Gus Malzahn Previews Tennessee

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Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn press conference
Previewing the Tennessee game – Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Opening statement…

“We’re coming off a frustrating loss Saturday. I know our fan base is frustrated, I know our players are frustrated and our coaches are. No one needs to be blaming our players. Any time a team is not playing at their potential, that’s a coaching issue. That’s my responsibility and I’ve got to do a better job of preparing our coaches and our players moving forward. We’re at the halfway point of our season and we’re 4-2. Now that our backs are against the wall, it’s a real similar feeling as it was last year. I’m very confident that we are going to finish this thing. Our team is in a good spot mentally, for everything that we went through the first half of the season, and I think we’re set up to improve each week. We’ve done that the last few seasons; I’m confident we’ll do that again this year. We’ve got Tennessee coming in, a team that had an off week last week, giving them two weeks to prepare. I think they’re a hungry team and I think they’ve got good systems on both sides of the football. We’re expecting their best, but this will be more about us and our approach this week and getting ready to play another home game in the SEC. How do you keep the team motivated with such a long shot to win the SEC West…“Well, it was a long shot last year at this point, too. It was probably a real similar feeling. Obviously, we don’t control our own destiny, and we’ll need some help — there’s no doubt with that — but still a lot to play for. And if we can finish like we did last year, there will be a lot of good things ahead. There’s a whole lot to play for and our team understands that.”

Stidham overthrowing receivers Saturday…
“Yeah, I know he’s aware of it. I know he’s going to do everything in his power to correct it. He’s really tough on himself and he’s a competitor.”

Was it because of the pressure he feels in the pocket…
“I don’t think so. I think he will be better in that area the second half of the season, I really do.”

What is it about the offense that gives you confidence it will improve…
“If you look at the whole performance Saturday, we left some points out there. What we’ve got to do is do a better job of when we get the opportunities, we’ve got to seize the moment, as far as that goes. After the game I said we were close, and really what I meant, we were close to scoring more points. Any time you leave points out there, it magnifies things from a negative standpoint. When we have those opportunities in the future, we’ve got to seize the moment.”

Did JaTarvious Whitlow’s shoulder prevent running the ball more in the second half…
“I think it was probably more of the way the game was unfolding. I think we actually got into a rhythm in the second half on a few drives, as far as everything goes with that. Like I said, we left some points out there; I think that was easy to see. We’ve got to do a better job of that when we have that opportunity. Any time that you’re on the road in the SEC, you can’t make the mistakes, or you can’t have the missed opportunities that we had and have a chance to win. That’s probably the biggest frustrating thing for everyone concerned when you’ve got the capability of doing that.”

Will there ever be a point where you run tempo regardless of situation…
“I think when you’re able to look back at half the season, and you’re able to step back and evaluate where you stand, I think you have to be open to whatever can help moving forward. Every game unfolds a little bit different. The matchups against certain defenses unfold. How well is the defense matching up, special teams, field positions — all those things are a factor. I know our offensive coaches will have good plans this second half of this season as far as our personnel.”

Will the offense be more pass-oriented…
“I think the best way to answer that is every game will be a little bit different. From a coach’s standpoint, giving your guys the best chance of being successful every game is different because their personnel and strengths are different. I will say this, after six games we should be a very good judge of our guys. There’s no more ‘we’re young, we’re inexperienced, this guy is hurt.’ It doesn’t matter. We do have some strengths. We have some guys that are capable of scoring points and we’ve just got to seize the moment when we have the opportunities.”

Status of Jack Driscoll…
“First of all, Jack is an extremely tough young man; he wanted to play last week. In pregame, we just didn’t feel like it was best for him to do that. We felt like we needed to give him another week or two. He’ll practice again today, I think he will be better than he was last week, but I can’t sit here and tell you he’s going to play this week. I know he will want to play and hopefully he will be healthy enough to play. Calvin Ashley filled in for him and got his first start. I thought in the run game, he did some good things. There’s nothing like getting that first start under your belt. My experience is he’ll improve.”

Status of Deshaun Davis’ knee…
“I think we dodged a bullet with that. It scared him, it twisted and kind of fell on him. He came back in the game and I think he’s doing a lot better. We expect him to practice today.”

Is Stidham frustrated…
“He’s pretty tough on himself. If you asked him, he’d be frustrated, too. It’s all the above, it’s everything that goes with it and it’s not just one thing. He’s a good quarterback and I really expect him and the offense to get better in the second half. I think you will see a difference in our offense in the second half — I really do.”

Who is the offensive leader…
“Jarrett Stidham, Ryan Davis, and Deshaun Davis are our three leaders who go out for the coin toss. They were voted by their teammates and that’s who we hang our hat on.”

Have you seen them take charge on the sidelines…
“There’s been numerous times from all three of them in different situations.”

Will Anthony Schwartz getting more touches…
“At the halfway point in the season, the offensive staff is evaluating everything. They have good information about our playmakers — who needs to be on the field, who needs to be touching the ball — and that is not just with Anthony Swartz. I believe in the second half of the season you will see some tweaks offensively. If we had not left a few points out there, we would feel a little bit different than we do now about improving in some areas.”

How do you handle the split in carries between Whitlow and Kam Martin…
“Each game is going to be different. With Whitlow, we weren’t for sure if he was going to play until pregame, but he really gutted it out. Each game will unfold differently.”

What did you learn Saturday about Whitlow stepping up…
“Being a young running back, it says a lot about him. Even with his shoulder injured, he played through it, showed some toughness, and made some really good runs. Prince Tega Wanogho is another guy that we weren’t for sure was going to play and he played pretty well. We’ve got some guys showing some toughness and with Jack (Driscoll), he wanted to play. We didn’t feel like it was best for him or the team to play him at that point.”

On defensive adjustments against Nick Fitzgerald…
“They had a good scheme and with Fitzgerald becoming the SEC’s all-time leading rushing QB, you have to give him some credit.”

Offensive recruiting moving forward…
“We knew coming into this year that we were going to be inexperienced up front, and there were going to be some growing (pains). We knew that. We knew we were inexperienced at running back, and we knew that there were going to be some growing (pains) and so that was to be expected. I think for me, the frustrating thing right now for me and everyone else, is that we’re no longer inexperienced, we’re no longer young, and we need to start seeing progress. And like I said, the frustrating thing for me is if we had put some more points on the board when we had the opportunities, we would be feeling a little bit different from the standpoint that we are getting better. But we need to do that this Saturday, and to play better, and I expect we will.”

Facing the Tennessee defense…
“Yeah, of course, Jeremy Pruitt — I’ve faced him numerous times. And we know each other very well. I think he’s got a talented set of defensive guys. It looks very similar to what it has in the past. And like I said, the advantage they’ve got is they’ve had two weeks to prepare and get healed up and all that. But the way we are right now, our backs are against the wall with how we want to finish this thing. So, playing at home, I expect our group to be extremely, extremely hungry on Saturday.”