Malzahn: Tigers Respond to Coach's Challenge

News, notes and quotes from Auburn football are featured as the Tigers prepare for their Homecoming game vs. Louisiana Tech.

Gus Malzahn said the coaching staff asked their football team to have a good week of practice and Auburn’s head coach said he likes what he has seen so far.

Malzahn put the Tigers through a two-hour workout on Wednesday evening in shoulder pads, helmets and shorts as they installed the game plan for Saturday’s home matchup vs. Louisiana Tech.

“Probably the last two days, if you can combine those, are probably two of the better, if not two of the best, practice days we have had,” the coach said.

“We have challenged our players and they have responded,” he said. “I think that is a real positive as far as that goes. We had some physical practices, and as I have said all along, just kind of get back to the basics offensively, defensively and special teams.”

After a close call in the six-point victory at Kansas State, Malzahn said that result made it clear to the players they need to get better. “Any time you can get the attention of a group to improve I think it is a positive thing. Our players, they know we didn’t player our best and they know we didn’t execute our best.”

The coach added that he believes the practices on Tuesday and Wednesday were a response to how the Tigers performed in their first road game. “That is a positive,” he said. “We have got to carry that over on Saturday. Usually, it does carry over if you practice well.”

Malzahn said that the defense responded well, too, even though the Tigers performed well last week.

One Auburn’s goals in preseason was to increase the number of interceptions. With Trovon Reed getting his second of the season in game three and Jonathan Jones picking up his first the Tigers now have six this season.

Jones, a junior cornerback, said the interceptions are a sign the defense is making progress. “It means guys know where they are supposed to be. They are getting into their alignments and doing their job.

“It also helps the front,” Jones pointed out. “Anytime you can cover and the front is doing a good job getting pressure on people, that makes them put the ball in the air when they don’t want to. It’s a testament to the front’s play and the secondary.”

Trovon Reed (left), Jonathan Jones (right).

Coming off their best overall defensive performance of the young season in the 20-14 victory over Kansas State, Jones points out the Tigers are not satisfied. “We talk every week about improving on defense,” he said. “Obviously we did it, but we also made mistakes. We definitely got better. It was a game for us on the road in a hostile environment. We were able to get better and that was a good improvement.”

Although he had an interception, not everything went smoothly for the Auburn or for Jones personally at Kansas State. He was flagged for pass interference twice in the game.

“On the first one we just got our feet tangled up and they had to call that one,” he said. “The second one was a judgement call and if they feel you got there too early, they are going to throw the flag if you don’t turn around. Coach always says, ‘Play the next play,’ so after each play it’s not on my mind.”

Commenting on his interception in the end zone, Jones said, “They were running little pick routes that whole drive because they know we like to press. Coach says don’t give up on a play because you never know what will happen. That’s what we do on defense, we fly around to the football and when you do that good things will happen.”

Another junior defensive back, Josh Holsey, made 10 solo tackles and one assist vs. Kansas State. That was enough to earn him SEC Defensive Player of the Week status, which was particularly impressive since Holsey moved back to safety just before the game and only had two practice days to get comfortable there after working at cornerback in the first two contests. The position move was made after starter Jermaine Whitehead was suspended, which is still his status for this week’s game.

Jones pointed out that he was impressed with Holsey’s performance. “He did good,” the cornerback said. “He made the calls he needed to make. I don’t remember him missing any calls when I was out there. It was simple for him. He has been there before--no issues, no nervousness. It was just a walk in the park for him.”

Josh Holsey has been a key performer for the Tigers since his freshman season.

Holsey moved from cornerback to safety prior to the 2013 season and started at free safety before being injured in practice two days before the Texas A&M game. After having knee surgery he was held out for the remainder of the season and was also held out of contact work in practice until August.

Malzahn also had praise for Holsey, saying he is “definitely” a smart football player. “You are talking about a guy who played boundary safety last year and we moved him to corner and played boundary corner. Well, on two days (of practice) he went out there and played field safety and he was the SEC Defensive Player of the Week.

“He is just kind of a natural back there,” the coach said. “He has a good understanding of our defensive scheme. He has a good understanding of how offenses attack and he is a good tackler, too. I think everybody saw that. He made a lot of one-on-one tackles the other night that were very critical.”

This week’s opponent, Louisiana Tech, will be at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday for a 3 p.m. CDT kickoff. The game is being televised on the SEC Network.

“They like to spread the ball around and throw the ball,” Jones said of Tech’s offense. He added that the Tigers are preparing seriously for this game even though the Bulldogs aren’t ranked and Auburn is a heavy favorite to improve its record to 4-0 vs. an opponent that is 2-2.

“Coach says to never overlook any opponent,” Jones said. “You get ready for them the same way you get ready for LSU or Georgia. You come in and practice on Tuesday and Wednesdays and get to it. We practice the same way every week.”

In other news and notes:

*Walk-on punter Matthew Shiel, who made his Auburn debut vs. Kansas State, averted a disaster when he launched a nice punt on the run after dropping what Malzahn said was a less than on target snap. The coach said that Shiel will continue to get a chance to punt when the Tigers need to pin opponents deep.

“He has been very good at pooch-punting before,” said Malzahn, who added, “We have confidence in him.”

*Junior wide receiver Sammie Coates, who was less than full speed vs. Kansas State, has had “a solid week” of practice and improved, Malzahn said. “Hopefully, we have him close to 100 percent, if not 100 percent, by Saturday.”

*Louisiana Tech has the distinction of being the only team in the country that has had to prepare for two top five ranked opponents this season. The Bulldogs opened the with a 48-15 loss at Oklahoma, which is ranked third and fourth. The wins came on the road vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (48-20) and North Texas (42-21) and the other loss was last Saturday night in a upset 30-27 decision in a home game vs. Northwestern State.

*Tech features one of the top running backs in the country. Kenneth Dixon, a 5-10, 214-pound junior who has 2,515 career rushing yards and 36 touchdowns. This season he has run the football 69 times for 404 yards and 428 yards. He tied an NCAA record for the longest rush with a 99-yarder vs. Louisiana-LaFayette.

*The Bulldogs have been very competitive in their last three games vs. SEC teams. In 2012 they lost 59-57 to Texas A&M. In 2011 they whipped Ole Miss 27-7 and lost 26-20 to Mississippi State in overtime. Tech won its last two games vs. Alabama and played close contests vs. Arkansas and LSU the last time those teams matched up. Auburn is the SEC West team that has been tough on the Bulldogs. Auburn leads the series 11-0-1 and won the last meeting 37-13 in 2009.

*Since 2011 the Bulldogs have a 3-5 record vs. Power 5 conference teams with victories at Illinois and Virginia, but have lost their last four to Texas A&M in 2012, North Carolina State (40-14) and Kansas (13-10) in 2013 and Oklahoma this year.

*Auburn and Louisiana Tech are two of 20 FBS teams that are 100 percent in converting red zone trips into points. The Tigers are 14-14 and the Bulldogs are 11-11, a big improvement over last year when Tech ranked 90th nationally with a 79.1 percentage.

*Skip Holtz, who is in his second season as head coach at Louisiana Tech, has a career record of 94-81. He ranks 24th among active head coaches in total victories. Frank Beamer of Virginia Tech is No. 1 with 268 followed by Steve Spurrier of South Carolina with 222.

*Saturday’s contest is Homecoming for the Tigers, who are looking to extend a couple of streaks when they take on the Bulldogs. Auburn has not lost a Homecoming game since falling 24-17 to Mississippi State in 1991 and the Tigers are riding a 24-game homefield winning streak vs. non-conference opponents.

With a win the Tigers would pick up their 300th victory in games played at Jordan-Hare Stadium. This is the 75th year the Tigers have played games on the current home field.

*Brent Musburger, Jessie Palmer and Maria Taylor will handle the TV coverate on the SEC Network for Saturday’s game. The contest will be available on satellite radio on Sirius 119 and XM 190 with Rod Bramblett, Stan White, Quentin Riggins, Paul Ellen and Andy Burcham handling the coverage.

*Louisiana Tech is a member of Conference USA. The Tigers have a record of 32-7-1 in games vs. current members of that league. The most matchups have come vs. Southern Miss. The Tigers are 17-5 vs. the Golden Eagles.

*Saturday’s game will be the 88th Homecoming contest in Auburn football history. The Tigers have a record of 75-8-4 in those games. The current 22-game Homecoming winning streak is the longest in school history.

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