Gus Malzahn previews Georgia

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Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn press conference
Tuesday, November 10, 2015, previewing the Georgia game

Opening statement… “We are playing a very talented team in all three phases this Saturday. Defensively, they are a top 15 team in the country. They defended us probably better than anyone else last year. They held us to seven points. Statistically speaking, they did a good job against us. Offensively, they are the number two rushing team in our conference. They run the football; that’s what they do. It will be a big key of the game, us stopping the run. We are very glad to be playing at home against these guys.

“Quick update — Jeremiah Dinson will be out for the year. He tore three ligaments in his knee, dislocated his knee, and also dislocated his shoulder. It is a pretty tough deal. He will have surgery tomorrow. He has done an outstanding job for us as a true freshman on special teams and on defense. So that is a big blow for us. We will be thinking about him.

“As far as our quarterback situation, I’m not sure right now who will be the first one out there. We will see after we practice this week. I will tell you this, we have confidence in both of these guys. Both of these guys have won SEC games on the road now and that says a lot. Our players and coaches have a lot of confidence in both of them.”

Injury status of Sean White… “It was a little better on Sunday. We didn’t do a whole lot, but it was a little bit better. We will know more after today, tomorrow and Thursday. We will be able to make better calls on that.”

On Jeremy Johnson bouncing back… “It just says a lot about him and his character. He went through a storm for the first part of the season, and that is extremely tough on a quarterback. He hung in the battle and practiced well for two or three weeks. He was prepared to start against Ole Miss, and then Sean was able to go, so he bounced back and had another good practice the next week. He seized the moment on the road. That gives him confidence moving forward.”

On Jovon Robinson competing for the number one spot… “I’m not ready to say who the number one guy is. Peyton (Barber) has done a super job. I will say this, we have confidence in all of the running backs that we have. Peyton has done a super job, Jovon has done a super job, Roc Thomas who has battled some injuries and Kerryon Johnson is developing into his own little role right there. We have confidence in all of them.”

Does it help having fresh running backs… “I think so. You can really tell that he (Robinson) is very explosive because he has been fresh for the past two weeks. It has also helped Peyton with his carries; of course he was a little banged up and I think he is getting a little healthier, too. Hopefully, that will help us with these last few games.”

Kerryon Johnson’s injury status… “He is a little banged up, but most people are at this point in the season. He showed a lot of toughness so far this year, especially for a true freshman.”

Does the quarterback decision hinge on White’s health… “There is a lot more to it than that. Right now, Coach Lashlee and I will get together. I think the big thing for everyone is that we have confidence in both of them and we should. So we feel very good going into this game with our quarterback situation.”

Could there be a plan to play both quarterbacks… “I’m not ready to say that yet. That is a possibility. I think the big thing is that we have confidence in both of them. I think that’s a good thing.”

On Tony Stevens becoming a deep threat… “The last two weeks he’s made a couple ‘wow’ plays down the field when he’s covered — went up high for the ball in traffic. That’s always encouraging. He’s been a guy that for the last two years has had some moments, and now he’s a lot more confident and is starting to want the football. The quarterbacks are starting to want to get him the football. He just needs to keep taking those steps moving forward. You can tell a difference in him.” What held him back… “Opportunities, probably. Opportunities, and he’s seized the moment when he’s had the opportunity.”

Auburn beginning a stretch of eight straight home games… “You know, my mind is just on Georgia in this one, but any time we play at home is always a good thing for us. I am very happy we are playing at home against these guys on Saturday.”

Is there a difference in the play-calling system… “We kind of did a few things a little different. Rhett (Lashlee) called a majority of the plays that were successful and he did a very good job. He was in a rhythm. We’ll continue to double-team that, but Rhett did an outstanding job on Saturday.” Did Lashlee call more than in the past…“He probably had a little more influence than he has in the past, which was good.”

On difficulties of uncertainty at the skill positions… “The last few weeks there’s been some uncertainty in the quarterback position healthwise, and some of the running backs. Of course, from a coach’s standpoint, we’re pretty specific on what we like to do, and you just have to adjust. At this time of year, you are kind of used to not having certain guys or certain guys banged up, but you’ve just got to do the best you can in preparation with the guys who can get the reps.”

On Tim Horton’s potential as a head coach… “Tim’s an outstanding coach. He’s an outstanding person, an outstanding recruiter. He’s got all of the things to be a very successful head coach in the future.”

Does having established running backs take some pressure off the quarterbacks… “Any time you can run the football effectively, it’s going to take pressure off of the quarterbacks. To be good, we’ve said we’ve got to be balanced. Our guys are starting to execute the passing game more consistently than we did earlier in the year, and I think that’s really helped us, too.”

On the offensive line’s performance at Texas A&M… “The offensive line did a good job. They were very physical, and we had a lot of knock-downs. There were a few times they would roll an extra guy down into the box and just did a good job with movement at the point of the tackle, which is very critical to not just our gap game, but our zone game, too. They did a good job.”

Will Jeremy Johnson’s growing confidence influence the quarterback decision… “I think it’s all the factors. I will say this, he has his edge back and he does have his confidence back. We have confidence in him. We’ve got confidence in Sean too, so it’s kind of the best of both worlds right now. It’s just a matter of what we decide to do plan-wise, but it’s proven we can win with both of them, which is always a good thing.”

Does a road win help the team attitude… “I think you’re exactly right. You can improve, but the bottom line is until you get those Ws to go with it, it’s a challenge for your players. I will say this: even before we got the W, I said I was proud of our players three weeks in a row. They came to practice, they played hard and they played their guts out. It’s hard to do. Very few teams can do that. It was great to see them rewarded. We played solid in all three phases and beat a good team on the road. That should give us confidence moving forward. We’re going to need it. We said all along that we needed to be playing our best football at the end of the year. Last Saturday was a sign that we played a very solid game and that we need to keep improving.”

On preparation for Georgia’s two QBs… “They’re a little different.”

On Jeremiah Dinson… “He’s a wonderful person. He always has a smile on his face. He comes to work. He works extremely hard. He had a big role on special teams. The last few games, he had been coming on, playing a lot of defensive snaps. Just a wonderful person so I’m really disappointed for him. Hopefully he’ll recover.”

Does Malzahn still use plays from his high school playbook… “It’s really close foundation-wise to the same offense. We add little tweaks, but there is a lot of carry-over.”

On his disagreement with a call Saturday… “I’m not going to comment on any officiating. I’ll just coach our team.”

Why he chose to call a trick play at a specific time… “It was our plan to call it on a first and 11 plus situation.”

Approaching the game after losing last year by a large margin… “If you look at how many guys we lost from last year’s team — if we had all the guys back, it would be different, but what have we got? Twelve or 14 guys are playing in the NFL right now from last year’s team. This is kind of a new team. We’re worried about this year and we’re glad to be playing at home instead of there. That’s always important in this game. They’re a good team. We have to play well if we’re going to win.”

On Melvin Ray being a go-to player… “He was Saturday. Ricardo (Louis) was a couple of weeks before. Both of those guys are seniors. Both of those guys have been in our system for a while. We have confidence in them. Melvin is, for whatever reason, kind of a floater under the radar. He has done a lot of dirty work. He’s a very good blocker execution-wise. When he’s called upon, he can make some plays in the passing game too.” Could he be a good coach in the future…“I agree with that. He understands football very well.”

On Jeremy’s energy Saturday… “He was ready and he had his sleeves rolled up. He was ready to prove himself. He was able to do it, so that is big for him and our team moving forward.”

On Ricardo Louis’ versatility… “Ricardo is like a running back when he gets the ball. He is just one of those weapons. Each game from a coach’s standpoint, you want to get certain people going early and last week it happened to be him. Each week is a little bit different. He made some big plays.”

On gadget plays… “Each game you go in with a certain plan, and we just have a different plan each week. We are going to call those if they work. If they don’t work, you aren’t near as smart, and they question your play calling and all of that. When they work, it is pretty good.”

On the Starburst play… “We still have it.”

On leading the nation in fewest fumbles… “That’s good. I didn’t know that. Tim Horton does a great job with our ball security with our running backs. Coach Lashlee does a good job overall with our quarterbacks, and all of the other guys that touch the football. That is very important, and we need to continue that.”

On the improved turnover margin… “That has been a big difference for us. It has given us the chance to win games against good teams. If you look back, we have always prided ourselves on taking care of the football, and over the years we have done a solid job with doing that. We just uncharacteristically got off to a rough start in that area.”

On Carl Lawson… “It is just a matter of getting him into playing shape. He played a lot of plays the other night, and he did a good job. Even when he doesn’t make plays, he is a disrupter and I think he will get nothing but better from more playing.”

What stands out about Georgia’s defense… “Talent.”

On Jeremy Johnson’s lack of turnovers Saturday… “He did very well. He protected the football and did a super job. He hit check downs and he managed the game well. I am very proud of him for doing that.”