Gus Malzhn Previews Mercer (Quotes/Video)

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Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn press conference
Previewing the Mercer game

Opening Statement… “We’re coming off a tough loss, obviously, Saturday. I will say this, I’m very proud of our players. I thought they played extremely hard and they played their guts out. Before the game I said this would be a good measuring stick for where we are at as a team for this year, and what we know after that game is defensively, we have a real defense. I’m very proud of those guys and the way they played. Clemson’s offense presents a lot of challenges. On special teams, I feel good about where we are at with our special teams. Our punting game needs to improve, and we will work hard with that.

“Offensively, we didn’t get it done the other night. I think the fact that we’ve got a new coordinator, a new quarterback, a couple new guys up front — it is just going to take a little time for those guys to understand the areas that they need to improve on. Like I said after the game, we are going to be a good offense. You will see that group improve each week. Chip Lindsey has decided to go upstairs. That’s really where his comfort zone is. That’s where he was the last two years at Arizona State. It just feels like he can get a better feel for the defenses and everything that goes with that. Herb Hand will come downstairs. He thinks it will be a good thing for him to run his offensive line up front. Those are the changes, and I think they will definitely help.

“Now, as far as Mercer goes, we are obviously excited. It’s homecoming. When I look at them, you can turn on the film and on all three phases you can tell they are extremely well-coached. They do what they do well and they play hard. Our message to our team is that this is really about us. We can play a good overall game and our team is committed to that. We are looking forward to practicing today and getting ready to play Mercer.”

Any changes on the offensive line… “No changes at this point right now.”

His assessment of Jarrett Stidham’s performance… “He was put in some tough spots and he was hit quite a bit. He was harassed in the passing game. I thought he played with courage and fought. He played extremely hard.”

On balance between no turnovers and taking some shots down field… “When you don’t play well offensively, you tend to look at the things you didn’t get done. We are going to look at the things that need to improve. One thing the offense did is they didn’t turn the ball over. It starts with the quarterback. I thought he and the running backs protected the ball well.”

On the sacks allowed… “We haven’t had 11 sacks before. That is a new thing for us. We have just got to do a better job of putting our quarterback in some better situations. We went against a dominant defensive line and the obvious passing downs are hard. All those things are correctable, though. They will be corrected. It has been only two games under our coordinator’s and players’ belt. Our coordinators have a great understanding of defining what we are and what we are going to be moving forward.”

Why no changes on the offensive line… “I said there probably won’t be changes. We will see how practice goes. We believe in our players. They were put in some tough situations at times. I have got to do a better job. Our coaches have got to do a better job to put our players in better situations. We believe in those guys and they are going to improve. As I said earlier, you are going to see it every week. I’m not ready to sit here right now and say there will be changes. We will see how practice goes. We will challenge those guys. Those guys were put in some tough situations against a very talented defensive line.”

Why not start Wilson Bell… “Wilson is like everybody else. You have got to compete and you have to earn it in practice and on the field. We will see what happens.”

Why change the in-game location of coaches… “I think as a coach, you always look at how you can improve and what you can do as a coach to make your players better, so it’s not an overreaction. It is more of a reaction to what is best, and really Chip’s comfort zone is upstairs – being able to see the field, see defenses — that’s his comfort zone. Originally, he felt pretty strong and felt he needed to be there with the quarterback and look him in the eye and all that. You learn and you look at things and what’s best for the team, and he feels very confident that it’s going to help him, and I know it will. The fact that Herb is going to be down there with his offensive line I think will help, too. As a coach, you really look for things to help your team, and I believe that will happen.”

Who made the decision…Chip brought it up and I told him we supported it. I want to make sure he is comfortable.”

Will this change the dynamic between Malzahn and Lindsey collaborating…Kevin Steele is up there, and I am used to our defensive coordinator to be in the box, so it will not be a factor as far as anything on the sideline goes.”

Malzahn looked very emotional during the game; was he calling plays…I was probably just as animated when we were on defense, special teams and during offense. I am an emotional coach and that is just the way I am.”

Is it hard for him to let Chip Lindsey call the plays…This is Chip’s deal and he is going to do a great job. We will communicate from time to time. We have a good plan moving forward, and like I said, we are going to be better.”

Any concern about the sacks given up at Clemson… “No, I’m just concerned about the last game and needing to correct the things from the last game that we needed to do.”

On Stephen Roberts’ punt returns…There is a fine line and the more that he gets a punt return and he gets more comfortable, the more aggressive he will be. Stephen made a very good decision during the game. He is going to be a huge weapon for us moving forward but I think it’s just a matter of experiencing game situations. He took over last year, but he will learn from it and he will be better in the future.”

Was Clemson jumping the snap count…At times, yeah. There is no doubt that the defensive end was offside one time. We were mixing up our snap count, but I think in the past, for sure, passing situations were a problem.”

On the running game in the second half… “First of all, the Pettway deal, he’s a veteran back, and when you play a big game, we were wanting to get him the ball. That was part of that. Obviously, looking back, we could have been more patient with the run. We thought there were some things there in the passing game, but obviously we didn’t get it done there. As a coach, you look back and you try to correct the things moving forward in the same types of situations.”

On the wheel route to Chandler Cox on 4th-and-3… “It was one of those situations where it was going to be a 55-yard field goal against the wind. Then you have the opportunity to punt. And then as the game gets going on, strategically how you’re moving the football and the chances you’re going to have to score touchdowns. Eli Stove is really the first option on a deep post and we knew they were going to play zero, and then the out-and-up would be the second. They green-dogged through and just didn’t have enough time to hold it a little bit longer. From a coach’s standpoint, any time we go for it on fourth down it’s going to be my call as far as doing that. Just as the game was unfolding, that’s the way I felt. Obviously, you look back and you’d like to take some things back when they don’t work, but at the time the way the game was unfolding, it was hard to move the ball there for a while, and I thought we had a chance to score a touchdown.”

What was the interaction between Malzahn and Lindsey before that play… “No, I don’t really remember the exact situation or really even what the conversation was before the fourth down call. I don’t remember exactly what you’re talking about, but as far as him going upstairs, it’s just the reality he feels like he can do a better job upstairs. You look at everything from a coach’s standpoint and that’s what he feels strongly about. He feels strongly that he can do a better job up there managing the game, seeing the game, the fact that he was there the last two years — that’s really the simplest way to put it.”

Any changes in preparation going forward… “Well, like I said, we’re looking at everything right now. We’re not going to overreact. We are a good offense. You will see the offense improve. We’ve just got to a better job of coaching our guys and getting them prepared.”

Availability of Kerryon Johnson for the Mercer game… “I don’t know. I’m not ready to say yet. I know he was out there moving around pretty well Sunday. We’ve got some other guys banged up. I’m really not ready to say that. I’ll have to see how practice goes this week.”

On fussing from fans and reporters… “From a fan’s standpoint, the frustration they have, which I completely understand, is the way we finished last season and then to look the same Saturday night. I get that. We are going to improve. We’re going to be a good offense, that’s for sure, but that’s the frustration and I understand that. It’s natural, but we are going to improve. We need to look at it from the big-picture standpoint that (Clemson) is one of the best teams in college football, if not the best. We have a very good defense, we have a good kicking game and we’re going to improve on offense. Our goals are all still intact. We’re a good football team. Obviously, we didn’t get it done on one side of the football. It’s frustrating for me, it’s frustrating for our coaches, but we have a team with great leadership. We have a staff that’s very close, and we’re going to put it in our rearview mirror. Our mind is on Mercer. We’re going to play well and we need to improve each week. We have the makings of a good football team.”

Does it take a few weeks for the offense to find its identity… “Looking at this season, it’s the fact that we have a new coordinator, we have a new quarterback and a couple of new guys up front. Chip Lindsey is learning his offense, his players are getting used to him, and that’s really the facts of the matter right now.”

On the role of the tight end… “I’d like to see them get more involved along with our receivers, too. We’ve got to do a good job of being balanced and being effective. Sal Cannella was on the field a couple times and was the main target twice. Jalen Harris was the go-to target down on the goal line and he was covered. There were some priorities in terms of trying to get those guys involved. Sometimes it just doesn’t unfold the way we thought.”

Is there difficulty meshing the running and passing games… “I don’t think that’s creating difficulty. When we were in for-sure passing situations, just trying to get more third downs and four-to-sixes, we had a lot of seven-pluses, and those for-sure passing situations really got the best of us with that defensive line.”

Is Kamryn Pettway healthy… “I expect him to be. We’ll see how he is. There are some others, too, that got a little banged up. We’ll see how practice goes this week and have a better idea later in the week.”

On Darius Slayton’s health… “He’s in that same boat. Darius got hurt late in the first game and wasn’t able to practice. He got in there six or seven plays just trying to do some different things. Hopefully he’ll be healed up. We need to get him 100 percent. He’s a guy that’s a deep threat. That was a tough one not having him.”

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