Gus Malzahn previews Arkansas

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Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn press conference
Previewing the Arkansas game
Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Opening statement… “I would like to start out with obviously very sad news regarding Quentin Groves over the weekend. Our thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family. He was one of the better pass rushers to ever come through Auburn. I know Kodi [Burns] and Travis [Williams] were close to him.

“As far as Arkansas is concerned, last year going on the road with a four-overtime game was a tough loss. This year, offensively, they score a lot of points. They are one of the best teams in the league in scoring points. I think it starts with their quarterback. I have been very impressed with him. He is a tough guy and has made a lot of big-time throws under duress. He manages the game well and manages the offense well. He doesn’t look like a first-year starter. He looks like he has been around a long time and played a long time. Their running back is second in the league in rushing. He had 180 yards last week. He is a very good running back. He does some good things. I think their receiver corps has been around a long time and I think they are a very solid group.

“Defensively, what really stands out to me is they make you earn it. There are not a whole lot of big-play potential-type situations. They make you earn it. They have a lot of guys back on that defensive unit up front, linebackers and even the secondary. They held Ole Miss better than I think anyone has all year. They played probably their best game last week, so that’ll present some challenges. We are going to have to play well. Our guys understand that. The off week was very good for us. Last week, we healed up like we talked about. It gave us a head start on Arkansas, which is always good.”

Kerryon Johnson status… “He will practice today and I think after today we will have a better idea of his status. I think the positive thing is that he did practice Sunday and he is going to practice today, so we will know more after practice regarding his status.”

On the message to the team during the bye week… “Our goals were to heal our guys up, get our starters fresh and develop our younger guys. A lot of young guys are playing and we need them to take that next step; in practice they did that. Now it has to carry over to the game. That’s our challenge and our message is very simple. We have to get better each week. It is as simple as that. That’s what we are talking to our guys about today before we go out there and practice. We want to keep improving.”

On the team handling prosperity… “A good thing about this team is that our leadership is very strong. The leadership will definitely keep everyone grounded. They’re on a mission. That really helped us through the tough times. There were no chinks in the armor, and that starts with our leaders. They have a good pulse for our team. Our younger guys really listen to them. They’ve found a way to practice. They’re ready to go every practice. There haven’t been any kinds of practices where I’d say, ‘Oh, we just survived through practice.’ That’s a tribute to our leaders. Things are going better now. This is a well-grounded team. There won’t be any issues as far as patting ourselves on the back.”

Is this game with Arkansas a tipping point in the season… “Last year, it was, there’s no doubt. The schedule was uphill after that game. Every year is different. Every situation is different. They’re a new team. We’re a new team. We’re playing at home. A lot of times you don’t really know about those pivotal games until the end of the season. Is it an important game? Yeah, it’s an important game because it’s the next SEC game and we’re playing at home. They just had a big win and they have some momentum.”

On Sean White’s improvement after last year’s game against Arkansas… “We were still learning about Sean at the time. We learned a lot about him that day. We saw the way he handled pressure and getting hit. He showed a lot of toughness that game. I think he responded really well. He’s a year older now. He’s been through a lot more situations. He’s in a really good spot right now.”

On the four-overtime loss to Arkansas last year… “When I think about it, it still makes me mad, but that’s last year. That’s history. There’s nothing I can do about it. Like I said, every year is different. This is a different team we have. We have a lot of new guys. They have some new guys, too. I try not to think about things I can’t control any longer.”

On Arkansas’ in-state recruiting… “I think each program in our conference is different in their own right, whether it’s location or the need to get more people from their state. They do a good job of recruiting the types of guys that fit them.”

Did injuries make last year’s game against Arkansas pivotal… “Not really. After that game, the schedule was uphill. That’s probably the simplest way to put it. It’s not any more complicated than that.”

On the team’s mentality going into this week… “We’re taking it one game at a time and trying to improve. You have to improve when you play good people and we’re playing a good opponent. We’re not taking anything for granted. We’re just trying to move forward.”

Assessment of coaching after handing over offensive play-calling… “I see things differently now. It’s been refreshing from my standpoint. At the same time, Rhett (Lashlee) and the offensive staff have all raised their level. They’ve done a very good job. I feel like we’re going in the right direction. I feel very good about the season if we continue doing what we’re doing.”

Is he calmer on the sideline… “Do I look calmer? My wife says I look calmer. I think I look calmer. I feel calmer. I will get fired up every now and then, but that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Has he worked with an offensive unit with so many young people producing… “That’s a great question. I’d have to do some homework on that. We have more new starters and freshmen than I can remember. That’s good when looking toward the future. It’s good when looking at our chances of improving each game, too. I know there are challenges when dealing with inexperience and young guys. Here’s the thing, we’re halfway through the season and we have guys that have half a season of experience. You have to take the next step and that’s what we’ve been challenging our young guys to do.”

How much better is Auburn now compared with preseason… “I’d have to say quite a bit, but that was the first game. There are probably other teams in the country that can say the same thing. As far as our team, I’d say it’s fair to say we’re quite a bit better.”

On Auburn and Arkansas’ philosophical similarities… “If you look back at the last four years, you can see both teams are committed to running the football and playing physical. You have to play physical football. That’s probably the biggest similarity in both programs. “

Improving on having negative plays… “It’s kind of just like when you focus on something — that was one of the things we focused on. We were having too many negative plays. There are a lot of variables that combine into negative plays, and so that’s really a tribute to the offensive staff. They just looked at it and they looked at the areas that we needed to improve and not do certain things, maybe do some other things. And so it’s not just one thing, it’s just more of an approach and point of emphasis. We’re proud of our players for making that change, and being able to execute better at certain things.”

Status of offensive line… “We’ll get that all figured out here this week, but the good thing, like I said before, is we’ve got six guys that have actually started in an SEC game and won, so I think that’s a really good thing as far as depth-wise is concerned. But we’ll make that call later in the week.”

On Darius James… “We’ve been pleased with him. He’s tried to be physical. His competitive side has come out. I thought he’s been pretty efficient for the first time starting, especially in our league.”

On Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen… “I think there are some similarities (to his brother Brandon). They’re both very tough individuals. You can tell they’re a coach’s sons. They know what they’re doing. I think they’re well-coached. I’ve been real impressed with the guy this year. He’s making some really good plays. He’s shown a lot of toughness. He’s been very impressive.”

On getting explosive plays against the Arkansas defense… “The thing about it — you have to earn it. Very rarely do you see people running free, especially over the top of their coverage. They do a good job of keeping things in front of them, so you’ve got to earn it.”

On improvement in the number of dropped passes since last year’s Arkansas game… “We dropped quite a few balls last year. You have to execute. That’s been a big focus. Our receivers — even though we’ve got a bunch of young, green guys — they’ve done a solid job as far as that’s concerned. We’ve got to continue to catch the ball. That’s always something you keep working toward.”

Now that you’ve read all of that, you can watch it spoken here: