Gus Malzahn Previews Kent State

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    Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn press conference

    Tuesday, September 10, 2019, previewing the Kent State game

    Opening statement…
    “Our guys are excited to be back home for our second home game. We’re playing a very solid Kent State team. 6 PM kick. Personally, I wish it was at noon; we’d have more time to prepare for our next opponent. Updates — Seth Williams will be out this week. We do expect everybody else to play at this time. Seth, we’ll see where he’s at, like I said Sunday night, about his availability for the next week. I think it’s kind of a day-to-day deal as far as that goes. Our message for our team is: we need to keep improving and play good, clean football before we get into conference play next week. But our guys are excited and looking forward to playing a quality opponent and like I said, our message is to get better.”

    The plan for Anthony Schwartz…
    “Schwartz is going to practice more and more each week. This week, he will be on the field more than he was last week. As far as taking the cast off, that is a week to week deal. I do not know when that will be, but hopefully sooner than later. I cannot guarantee it will be the next week either, but he will be on the field more and more each game.”

    Is that an opportunity to get Matthew Hill more involved…
    “I think so. From what I’m seeing, he can do some things with the ball in his hands. I think he is getting more comfortable, so he can definitely have a bigger role each week.”

    Do you want to use more running backs…
    “It will be good to get them in there. Last week, D.J. Williams was a little banged up and wasn’t able to go. Hopefully, Harold Joiner could possibly get a growing role each week. Of course, Kam Martin and Shaun Shivers will get a few more carries this week as well.”

    Status of D.J. Williams…
    “We will know more after today’s practice. He is planning on practicing and we will see where he’s at. It would be nice to give him a chance to show what he can do out there.”

    Biggest difference in the running game Saturday from the first half to the second half…
    “We mixed up some schemes up front and that was probably the biggest difference in the first half, so that is probably number one.”

    Difficulty in forging an edge against a lower-ranked opponent with a conference game the following week…
    “I think it is more our team — they understand that we need to improve each week. It doesn’t matter who we are playing this week, they know we need to improve and really that’s our message. So if we are a mature team like I think we are, we will go out and play good football and improve and not look ahead. I have not heard one of our players say anything about our next opponent, have not heard one of our coaches say anything, so we are taking this thing game by game. Each week in all three phases, the goal is to improve, and I really do think we have a mature enough team to get that done.”

    Is it easier for freshman quarterbacks to have success with the systems they play in high school, with the coaching they get in high school, and being able to enroll in January…
    “It is really all of the above. Enrolling early is huge, there’s no doubt about that. Like you said, I think Bo (Nix) has done some very good things and he will keep improving each week. We have got to be better on first down; I think that’s what really stands out to me after two weeks is that we have to be better on first down. When we are better on first down it helps everybody out, including our quarterback, and it helps him grow and everything that goes with it. He has done some good things; he is really good at escaping pressure, I can tell you that. He can get out of the pocket and extend plays. Like I said last week, each game we are learning more about him and really learning more about our offense, too. That gives us the ability to improve each week.”

    On Marlon Davidson…
    “Marlon’s versatility is very good. He is one of our best all-around football players, there’s no doubt about that. You can always count on him. I’m real proud of him earning that honor (SEC defensive lineman of the week). It’s well deserved. He probably could’ve had a couple chances last year to do the same thing, but we are real proud of him and what he’s doing with his leadership.”

    What needs to improve on first down…
    “Just really getting in second down-and-6 or better just to get some positive plays where you can run or throw in those situations — really that’s been my main focus. We’ve got to do better on first down. That will be the goal this week and if we do that, it’s going to help us in a lot of different areas and it will help our young quarterback, too. So that’s going to be a focus.”

    If given the opportunity, would you like to play the entire backup offensive line…
    “Yeah, but I will say this, we’re playing this game and our goal is to play well. If that presents itself then yes, in all areas, not just offensive line, but our mindset right now is we’re playing a quality opponent and we’ve got to play good. If those things present themselves then there’s no doubt you would like to, but from a coach’s standpoint, we’re going to buckle up, roll up our sleeves and play a quality opponent.”

    Does an early kick time give you that much more preparation for next week as opposed to an evening kickoff…
    “That’s a good question. My answer: I wish we were playing at noon.”

    On the play of the offensive line…
    “If you really look, really the positives, both second halves (of the first two games), we played really good football and we finished really good. There were no pre-snap penalties — we improved there. We haven’t had a holding penalty. So there’s a lot of good things going on up front and I think you will see that grow as the season goes on.”

    Expected growing pains with a young quarterback…
    “You’ve got to be patient, first of all, and we knew that. The good thing is that these first three games really are good for us. We’re still learning about (Bo Nix); he’s still learning about us. So, it’s been a good time and this game will be the same way. But once we get into conference play, things need to be pretty set. You’ve just got to be a little patient. Like I’ve said before, what I like about him is when he’ll make a mistake, there’s a good chance that he’s not going to make the same mistake twice. So that’s really what’s caught my eye so far. And the moment hasn’t been too big — you look at the first game, and that’s about as big as it gets on a first weekend to have a true freshman start. And sometimes for quarterbacks, there’s more pressure playing at home than there is on the road, so that was his first home game and everything that goes with it. One thing I will tell you is he hasn’t looked bright-eyed or looked shook or anything like that at any time. So that’s the positive. I really don’t think the moment is going to be too big for him and I think he’s hard on himself and he will keep improving. He’s going to make mistakes—he’s a true freshman — so that’s just part of it, but we’re glad he’s our quarterback.”

    The Kent State quarterback competition…
    “Well, you’ve got to prepare for both. Woody Barrett is personally one of my favorites. He’s a fine young man, he was a joy to coach and to recruit. We root for him all but this one. He’s a quality person and a quality player.”

    Differences between the Kent State quarterbacks…
    “Well, they are a little different. I think we will have a plan for each; we are prepared for both to play. That’s the way you’ve got to go about it.”

    Did you talk to JaTarvious Whitlow after he fumbled three times Saturday…
    “Yeah, it’s kind of common sense — to play, you’ve got to hold on to the football. I wasn’t happy. I think we had four or five balls on the ground and really that is unacceptable. That was really where it started in our meeting Sunday. We are not going to be irresponsible with the football at any position. A whole lot of ball security, attention drills, focus and we expect to be better.”

    Overall offensive progress…
    “There is a little bit of it — with the young quarterback and a couple new things — there’s a little bit of learning your offense and learning your personnel and everything that goes with it. You find that out in games, scrimmages and all that you can run. There is nothing like games, so it’s good for me right now and after this game we will have a really good idea of where we’re at and what we need to do as far as getting into conference play. That was kind of really our goal all along. We are capable of being a good offense, there is no doubt in my mind. It just takes little things to start clicking and from my experiences, when those little things start clicking, you’ve got a chance to be really good.”

    On Joey Gatewood…
    “Well, first of all, I was glad he got a chance to play and there is nothing like getting out there and playing. You can see he is an explosive guy. I think that is the number one thing and we will have a role for him each game. We will see how much that is each game specific with that, but he presents a different element, there’s no doubt about that.”

    Are you spending time this week on punt return coverage…
    “We are, and like I said, a lot of it has to do with we’ve got to kick that thing higher. The height has to match up with the distance and we are focusing real hard on that. We will continue to focus on our coverage unit, too.”

    What’s your goal for hangtime on the ball…
    “To match up — the yards with the distance. My goal is a fair catch; that’s the best coverage.”

    Evaluation of the running game…
    “The evaluation is that the first half we’ve struggled a little bit. The second half, we’ve played really good football. Some of that is on me, too. We have to do a better job of everything goes in the first half with the running game. I think we’re capable of being a good running team — there’s no doubt in my mind — and we will get better. It could be using a different scheme, play, personnel, using a tight end or H-back, or spreading them out. Each game is different as far as that goes. The unique thing with the first two games is that they were completely different, and they did stuff that was a little different than what they’ve shown. Early in the season, you go back and you look at games from last year and you try to predict what they will do. First two games, there were some differences. That’s to be expected with a new quarterback to throw some different things out there. As the season goes on, it will get a little easier to predict what you are going to get.”

    Importance of running 82 plays last Saturday…
    “I think it’s really good. A lot of that has to do with our defense holding (Tulane) 2-of-15 on third down. It probably had more to do with the defense. When we get into the 80-play range, good things happen. I think we will be able to do that more and more as the season goes on.”

    Performance of the defense…
    “I think we’ve played really good in the first two games. If you take away the first drive against Oregon, I think we have a chance to be the best defense since I’ve been here. I think that still holds true. Now we have to keep improving and our main guys have to stay healthy. I like where we are at right now. Our guys are playing with an edge. We have veteran guys who can adjust. Teams might do something early that they might not have seen but they can adjust. The communication is big, too. I like where we are at from a coverage standpoint, too.”

    On having five seniors on the offensive line…
    “There’s no doubt the veterans on the offensive line can help us.”

    @AuburnEinstein

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