”

Plan for Sean White moving forward…“We’ll just see where everything is at. Sean is our No. 2 quarterback right now and we’ll just see where everything falls out. He’ll be back Week 3 and we expect him to be ready to go.”

What Malzahn did during the game…“I was a lot more involved with the special teams than I have been in the past, was on the defensive headset a lot more and just settling in as a head coach. I will tell you last year was good for me — that I had eight or nine games under my belt. I thought Chip Lindsey did a very good job. I feel good about where we are there.”

Preparing Jarrett Stidham to play in an environment like Clemson…“We need to build around his strengths and what he feels comfortable with. That’s a big part of the game plan. There is nothing like going out there. You’ve just got to do it. He’s been on the road, I believe, a couple of games he played in, and this will be one the best environments there is, so it will be good for the future. Dealing with the crowd noise and dealing with the communication and everything that goes with it, I think it will be real good for him. Like I said at the very first, I think it’s good for our team. This game will really show where we’re at right now and be a good measuring stick, so I think it’s good for all of them.”

On Howard beating UNLV with his former player Brennan Marion at offensive coordinator … “I got home late Saturday night and saw where it was the biggest upset in the history of college football. Brennan Marion is a former player of mine that I’m real proud of. He did a super job. Cam’s (Newton) little brother is his quarterback, so I gave both of those guys a text of congratulations. That was very impressive. We’ve talked. I haven’t actually gotten a chance to watch them, but we’ve talked. I’m real proud of him. I think he’s got a chance to be an excellent coach.”

On tams now overreacting to the first game, good or bad… “The opener, when you’re playing a solid team, you want to win, and you want to have a chance to win convincingly and play some younger guys, and we were able to do that. So you feel good about that, you put it in your rearview mirror and then you move on to the next one, and it just so happens to be Clemson. Obviously, it was a tough loss last year and we’ve got a lot of guys back and they happen to be the defending national champs, and we’re going to their home field. That’s the only thing on our mind. Nothing about last week. Everything moving forward is Clemson and that’s really about it.”

 

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