Gus Malzahn Previews Jacksonville State

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Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn press conference

Tuesday, September 8, 2015, previewing the Jacksonville State game

“We are excited to be playing our first home game this weekend. We are playing a very good team in Jacksonville State. They are very talented, more talented than some Division I teams. They have some transfers that can flat-out play. They have a coaching staff that I am very impressed with. Their co-defensive coordinator, Brandon Hall, was actually the safeties coach for me at Arkansas State; he was also an off-the-field guy here in 2013. Their head coach, Coach (John) Gross, is a very good coach. He actually coached Roc Thomas at Oxford High. This is a quality opponent. Our focus is to get better. Our guys can turn on the film and see that we are going to have our hands full.”

Did Tyler Queen have surgery…“Yes, he did. It was something that was bothering him during fall camp — his elbow. We felt that he needed to get that procedure done and get him back for spring. Jonathan Wallace will be the guy that steps up and plays a little more quarterback. It is similar (to Tommy John) surgery.”

On Jeremy Johnson throwing interceptions…“We have talked about it. Early on, Jeremy made some decisions that he would like to have back, but he will correct them. We really feel strong that Jeremy will do the same thing. I know he is ready to get back on that practice field, get better, and get ready for this Saturday.

“He was definitely trying to make some plays down the field early, which is to be expected. There are a lot of quarterbacks that do that. Just let it come within the offense and he’ll do that. We have just as much, or more, confidence in Jeremy Johnson as we did before the game. The great thing about Jeremy is that he will learn from his mistakes and he will get better.”

Jeremy Johnson’s mindset after the game…“The thing about Jeremy is he is a great competitor, and he is extremely tough on himself. I think the special quarterbacks that I have been fortunate enough to be around have been the same way. He is ready to get back on the practice field and back out there on Saturday and improve. That is the mindset that you have to have, not just with the quarterback, but with all positions.”

Any injured players…“We are expecting everyone to play. This is a quality opponent and we need to get better. There is no talk about our next opponent, LSU. We are worried about Jacksonville State, and we are expecting everyone to play. We need to get ready.”

On Josh Holsey…“He was a little banged up (last week). But he will be back out there today ready to go, and I believe you will see him back out there on Saturday.”

Auburn’s defensive front…“I thought they did a good job; they disrupted things. Even in the second half they disrupted things. We just lost containment on that young quarterback; he was just electric. Coach Muschamp really wants to develop that depth early. He really believes in playing those younger guys. It will do nothing but help us in the future as the season goes on because you need depth up front.”

Are mobile quarterbacks a concern…“That mobile quarterback was. He was electric. You go into that game and there is a possibility of three different quarterbacks playing. They had a few new wrinkles for him; he played and we lost containment a few times. When you play mobile quarterbacks you just have to contain them and keep them in the pocket and make them beat you with their arm. I give them credit. He did a good job and made some plays with his feet late in the game.”

The difference when Carl Lawson is on the field…“He is an impact player. When he doesn’t make the play, he will set up other people to make the play. When the elite players aren’t on the field, there is a difference, but other players need to step up. There is no doubt in our minds that that will happen, and it did at times on Saturday.”

What did he learn about his team…“We learned a lot. I’ve talked about all three phases. We learned a lot about our team, learned about some individuals, and we learned a whole lot about the young guys. With the young guys, you never know how they are going to react until you get out there in the game. We feel good about our team moving forward and I think everyone saw the freshmen and the new faces actually play for the first time wearing an Auburn uniform.  It is encouraging from the standpoint that we did some good things, and the things we need to improve on, we feel like they can all be corrected.”

What areas beside QB play would he like to improve…“Up front, when you’ve got those new faces just the communication and getting used to working together.  There is nothing better than experience with new centers, new guards, your rotating guards and your tackle and guard communication. That will get better throughout the year. And just the little things probably in all positions. Just improving.”

On the holding calls vs. Louisville…“When you look at it, there were some communication issues that really caused our problem.  We over slid a couple of times right there where they were counting on the guy inside of them. All of those things are correctable, and that’s kind of what I was saying about the communication. There is nothing better than getting a guy beside you and you know how he is going to react on certain things and that experience. That will definitely help us.  I think three of the holding penalties were very similar to that type of miscommunication.”

On play of Jason Smith…“He is electric. When he has that ball in his hands, he can really do something. I think he made an unbelievable route. At the top of the route, he leaned it and kept running through the football. He is a guy who is getting more and more comfortable in the offense. So definitely, we will see more of Jason Smith each game.”

Will Smith play more quarterback…“We may have a package for him. He’s comfortable there, but it is kind of that balance.  We would like his role to be bigger in the receiver position. It is kind of that balance that you just have to figure out what is best to do. As the season goes on, he gives us a lot of flexibility.”

Will Jonathan Wallace play more quarterback or receiver…“Now that we’re making this call, it is going to be a little more quarterback than receiver, but he is still going to help us at receiver.”

On the left guard rotation…“Leading up to the game, they (Kozan and Danzey) were both a little banged up from fall camp, having little issues. We let them both share the reps.  Both of them deserve to play like we have talked about. Then you get to see them in a game and that usually helps, but both of them did a solid job.  We will continue to do that a little longer.”

Has Peyton Barber’s confidence skyrocketed…“I think it’s got to. There’s nothing like going out there and doing it, and when doing it, you do it good. That gives you confidence.  He’s not a very experienced player, so my experience is that those guys will raise their level. I think we will see that in practice today.”

On his text message from Barber…“On Thursday, I think he made one alignment problem in practice, and it was on his mind.  He’s tough on himself.  Like I said with Jeremy, the guys who are tough on themselves, they have got a chance to be really good.  It was just one of those things that he said ‘Hey, I won’t make the same mistake, and I will be ready Saturday.’ Then there’s no doubt that if you say you’re ready, then you definitely are.”

Will Barber start Saturday…“We will see. We are not ready to say that right now, but he is in a very good spot.”

On Montravius Adams…“I think Montravius had his best overall game since he has been here. He played quite a few snaps. He played extremely hard. He was very, very disruptive. He was the one who caused the fumble that got picked up for six points.  He put a lot of pressure in the quarterback space, on the passing downs and of course in the run game he was very good.  He took that next step. Coach Muschamp was really challenging him and Coach Garner challenged him to just take that next step about being an elite player and playing with unbelievable effort and intensity. He took that to heart.”

On D’haquille Williams’ positioning against Louisville…“He will have a chance to play both (inside and outside). He knows both. The great thing about the seniors that we have is we can move them around and they are able to execute our offense.”

How many running backs are expected to play Saturday…“Possibly four. We will want to get Kerryon (Johnson) involved. He was a little bit banged up last week so he wasn’t completely 100 percent, but we expect him to be this week.”

On the depth of running backs in the SEC…“I’m thinking about Jacksonville State right now. There’s probably a lot of depth at running back in the SEC. As for us, you can’t have enough depth at running back for what we do. We like to play three or even four running backs. It was very good for us to have multiple backs because we had two guys banged up last Saturday. You just can’t have enough depth at running back.”

On special teams play against Louisville…“I was encouraged by our special teams play. We had a lot of true freshmen running around out there. You saw their talent level. I feel like, from a talent standpoint, we are in better shape than we were last year. We did make some mistakes in execution, but I really feel we have a chance to be good on special teams.”

On Marcus Davis’ play…“He caught one ball in traffic. I thought he made a good decision to get away from one punt. His communication was very good. I thought he did a very good job.”

Preparing players for the first game with the new videoboard…“We went over there three times. We just had it on a still-shot the first time. The second time, we had it as if it was a live game. The third time, we had the sound on. We just have to get used to it. It’s a factor the first time you play with it.”

Will the team practice at Jordan-Hare Stadium this week…“I don’t know. We haven’t gotten that far. If we do, it will be Thursday, but we have already been there three times.”

On playing in-state FCS programs…“I think it’s always good to play in-state opponents. The thing about this group, they were 10-2 last year. They lost to Michigan State and in the quarterfinals (of the FCS playoffs). This isn’t your average FCS opponent. This is one of the best FCS teams in college football. The have some transfers from the FBS including two guys that have been here in Devaunte Sigler and Chris Landrum. They are both fine young men and very good players. We are not going to take them lightly. They deserve that respect. I wouldn’t be surprised if this group ends up winning the FCS Championship.”

On Jacksonville State head coach John Gross…“John Gross is an excellent coach. His track record speaks for itself. He has that program at the top of their division. He has talent. He has recruited extremely well. He has a very good offensive and defensive staff. He has it all going on.”

Did Peyton Barber get stronger as the game went on vs. Louisville…“There’s nothing like knowing how they are going to react. I was encouraged that he never looked at the sideline wanting to come out. He wanted to play. I think that’s important, especially with what we do. He carried it 20-plus times and those were hard yards. That was encouraging.”