Gus Malzahn previews Auburn’s road test against LSU

Coach Gus Malzahn presser on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics

AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn met with the media on Tuesday to discuss the upcoming game against LSU. Below are his comments:

Opening statement…“We have a big road game this week at LSU, a place that we have not won at since 1999. They had a big win last week vs. Florida on the road, a close game that they found a way to win, so I know that they are going to have a lot of momentum. When you look at them offensively, they put a lot of pressure on your defense, specifically on the perimeter with all of their speed sweeps, their unbalance and their shifts, and every way that they present that. Defensively, they are a Top 20 defense like they usually are. Their defensive line, you can tell, is getting healthier. Their linebackers are very aggressive, and they can really run. Of course, Arden Key is one of the dynamic players defensively in our league, and you can tell that he is starting to get in shape, and is starting to really play. It’s a big challenge for our team. Our message has been each week to get better, and the last three weeks I feel like we’ve done that. We are going to have to continue to do that on the road at LSU.”

Kamryn Pettway status…“We are going to stick to the fact that when he is healthy that we will play him. He will practice this week. We will see how he is. If he is healthy we will play and if not, then we’ll hold him out until he’s healthy.”

Mike Horton status…“He’ll give it a shot today in practice. We will see how he does. He definitely wants to play. We will know more by Thursday. He’s got a chance to play.”

If Horton doesn’t play…“If he doesn’t, then the way we ended the game, I would be prepared for that. We have a lot of confidence in Prince Tega Wanagho and Austin Golson, too. He played his fifth position last week, which tells you a lot about his versatility. There are few players around the country that can do that.”

Status of Jamel Dean and Javaris Davis…“Both of them will practice today. We will see how they do. We’ll know more later in the week.”

Play of Kerryon Johnson…“He is playing with a lot of confidence. If you look at the last three weeks, you could tell he hasn’t been 100 percent. At Missouri, he had a couple chances to hit some seams and turn on the gas. He didn’t want to re-pull his hamstring, so he geared it down. Against Mississippi State, you saw him break and he geared it down. Last week when he broke, he was able to turn it loose. You can see that he is getting healthier. Last week he wasn’t quite 100 percent, but he was close. Our goal this week is to have him 100 percent. We will be very smart with him in practice. He is playing at a very high level and when he is on the field, he can do a lot of different things.”

What makes LSU such a tough place to play…“They are usually one of the more talented teams in our league. They have a good home field advantage. We have to solve all of that. It is a new year. They’ve got a new team and we have a new team. That is the fact.”

On Kerryon Johnson hitting the right holes…“I think running backs are born instinctively. You can coach landmarks, pressing the line of scrimmage and reading the backers, but my experience is that the special ones have the unique ability that they can make things right and good decisions going full speed.”

Is Johnson the best he’s coached at that position…“I’ve coached a lot of good ones, but he’s right up there.”

On being physical at the line of scrimmage against LSU…“It is always one of those that is usually won up front on both sides of the football. Last year was a very physical game and we expect it to be the same this year. That is always fun — to play a team that is physical — and they usually are and we usually are. It is usually a good one.”

Play of Derrick Brown…“There’s nothing like experience, especially in our league, and I think you have seen him getting more and more experience, using his hands better, setting a point better and trying to hold points on the line of scrimmage and play in their backfield.”

Versatility of Austin Golson…“He has experience. He is a smart guy. He picks up on things very quickly. We have never had a guy play three positions, much less five. So that tells you a lot about him and everything that goes with it.”

On the team dealing with success…“Whether it is four weeks ago or whether it is today, our team stays pretty insulated. We don’t worry about anyone else’s expectations or what they think outside. It is just about us getting better. We are playing better. I told our team we have not arrived and that I will let them know when we arrive. But we are in the process of having a chance to become a good team. You can’t read into anything. I always address the social media part, about other people’s opinion. Really other people’s opinion doesn’t matter anything at all with a team. It is just something that as a coach this day and time you have to address. I wish it wasn’t that way, but it is a challenge. I think that is a challenge for every head coach. It is one of the bigger challenges. Kids are different these days with social media — the power of when you read something and what that really means. So I think that’s is a challenge for every head coach whether it is good or bad, or it is never too good or never too bad. You just have to keep it within your room.”

On how the offense has improved since Clemson…“Like I said earlier, we have a new coordinator. We have a new quarterback. We have some new starters, and it is the reality of everyone getting comfortable and starting to play to their strengths. Chip was brought in to provide balance and more shots downfield, and he has done that. We have been able to hit some of those explosive pass plays, and we have had explosive run plays too. Our tempo has gotten better. So I think it is just more of an all of the above: everything coming together, being more comfortable, knowing who we are and running the football effectively, which I think is where it all starts — also having the ability when your quarterback is highly efficient and protecting the football and making good decisions. I think the fact that we are spreading it around to a lot of different receivers is really good. We still have a lot of areas to improve on. This time of year, we are at the halfway point. Coaches can see your tendencies, they can see what you are good at and what you are not good at and try to take stuff away. This time of year is about execution. It is more about execution right now more than any other time, because as a coach, whatever you are good at, you want to keep building on those things. Well, other teams know that and they are going to try to stop it, and you have to have an answer when they try to do certain things. So really it is more about execution this time of year than it was the first half.”

On talking with team about Auburn not winning at LSU since 1999…“Just be honest and up front. If you talk to our players, this is a new year. They are their own team. Even though some of our players were there two years ago, this is a different dynamic. This is a new staff. They have a new team. They have a new head coach. Everything is different. We do need to understand that it has been a long time since we have beaten them there. I think we all need to know that, but this is a new year and that is the way we are looking at it. It is a big challenge to go there and win.”

Is there added pressure after Troy beating LSU…“We are not worried about anything that has happened up to this point, good, bad or in between. This is the week we play LSU. They are in the West, and it is a very important game. We don’t get caught up week to week in who they are playing and who they have played.”

Does the Clemson loss still drive his players…“I think so. When you bring up that name, it hurts to hear that. I know that it motivates our players and our coaches. All the experiences you have up to the first half help build everything in the second half. The challenge is very few teams around the country continue to improve. That is extremely hard to do. It takes a lot to get up each week and play at a high level. Very few teams can do it. That is our challenge. It is not easy. We talk about it and we address it. If we do it then we will end up having a pretty good year.”

Does it hurt you personally to talk about Clemson…“Any time you lose, as a coach, you don’t like negative thoughts.”

 

In your fifth year building a program, where do things stand…“Like I said before the year, I feel very good about our players. I feel very good about the character of our team. I feel very good about our staff as far as being good coaches. They are good people, good examples for our players. So I feel very good right now. As far as all of the stuff that it takes to be a consistent, top program, we have the makings for that. The challenge is we’ve got to continue to show that on the field. We’ve gotten that the last three weeks, so you feel pretty good about that. But you’ve got to be real with yourself as a coach that the second half of the year, the meat of our schedule is coming up. We have a chance and that’s the message, but overall I feel very good about where we are at and we’ve got to finish strong in the second half.”

 

Do you feel like you’re where you need to be…“We’re getting closer. Really now, I’m thinking about LSU, I’ll think about that more at the end of the year.”

 

Do you have any regrets about Pettway playing in the early season…“As a coach, when you do something for 27 years, you have to make decisions that you think is the best at that time. And you always have the ability to look back and think, well, we probably should have rested in the morning. Like I said last week that whatever we did up to that point wasn’t working. We tried a different approach. Let’s get him healthy before we get him back out there. At the time you make a call and as a leader, that’s part of it. You make calls that you think are the best at that time.”

 

How do you handle Arden Key…“Nobody needs to point him out; we’re all going to know where he’s at. It’s part of being an impact player. You’re going to do the best you can to not give your guys a disadvantage or advantage. You’ve got to play football and put a plan together.”

 

Getting early multiple possessions…“I think the last three weeks we’ve been off to a good start and I think you’ve hit it on the head. We’ve gotten behind early, consistently, and we’ve got to overcome that and that’ll definitely be part of the message.”

 

On Devan Barrett… “He’s getting more comfortable. I know the coaches are getting more comfortable with him. He’s been protecting the football. I think he’s done a good job. And he’s getting more confident, too, and so I think you’ll see him have more opportunities in the second half of the year.”

On Kam Martin… “He’s a little bit better. He wasn’t quite 100 percent, but still he plays at a high level and he gives it a little different change when you put him in there.”

On the top teams in the SEC all playing good defense… “I think over the history of our league, if you really look, the teams that have a chance to either win championships or have a chance to win championships or are in the middle of it — they’re all playing really good defense. That’s really what separates our league from a lot of leagues — the elite defenses — and when you play those elite defenses, it’s a challenge.”

Has he spoken to Les Miles since last year’s game…“I have talked to him and I think I talked to him the week that happened. I’ve got a lot of respect for Les Miles. He’s an outstanding coach. He’s not a good coach; he’s an outstanding coach. And I think he’s a great person. And I think it’s a really good deal that they’re honoring him. I’ve talked to him numerous times. Obviously, we hired Larry Porter. Larry Porter worked for him. He gave him a great recommendation, so I’ve got a lot of respect for Les Miles.”

Difference in Jarrett Stidham since the Clemson game…“I think anytime you go through adversity, it either brings out the best in you or the worst in you, and I think it just brought out the best in him. Sometimes you have to go through experiences. And you have to keep in mind his number of starts. Up to that point, he’s still a freshman. What was it – game six or something like that? He’s getting better. You can tell he’s getting more comfortable and more confidence and he’s playing at a high level and we’ve just got to keep building upon that.”

On the development of the wide receivers…“I think a lot of it has to do with they’re getting a little older and they’ve got more game experience, but they’re getting some opportunities. They’re getting a little more opportunities down the field. Being a former receiver, when you make a play, it just gives you more confidence moving forward, so I think it’s a combination of both of those.”

On the difficulties of facing a Dave Aranda defense…“He’s a good defensive coordinator, and there are a lot of good defensive coordinators in our league. But they’ve got a lot of talent. And when you put a good coach together with talent, it’s a challenge. You’ve got to earn things.”

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