Gus Malzahn Previews LSU

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    The WarBlogler
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    Opening statement…
    “The SEC home opener — obviously a big week — another highly ranked opponent that knocked off a previously Top 10 opponent and played very well. Looking at them defensively, it looks like the same type of defense LSU’s traditionally had, a Top 10 defense in scoring right now. Offensively, they’re very balanced — one of the more balanced teams in our conference right now. So it’s obviously a big game. Any time LSU and Auburn get together, it’s going to be big, and then, of course, it’s obviously the home opener in the SEC West.

    “A couple of updates: Aidan Marshall has left our team, decided to do something different. Arryn Siposs will be our starting punter now. We feel very good about Arryn — feel like he’s done a good job. Ian Shannon will come back and will be our back-up punter moving forward with the rest of the season.

    “A couple of updates on some guys that got banged up: Driscoll, Horton, Darrell Williams and Slayton all will practice today. We’ll see how that goes and see how things progress throughout the week. Will Hastings and Eli Stove — we do expect them both to play more than they played last week and get another good week of practice under their belt full speed and go from there. Overall, I know our guys are excited to be at home and the SEC opener and playing a very good LSU opponent.”

    The LSU game is always very physical…
    “There is no doubt. This goes way back in history that whenever LSU and Auburn get together, it’s going to be a physical game. They know that, we know that; it’s always a good one, so the intensity will be very high.”

    What stands out to you about the pass rush and the defensive rush of LSU…
    “I think they are tied for the lead in the league right now rushing the passer, and they got after both opponents really good. It’s not just one guy — they do it by a group. They will bring some linebacker pressure and bring a little bit more pressure in the first couple games than they have in the past. They have good cover guys on the back end of the line that can do that.”

    How different is LSU without LB K’lavon Chaisson…
    “He’s a good player, but they have a lot of depth. You can tell they have a lot of guys that can run. Traditionally that’s been their MO, and it looks the same to me, but obviously he was a very good player.”

    What was it about Kevin Steele that made you hire him from LSU…
    “First of all, Coach Steele is a professional from the word go, and that was what I was looking for in someone. He has great knowledge of our league, understands our league, and is a great teacher. I was looking for someone that is a fit with me. His philosophy matched up with mine; that’s why he’s been a very good fit. He’s a relationship guy, and he’s really good with relationships and our players have really responded. He’s got our defense in a really good spot right now. Philosophy-wise, he is a detailed guy, he’s an organized guy, and he lets our players play. He’s very good with scheme and knows the strengths of our guys and turns them loose.”

    Do you talk about last year’s game as a motivating factor…
    “Yes, and I really don’t have to say a whole lot. That was an extremely tough loss, and the toughest loss of the year last year — probably one of the toughest since I’ve been here. The majority of our players are back and went through it and understand it. There’s not going to be a lot of motivation and Rah! Rah! stuff as far as last year. This is a new year and we are playing at home; our guys are extremely motivated right now. Looking back, that was kind of the turning point of our whole season last year going through that extremely low time.”

    Were there any lessons learned from last year’s game…
    “Any time you have a tough loss, especially when we are up 20-0 and we lost, there were a lot of lessons that can be learned in all phases. How we lost, most teams would have folded their tent, but our team didn’t. They rolled their sleeves up and they finished the year, and they took it one game at a time. At the same time, after that game, it was uphill. It was uphill for the rest of the year, but our team learned a lot; all of us did.”

    You played a lot of young guys last Saturday…
    “We saw some good things. We saw a lot of freshman mistakes that you expect. In a game like that, it was good to get the guys out there. In my experience, the guys that can help you will get better and they won’t make the same mistakes. It was good that we gave them a chance to get out there against an opponent. We learned quite a bit about the ones that are going to help moving forward, and even the ones that need more time, too. Just to confirm, we have got some talented freshmen guys in this class, and I think you can see that. We just have to hold on to the football; that’s probably the number one thing that stood out to me with the young guys.”

    How close is Cord Sandberg to being able to compete for the backup QB job…
    “He’s getting better every day. He’s got that professional approach. He’s the type to where when he makes a mistake, he usually doesn’t make the same mistake twice, but playing QB for us, half the battle is the pre-snap — getting the communication right, getting everybody lined up, and then looking at your defense and going through your progressions after the ball is snapped. He’s getting more and more comfortable. I know that Chip [Lindsey] has been very impressed with him so far. I think it is one of those deals where week by week, you’ll see him getting more and more comfortable. Also, Malik Willis has got a lot of experience as far as being with our 1s and being with our 2s; our expectations are extremely high for him if he gets in there.”

    How nice would it be to get a win and not have to fight an uphill battle in the SEC like last year…
    “Well, you look at our schedule. It’s a man’s schedule. It’s a week-to-week deal. But obviously last year, it was uphill after this game. There’s no doubt. It’d be great to get a win, but it’s every week when you look at our schedule. There’s not too many schedules in the country like ours.”

    On Shaun Shivers…
    “When we recruited him, I knew he was a very good player. We’ve had success with true freshman running backs in the past. When you give him the ball, he can do his thing. He runs a lot bigger than he is. He’s fast, has confidence, which is very, very important for true freshmen. So you’ll see him, if he continues to hold the football, I think you’ll see his role grow.”

    On Malik Willis on the safety vs. ASU…
    “He made a mistake. He made a mistake. He’s been really good at the zone read-type stuff. I think he probably just got a little greedy there; he got excited and obviously it was a negative play. I don’t think he’ll do that again.”

    Has Whitlow surprised you…
    “You know, I think so. If I go back to last year in fall camp, he got hurt the last scrimmage, but before that, he was running the ball very good, so it kind of caught our eye and we were even thinking he could help us on special teams last year before he got hurt. Then this spring — he’s grown up a little bit, got a little more confidence. And he runs the ball north/south very good. It’s just all the little things without the ball, they just keep improving. And obviously holding on to the football.”

    Play of Austin Troxell and Nick Brahms…
    “I thought that both of them did a good job when they were in there. And both of them are guys that can help us. As far as pushing for playing time, I think both of them are doing that. That will give us some depth moving forward, too, so I was pleased when they got in there.”

    Is Whitlow carving out a bigger role…
    “He could, and like I told you, that was by design that those freshman running backs (got the carries) — Kam didn’t get as much — and that was by design. We are learning about them. He’s a bigger back and I think his role — as long as he holds on to the football, his role will continue to grow.”

    Was he nervous giving Whitlow the call on the TD play vs. Washington…
    “No, I really wasn’t at that time. I think as a coach, our plan was to play Kam and Boobee that first game, and once you make that decision, that’s who you’re going with. So it really wasn’t. And of course it was blocked extremely well, too, so he just had to finish the safety on that one.”

    The offensive line playing well together…
    “Before we had the couple of banged-up injuries, I saw some really good stuff. I think you’ll see, as long as we stay healthy, you’ll see that group continue to grow, continue to get better, communicating with all the things that go with it. It’s just going to be a matter of can we stay healthy. And then you throw in the guys that we just talked about. Brahms, I think he’s getting healthier, he’s starting to come on. Troxell is starting to come on. Calvin Ashley is improving. We are just trying to build that depth. In a perfect world, we keep everybody healthy, and it gets fun when you can do that.”

    Importance of Dontavius Russell…
    “He’s been around a long time. He’s been through the ups and downs and this will be his last rodeo. He is one of our leaders and he seizes the moment. That’s what we want out of all of our leaders. He knows exactly what it takes and he’s leading our team like I wanted him to lead and our coaches wanted him to lead. Not only is he an excellent player, he’s one of those guys that gets overlooked. If you really watch him play in and out, he’s really a technician, a disruptor and he’s a dominant player. You add to his leadership and he has the ability to be a multiplier and affect others. That tells you a lot about him.”

    On defending LSU QB Joe Burrow…
    “That’s part of the game that goes on just about every week. Even though (Burrow) just got there, he’s a veteran guy and it looks to me that they are putting some things in his hands. It’s kind of a game within a game that offense and defense usually go through quite a bit each Saturday.

    On LSU linebacker Devin White…
    “First of all, I’m very impressed with him. He’s a dominant player. You can tell they give him freedom, too. A lot of times, it looks like outside their system, he just makes plays. He’s a guy that you have to know where he’s at. He’s very good against the run, he’s very good at blitzing, delayed blitzing — he’s a dominant player. He’s one of the best defensive players in our league.”

    On LSU cornerback Greedy Williams…
    “They have had excellent corners in the past. I think he fits in line; he’s a good cover guy who can run. I think from a defensive back standpoint, the special ones have that ability to be very confident and take chances. They can recover when they do take chances. To me, it looks like he is in that same mold. He’s an outstanding player.”

    Does a player like that limit your play calls…
    “Each week, you have got to look at their dominant players. You’ve got to look at the ones that are impact players. You have to put together a plan as far as that goes and every week is a little different. Some weeks you do some different things. He is in that mold and we will know where he’s at. That’s probably the best way I can answer that.”

    Do you need more explosive plays…
    Yeah, there’s no doubt. That first game was pretty unique from the standpoint that they dropped everybody back deep. There weren’t a lot of big-play opportunities. Last week, we had a couple of big plays that were good. When we are at our best, we have those big plays, especially when you are playing a quality opponent. Getting those big plays to generate points, we’d definitely like to have more.”

    On Anthony Schwartz…
    “He has impressed us. He really wasn’t here for the majority of the summer as he was running track, so his first time getting to know the offense was in fall camp. The way he has progressed, he’s a very smart football player and he’s good with the ball in his hands. He made a couple of cuts and made some guys miss. He’s going to give us flexibility to do a lot of different things this year. The (Alabama State) game gave us a chance to play our freshmen, not just Schwartz and to see what they could do. Some were very impressive, and some need a little more work.”

    On LSU’s Nick Brossette…
    “They always have a really good running back and he looks like he fits that same mold from the guys in the past. They are going to run the football and try to be physical and he’s going to be part of that.”

    Did the new redshirt rule allow more young guys to play last Saturday…
    “It’s big-time. We can get information that we need to see if they can help us. A lot of times with freshmen, it’s not just can they help us on offense or defense, but special teams. So, it gave us some really good information as far as that goes. You never want to waste a year of eligibility on someone just for a few plays. It gives us some time to strategically decide if a guy is going to continue to play or redshirt him. I think a game like that was very valuable.”

    On playing at home compared to the road in the SEC…
    “Well, I think most teams are probably going to play better at home than they are on the road, but we have a very big advantage with our crowd, and our stadium, and an atmosphere. And our guys play well at home. When you continue to do that — I think we’ve got 13 in a row — we need to keep building upon that.”

    Any concerns about Jarrett Stidham’s ball security…
    “I’ve got a lot of confidence in Jarrett. You know the one play he was trying to make a play. It was close to being an incomplete pass. But he’s well aware of that. He has greatly improved in that area, and we have confidence in him.”

    Any concerns about the red zone…
    “Really, I think it’s more of the first game. It’s probably the biggest thing. Last week I know one time we ran the same play four times in a row at the very end. It was more of the first game and it’s kind of what they do. But we’ve got confidence; you know we’ve always been really good in the red zone. We usually try to run it in, too, but this year we’ve got the flexibility to mix it up and I know that Chip (Lindsey) will have a really good red zone plan the rest of the year.”

    Have freshman defensive backs Jamien Sherwood and Smoke Monday performed to his expectations…
    “I think so. I think both of them are not playing like freshmen.”

    Any plans if Hurricane Florence impacts practice…
    “Not yet. As it gets closer, if we need to have a plan we will. But no, I haven’t gotten to that yet.”

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

    Auburn grad (B.S. in C.S., 2004), loving husband, and semi-new dad that believes Auburn should and could go undefeated in every sport, every year.

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