Ball Security A Priority For Malzahn's Tigers

Comments from Auburn's head football coach plus news and notes on Auburn's game at Ole Miss are featured as the Tigers continue on-the-field preparations for a road trip.

Auburn, Ala.--Working out for two hours and 15 minutes in shoulder pads, helmets and shorts, ball security was on the mind of the Auburn football Tigers as they continued preparations for a road trip to Ole Miss.

The Tigers will take on an opponent that leads the nation in interceptions with 17, which has helped the Rebels to allow just one opponent to score 20 points so far this season. That was Texas A&M, a team the Rebels defeated 35-20. Overall, the Rebels have 24 takeaways.

“The big thing, I think, is we have got to protect the football,” Malzahn said. “They are so good at getting turnovers. Matter of fact, they score off of turnovers. I think that's a critical thing.

Ole Miss has allowed just seven touchdowns this season while its defense has scored four touchdowns going into Saturday’s SEC West showdown at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford.

“They have got talented receivers and make big plays in the passing game,” Malzahn said of the Rebels, who are 7-1 overall and ranked No. 4 in the initial college playoff poll, one spot behind 6-1 Auburn.

“I think the two factors are we have got to protect the football and we have got to keep them from having explosive plays,” Malzahn said. “That's kind of the plan.”

Auburn has done a solid job of avoiding turnovers. The Tigers are plus six for the season in turnover margin with seven fumbles lost and just three interceptions.

Malzahn said that he likes how quarterback Nick Marshall has improved his ball security as both a runner and a passer. “He worked hard (on that) in the spring,” the coach pointed out. “That was just a point of emphasis for him to protect the football better. He has been protecting it better. That’s a positive thing.”

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

Commenting on his team’s preparation for Saturday night’s game, Malzahn said, “We have had a solid two days of practice. I thought the focus was good. I think our guys are getting in that mode this time of year about getting in a rhythm, about practicing and a routine, which is a good routine.”

Against Kansas State and Mississippi State the Auburn offense got off to slow starts. “We have got to do a better job of getting out of the gate with a little more success,” the head coach noted. “We are working hard on that. It’s a little bit later in the year so hopefully we’ll respond in a better way than we did in the first two road games.”

Jonathan Jones goes into Saturday’s contest second in the SEC in pass interceptions with five in seven games, trailing only Senquez Golson of Ole Miss, who has eight in eight games.

Jones, a junior cornerback, said he has improved since earlier in the season. “I take it back to the Kansas State game where I wasn’t really making a play on the ball, wasn’t really turning my head around and I’ve done it several times in practice,” he pointed out.

“Coach (Melvin Smith) told me just settle down and do what I’ve seen you do plenty of times,” said Jones, who noted it has now become “second nature to calm down and make plays.”

The cornerback leads the SEC in the passes defended (interceptions plus deflections) statistic at 1.57 per game. Golson is next at 1.50. The junior said he expects to be busy on Saturday night. “They are good at throwing the ball. They have great receivers and a good quarterback so we just have to watch film and see what they like to do and go out and try to stop them.”

Malzahn noted he likes how Jones has bounced back from an injury-plagued sophomore season. “He is a guy that you look at his size and early in year people are going to go after him and all that,” Malzahn said. “I think he is starting to earn a lot of people’s respect. He has played extremely well for us. He is a guy that is a great competitor and we’re real happy with him.”

In other news and notes:

*Malzahn said that offensive tackle Patrick Miller has recovered from his ankle injury and is available to start if needed this week. However, Avery Young is expected to line up at right tackle again this week with Miller in reserve.

Commenting on how Miller is dealing with not being in the lineup, Malzahn said, “He could still play this week. He has handled everything well. He is a big part of what we are doing.”

Commenting on the offensive line’s performance vs. South Carolina, the coach said, “We played pretty well last week.”

*Former starting safety Jermaine Whitehead, who returned from a suspension last week, is not working with the secondary, Malzahn said. “He is still on the scout team, but he’s doing some special teams. He still has a couple of different roles on kickoff returns.”

*Asked about sophomore receiver Marcus Davis, who has not played a major role in the offense like he did last year, Malzahn said, “He does a lot of things that stats don’t show. He is an extremely good blocker. He runs good routes sometimes to get other people open.

Marcus Davis played a major role for the Tigers last season.

“He is a guy we definitely feel like we can count on. He will have one of those games, I truly believe, before this season is out. He will be a factor even on the receiving end.”

*Asked about the role of freshman running back Roc Thomas, Malzahn said, “Well, we've put him in there, and he has done good with his ball security so far. We put him in there the first road game, and he played more this past week and protected the football. At this point in the year, as a coach, you put guys in there that you have confidence that will protect the football.”

*Asked about fourth team tailback Peyton Barber, Malzahn said, “He is getting a lot of practice time. I have said before we have got confidence in him. We’ll see what goes the rest of the year.”

*The Ole Miss defense is allowing opponents an average of just 18.1 first downs per contest. Auburn’s offense has a streak of 12 games with at least 20 first downs. The 2014 AU offense is averaging 24.7 first downs per game.

*Ole Miss has not given up a touchdown in the first quarter through eight games this season. Auburn has scored an offensive touchdown in 42 of its last 46 quarters.

*The Rebels are allowing opponents an average of just 118 rushing yards per game. The Tigers go into the contest averaging an SEC-leading 281 rushing yards per game and have a streak of four games in which a runner has topped the 100-yard mark. In the last 13 Auburn games Kansas State was the only defense to keep the Tigers from having a 100-yard rusher.

*The Tigers have scored 275 points this season. Only the 1995 team with 290 and the 2010 team with 285 scored more points through the first seven games of a season than this year’s group has.

*Despite giving up 416 passing yards last week to South Carolina, the Tigers defeated the Gamecocks 42-35. In the process they won for the sixth consecutive time in games in which they gave up 400-plus passing yards. The previous one was vs. Georgia last season when the Bulldogs gained 415. The Tigers also gave up 469 yards to Texas A&M?last season in a victory at College Station, Tex.

*Kickoff for Saturday’s game is set for 6 p.m. with TV coverage on ESPN. Brad Nessler will do the play-by-play with Todd Blackledge the analyst.

*The Auburn Radio Network broadcast can be found on Sirius Channel 85 and XM Channel 85 with Rod Bramblett, Stan White, Quentin Riggins, Paul Ellen and Andy Burcham handling the coverage. The game will also be carried by ESPN Radio.

*The Tigers lead the series 28-10, but lost in their last visit to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in 2012. Auburn’s all-time record in Oxford is 12-3 with eight wins in the Tigers’ last 10 trips to Ole Miss.

*Saturday’s weather forecast in Oxford is for dry and very cool weather. Fans making the trip will need to dress warmly with the low temperature that day expected to get to around the freezing mark.

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