Gus Malzahn Previews Texas A&M (Quotes/Video)

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Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn press conference
Previewing the Texas A&M game

Opening statement… “We had a very good off week. I think we accomplished what we set out to as far as getting fresh, as far as getting better at the fundamentals and the details. We also got a head start on Texas A&M, which is always good with the different things that they present.

“A quick injury update: Kam Pettway suffered a fracture in his scapula late in the game against Arkansas. We did not know that until last Friday. We were trying to heal our guys up, and it was sore, and we thought it would get better, but it didn’t get any better. So he will be out for an extended period of time. I don’t know exactly when that will be, but obviously that is a tough blow for him – a guy that has had a lot of injuries up to this point. Everyone else we expect to be ready for Texas A&M, which I think is a really big thing with the guys that were banged up offensive line-wise and we had some defensive guys that we held out the last couple of weeks. We expect everyone to be ready.

“Texas A&M — you are talking about a very talented team. When you look at these guys defensively, they’ve got a lot of very good athletes; they are a big, physical group that can run. They are one of the best teams in the country at sacking the quarterback and putting pressure on the quarterback, not just four-down, but when they pop a guy, an extra guy, fifth guy, they are very good. They are very aggressive. They really try to stop the run. They will bring extra guys down to do that. Offensively, you are talking about a very balanced team. Last week they played two quarterbacks, so you’ve got to prepare for both of those guys, but they are very balanced. They have one of the more dynamic playmakers in all of college football in Christian Kirk – a guy that with the ball in his hands is very scary. You talk about special teams, I think he is probably the biggest weapon in the country in special teams, so we will have to do a super job with him, covering kicks and everything that goes with that. Like I said, I feel very good about where we’re at after the off week. It gave us a chance for our team to heal up and get better. We’re looking forward to going to Texas A&M.”

Will Pettway require surgery… “No, it’s non-surgery.”

Which running back will be No. 2… “I think Kam Martin, Malik Miller, Devan Barrett – I think all of those guys have gotten work done in the game, but, more importantly, got a lot of work in practice. I think all of those guys will be ready to go when called upon moving down the stretch.”

Timetable for Pettway’s recovery… “I said an extended period of time. I’m hoping we get him back before the end of the year, but I’ll keep you updated on a weekly basis. Really, that’s one of those things we will have to see how it goes. He’s a competitor, and it’s a tough blow to him. You’re exactly right — he’s had a lot of injuries. I know that’s frustrating for him; he’s a great competitor. But you’ve got to deal with it and he’ll respond ok.”

Is Casey Dunn back at center… “Casey had a good practice on Sunday and he did some things last week. I think he is ready to go. Of course, obviously today will be another big day of practice, but so far, so good. He has looked extremely, extremely well.”

Is Austin Golson back to left tackle… “Austin, I think, has started at four different positions, and any time you can get veteran guys on the field — now we will see what that means for the exact starting line for the game — but having the older guys on the field has been a really good thing.”

Status of Mike Horton and Darius James… “Mike Horton practiced last week and Sunday night. Darius James practiced Sunday. Like I said, we expect everybody at this point to be ready to go to Texas A&M and play, so I think that is a real positive.”

When Pettway’s injury was known… “I think it was Tuesday at practice. His shoulder was tender. At the same time, we held a lot of guys out; it wasn’t just him. It was the guys who were beat up. It was one of those deals where it didn’t get any better on Friday, so we got him an X-ray.”

Does Pettway have loss of value insurance… “They update that from time to time.”

Status of defensive players health-wise… “I think everyone practiced Sunday. You could sense on Sunday that last week was really good for the freshmen. Everyone was really energetic and ready to get back out there and practice. We had a very good practice on Sunday night in all three phases. It was a little bit longer than most Sunday night practices, but we’ve done that traditionally coming off a bye week to get a little extra head start. We were in shells, so today will be a good practice, too.”

On Tray Matthews returning… “He is one of our leaders. When he is on the field, he makes a big difference. I know he is excited to get back out there. When you get your leaders on the field, it has a positive effect on everyone.”

On Ryan Davis’ low drop rate… “Ryan has worked extremely hard. He is one of those guys who really wants the ball and he attacks the ball. You can see his growth throughout the year. He is one of the more veteran guys on our receiving corps. He has played a lot of ball and I know our quarterback has a lot of confidence in him.”

How to guard against the team being overconfident… “I think this time of year, the games are so important. You have to expect each week that you are going to get each team’s best effort. That is what we expect out of A&M. You’re talking about a very talented team overall. You turn the film on and you can see that in the first five minutes. They have recruited well and have good players. We will have to play well. This is the time of year that, if you have a chance to be a good football team, then you play well as a team. The thing that I like right now is that we are healthier and we had an off week to get a little fresher. It was good for our staff to get to look at everything. We got to worry about us for a whole week instead of worrying about an opponent. There is a lot to be said about that. There were some things we saw in all three phases that can make us better. I think we are in a good spot. We have to go out there and do it, since we are playing a very talented team on the road. To answer your question, though, I think we are in a good spot but we have to play well to win.”

Emphasis on special teams because of Christian Kirk… “There’s no doubt. We look at everything personnel-wise and scheme-wise. The things that you weren’t good at before your off-week, then you have to improve. That is one area where we have to improve. Obviously, when you throw in Christian Kirk, that makes it even more relevant — whether it is scheme, tendencies, or personnel, which a lot of times, it is a little of all three.”

Will more veterans be put on special teams… “Personnel-wise, it gives us a chance that we have a lot of information on our current team and where we are. There are some young guys that I felt like last week was really good for them. We got them more work than the older guys. It was a good opportunity for a couple of those guys to step up. When you look at freshmen, they are no longer freshmen in my eyes. They have a lot of game experience and experience. So, yeah, there will be a few personnel changes.”

Were there any surprises when self-scouting… “I think any time when you’re not in that routine of having to prepare for a team, and you are able to sit back and really look at your team and break everything down, there are always things that are glaring, good and bad. You build upon the things you are good at, and you don’t do the things you’re not good at. Then you look at your tendencies. It gives you a good opportunity to see what other teams are seeing, and try to use that against them and try to use it to your advantage.”

On the key to being 6-0 after bye weeks… “I think a lot of it has to do with the approach. A lot of it has to do with our players responding and doing what we ask them to do, and being able to talk about the things I just talked about, to look at your team and either break tendencies or build around strengths or look at personnel. I really think it is all of the above, but the bottom line is the players. The players respond and do what they are asked to do.”

On how decisive November will be… “It is a great opportunity. It is a great opportunity. We are in a great spot with a great opportunity, but Texas A&M is on our mind. They are a very talented team, and that is the only thing on our mind.”

Challenges presented by Texas A&M’s front seven… “I think they are second in the country in sacks. That is the first thing that stands out. They do a good job against the run, too. They are big. They are athletic. Their linebackers are big. Their linebackers can run. Their defensive coordinator is one of the best in our league traditionally, and he has been that way. They are going to be very sound. They are not going to beat themselves. So they present some challenges. Like I said, the good thing for us right now is we have a chance to be healthy up front. That would be a great thing if we could continue that down the stretch. I have been real impressed with our offensive line. We have had so many different starting lineups, which is a huge challenge to do from a big picture offensive standpoint, and they have still performed at a pretty high level. You look at our last game, we had new starters and new guys in new positions, and they were able to execute at a pretty high level. I have been proud of our offensive line as a collective group.”

On not having both top running backs healthy at the same time… “You have to adjust. The positive is Kerryon Johnson is one of the best running backs in our league and you see the confidence he is playing at right now. We have other guys we feel good about, too, that are going to be big down the stretch right now. So I feel good about where we are. It is unfortunate for Kam [Pettway]. Even last week he wasn’t completely healthy, but you saw that he came back and at least had some glimpses of what he was the year before, but we have a lot of other guys that are ready to go and looking forward to finishing this thing down the stretch.”

Facing a team with a strong pass rush… “Each year is different. Each team is different. Matchups are different. The fact that we know Coach Chavis and he knows us — all of that is considered as far as everything goes. But it is a new team, and we will see what happens Saturday.”

On the preseason emphasis on creating big plays… “We talked about two things. First of all was balance. That was really, taking it back all the way to the offseason, it was balance and I think right now we are accomplishing that. We are balanced. Then we talked about explosive plays, and we have had quite a few explosive plays. Any time you have explosive plays, then you play with pace. All three of those things, when we are at our best, we are able to do. That is going to be a big factor in these next four games. We just have to keep building on that, continue to have explosive plays in the pass game and the run game, then get into pace.”

On the emphasis of receivers being good without the ball…We emphasize that the first week of fall camp, being a complete receiver. A lot of times it’s more important what you do without the ball than it is with the ball. I know a lot of times with college receivers — you’re supposed to catch the ball, but what’ll separate you is playing without the ball. We talk about that from the first week they arrive. It’s a process. We do have some receivers that have a lot of experience now, and you can see those guys grow, and I really feel like that group is starting to come together. I think they’re playing with more confidence. I know Jarrett (Stidham) has got confidence in the group, and they’ve got confidence in him, too. So as far as the passing game, I think you’ll see that growing the more experience those guys get.”

On recruiting the state of Texas… “Of course, we really hang our hat on the states of Alabama, Georgia and Florida. There are great players in those three states. Texas — a lot of times in outlining, kind of away states, if you’ve got a connection already or if you’ve got a relationship already, you invest time as far as that goes. But the Texas players we do have we’re very proud of; this game will be very important to them as you would think.”

Emory Blake and Nosa Eguae were the last players from the state of Texas to sign with Auburn… “Emory Blake kind of goes back to my point — I recruited him at Tulsa and got to know him very well. His baseball coach was one of my good friends, too, and so there was already a relationship when I came here. It goes back to that point about if you have a good previous relationship. But I feel very good about the way we’ve recruited and the players we’ve recruited from the three main states we kind of hang our hat on.”

Is there an ideal position for Austin Golson… “It says a lot about Austin that he’s whatever is best for the team. To ask an offensive lineman in our league to play four different positions is really unheard of, and he’s played at a high level. He’s one of our leaders. It says a lot about him and it says a lot about his leadership, and it’ll help him greatly moving forward at the next level. He’s done a super job. You asked me his best position. I think he’s really a very good player at all the positions he’s played. He’s a real smart guy. He’s a real competitive guy, he’s an attention to detail guy. I can’t say enough good things about Austin Golson.”

On the level of expectations in the SEC… “I just worry about us. I worry about us and what we’re doing here and about our team. Outside of this, it is what it is, but that’s all I worry about.”

On talking to the team with big games ahead on the schedule… “I’m always going to be honest with our team. They do understand the big picture, but more importantly, they do understand the current picture, and all that matters is (Texas) A&M. They do understand that, and I think we have a veteran-enough team with leaders that will make sure there’s no overlooking this bunch. It would be crazy to overlook Texas A&M, and we’re not going to do that. And then we’ll cross the next bridge later on. I’m always honest and up-front with our players and I’ll talk big picture from time to time. I think that’s important. But then we reel it back in to what the priority is.”

Why has the road team won every game in this series… “I really don’t have an answer for that. I know that we’ve lost some tough ones here at home against these guys, and we played good football when we went there.”

On monitoring Kerryon Johnson’s carries… “I think strategically, right now, it kind of goes back to last week. You look strategically at what needs to be done the last four games to try to keep him healthier into the fourth quarter because, obviously, down the stretch, there’s a decent chance games will go into the fourth quarter, so that was part of that conversation. And, of course, I’m not going to sit here right now and tell you what our plan is, but that is something we’ve talked about and we’ll have a plan for.”  

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