Gus Malzahn Previews Mississippi State, Starting Sean White

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Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn press conference
Tuesday, September, 22, 2015, previewing the Mississippi State game

Opening Statement…“We are playing a very good Mississippi State team at home. I know our coaches and players are excited to come back to a night game here at home. Offensively, their quarterback is one of the better players in all of college football, and he is their leader. He throws the ball extremely well, and he is like another running back. He really makes their offense go. Defensively, they have a lot of guys back from last year, and they are a very good defensive unit. Their defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is a guy that we are familiar with. He was at Mississippi State in 2010 and at Louisiana Tech last year and we played those guys. He is very unique with the things that he does.

“On our end offensively, we are going to make a change at quarterback, and Sean White is going to be our starter. Sean is in a good spot, he has practiced well and we have a lot of confidence in him.

“On another note, Carl Lawson’s injury is a little more serious than we first thought. He is going to be out for an extended period of time; I am not ready to say exactly when that is. We are hopeful that we will get him back before the end of the season is out. Obviously, he is an impact player, and it has been really tough on him, especially going through last season. He is a great competitor, and he is going to do everything in his power to get back on the field.”

On making the quarterback decision…“Any time you change a quarterback, it isn’t an easy decision. Today is when Coach Lashlee and I really made the decision. We feel like that is the best for the offense right now. Sean White is a guy that has gotten a lot of reps. He has responded very well in practices and in scrimmages. We feel like he needs a shot right now and we have a lot of confidence in him. He is our starting quarterback going into this game; we are going to get behind him, and I know his teammates will also. He is a talented young guy and we are excited to see what he can do.”

On Jeremy Johnson’s reaction…“Jeremy is a competitor, but he is a team guy, too, so he will support Sean. He will still get reps in practice, and he will be ready if he is called upon.”

How many first-team reps has White been getting…“He didn’t get a lot of first-team reps, but in fall camp there were a few. Usually as the season goes on, the backup gets more with the first team, but early in the year, it is usually just the ones. He is comfortable with the receivers and he knows them very well.”

Is this a surprising situation…“It is pretty unique, and it is a little surprising from a coach’s standpoint. You have to do what you feel is best for your team and your offense each week. We have confidence and I am looking forward to seeing Sean. He is a guy that can flat out throw it and he can run it, too. He has the air of confidence that quarterbacks have.”

Any regrets not putting White in against LSU…“No. From a coaching standpoint, I think it is very important that you don’t make emotional decisions, especially in a quarterback situation. I felt like that was the right thing to do, to put (Johnson) back out there. He made a great run on the quarterback draw. That was a heck of a play and he played better in the second half than the first, but after you kind of look at things, that’s just the direction we feel like we need to go. I feel good about Sean and Coach Lashlee does too. I know that his teammates will have a whole lot of confidence in him this week. We’re excited to trot him out there and see what he can do.”

Does the team know the quarterback situation…“The team knows and the two kids know.”

Could Johnson play Saturday…“Right now, Sean White is our starter and that’s the way we’re going into the game.”

Will quarterback be a week-to-week decision…“Sean’s our starter for this game. I’ll say this, from a coach’s standpoint and a player’s standpoint, you take one game at a time. That’s the way we’re doing it, and we’re thinking about nothing but Mississippi State. We’re putting the first three games in the rearview mirror and it’s over. All we’re thinking about is Mississippi State and that’s the way we’re going to operate. Looking back to 2013, there are some similarities. There were some similarities where we didn’t play great early. In 2013, we went to LSU and got beat pretty good, but we kind of knew what we had moving forward, and we got better. Our team rolled their sleeves up and our leaders stepped up, and that’s what needs to happen right now. This team can do that, and that’s what I expect them to do. The first three games, we kind of figured out some things offensively and defensively. We’ve got to play moving forward and we’re playing a good Mississippi State team at home. We’re looking forward to it. I feel good about the spot we’re in, but we need to respond.”

Replacing Carl Lawson…“You saw a bunch of young guys out there. I know Will (Muschamp) has a better idea right now of what we have, what we don’t have and what we have when Carl’s not out there is the big thing.  From a coach’s standpoint, when you have an impact player and then you realize that impact player may be out for a while, then you kind of take a different approach. That’s what Will is doing, and he’s good at that. He has a plan moving forward, and he has three games of good information. You’re talking about a new defensive coordinator, a new defensive staff playing some new guys in three games. Now he has an idea, and we’ll improve over there.”

On personnel changes on defense…“It’s possible. Like I told you after the game, we’re evaluating every position and moving forward with the best guys out there that deserve to be out there and that give us the best chance of winning.”

Will Jonathan Wallace work some at quarterback…“Jonathan Wallace could get some reps at quarterback. Jason Smith could also. Both of those guys have gotten some reps throughout fall camp and throughout the first couple games. Both of those guys are also receivers, and both of them are getting better. Both of them will get some reps.”

Will Lawson require surgery…“Right now, we’re hoping not. We’ll see. Like I said, he’s going to be out for an extended period of time. It’s a little worse than we first thought, but we’re hoping to have him back. It’s not like the ACL injury where he was out for the season. We’re hoping to have him back. That’s the best-case scenario, but we’ll see how things go. I’ll keep y’all updated from time to time with this situation.”

How is Lawson dealing with the injury…“He’s disappointed. He’s a great competitor. He’s a leader. He’s probably our defensive leader. Any time you lose a guy like that who has been through it for a second time, it’s tough on him. He’s worked extremely hard to get back. In the first game he played, he got another injury, so he’s discouraged. We’re just trying to encourage him. He’ll work extremely hard to get back, and he’ll do everything in his power to get back before the end of the year.”

On the importance of getting the first SEC win…“It’s very important in our league. The SEC games are very important, especially when you’re playing at home. We definitely understand that. It’s going to be a challenge. They’re a very good team. We need to play well. They’ve got one of the better offensive players in all of college football and their defense has a lot of guys back from last year that were very good players. They have a very good defense.”

Keeping four running backs happy…“Probably the best way to put that is ‘motivated’ — all four of those guys are talented. They bring a unique skill set and they give us some versatility. Now that we have three games under our belt, all of them have played. Jovon (Robinson) hasn’t played as much because of his ankle injury, but we have a better idea about how to utilize those guys. You saw a time where we had two guys on the field at the same time like we had in the past. They’re starting to settle in their roles. You guys that have seen our offense for an extended period of time know that we’re at our best when roles are defined and we can get some rhythm and continuity. We’re starting to get to that point where our personnel – running backs, receivers, h-backs – can have defined roles. When that happens in our offense, we’re able to improve and make better adjustments. The running back is a part of that, but I would say motivated. Not that they haven’t been motivated, but they’re all four talented enough to play.”

Will Peyton Barber start Saturday…“Yeah, he’ll probably be the first guy out there, but we’re planning on playing all of them.”

Will Jason Smith get reps at quarterback…“He has up to this point, too. But this week, he and Jonathan (Wallace) both will get some reps. I don’t really want to say exactly wildcat or regular offense. I’m probably saying too much by saying both of them are getting reps at quarterback. It could be wildcat.”

Is the offense moving at a slower pace by design…“Everything works together. We are a pace offense and we are at our best when we are playing fast. But when you are doing that, you have to score points. It’s a balance and the offense has to help the defense, the defense has to help the offense. I feel like now that we are getting more specific with our personnel and getting our roles defined, we are now in a spot where we can move forward with some rhythm. That will help not only our players, but the coaches, too.”

What was QB decision based upon…“It is more about what is best for the offense right now. Sean is a guy that we have felt good about for a long time. He has earned that right and that is what’s best for the offense going into Mississippi State. We are looking forward to watching him play.”

Is scripting plays more important for White…“There is always a fine line with that. He is a guy that hasn’t played in his first game, but the fact is that he has gotten a lot of reps in the past. We will see how it goes.”

On offensive strengths…“I think we can run the football. We have to be more consistent with that. Our offensive line and our running backs are a strength. In our passing game, we have to do what we can do. I still think that we are going to be really efficient in the passing game not only the rest of the season, but in the near future. Now that we are narrowing things down and getting the pieces to the puzzle personnel-wise, that will help us moving forward, and we will have a chance to improve each week and really be able to make adjustments. We will do a better job of taking what the defense gives us and be able to execute base plays. That has been our mindset.”

Assessment of the defense…“The number one assessment is that we have to get better. The fact that Will (Muschamp) came in here and now has three games under his belt, he knows his personnel a little better. Now that we know moving forward that we aren’t going to have our impact player, he can put a plan together. We need to do a better job in that area and that’s what we are focusing on.”

Would he have made a QB move for a road game…“Every situation is different. This isn’t an emotional decision. You do what you think is best in the next game and it’s just where we are at right now. Sean White is a good quarterback and we expect Sean White to play well. It will be his first start — I know that and the coaches know that — but he is a talented quarterback. We are looking forward to watching him play and we expect him to play well.”

Is he eager to see how players respond on the field…“Very –we’re very eager to see how they respond. Like I said, in 2013, we responded like champs, and we rolled our sleeves up, and that’s what is going to have to happen. We’re 2-1. Obviously, the last two games we haven’t played our best. We do understand that. Our players understand that. But you take it week by week, and you learn. And when you go through a little adversity, my experience is that championship teams roll up their sleeves and leaders emerge, and that’s what we expect our guys to do. We’re excited we’re playing at home, and we’re playing a good opponent, too. And that’s good, too. I’m definitely eager to get our guys back on that football field in front of our home fans and play like we expect.”

On importance of first-down play…“There’s no doubt. First down, you look at our history, we’ve been pretty good on first down. We’ve got to get back to getting positive yards on first down. That’ll be a big factor.”

Comparing this team to the 2013 team…“I think, looking back at 2013, you’ve got to understand they had experienced major adversity the year before and were still trying to figure out the dynamics of the team. You play and you get to a point and your leaders step and they start emerging; that’s what we need right now. We need exactly what happened in 2013. Because when you’re in this room with your team, it feels exactly like it did in 2013 after the LSU game. Nothing really feels different; it’s just a matter now of our leaders need to emerge, and we need to get better. We’re in a position to do that, and that’s what I expect us to do.”

Any issues with effort vs. LSU…“I would say not overall. There were some individuals that were addressed by the coaches, but I would say it was isolated.”

On confidence in stopping the run…“Well, we’ve got to find a way. We’ve got to find a way, and that’s just the bottom line.”