Gus Malzahn Previews UL-Monroe

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Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn press conference
Previewing the ULM game

Opening statement… “We had a huge win Saturday. We played our best game of the year. We played well on all three phases against a very talented team. We talked about championship urgency the past few weeks. I feel like our team really seized the moment on Saturday, and that we played really well. The reality is that game is over, that game is behind us. We can enjoy that after the year. We have to move forward.

“We have Louisiana-Monroe now, an opponent that is a very well-coached team. I have a lot of respect for their staff, a lot of veteran guys who have won a lot of games. Offensively, they’re a top 20 offense. They’ve got skilled guys that can flat-out play. They have one of the better kick returners in all of college football, too, so when you watch their film, they definitely wake you up. We need to continue to get better. That’s our message to the team, to keep the momentum. After a big win, you see a lot of teams have a fall-off. We can’t have a fall-off, and that’s our challenge to our team – to keep the momentum going into one of the last games of the year. We need to keep that championship urgency this week. That’s our message to the team, so I expect us to do that.”

Offensive line performance against Georgia… “I think this year you’ve seen this group [offensive line] improve each week. We had some tough times earlier this season. The most impressive thing to me is the different guys that have been at different positions and still be able to run the football effectively against a talented defense. You’ve seen that group grow, and they’re playing their best football right now.”

On the adaptability of the offensive line… “The good thing about that is that we have seven guys who have played in SEC games and all seven of them have played well. We talked about the quality depth up front at the first of the year, and we’re feeling really good about those seven guys. We’ll see how it goes. I think it’s a week-to-week type deal. We still probably don’t have most guys that are 100 percent, but I’m real proud of that group. It doesn’t matter who’s at what spot, and that’s really rare. That’s just a tribute to Coach (Herb) Hand and his offensive line.” 

Will he hold out any offensive linemen this week… “We’ll see how this week goes. Our mindset is to get better, and our mindset isn’t to put the brakes on anything. This is about us, us seizing the moment, getting better and keeping the momentum. We’ll see where that goes later in the week. I know they’ll all practice today and I’ll have a better idea later in the week.”

Was there a turning point when he knew this was a good team… “Obviously, in week two we didn’t play well at all offensively. We played well defensively, though. Us maturing as an offense had a lot to do with that. We have been playing good defense all year. The defense feeds off the offense once they started to grow up and started to play quality football. After the LSU game, that was a defining moment about which way we were going to go. Our leadership took over, and we continued to prove after that second half that we were a good team.”

Is Auburn more aggressive in the second half and third quarters… “There is no doubt. There are certain things that you learn from and there are certain mistakes that you make and you try not to make the same mistake twice. I think I said that after the LSU game. I took full responsibility for that, and we can’t let that ever happen again. The mindset of keeping the hammer down is something we have. So far we have done that.”

On challenging a spot late in the Georgia game… “As a coach that is what you do. If you feel that way, then you challenge it. We have that mentality that we are going to roll up our sleeves and finish games.”

On using Eli Stove and jet sweeps more… “Eli is one of our more explosive players. From a coach’s standpoint, you see what your strengths are and you try to build around them. I think Chip (Lindsey) has done a good job of that. Eli has gotten a lot of yards on the perimeter this year.”

Does the jet sweep balance Jarrett Stidham’s strengths… “I think every team and offense is different. You have your players and you try to build around their strengths. I think it is a matter of that. Eli is very explosive on the perimeter. Jarrett has gotten a lot better running the football, though. He is starting to get comfortable with the zone-read. He needs to keep it just enough to keep the defense honest. I think the last four weeks things have changed as far as that goes.”

On Malik Willis… “I think the last four weeks have been big for him. He has had almost equal reps in practice just to make sure he is prepared if something happens to Jarrett (Stidham). Obviously there is nothing like game experience. He has gotten to play at the end of some SEC games, which I think has definitely helped him. I thought he did a great job the other night when he was in, and you just said it, the RPO right there, he has a good feel for that.”

Play of Casey Dunn… “He is playing at a high level and it is amazing. He had a pretty good injury against LSU and came back in that game, but he couldn’t finish that game. The way he has recovered is amazing. He is a tough young man. He is playing at a high level, a very high level. He played his best game the other night against one of the better fronts in college football.”

On the trick play on the punt return… “Right. That was just a little wrinkle. We were just trying to steal a few yards.”

Is kickoff coverage still a concern… “Yes — we did improve, but we need to continue to improve in that area. That is really a big focus this week. They have a dynamic kick returner that has returned some for touchdowns. So it will be another good opportunity for us to get better in that area.”

Did Daniel Carlson have trouble kicking the ball through the end zone, or was it planned… “The other night the wind was doing some funny things. It was swirling, which is pretty unusual for our stadium, but at the same time it gave us some opportunities to cover. We haven’t had that many opportunities to cover. I think it worked for the good, long-term.”

On Carlton Davis’s performance… “I think the fact that he has stayed healthy has really been the difference, because he was playing at a high level before he got banged up last year. This time last year, we were hanging by a thread in a lot of areas. He was one of those guys that was just getting himself to the game and now he is healthy and you can really see what he is capable of doing. It allows Coach (Kevin) Steele to call defenses like he wants. To have a lot of confidence in your corners, it opens up the playbook.”

On the touchdown pass to Darius Slayton…First of all, I didn’t have anything to do with that. I’m not going to take credit for that, but it was a great read, first of all. It was a great throw and Darius made an unbelievable catch to adjust to it. When you slow it down, they had a guy come from the other side, reaching going in and resisting. It was one of those 50/50 balls that, in a big game, you have to have some of those. That particular play really opened things up for us, because up to that point, we kicked three field goals and it’s an opportunity missed, but when he hit that, it kind of opened everything up. It gave us some breathing room, and probably after that, just the confidence level defensively took off.”

Was he trying to confuse the defense… “That’s a possibility.”

Does he say things on the field to maybe get in someone’s head… “I don’t know, I mean, I coached high school for a long time, and you have to do what you got to do.” The defender can hear you though…“Did he? Y’all don’t miss much; that’s impressive stuff.”

On Jeremiah Dinson… “He’s a coach on the field, and he’s starting to get healthy, too. He barely made it through the LSU game. He’s such a tough young man. He’s starting to get healthy, and he’s our coach on the field. He gets everybody lined up. He’s real crafty, and he’s kind of our veteran guy. He just knows how the offense is trying to attack.”

Performance of the defensive front… “I think it has to impress everybody with the way they did the other night stopping the run. We’ve done a pretty good job of getting after quarterbacks and passing situations this year, but when you stop the run like we did, it definitely is eye-opening. I’m really proud of our defensive front. We ought to give them confidence moving forward.”

Managing the running back workload… “Every game is different and unfolds differently. Obviously, we are going to use common sense, but our mindset is to get better. So many teams will naturally have a letup because of human nature. The challenge, like I said, is that game is behind us, it’s over, it’s great. We’re moving forward now. Louisiana-Monroe is the next opponent, and like I said, they’ve got talent. Their staff is a very veteran staff, a very good, well-coached staff, and we need to play well. That’s our mindset, and so we’re going to progress like we’ve been doing. We’re going to use common sense and play football.”

On Kerryon Johnson saying injuries happen when you let up… “That’s right. He’s right on target. And the thing about K.J., too, I’m just going to say this, too, it’s starting to get cooler. When it gets cooler, guys can carry the football more, and K.J. is a veteran guy. Like I’ve said before, you ask him after every quarter, ‘How (are) you holding up? How (are) you feeling?’ And he is a mature guy enough that will tell you the truth. He probably could have carried it another 10 times the other night. He’s got whatever that is. Tre Mason was exactly the same. Some guys get stronger, and he’s got that ability.”

Has he’s noticed during his career that when teams let up, injuries happen… “I’m not going to say that, but you want to keep the hammer down.”

Is there more emphasis on the team having fun… “Our guys have worked extremely hard, and I want our guys to have fun playing the game, so that was kind of one of those things that I wanted them to do. Obviously, when you win big, it’s more fun. But I want our guys to be a little looser, and really I wanted to be a little looser and I wanted to have fun myself, so that was one of our messages.”

On Chandler Cox… “Chandler Cox is having a great season. He’s been our MVP offensively, I think, two or three games this year. He’s one of those guys that the stats don’t say it, but you look at some key plays from last week’s game and every week, he’s usually making a key block at the point of attack. And he’s getting the ball some this year. He actually has some catches and doing some things. But he’s playing at a high level. He’s healthy, too. This time last year, obviously, he wasn’t healthy, so he’s playing his best football right now.”

Does Cox have the same type of attitude as Jay Prosch had… “Yeah, there’s no doubt. Those two are from the same mold, the same mindset just from physicality — they’re both like coaches on the field. They can adapt. They can make adjustments. We get a lot of information from them about what this guy is doing, what that guy is doing. Both of those guys know our offense very well, and we rely on them.”

On his former player Brennan Marion having a successful season as Howard’s offensive coordinator… “Yeah, I’m real proud of him now. He’s earned everything he’s ever gotten, and so I’m very proud of him. Of course, he’s got Caylin Newton with him. I’m very proud of Caylin. They’re a good team together, and they’re rolling right now. It’s really fun to watch.”

Did he think Marion would be a good coach… “Probably so. It was so important to him. He’s one of the hardest workers that we had, he was unbelievably talented, he loved football and he’s a good person. He’s got a great heart. But, like I said, he’s earned everything he’s ever gotten, and I like that. I like guys that do that. This is his moment, and he’s seizing his moment.”    

Now that you’ve read all of that, you can watch it here: