“We have had two good practices,” Auburn’s head coach said. “They were intense. Our guys were really engaged, really focused on fundamentals--a lot more individual than you would in the middle of a game week, which has been really good. We really slowed things down.
“We worked some special teams and did the same thing--a lot of individual technique, a lot of competition,” the coach pointed out. “We were able to film, evaluate it and work on technique.”
Asked if there are going to be changes in who plays in the second half of the season, Malzahn said, “I wouldn’t say anything major, but there are some things we are going to look at moving forward--about different things in all three phases.
“You want to build on what you have established,” he said. “In all three phases we have done some good things throughout the first six games. You are always trying to get better, whether it is little wrinkles schematically, whether it is possible personnel (changes) in certain situations. You are always trying to improve.”
One of the personnel moves the Tigers are looking at is using freshman Braden Smith at left guard where he began practicing on Tuesday. “He has played some left tackle, he has played some tight end and we also want to look at him at guard. We have kind of been doing that this week.
“He is a young man who has a lot of talent,” Malzahn added. “He has shown the moment is not going to be too big for him. We think he is ready to play so he has the ability to do all three at this point.”
Malzahn noted that he isn’t ready to declare that Smith will break into the starting lineup, but added he graded out “overall pretty good” in his prime-time snaps at tight end vs. Mississippi State.
Smith, who has practiced primarily at left tackle, is getting a look at left guard to make the learning curve less steep. “With the no huddle we try to keep you on the same side--that definitely helps,” the coach pointed out. “He is a smart guy, he is a very talented, physical guy.”
Malzahn said Smith has done enough to show the coaches “that he can definitely be a part of the depth situation” and added, “We are fixing to enter the grind and have six (straight) games. There are going to be some very physical games, too. It is always good to have some depth. We are getting more confidence with him each practice.”
Patrick Miller is a junior for the Tigers.
Malzahn said that Miller is making progress. “He is out practicing,” the coach said. “Of course, he practiced last week, too. We felt like he could play in an emergency situation. He is better this week than he was last week, but we will just see as it gets into next week how healthy he is and all that.”
In other news and notes:
*Senior safety Jermaine Whitehead’s suspension from the team continues. “He has not been a part of anything--nothing has changed,” Malzahn said when asked for a status update. Asked if the former starter’s status with the team could change, the coach said, “It’s possible, but right now it hasn’t.”
*Freshman “star” rover Nick Ruffin, a converted cornerback, is running second team behind Robenson Therezie with Justin Garrett now working at weakside linebacker. Malzahn said he likes how Ruffin is developing. “The thing that has impressed me is his tackling. He is a physical guy that doesn’t mind sticking his nose in there. He is really smart, too, and that helps.”
Nick Ruffin is shown at Auburn's Fan Day.
*Auburn’s head coach was clearly perturbed with multiple calls made by the officiating crew during Saturday’s loss at Mississippi State. SEC rules forbid coaches from making public statements critical of officials. The league’s director of officials, Steve Shaw, said he discussed Saturday’s game with the AU staff.
Asked what that conversation was about, Malzahn said, “Every week as coaches you submit certain plays and all that, and really the main goal is to get the interpretation so you can coach your guys up better next time and whatever. I wouldn’t read too much into that. That’s an every week deal.”
*With the suspension of Georgia star running back Todd Gurley while being investigated about the potential he has broken rules by taking money for signing merchandise, Auburn’s coach was asked if he had talked to his players about that subject and whether or not the Tigers would consider banning players from doing autographs. “We always educate our guys on the cans and can’t-dos, but we always want our guys to be fan friendly, and engage in that,” Malzahn said.
*Duke Williams leads Auburn in receiving yards with 493. That is the most by an AU player after six games since Tyrone Goodson had 637 in 1997 catching passes from Dameyune Craig, Auburn’s current wide receivers coach. Williams has three
Duke Williams caught two touchdown passes vs. Mississippi State.
*The Tigers have been a better team on third downs, both offensively and defensively, after halftime. For the season the offense is converting 54 percent of their opportunities with a 61.4 percentage for the third and fourth quarters. Opponents are converting 33.3 percent of their third downs vs. the Tigers, a figure that drops to 30.2 percent in the second half.
*Auburn is ranked second this week in the national numbers for third down conversions behind Georgia Tech’s 58.9.
*Auburn’s scoring margin of plus 20.5 points per contest is the best after since games for the Tigers since the 2005 team was at plus 26.7 with 256 points. Auburn’s season scoring total of 233 points is the fourth highest in AU history for the first six games. The 1986 and 1922 teams are second with 238 points,
*At the halfway point of the regular season the Tigers have scored eight touchdowns on first down plays (seven runs, one pass), seven on second downs (three rush, four pass), nine on third downs (eight runs, one pass) and one on fourth down (run).