Gus Malzahn previews Alabama

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Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn press conference
Tuesday, November 24, 2015, previewing the Alabama game

Opening Statement… “First of all, we’re excited for Iron Bowl week. We’re excited that we are playing at home. We are playing probably the most talented team in the country. Defensively, they are the best in our conference statistically. Their d-line is very deep, very talented — I believe the most talented in the country. Their rush defense really stands out to me. They do a great job with their run fits and they do a great job of disrupting things up front. Offensively, they’re very productive, also. They’ve got one of the best running backs in the entire country, a big, fast guy that’s tough to tackle one on one. I think their quarterback has done a very good job of running their offense, protecting the football and managing their offense. And of course, their special teams are extremely talented. So overall, we are playing what I believe is the most talented team in the country. We are going to have to play well to win.”

On his plan at quarterback… ”We haven’t decided exactly who is going to start. The other day both of them practiced. Both of them we expect to practice. I’m hoping by the end of the week to name a starter before we get to game day.”

Sean White’s health… “He practiced the other day, and he was much improved. I’ll probably know a little bit better after today’s practice since we’ll practice in pads exactly how close he is to 100 percent.”

On the frustration of not knowing which QB will start in the 12th game of the season… “I think the positive if you look at it now is we have two guys that we feel good about. Both have experience. Both have won games on the road in our league. So really I’m looking at it more as a positive at this point in the season.”

Will both QBs play… “We haven’t decided that yet either. I’ll get with Coach (Rhett) Lashlee and probably Thursday or Friday we’ll get our plan together on how we are going to approach this game.”

Will the team be more relaxed being bowl eligible… “First of all, we were happy to get that win. Now we do know we are going to a bowl. But this is the Iron Bowl. All that stuff is great, but you focus in on this game. It’s a very important game. Our players and our coaches understand that, and are looking forward to Saturday.”

What would a win mean for Auburn… “It would mean that we beat our rival, which is very important to us and very important to this state.”

Do you practice the Kick Six… “Yeah, we try to practice all scenarios kind of like we talked earlier in the year. You cover a lot of the different things in fall camp. The thing that stands out to me about that game is, when the game was on the line, all three phases made plays to win the game … special teams with the Kick Six, there was also a blocked field goal in the fourth quarter, defense stopped them on fourth and one, offense driving the field scoring a touchdown the last minute of the game. This game you’ve got to make plays. The thing that stands out about that year is we made plays in all three phases when really the game was on the line.”

On the message for the team this week… “It is just focusing on us and focusing on having a good plan. Having a great week of practice and a great week of preparation to play our rival. That is our message.”

On last season’s Iron Bowl… “Any time you lose, things stick with you. The thing that stands out to me about last year’s game is we had opportunities in the red zone and we kicked a whole lot of field goals. In the second half, we had trouble stopping them. Those two things really stand out to me. But that was last year. We have a new team. They have a new team. It is a new year. We are playing at home, which I think is very critical in this rivalry, and we are looking forward to Saturday.”

Are a certain number of points needed to win Saturday… “This game is different than most games. It is really hard to predict. Obviously, you have to have explosive plays on offense against their defense because they are so talented. Very few teams have driven the field consistently. But you can say that about every year when you’re are playing these guys, so offensively you have to make explosive plays. Defensively, you have to keep them from making explosive plays. That is really the focus.”

On the offensive line… “I think overall they have done a solid job. The challenge now is having a new center, some changes and new positions. My experience in this game is everybody will be ready to play. Both sides give their maximum effort and they get after each other pretty good. We will see what happens.”

Will Austin Golson play Saturday… “I think there is a chance. The fact that he was out there practicing and he will be in pads today, so I will learn more. His mindset is very good. As a matter of fact, all the guys’ mindsets are pretty good. I think all of them, in this day right now, are expecting to play.”

On Alabama’s front seven… “They are the best in the country, I will say that. They are the most talented group. A lot of those guys have played a lot of football. They are experienced and they have a lot of depth. They put their twos in and they are like most people’s ones or maybe even better. You can say that just about every year. That is what they do. They have got very talented defensive fronts and this year is no different. It may be a little bit stronger. They are impressive. You watch them on film and they are impressive. They are very well-coached. They are extremely, extremely talented.”

Playcalling against the Alabama defense… “When you are playing a talented defense, you can’t be one-dimensional. You’ve got to do both and that’s the challenge. If they make you one-dimensional, it makes it extremely challenging, so that’ll be our challenge. We have to be able to run the football and we have to be able to hit some passes. That’ll be the challenge and it’s that way every year.”

On Will Muschamp’s impact… “It has been really good to watch Will (Muschamp) really get this defense and it is starting to become what he wants it to be. He is still going to recruit and we will improve, but you can see the improvement. They are playing extremely hard. I think overall we are tackling well. I think the best is yet to come, but he has done a very good job with our defense this year.”

On the improvement of the defense… “When you lose your impact player, Carl Lawson — we played pretty good the first half he was there — we lost him and had a little growing pains. The guys are starting to understand Will’s expectations. We are very thin on the back end. We lost Josh Holsey, our leader, early. We have overcome a lot of different things. Since Carl has come back, it is starting to look like a good defense. I think in the last three or four weeks, if you combine everything, we have played good defense. We will need to play good defense Saturday to have a chance to win.”

On Carl Lawson’s role on the team… “He is our defensive leader. He is our impact player. His presence — I think everyone can see it. It changes things on the field. He brings his ‘A’ game to practice. He is an impact player.”
On Lawson’s health… “I think it is good. I think it has gotten better each week. We have talked about him getting in game shape. Each week he is starting to get in that game shape.”

Does the game plan include long passes… “I’m not telling you.”

Status of Shon Coleman… “Shon practiced the other day. We talked about him playing in emergency situations last week. I would say his chances of playing are pretty high.”

On Cyrus Jones… “We’re definitely focused on him. He’s really tough in open spaces. He usually makes the first guy or two miss and he’s very strong. He’s very confident and that’s the key to a good punt returner. So we have to do a good job punting. We have to do a good job covering even if it’s windy.”

In response to comments by Alabama players… “We’ve got a lot of respect for their players and their program.”

On origins of formation where the tackles split out wide… “That particular thing, I guess you’re talking about when Shon Coleman splits out wide, it’s probably from 1996 or something like that. Is that still called fight song…“Could be. You guys are trying to give all my secrets away. You know? What else do we want to tell him? Reverses? Y’all want some reverses? Okay, we’ll run some reverses. You want some trick plays? Okay, we’ll run some trick plays. Do you want to know what they’re called? Just ask me.”

Concern about the game plan getting out during a rivalry week… “You worry about everything getting out in a week like this. In our state, both groups keep a close eye on each other. You worry about the confidentiality of everything. It’s always high this week but that’s the way it is every year. That’s part of what makes this rivalry special. You’ve got to be thinking ahead. You’ve got to protect what you’re doing.”

On Jeremy Johnson’s development… “I think the big thing is taking care of the football, protecting the football. That’s where it starts and he’s done a good job of that lately. Just managing the offense with the tempo and everything that goes with it, the communication. I really like the things he’s done.”

On the importance of the cornerbacks Saturday… “There’ll be times we’ll be in one on one situations. There’s no doubt our corners are going to have to play well. We’re going to have to put some pressure on the quarterback when they’re throwing to help those guys out, too. So it kind of all works together.”

How are the cornerbacks playing… “We’re not very deep. They’re playing a lot of snaps. Overall, I think they’ve had a very solid year.”

On having Lance Thompson on staff… “Lance is a very good coach. The fact that he’s been on the other side does nothing but help as far as the information. But he’s a very good coach in his own right.”

Importance of scoring first, as Auburn has in its last three games… “We turned the ball over the very first play of the game (last year). That’s never good. That’s big to get some momentum early especially playing at home, trying to get the crowd involved. Getting off to a fast start will be a factor in the game.”

On Derrick Henry… “We haven’t actually faced him (yet) – a lot of times until you face somebody… But I remember last year, he was a load. You look on film and it’s hard for one guy to tackle him. He’s a big, strong guy and fast. He doesn’t need too much of an opening. He has a lot of explosive plays. He can finish. He gets to the second level and he’s a finisher. He’s not going down real easy when he gets to the second level. He’s one of the best in the country.”