Gus Malzahn previews Arkansas State

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Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn press conference
Previewing the Auburn-Arkansas State game
Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Opening Statement… “I would like to start out with a quick recap of Saturday’s game. Defensively, I thought our guys played outstanding. After watching the film they played even better than I thought. For the most part, we made Clemson earn it. The quarterback made some outstanding throws and the big receiver on the boundary made some unbelievable catches.

“Offensively, our plan going in was to be aggressive. Our plan going in was to play all three quarterbacks. We thought it would be successful and obviously it wasn’t. Moving forward, Sean White will be our starting quarterback and John Franklin will get the second team reps this week in practice.

“If you look at the big picture, we played the No. 2 team in the country, a team that played for the national championship and has a majority of their players back, and we had a chance to win. That is a big positive. I thought we found out a lot about our team this first game with quite a few new guys and a new defensive coordinator and I think we have a chance to be an outstanding team. Just a quick update, Stephen Roberts served a one-game suspension and he will be back this week.

“Moving forward to Arkansas State — obviously I am very familiar with them. They have an outstanding head coach in Blake Anderson; he is one of the up-and-coming guys. Their athletic director Terry Mohajir is one of the best in the business. Their president Chuck Welch is also one of the best in the business. Arkansas State is a team that has won the conference championship four out of the last five years. They have done an outstanding job recruiting and have a very good team. Last week, they got beat by a very good Toledo team, so we know that we are going to get their best. They have some very talented skill guys on the offensive side of the football and they have a very good defense. They were one of the best defenses statistically in the country last year and they have seven of those guys returning. We know we are going to get their best. We have turned the page on last week and started focusing on them and getting ready to play some good football.”

What does this mean for Jeremy Johnson going forward… “Jeremy Johnson will still get reps in practice. He will be ready if called upon. Jeremy will be ready if we need him.”

On the play of the offensive line… “We made some mistakes early, especially in the first half. We had a new center starting for the first time and we moved our center to left tackle. We also had a new starter at right tackle. Clemson did some things that are a little bit different than we thought, so there was a little bit of adjustment. The good thing is that they got better in the second half. It was good for that unit to have a game under their belt. I really think that they will improve from week one to week two.”

On changing the QB plan… “Going into the first game, we planned to throw a lot at them. We felt like all three quarterbacks had some things they could be successful with. We were going to give them a lot to think about. We weren’t able to be as successful as I thought we’d be, but that was the plan. It was a little unknown. We threw a lot at our opponent. Like I said, we’re moving forward with Sean White, and bringing John Franklin III along.”

Was there a specific reason for the change… “I think it was just overall. Like I said, we thought it was a good plan. Obviously, it wasn’t. The changing in and out hurt our tempo. That was my take on it.”

Will John Franklin III run the wildcat formation… “No, we’re bringing John along with the offense. He’ll get the number two reps in practice.”

On John Franklin III’s performance… “I thought we moved the ball pretty well when he was in there. That was his first time to be out there. We thought he handled himself pretty well. From an offensive standpoint, there were some new faces out there. From a coach’s standpoint, you learn about your guys. We were curious about some of the guys, and we felt like he responded pretty well.”

Why did Jeremy Johnson appear tentative at times… “There are a lot of things that happen when somebody looks tentative. There were a few protection breakdowns. There were a few holes that we thought would be a little cleaner to run through, but weren’t as clean as we thought.”

On Saturday’s red zone performance… “You have to execute. You have to make plays. One time down there, we had a play overturned. It was a really close play. Another time, we had a guy open and barely overthrew him. The bottom line is we have to score points. That will definitely be a focus moving forward.”

Why did Jeremy Johnson have success in the red zone last year… “I think it was kind of all of the above. We thought there would be some running opportunities for him as well. If you look at the bowl game last year, he ran the ball very well. The holes (Saturday) weren’t quite what they were (in the bowl game).”

On Kerryon Johnson’s performance and Kamryn Pettway’s role going forward… “Kam Pettway will have more of a role this game. The good thing is we learned a lot about Kerryon. The question that everyone asked quite a bit was can he hold up and be durable and I think it was a very physical game. He earned a lot of his yards after contact, which I thought was very good. He protected the football, so I was very encouraged by him. Pettway will have a bigger role this game.”

On Sean White’s performance… “Sean is a tough guy. I think everybody knows that. Sean took some licks and he hangs in there. He can throw the ball down the field. He bought himself a little time on a couple of those especially the one that we got the pass interference call. He did an outstanding job of buying himself some time, and took a big lick. He has a good control of our offense, too.”

Will there be a special red zone package for Jeremy Johnson… “Right now, moving forward, we are going with Sean White and John Franklin will be our number two guy.”

How quickly do you find the identity of your offense… “We were curious about a lot of things offensively. We have some new guys, quite a few new guys playing new positions or flat out the first time they have played college football. We learned a lot about our guys and I think we will continue to learn the next couple games about our guys. The takeaway is we played a pretty good defense and the takeaway for me is we have a chance to be a pretty good offense. That is what we are going to continue to strive to be and you’ll see this offense improve.”

His reflections after Saturday’s game… “I think any time you lose a close game that you have a chance to win, those are the ones that hurt. You have to categorize that and you have to move forward. You have to put it behind you and move forward. The takeaway and the positive is that we can play with anyone in the country we learned Saturday night. Next time we have that opportunity, we need to win the game against one of the top teams.”

Role of Kyle Davis and Nate Craig-Meyers… “Both of those guys you will see on the field more and more. They are very talented. They just need game reps. The first half we were planning on playing our older guys and I think that’s wise, especially in a big game. The first time they play we were going to gradually bring them along. Both of those guys, when they were in there, I thought did some really great things and those guys will be on the field more and more as we go.”

Johnathan “Rudy” Ford playing offense… “That’s something that we will see where that goes. He’s electric with the ball in his hands. I think you can see that on kickoff returns. He was originally a running back when we recruited him here. That was just one of the wrinkles coming in.”

On Kam Martin and Landon Rice not seeing action… “Kam Martin is a guy that we really think can help. He could possibly get in the game this week. We’ll see where that goes. Jalen Harris did an outstanding job for us. I thought he really played well for his first significant role.”

Does he sometimes overthink the game plan… “What we do is put a plan together. That was our plan. It obviously wasn’t successful like I thought it would be. We’re going to move forward with Sean White and bring along John Franklin.”

On trying to avoid a divisive QB situation like was called nonsense in 2008… “I wasn’t here, but there’s not going to be any ‘nonsense’ like 2008. We’re a very close team and we’ll get behind Sean and we will bring John Franklin along. We’ll be fine. As far as any kind of negativity internally, there will be zero.”

Will Herb Hand remain in the press box… “Herb will continue to stay up in the box. You have to understand from an offensive line standpoint, as a group, that was their first rodeo. That was their first game together. We’re talking about three different changes, a pretty good defensive line, and Clemson doing some different stuff that they didn’t do a year before. In their defense, it is a feeling-out period. In the second half we actually moved the football and did a solid job. I think we out-gained them. Any time you have an inexperienced group, young group or a new group, you’re always looking from game one to game two for your biggest improvement. We’re hoping to do that not only as an entire team, but as an offensive line in the same way.”

Are close games learning experiences… “I think any time you have experiences, each team is new, each year is new, you have new leaders unless you have everyone coming back. There’s no doubt we know what it feels like, and the fact that we didn’t have any timeouts, and we drove down the field and had two shots at the end zone — you take all the positives you can from a game like that, and all the negatives you put behind you, put it in your rearview mirror. You move forward. And like I said earlier, you take away the hurt of losing a close game that you feel like you should’ve won, or could’ve won, then you put that behind you and you move forward. The takeaway is we’ve got a real solid team; matter of fact, I think we have a chance to be really good. So that’s the positive, and you’ve got to put the other one behind you and move forward.”

Favorite memory of Trooper Taylor… “Well, Troop is a wonderful person, a fun guy. He’s got a great personality, a great family. He’s been very successful at Arkansas State; I knew he would be a good fit for them. His son is a big-time player, too.”

Trooper Taylor said you are at your best when others see the worst… “I think you’re always honest with your team. That’s where it starts. You’re always honest with your team, you give them the plan, and you work. You work and you improve and you get better. That’s really the only thing on my mind right now.”

On Chandler Cox in the wildcat… “I thought it would unfold better. They lined up properly, and did a good job with the fits, and everything with it. He did that in high school. We’ve always had the wildcat; we thought that would be a good wrinkle on him, and we’ll see where that goes. He was very successful running that in high school, and he was a guy that we wanted to see get touches. He’s a good runner in his own right, too.”

Did Coach Brent Venables know in advance about the wing-t formation… “I don’t have a comment.”

On the play of Will Hastings… “Will’s got some natural abilities. He had some big third-down catches, a fourth-down catch. He’s got some natural things to him. For a new guy, you worry if the moment is too big, but obviously it wasn’t for him. He did well in pressure moments, and I thought that was encouraging. He’s a quick guy, a fast guy, and I thought he did a solid job.”

On staff chemistry… “First of all, we’ve got some outstanding people here. Our coaches are outstanding people, and we’re all together. Like I said, I felt like the defense played one of the best performances they’ve played since I’ve been here, at least one of the best. I think that offense is one of the best in the country, and I think it’ll be even better as the year goes on.”

Was Saturday like old times working with Herb Hand… “It did feel like old times with our communication, and Herb is a good one.”

Will you pass more against Arkansas State… “We’re going to try to move the ball any way we can.”

On giving John Franklin III a bigger role in the offense… “I think we’ll just see how the season unfolds. He’s an inexperienced guy. And he got some experience, which I think that’s a bright spot. Now that he’s been out there and he knows how he’s going to react and our coaches know how he’s going to react, we’ll just see how the season unfolds as far as he’s concerned. But he’s very coachable, he’s got a good attitude and he moved the football when he was out there.”

Did Franklin’s presence open things up for Kerryon Johnson… “It looked like it did. It looked like, obviously, the ends played a little bit different. And he protected the football. The first time when you get out there, you want to make sure a new quarterback protects the football, and he did that.”

John Franklin III in the zone read… “You can always kind of look back at stuff like that any time you zone read, but for the first time out there, I thought he did a solid job, and I think he’ll improve as he goes.”

Role of Stephen Roberts… “We’re going to bring him along. I’m not ready to say where and how many reps and all that, but we reinstated him.”

The importance of the vertical passing game… “There’s no doubt that that was kind of a focus as far as explosive plays. As far as vertical passes, I think we hit the one over the top Kyle Davis came back to. But, yeah, that’ll definitely be a focus.”

On Stanton Truitt’s involvement… “We felt like there would be some opportunities on the edge with him. Obviously, they had a couple of different looks. Any time in the first three series of a game, you’re gathering information as you go. And, like I said, the first game is always about adjustments because there’s a good chance they’re going to do something new, and so we were still gathering information. We thought we could get on the perimeter. They did a good job of keeping us off the perimeter. But that was during the feeling-out time.”

On former Auburn walk-on Chase Robison… “First of all, he’s an outstanding person. He’s got a great family. He’s closer to home at Arkansas State. That’s where his dad played. I’m a big Chase Robison fan, and very proud of him.”
Did you recruit Chauncey Mason… “We were aware of him. We didn’t hard actively recruit him. He’s a very good player, but we didn’t actively (recruit him).

Is there extra motivation since he coached at Arkansas State… “It was a special time for me there. They gave me an opportunity to be a head football coach. It was a very fun year. Like I said, their president and their AD are outstanding people. All their fans treated me wonderfully. I’ve got some special memories there from that standpoint. And you’ve got to separate that, you’ve got your football team, and you’ve got to prepare, and that’s what we’ll do.”

Is there one special memory from his time at Arkansas State… “It was probably just the entire process and everything that went with it, including the players, the fans, the administration and everything.”

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