Malzahn Pleased With Practice for USC Game

Comments from Auburn's head football coach plus notes and player comments are featured as the Tigers prepare to play the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Josh Holsey (above) is a key player for the Auburn defense.

Auburn, Ala.--The fifth-ranked Auburn football Tigers worked out for two hours in helmets and shoulder pads on Wednesday evening as they continued preparations for Saturday’s home game vs. South Carolina.

With the Tigers coming off a bye week they have had extra time to prepare for the Gamecocks. “We pretty much have our game plan installed,” Coach Gus Malzahn said. “I thought our guys were urgent today, and really yesterday, too, just getting ready for the game.”

One of the projects for the Tigers with two weeks to prepare for South Carolina has been training senior safety Brandon King to line up at defensive end to use his quickness as a rusher in obvious passing situations.

Asked if he thinks King is ready to help the defense this week, Malzahn said, “I think so. He has been in some packages up to this point and made a couple of really good plays the last two games.”

Brandon King makes a play for the Tigers last season as a junior.

King, who joined the team last season as a transfer from junior college, opened the 2014 season with a cast on his hand to protect a broken bone. With the other safeties performing well, the plan by Defensive Coordinator Ellis Johnson is to find another way for the senior to contribute in addition to special teams.

“He has got a high motor,” Malzahn said. “Ellis has just moved him around trying to use his skills.”

Despite former starting safety Jermaine Whitehead being reinstated to the team this week, Josh Holsey is expected to keep the starting spot he has held since game three at Kansas State when he made the move to free safety from cornerback.

Malzahn has said very little about why Whitehead was suspended for four games. Commenting on the subject, Holsey said, “We didn’t get too many details about it, we just know he is back and we’re happy to have him back.”

Holsey noted that he expects South Carolina’s offense to focus on trying to control the football on the ground and then mix in big plays with the passing game.

“You have got to know they are going to run, run and then try to hit the play-action deep balls every now and then,” he said. “You have just got to have really good eyes playing those run-first teams. You have got to be disciplined in your job.”

The junior safety said the Gamecocks are quite capable of moving the ball with throws from fifth-year senior quarterback Dylan Thompson, who has passed for an average of 262.7 yards per game with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions in his first season as a full-time starter.

“They have got a couple speedsters on the outside and they have got a couple big guys on the inside who can really run,” Holsey says of USC’s receivers. “They are a really balanced team if you really look at them. We have a challenge in front of us, but I feel like we are going to step up to the plate and handle that challenge as a secondary.”

Holsey, who is third on the team in total tackles with 26, predicts his team will come out “with a vengeance” on Saturday looking to bounce back after a loss at Mississippi State. “This game right here is really just to show people that we are still the Auburn Tigers,” he said.

The Tigers are looking to extend their homefield winning streak to 14 games, which would tie FSU for the nation’s longest.

Redshirt sophomore offensive guard/tackle Avery Young pointed out the Tigers enjoy playing at Jordan-Hare Stadium. “It’s a great feeling,” he said. “I love our fans. The whole Auburn family is just so tight. It’s a great feeling to be able to play at home and in the stadium here.”

Avery Young

Young said the extra week of preparation time for this week’s game should help the offensive line become a smoother functioning unit.

“It was real big,” he noted. “It gave us time to evaluate ourselves and get everything done we needed to get done and see what we needed to work on. It was something we really needed. It helps.”

In other news and notes:

*After Tuesday’s practice offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said not to expect a change in the offensive line starting lineup from the previous game when Patrick Miller was out with an ankle sprain. Malzahn said Wednesday night that Miller has made progress and will be ready to play if needed. “We have just tried to be smart with all of the guys who are a little bit banged up,” the coach said.

*Another offensive lineman, freshman Braden Smith, could see action at tight end this week, something he did vs. Mississippi State.

*Since Malzahn took over as head coach the Tigers are one of just four FBS teams to score at least 20 points in every game. FSU, Ohio State and Marshall are the others.

*The last time the Tigers played South Carolina, Auburn won 16-13 on Oct. 1, 2011. Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen scored the game-winning touchdown on a nine-yard pass from Barrett Trotter with 1:38 left in the final quarter.

The last time the Tigers and Gamecocks played in Jordan-Hare Stadium was on Sept. 25, 2010. Cam Newton rushed for 176 yards and threw for 158 more as the Tigers took a 35-27 victory in the first of two games featuring those teams that season. Auburn won the rematch 56-17 at the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.

*Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. CDT on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The game will be televised on the SEC Network with Brent Musberger doing the play-by-play and Jesse Palmer the analyst. The Auburn Network’s radio coverage is available on Sirius Channel 126 and XM Channel 191. The game will also be carried on the Touchdown Radio Network.

*Under Steve Spurrier as head coach the Gamecocks have two victories over teams ranked No. 5 nationally, which is where Auburn is listed in this week’s AP Top 25 team. Last season the Gamecocks won 27-24 at No. 5 Missouri and the previous year knocked off No. 5 Georgia 35-7 in a home game.

*The Gamecocks have one victory vs. this year vs. a Top 10 opponent, knocking off Georgia 38-35 when the Bulldogs were ranked No. 6 on Sept. 13. South Carolina will arrive at Auburn with a 2-3 SEC record and is 4-3 overall. South Carolina opened the season ranked No. 9 nationally.

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