Gus Malzahn Previews Mississippi State (Quotes/Video)

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Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn
Previewing the Mississippi State game

Opening Statement… “Our first SEC home game, I know our players are excited about that. We are playing a very good Mississippi State team, one that, in the past, we’ve had a lot of really close games, a lot of very good games. When you look at them defensively, I think they are good up front, I think they are good at linebacker and I think they are very sound on the back end. Todd Grantham is their defensive coordinator. We’ve got a lot of respect for him. We went against him numerous times at Georgia, when he was at Louisville, and he always has his guys prepared. They play extremely hard and they are sound. Offensively, it starts with their quarterback. We are very impressed with him. He is a true dual-threat guy. He is like a running back in the backfield, which presents a lot of problems with the plus-one run game for defenses. He’s gotten where he throws the ball extremely accurately when he has time, so that is going to be a big challenge for our defense. Special teams — a very aggressive type of special teams — they are not scared to fake any kind whether it’s a punt, whether it’s field goals or anything like that, so we’ve got to be prepared in all those phases. It’s going to be a good one. They are playing at a high level and we expect it to be a good game.”

On keeping the offensive momentum going from the Missouri game… “Really for the first time all year the offense got into a rhythm, and was balanced and able to run the football. I think the big difference was they hit some shots down the field and had some perimeter runs to go with it. The quarterback was very efficient in the pass game, and probably the big thing is protecting the football. We have some things to build upon on that side of the football. The key is going to be continuing to be successful running the football. If the offense can do that, they are going to have a good opportunity to improve each week.”

On Jarrett Stidham’s progression… “I think he has gotten better in all phases – his decision making, his comfort with the offense and everything that goes with it. I think he is getting to a point where he can react and not have to think about everything that goes with it. I thought he played at a very high level last week. I was very impressed with, when things broke down, his decision-making. I think he scrambled for two third-down conversions. He scrambled for a big one down in the red zone, protected the football and he showed a lot of toughness. He got hit a couple of times and showed a lot of toughness. I think he will have an opportunity to keep improving.”

On Malik Willis’s performance… “The first thing you can see is he can make some things happen with his feet. I thought he did a very good job on our zone read where he threw the touchdown pass that got called back. I was very impressed with that. He needs more experience. I think it was good for him to get out there and get a complete quarter of work in because, like I have said before, he has done a really good job in scrimmage-type situations up to this point. So it was really good for him to get out there especially with him being our No. 2 guy now. It was good for him and it was good for Chip Lindsey to be able to get him out there and get used to him a little bit to see how he is going to react in certain situations. Overall, we were pleased with the way he performed.”

On Kam Martin’s performance… “Kam Martin has gotten it done when he has gone out there. He had the big explosive run where he cut it back across midfield. He had a really good jump cut in a pace situation in the play after that. He is a guy that performs at a high level when he is in there. He gives us a little bit different of a dimension when he is in there with his quickness and his explosiveness. He runs bigger than he is. He broke a couple tackles there that we were impressed with, too.”

Will Kam Martin’s performance earn him more carries… “It is a possibility — there is no doubt. Like I said before, him not getting the carries as much wasn’t a sign of the coaches not having confidence in him, but he will definitely be a part moving forward, and he should be. He got a little bit banged up, but I think he will be fine for this week.”

Status of Kamryn Pettway… “He practiced Sunday. So I would say right now there is a high likelihood of him playing. I need to see him today in practice, but he did practice Sunday.”

On having Pettway and Kerryon Johnson both healthy… “I think it would be a positive if both of them were healthy at the same time. We have not been able to play them both at the same time. Hopefully this will be the first game where that can happen.”

How much does he take from MSU’s game against Georgia… “If you turn the LSU film on, then it is big-time impressive on both sides of the football. I think everyone in this room knows LSU’s talent level and what they are capable of. They were on the road. You have to give Georgia credit; they played at an extremely high level. They hit some plays early on offensively. They got after them pretty good. Each game is different. I think everyone sees that in this league. From a coach’s standpoint you have to expect that you’re going to get their best. We expect that we are going to get their best. It would be great to get off to a good start. Just looking at them, I think that they’re one of the better teams in our league. I think that is fair to say even though they had a tough one last week.”

On keeping momentum in conference play… “From our standpoint, it has to carry over. Our defense has played at an extremely high level and established themselves as one of the better defenses. Our offense for the first time actually played well in the run game and pass game. We have to keep building upon the things that we can be good at. My message to our team is that if you look at our league there will be teams that will be up high one week or two weeks, then have a setback. The teams that can win championships in this league are the ones that figure out a way to get a little bit better each week. Now, that is a hard challenge in this league. That is the challenge that I’ve put on our coaches and players — to find a way to improve each week even if it is just a little bit. If we can do that, then we have a chance.”

Playing so many players against Missouri… “It makes all the difference in the world from an experience standpoint to get them out there in the game, especially in our league with guys who don’t get a chance to play as much. We get a chance to see what they can do. It helps with team morale. We already talked about Malik Willis. It was huge to get him out there running the offense for a good quarter. I think that was huge. On the defensive side of the ball, we had seven true freshmen out there playing. The No. 2 offensive line really got a lot of work, which was good.”

On the threat Nick Fitzgerald can be to a defense… “He puts a lot of pressure because it’s a plus-one. You can have an extra blocker in the run game when the QB is running it. The fact that he is really fast, he can really go and you worry about the plays that hit between the tackles, and they hit quick. The last two years, he has had some huge runs in between the tackles. The RPOs that go with it obviously concern you, and the run game, too. I think they are one of the best rushing teams in college football right now, and he has a whole lot to do with that, but also the offensive line is good. You watch how physical they were against LSU; it was very impressive.”

Improvement of Prince Tega Wanogho… “I think Prince Tega is continuously getting better each week. You are talking about a guy which this is his first rodeo. From a line standpoint, there are a lot of moving parts. I think he is getting more and more comfortable each week. The big thing that stands out about Prince is that this is so important to him. He is probably harder on himself than a coach would be. He takes the things personal. He has got pride and my experience with guys like that, they have a chance to be really good before all is said and done.”

On Jeremiah Dinson… “Jeremiah really stood out to me the other night. He is like a coach on the field. He has got great instincts. (Missouri) does a lot of perimeter things and he was there all the time. He tackled the guy on the line of scrimmage on one play. He did a super job. He is like a coach on the field – extremely intelligent. He is a good tackler, plus the fact he is coming off of an injury. When you go through a year and a half without playing, and you have to watch, it does something to the guys that are really motivated. His urgency – he is seizing the moment and he is hungry.”

Is it frustrating not having Pettway and Johnson healthy at the same time… “As a coach, I think it starts with feeling blessed of having two guys that talented. What really got us towards the end of last year was both of them got banged up, so you would like to see what they can do when they are both healthy. I hope that is close. I am hoping it happens this week. Both of them are different. Both of them are extremely talented in their own way. We will see what happens.”

Why didn’t the coordinators talk to the media this week… “It was more of just wanting to put our leadership, three leaders, out there in front. Nothing negative at all from that standpoint. They really just didn’t feel like talking to media that much, so I respect that.” Will they talk to the media again… “Yeah, they could. We’ll see where it goes. I wouldn’t read anything into it.”

Has Jeff Holland exceeded expectations… “That’s definitely fair to say. Jeff is a guy that always played with a high motor. He played as a true freshman, sophomore, he got better last year taking on the run, his physicality, and then this year he’s really taken the next step as far as pass rushing and his motor is really a factor. He is that guy that the defense has to know where he’s at in passing situations, and he’s really raised his level. He’s a big factor right now.”

On Marlon Davidson having his breakout game at Mississippi State last year as a true freshman… “I remember that game. We did a good job of putting pressure on the quarterback and I think we did a good job of stopping the run. That’s really what I remember. And then, of course, we scored on defense, which was really big. We played a very good game and that was really starting to get in our groove about that time, so it would be nice to do that same thing this week.”

On Daniel Carlson making three field goals at Missouri… “I think it’s very important. Like I’ve said before, he puts a lot of pressure on himself and everything that goes with that and I think he’s just doing his thing now. I think that will really help him moving forward. I think he averaged eight yards deep in the end zone on his kickoffs. That’s a stat that gets overlooked a lot of times probably from the casual fan, but from a coach’s standpoint, he’s such a huge weapon. Just that ability for a coach to have confidence in a guy that, if it’s past 50 yards, there’s a high likelihood of him making it. He drilled both of those, and that’s a really good thing moving forward.”

On close games against Mississippi State recently… “What was it, 2010, when we won the national championship, it was a three-point game. In 2011, it went down to the last (play), they ran, they got stopped on the 1-foot line. (In) 2013, we had to drive the field and C.J. (Uzomah) caught it from Nick (Marshall) almost on the last play of the game. I don’t know. It’s just been a good rivalry. Dan Mullen does a super job. He always has his teams well-prepared. It’s just kind of turned into one of those rivalry games that’s usually a good game when we play them.”

Is the punting competition ongoing… “We’re going to keep competing. We’ve got to get better production as far as field position. But we’ll keep competing each week and we’ll see who the best is during practice and we’ll put them out there. I’m not ready to say right now, but that’s my mindset.”

Has the defense exceeded his expectations… “I think so. I think there’s a stat that we’ve only given up one play of 30-plus or more, and I think that’s the best in the country. That’s a tribute to how hard our guys are playing and how disciplined they are. Our coaches are doing a super job. Their message is to keep improving. Like I said earlier, just even if it’s a little bit, that’s the name of the game and that’s their mindset. I think they’ve got a chance to really be a special defensive unit if they keep improving. It’s a big-time luxury to have right now from a coach’s standpoint.”

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