Gus Malzahn previews Ole Miss

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Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn press conference
Previewing the Ole Miss game
Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Opening Statement… “It was a big win for us last Saturday. We played a complete game in all three phases. We talked about getting better. Obviously, after watching the game and watching the tape, I feel like we did that. We have to continue to do that.

“We are playing a very talented Ole Miss team this week. They have one of the better head coaches in our league. They play extremely well at home. They played Alabama closer than anyone has and beat Georgia by 31 points. They have the talent. They are a good team and we went there two years ago and it went down to the very end. It was an extremely tough place to play offensively. Their quarterback is one of the more explosive guys in our league. He does a very good job of throwing the vertical ball down the field and does a very good job of making plays outside of the system with his feet. He has had a lot of big plays this year just scrambling around. He is like a running back playing the quarterback position. Defensively, they have a lot of speed. It really starts with (Marquis) Haynes. He has a great motor. They do a lot of different things. They probably have more pressures than anyone we have seen all year.

“We are going to have to do a very good job dealing with that, but overall we are going to have to play well. Our players know how talented they are and obviously, last year they got after us very well. They defended as well as anyone last year. We are going there for a road game against a very good team. We have to play well.”

On Kerryon Johnson’s status… “We will know more as we get into practice. The good thing was that we didn’t have to play him last week. I thought that was very important moving forward, not just this game, but the rest of the year. At this point, I would expect him to play. I think he is getting closer to 100% each day. After today’s practice, I will be able to confirm.”

On depth at running back… “One of the big questions this year coming into the season was our running back depth. I think it was a really good thing moving forward that we had the guys that we had step up. They did a super job running the football and protecting the football, so we definitely have some depth to that position.”

On Kam Martin… “He made a very good run and ran hard, too. There were some runs that he was trying to move forward. We talked to our freshmen about after the midway point of the season saying that they are no longer freshmen. He really responded like that, as well as a lot of our other freshmen. He is a very talented young man.”

How to use multiple talented running backs… “This is a good problem to have. I’ll take you back to 2013 when we had the running back crew that we had, so I think Coach (Rhett) Lashlee can be a little bit more creative at times with personnel, but it is good that we have that many running backs and explosive players that we have.”

On the improvement of Chandler Cox… “Chandler Cox was a true freshman last year, and that is a real key position in our offense. We ask him to do a lot of different things. He is playing with a physicality like he has never played with and he is really getting plays started at the point of attack on the line of scrimmage. He is doing a lot of different things even outside the box that have been good. Lately, he has been getting the ball a little bit more, but he is one of our best football players.”

On Jeremiah Dinson’s injury status… “It doesn’t look like he’s going to (play this season), but he is an outstanding player. We’re giving him a few more months to get back to 100 percent.”

On Jamel Dean’s injury status… “Same thing. He’ll be back in the mix this spring. Those are two outstanding football players that we don’t have right now.”

On a play by two Arkansas players on the opening kickoff… “You’d have to ask their coach. People coach their team and we coach ours.”

On Carlton Davis… “He is a very good technician at the line of scrimmage. He does a great job with his hands. He has long arms. Coach (Wesley) McGriff has done a great job coaching him. He has the ability to really lock a guy down and take him away. Playing as a freshman last year really helped him. You can tell he’s a more confident guy this year. He’s been playing really well.”

Is Alex Kozan back to 100% healthy… “I think so. Any time you have a back injury like that, it takes a while. He really worked hard during the off-season to get his strength back. When he first came back, he had to be a little bit cautious because he didn’t want to reinjure his back. I think giving him that full year of getting his confidence back has allowed him to get in the weight room and get his strength back. He’s starting to play at the 2013 level, when he was healthy.”

Is Kozan the best pulling guard of Malzahn’s tenure… “He’s pretty good. He would be ranked up at the top.”

On Austin Golson’s move back to center… “I’ve been very impressed. He’s a great communicator. He can identify things very well. He has that year under his belt. The snaps have been good. He’s done a very good job.”

Is there a secret element to 400-yard rushing games… “I think, if you look at those games, we got into our tempo. We were able to get our rhythm going. We got to play a little faster. It also says a lot about our offensive line. It says a lot about our running backs. Any time you run the football downhill, especially the zone type stuff, your quarterback needs to be a little bit of a run threat. We talked about this coming into the season. So far, Sean (White) has done that. If you keep it every now and then, it really changes things. Last year, we didn’t do that. I think it’s kind of a combination of all of those factors.”

Does it take a Nick Marshall to run the offense… “Whoever our quarterback is, we try to design the offense around their strengths. There aren’t a whole lot of Nick Marshalls running around out there. He was a special player.”

On Stanton Truitt’s move to running back… “He was a running quarterback in high school. He was very good at running between the tackles. When Roc Thomas left, we just kind of looked at everything. He’s the one guy that we felt could be half running back and half wide receiver. We started with that. Then we got to the point we needed a little bit more depth at tailback. He’s had a great attitude towards it. He’s been working extremely hard for the last three or four weeks doing that. He got his opportunity the other night. He runs between the tackles very well. He has a lot of great instincts. I think that’ll be something that we can utilize for the rest of the season.”

Does the defense play more aggressively with the offensive success… “I think our defense has done a good job all year, regardless. They really kept us in some games even when we weren’t playing very well offensively early. I think they’re just getting more and more confidence. As long as we stay healthy at the key positions, I think they have a chance to keep improving. Offensively, that’s the goal also.”

On wide receiver blocking… “That’s really one of the things that stood out to me the other night. Our wide receivers blocked better than they have in a long time. They took great pride in it. A lot of those runs, especially those that broke the perimeter, had really good blocks on the outside. That’s something Coach (Kodi) Burns has really been emphasizing. They’re starting to take great pride in that. That’s something that really stood out to me.”

On Kamryn Pettway’s maneuverability… “I think he’s had good vision since Prattville (High School). He got his opportunity this year. He’s getting more and more comfortable each game. Once he breaks past that first level, it’s really a challenge to tackle him one-on-one, at least high. He’s usually looking for people.”

Is it difficult to stay on top in the SEC… “In this league? It’s real hard. You are talking about an Ole Miss team that’s really talented. I told our guys, ‘Don’t let that record deceive you. They’re one of the top groups in our league.’ In this league it doesn’t matter who it is, anybody can beat anybody. It’s a grind. It’s a survival of the fittest. You can’t just be talented, you have to be mentally tough. You have to be mentally disciplined. Your staff and players have to be that way. It takes all that to have a chance in this league.”

When did he first meet Hugh Freeze… “I think it was about the time I left Shiloh Christian and went to Springdale High School. It was around 1999-2000. I knew of him before then, but we started developing a friendship right after that.”

What has changed since early in the season… “I think the defense has played outstanding all year. It’s just a matter of them improving each week. They’re getting used to Coach (Kevin) Steele and he’s getting used to them. If you look on the offense, not many of this year’s starters started last year. We also settled into our quarterback position. I think it’s a matter of getting used to playing together and getting experience. We’re still green now. We’re playing some guys out there who still need some more experience. We haven’t arrived. There are a lot of areas we can still improve on. The youth, inexperience and finding our identity were all challenges. That includes the running backs. Going into the season, you think you have an idea of what a guy will do, not do, or what his strength will be. You really don’t know until you play people. Even Kerryon Johnson and Pettway and all those guys, I think there was a learning curve right there early. We’re starting to settle in, but we haven’t arrived. We have to keep working and keep improving. That’s our mindset.”

Do successful teams have a certain attitude… “Any time you play well, you’re confident. You have to be confident. You have to be mentally tough. You have to be confident, but at the same time, you have to keep working. You have to have the same mentality each week, no matter what happens. You have to have the same mentality to keep improving. You can’t pat yourself on the back in this league.”

On Tray Matthews’ success… “Tray Matthews is healthy. I think that has a whole lot to do with it. I think that’s where it starts. He wasn’t healthy last year. He’s a great competitor, he has some experience and he’s starting to get more experience, more comfortable with the system. But it’s him being healthy because he hasn’t been healthy until this year.”

On Sean White’s play against Arkansas… “He would like to have that one back, there’s no doubt. But I think if you look at the whole big picture of the decisions that he has made since he’s been back as the starter, I think he’s really doing a super job. But there were a couple the other night, one specifically, obviously he’d like to have back.”

Was White rusty after the bye week… “No, I don’t think so. I think sometimes they may give you a little different look than you thought, and you say, ‘I made a mistake.’ That happens, but he hasn’t made too many of them.”

On punt and kick returns… “I think last week we talked about that’s the one area — kickoff return — we felt like we really needed to improve on. We really worked hard on it. The other night we didn’t get an opportunity. They kicked one out of bounds. But I think we’re in a good spot to move forward to be improved. We worked real hard on it probably the last two and a half weeks; we really focused on it, so that’s an area that I expect us to improve in.”

On the importance of special teams on the road… “Big time. Special teams on the road are always huge.”

On red zone touchdown improvement… “It’s like anything else, if you can actually slow down and focus on one area, you have a chance to improve on it. It was good for us when we talked about it that, ‘hey, we’ve got to get better.’ That was one of the areas that we just weren’t getting it done. It says a lot about our players to be able to focus and execute. The offensive staff I think did an outstanding job identifying the things that we felt like we were good at that we could do. But the bottom line about being a good red zone offense — you’ve got to run the football, and it’s hard when they get extra bodies and they know there’s a good chance of running. I think Rhett (Lashlee) has done a good job of mixing up the play calling down there.”

On the game-night environment at Ole Miss in 2014… “It’s a great environment. It was extremely loud. That game went down to the very end. That was two really good teams playing each other. I think both teams were playing at a high level.”

Status of Nick Ruffin… “We’re hoping (he’s back). Kind of like Kerryon Johnson — we held him out, too, so he didn’t have to play. I think any time you’re able to do that and try to get completely healthy it’s big.”

On the offensive line rotation… “The way I look at it is we’ve got six starters. Obviously, we played very well the other night, but we’ve got six guys we feel great about, and that’s kind of our approach.”

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