Gus Malzahn Previews the LSU Game, Talks Inuries/Returns

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Tuesday, September 14, 2015, previewing the LSU game

Opening statement… “We are opening up our conference season on the road against a tough opponent. They played well last week on the road at Mississippi State in a hard-fought game. They found a way to win in a tough place to play. Defensively, they have a lot of team speed. They fly around, and they are very physical. Offensively, they run the football. They’ve got some receivers that can make one-on-one plays in space, and they can flat out run.

“On another note, Josh Holsey re-tore his ACL on Saturday and is out for the year. It is a tough blow. He is an outstanding young man. This is the second time he has gone through this. We are definitely feeling for him. Everyone else is day-to-day at this point.

“I would also like to congratulate Jonathan Wallace on winning a spot on the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. He is one of our leaders and has been for a long time. It is always good to see good things happen to good people.”

On the amount of injuries… “The first two weeks we have definitely been banged up. We have had some injuries, but you have to find a way to overcome it. I was just talking to our team about the next man up. You have to be prepared when the team calls upon you. We are counting on some young guys. The positive with that is you have a chance to grow and get better. We just need some young guys to step up and grow up pretty quick.”

How is Holsey handling his injury… “We are going to talk through all that. He is getting it fixed. It is tough on him. He is one of our team leaders, too. I know a lot of his teammates are hurting for him. He is still going to be a part of what we are doing. He is still a leader. He is an outstanding young man and represents us the right way. He was looking for a big year.”

On the mindset of the team… “They came out Sunday and had a very good practice. You turn on the film for LSU and that gets your attention early. Our guys are in a good spot. We had a good practice Sunday and we need to have good ones today and tomorrow. That will be the majority of our work and we will clean up some things on Thursday.”

How is team’s confidence… “From a player standpoint, you know when you don’t play your best. The bottom line is that we are 2-0. They know we can play a whole lot better and our coaches do too. We expect to play better. That is behind us and we are looking forward to going to LSU. That is the way you look at it when you are in the moment. You look forward and you do everything you can to improve.”

His communication with Jeremy Johnson… “I think the big thing from my standpoint is I have to do a better job of putting him in good situations. It all works together. He’s an extremely talented quarterback. He’s going to play well. He’s had a couple of growing pains, but that’s part of it. The good thing is, we’re 2-0 going through some growing pains. We’ve got a good plan for him moving forward and he’ll play better.”

Did completions late in the game build Johnson’s confidence… “There’s no doubt, especially late in the game. There was a short play, late in the game, to Ricardo Louis where the corner was setting on it and he threw it away. Those are really good plays. Down the stretch, he made some outstanding decisions and throws. He did a good job finishing that game.”

On the identity of the offense… “We’re still learning about our guys. We’re a run, play-action team so we need to run the football. I think the big thing from our standpoint is the explosive plays. When we’re playing good football, we have explosive plays. We’ve had very few explosive plays the first two games. From a coach’s standpoint, that’s something we’re focusing on. We’re a run, play-action team. It’s about execution. We will improve. There’s no doubt about that. You’ve got to understand, on the reads, sometimes they make the quarterback keep it and sometimes they don’t. That’s just part of it. From a coaching standpoint, you’ve got to know what to do. I think we’ve got seven or eight new starters on offense. A lot of those new guys are playing new positions. We gathered good information the first two games. We expect this offense to be a good offense. We expect to improve and that’s what will happen.”

Will the same personnel will be used to replace Avery Young if he’s still out… “It’s possible. Robert Leff is a guy that’s right there. He’s done some good things too. We just really need to see how this week goes and see how our guys are doing. We feel like we do have some good options. I think communication any time you move people and have got guys who are playing a role for the first time, there’s always a little bit you have to grow and get used to. Our assignments for the most part were solid; we just need to finish some things.”

Status of Jovon Robinson… “He hurt his ankle in that first game and he practiced a little bit on Thursday, but he just wasn’t ready to go. He’s day-to-day; hopefully he’ll be ready this week. It’s just a matter of seeing how the game unfolds. Peyton (Barber) has really stepped up. He’ll be the first guy out there, but those other three running backs – there’s a decent chance you’ll see them on the field too.”

Why is playing at LSU tough… “It’s a tough place to play. They play extremely well at home; traditionally, that has been the case. It’s been a while since we’ve been there and won. We’ve got to have a great week of practice, and we need to play well. We need to protect the football. We haven’t been doing a very good job of protecting the football, and I think that goes back to when you asked the identity question. When you turn the football over, that really makes things a little bit gray. We’ve got to do a better job of doing that. Defensively, we’ve just got to get off the field on third down. That’s really our focus as far as that goes. We are playing a quality opponent. We are going to have to go there and play well to win, but our guys understand that.”

Is there an advantage to running plays with Marcus Davis in the backfield… “Any time you can move around your personnel, mixing them up, especially early in the season, it gives people some things to look at that you could possibly use later in the season.”

Are captains rotating or are Carl Lawson and Jonathan Wallace the captains?… “Those are our two captains.”

Why hasn’t Auburn used the wildcat formation yet… “We do have the wildcat, but we have a bunch of new guys who have been working it and handling the ball, so you worry a little bit about that issue. But we will use it before the year is out.”

Would an earlier bye week help on offense… “I don’t think so. I think our coaches have a real good understanding after two games of what we have and what we need to improve on. So we’ll take our schedule like it is; we’ve just got to play well this week.”

Getting the ball to Jason Smith… “He’s one of those guys that we do need to figure out a way to get more involved. There’s no doubt about that, because he is explosive, and he can do some things. That’s kind of part of the process about the first two games. You have some good information and have a good plan moving forward.”

Assessing the play of Duke Williams the first two games… “He’s done some decent things. We moved his position from where we had him earlier in fall camp. But, still, he’s another guy who needs to get the ball, and we need to catch it when we throw it to him too. It works both ways.”

Will Carl Lawson travel… ”Like I said, everybody is day-to-day, so at this point, I’m not ready to say anything regarding any of them.”

Concern with pass rush if Lawson is out… “The big thing for us is we’ve got to get better on third down, and that’s been our focus.”

Play of Kerryon Johnson… “He’s finally back to being healthy. There was about a two-and-a-half week window that he wasn’t able to practice and get the rust off and being able to practice full speed and get the timing down. He’s a guy that you’ll see more in the future.”

Comparison between after the LSU game in 2013 and this year… “We learned a whole lot about our team the first two games. We learned a lot about our new personnel. We have two games worth of information. We have a plan moving forward. We went (to LSU) in 2013, and after that game that defined really who we were. There are some similarities with 2013. The difference is we know more about the older guys that have been in our system offensively for four years. But the young guys — there are some similarities. Defensively, there is pretty much a new defensive staff, putting in a new defense. They are learning about their guys, too, and the pieces of the puzzle that go along with that.”

On minimizing distractions of outside chatter… “From a coach and a player’s standpoint, you don’t play well, and you know you don’t play well, but you win — you think about it from watching the film and you have to move on. That is what we are doing. Obviously, the distractions are different than in 2013, but this is a close group and they handled adversity well on the sideline with the players and the coaches. I thought that was the positive to take away.”

Moving Duke Williams into a slot position… “Well, that is a position that he played last season, and then in the spring we moved him. But he needs to know both. Those three seniors at receiver we move around.”

Balancing the emotions of the players going into a big game… “That is part of coaching. You have to know the pulse of your team. You can’t be too high and you can’t be too low. We are playing a very good team and our players understand that. It is a conference opponent. It is the SEC opener, and our guys have had a good week of practice. We will be ready to play. I am pretty confident in that.”

On defensive performance… “The big focus for us is third downs. If we could get off the field a little bit better, the third downs early in the game Saturday and late in the game last Saturday would feel a lot better. Like I said, we are still learning as personnel and they are still learning the defense. You look out there and you count four and five true freshman out there at one time. It is all of the above.”

On LSU quarterback Brandon Harris… “You can just watch him from the game last Saturday and tell that he is more confident. He was in a very tough spot last year at this time when he came in and had his first start. He is a very good athlete, and he has a very good arm. He is a good quarterback and you can tell he is more comfortable.”

On Blake Countess’s targeting call… “It was a tough one.”