Quoting Coach Gus Malzahn: Ole Miss Week

Comments from Auburn's head football coach are featured as the Tigers prepare to play the Rebels in a matchup of Top 10 teams at Oxford.

Auburn, Ala.--Comments from Coach Gus Malzahn are featured from his press conference previewing Saturday’s road game at Ole Miss.

Opening Statement: “We are playing a very good opponent in Ole Miss. We are facing a Top 10 opponent on the road. They have played very well at home and have knocked off the No. 1 team in the country at the time.

“They have a great defense. They have only allowed seven touchdowns in eight games, which really stands out. Also, their defense has scored four touchdowns so that really stands out. They have created 24 turnovers so obviously it has to be a focus of ours to protect the football. That will be a big factor in the game.

“They have a senior quarterback who has a lot of experience. He throws the ball extremely well, and he is a very nifty runner. They have some big fast receivers and they do a good job of getting the mismatches as well as getting the one-on-one situations. Overall, this is one of the better teams in the country and we have to go to their place. They have been playing extremely well at home.”

Is there an emphasis on improving the running on the perimeter: “That was one of those things that we compared to the year before and we just weren’t getting the production on the edge like we did the year before so we just wanted to make that a point of emphasis. I thought for the most part our guys did a good job with that the last game.”

On having two number ones (Montravius Adams and Duke Williams) on the final play of the South Carolina game: “That is a thing we worked on that Thursday. It is my responsibility to make sure we don’t have two guys with the same number, and we will do a better job in the future.”

Is there more of home advantage this year in the SEC? “For us we have played the No. 1 team in the country on the road and the No. 11 team in the country on the road. A lot of it has to do with how talented and good they are, at least in our case. We are facing one of the Top 10 teams, again on the road. In our league in the past it has been tough no matter how talented they are. This year on our side just about every team is very talented and I think every team is good so that has a lot to do with it.”

On the team’s slow offensive starts in the two previous road games: “Last game we turned the ball over the first two plays of the game so I don’t think atmosphere had much to do with it. We got off to a bad start and put ourselves into a hole and before we looked up it was 21-0. It was an uphill battle. You look at Kansas State and we’re just figuring out how good they are and how good their defense is.”

On the close connection between Malzahn and Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee: “It is very critical. We have been together a long time. We each know how the other thinks and that definitely helps in certain situations.”

On having a balanced offense: “Being balanced is being good at something and when they try to take away that certain thing you are able to throw the ball and present that and be effective. To be a good offense you have got to have strengths. When they stop those things by taking chances with an extra guy you got to have a complement to do that. That’s what I mean by balance. I think we’re getting better. We are more efficient in running the football and playing with pace. At least we’re taking the right step.”

On his teams improving during the season: “That has been the plan all year, from day one. We are going to need to have that happen because we are playing the meat of our schedule with three Top 10 teams on the road. I don’t know another team in the country that is doing that. That’s the plan and our guys did a great job of that last year.

“I feel like we are improving in areas. We’ve got a big challenge the second half. It’s all the players’ doing. Coaches all say the same thing. It’s the players really buying into finding a way to not lose sight of the little things, to figure out a way go one week at a time, to not look ahead and to not get mentally tired. That’s a big factor. In college football it is such a grind mentally with everything that goes with it. Special teams have a way to not get tired mentally.”

On Coach Hugh Freeze’s defense: “It’s the best defense that Ole Miss has had, at least that I’ve gone against. I went against some pretty good ones when I was coordinator here before. They’re extremely fast and very good up front. They have got speed everywhere and I think they are good tacklers. This is one of the better defenses in the entire country. There’s no doubt about that.”

On the talent on the Ole Miss team: “Hugh is really good at what he does. He’s a great coach. He’s a great communicator. He’s got great vision. It doesn’t surprise me because he is one of the best at what he does.”

Do you change plans facing the Ole Miss secondary? “Strategically, you’re trying to put your guys in the best situations possible. When you’re playing a talented defense, and they have a lot of strengths, it comes down to you being able to execute. Their defense does a great job of making offenses execute on a consistent basis, which is extremely hard to do. They don’t give up a lot of big plays. They do a good job with keeping things in front of them. A big thing that stands out to me is that they get turnovers. That’s going to be a big factor.”

On his team’s pass rush issue: “We definitely need to improve in that. Our coaches are still working on that. At times this year we’ve had a good pass rush and other times we haven’t. That’s going to be a big factor with these next five games.”

On the release of the initial college football playoff rankings: “It does not concern me at all. We have three Top 10 teams on the road. I don’t think there’s another team in college football that can say that. We’ve already gone to Kansas State and they are No. 11. We played the No. 1 team on the road. The ball is in our court. We will worry about that when it gets to the end.”

Is Saturday an SEC elimination game? “I’m viewing this Saturday as the biggest game on the schedule. We have got to go there and we have got to play well to win. That’s the only thing on our mind. We aren’t looking ahead to this and that. We are going to Ole Miss and we are trying to win the game.”

On Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace: “He’s a veteran guy. I think he’s protected the football better. I think he’s made some good decisions. He’s a lot better runner than people think and he is the leader of that team.”

On the improvement of Auburn’s offensive line: “I saw improvement. I saw communication better up front working together with all of the things that really matter. I feel like the off week really helped us, and it carried over in the game. We still have some areas that we need to improve on. We have a chance to get even better in the communication in those little things with the defense that we are fixing to play.”

What made South Carolina successful offensively vs. the Auburn defense? “I think it was a little bit of both. I think they played well and the head coach did a great job with what they do. We had some communication breakdowns that gave them some things, but I think it was a combination of both.”

Is communication more difficult on the road? “It is, but we played decent on the road. At Kansas State our defense played extremely well so it’s just a matter of us eliminating those confusion things and going out and playing good, sound defense.”

On the high run-to-pass ratio on first downs vs. South Carolina: “I think that’s part of coaching: being strategic, seeing what a team’s strengths are, and trying to put your guys in the best situation possible. Each game is different so we’ll see how things go, and we’ll have our plan and we’ll see if it works.”

Is it hard to game plan vs. a coach who knows you well like Freeze? “There is really not as much of that as you would think. You’re worried about yourself and doing what you feel like is the best thing to do. He is doing the same thing, and you see how the game unfolds. There’s not as much of that, at least from our end, as the average fan probably thinks.”

On Jermaine Whitehead’s role on the onside kick team and South Carolina recovering the ball in front of the senior. “He’s not always in that position, but he’s played special teams in the past and he’s a veteran guy. They executed extremely well and they weren’t actually targeting him. It was just that position and that’s what they worked on all week. The games before he hadn’t been there. It was one of those slow things where you’re supposed to attack it if you know it’s going 10 yards. It was really one of those gray areas and it was a tough play.”

On recruiting current Ole Miss and former Auburn High School receiver Cody Core when Malzahn was coaching at Arkansas State. “I thought he was a really good player. Rhett and I came down here to Auburn and tried to convince him to come to Arkansas State and he ended up going to Ole Miss. He was starting to develop into a really good player his senior year, like a lot of players do. I think that had a lot to do with it. (His success) doesn’t surprise me. We were trying to get him to come (to Arkansas State). He’s a good player.”

Cody Core, a junior, makes a big play for the Rebels.

On his relationship with Dave Wommack, the defensive coordinator at Ole Miss: “I got to know Dave when he was at the University of Arkansas and I was coaching high school football. I’ve got a lot of respect for him. He’s a very good person and a very good defensive coordinator. I consider him a friend also.”

On the play of cornerback Jonathan Jones: “He had some injuries last year and fought through some. He’s a guy where you look at his size and early in the year people are going to go after him. I think he’s starting to earn a lot of people’s respect. He’s played extremely well for us. He’s a guy who’s a great competitor. We’re really happy for him.”

On Auburn’s offensive graduate assistant coach, Ryan Aplin: “Aplin was our quarterback at Arkansas State. He and Coach Lashlee have that quarterback-coach relationship. He understands what we do just like Kodi Burns did. He has done a really good job for us and he understands how we operate. There is a lot of pressure on that young man on Saturday doing the signals and everything that goes with that, just like there was on Kodi Burns.”

On the play of the Ole Miss defense vs. LSU: “I’ve been impressed with their defense every game. They’re very impressive. They’re good at what they do and they’ve got some depth. It’s not just the 11 guys they put out there. They play quite a few guys. Whoever they put out there flies around, makes plays, and gets tackles.”

Nick Marshall is in his second season as Auburn's starting quarterback.

On Nick Marshall’s performance in the red zone: “We’ve always prided ourselves on being a good red zone team. We had that one hiccup against Mississippi State and they had something to do with that. He usually makes good decisions down there and he did a good job the other night for us.”

On performance of Reese Dismukes as an all-star candidate: “Our center is like another quarterback. He makes all the calls up front. Everything is on him, especially when you go pace. The center directs everything. He’s a very good athlete, a tough guy. He’s been our leader for a long time.”

Will you increase Cameron Artis-Payne’s workload? “You never know how the season unfolds. We have a lot of confidence in him and this time last year, Tre (Mason) was just coming on. I haven’t looked at the SEC stats, but I would bet that (Artis-Payne) is up towards the top so he’s capable. If we want to give him the ball 40 times, he’s a tough guy that we feel like he could do that. We’ll see.”

On his former player Josh Floyd, who is coaching at Hewitt-Trussville High School: “First of all I’m very proud of Josh, not only as a coach, but also as a person. He was the quarterback before Rhett Lashlee when I was at Shiloh Christian. He took over that program, won state championships and was looking for a new challenge. He decided to come to Alabama and he’s off to a very good start and he’s really good. He’s really good at what he does and he’s an even better person.”

On showing confidence in Ricardo Louis after the fumbled kickoff at Mississippi State: “Ricardo is a veteran guy. He made some big plays for us last year to win games. He made a mistake, and it was a big mistake, but he’s a competitor and he came back. We gave him the ball and I thought that was a good way for him to get back. Any time as a coach you just challenge your guys. He turned it on and did a pretty good job on that speed sweep.”

On the development of Roc Thomas as a freshman running back: “He’s getting there. If you look back, I guess in 2010 Michael Dyer was in a similar situation and he started feeling more and more comfortable in the second half of the season. I think Roc is starting to feel that same way. He’s wanting to play, wanting the ball and protecting the ball. As a coach, with a freshman, he’s a talented runner but protecting the football is critical, especially this time of year with the opponents we’re fixing to play.”

Is ball security more critical for Thomas with his running style: “It’s a possibility. Cameron Artis-Payne was doing a lot of spinning, too, the other night. I didn’t want him to do all that spinning, but he did so protecting the football is just protecting the football to me.”


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