If new University of Arkansas offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is nervous about making the jump from high school coach to his first college coaching game on Saturday night, it sure doesn't show.
In fact, he sees it as just another opener - even if the guys are the other side of the field are one of college football's most successful programs in recent years.
"From my standpoint, it feels like any other opener," Malzahn said, "but I am sure that outside of here it is a little bit bigger. We are just ready to play somebody else."
He did expound on what he considers the same philosophy of preparing for Shreveport Evangel or USC.
"I'm talking about as far as preparing and getting a team ready," Malzahn said. "When you are here (on the practice field) that is really all you are thinking about, your team and the job you have to do and all that. You don't think too much on what happens outside of here."
Quizzed about how that could be with 75,000 people in the stands, national television and USC all in front of him, Malzahn couldn't help but laugh.
"Are you trying to make me nervous? Malzahn said. "No, I am sure pregame will be exciting and you get excited while seeing all that excitement, but once the game starts, you have a job to do and you get focused in on what is on the field and that is really about all you know."
Malzahn, one of the more successful high school coaches in the country recently and one who took his Springdale squad to a 14-0 dominant state championship season in 2005, does admit there has been a newness in some aspects.
"Anytime you are working with new people and even new kids, there is stuff you learn each game and you get better at," Malzahn said. "I think we are now very familiar with each other and it is just a matter of getting out there and playing somebody else."
Malzahn was brought in to make the UA offense more balanced.
"We have got to hold onto the football," Malzahn said. "I think it would be important to get off to a good start, especially offensively. That's our goal and that is what we really are shooting for."
Malzahn is also the wide receivers coach and believes he has a crew ready to perform well on Saturday night, including his old Springdale star Damian Williams.
"Of course, I know him well and I have high expectations for him," Malzahn said. "He is young and he is green and I am sure he has got a lot to learn, but I expect him to get better every week."
Williams is just one of a bevy of wideouts that Malzahn plans to have running all over the field on Saturday night.
"We have got our guys we are going to go with and we feel like we have some depth at positions," Malzahn said. "You will see us at times with numerous receivers on the field."
One of those could be highly celebrated freshman London Crawford, who has missed several practices during preseason camp, but ran during practice on Sunday and was able to get through a whole workout on Tuesday.
"He is back to practice and that's a good thing," Malzahn said. "He is a little bit rusty right now, but it is good we have got a few more days of practice. He can flat out run and he is a strong kid."
Sophomore tailback Felix Jones - who had a single game high of 14 carries last season - will get a lot more touches with starting tailback Darren McFadden expected to be out as he continues to rehab a toe injury.
"We are going to depend highly on him," Malzahn said. "He is so versatile and he has got another gear. He catches the ball well and blocks really smart. We are glad we've got him."
Is Jones ready to handle the big load?
"I realIy do and I think this fall camp has gotten him ready for that," Malzahn said. "He hasn't got a whole lot of breaks, but he hadn't complained. He gets after it. He is one of the better in-shape players we have on our team."
Quarterback Casey Dick and tailback McFadden - both expected starters for USC heading into preseason - have missed tons of practice but did go through some work on Tuesday.
"We have got them out here just trying to get ready," Malzahn said. "If we have both of them back by the conference opener (Sept. 16 at Vanderbilt) I would be tickled to death."
Malzahn said he is feeling very good about starting quarterback Robert Johnson and the offense.
"The last three days he has really raised his level and we have been performing and executing well," Malzahn said. "It's mainly because of him because he is in a comfort zone and gets us in the right protections and he has the right reads. We are really expecting him to play well."
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