Quoting Gus Malzahn: Alabama Game Week

Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn talks about preparations for the Iron Bowl.

Auburn, Ala.--Comments from Auburn coach Gus Malzahn are featured from his press conference on Tuesday previewing Saturday’s Auburn at Alabama football game.

Opening statement: “Iron Bowl week is finally here. In my opinion, it is the best rivalry in all of college football. We are playing the No. 1 team in the country at their place. This is will be the fifth time we will play a Top 20 team on the road so hopefully that experience will help with that.

“Offensively, they are one of the best in college football led by their quarterback Blake Sims, who I think has had an outstanding year. He is efficient with the ball. He protects the ball. He has the ability to hurt you with his legs too. Amari Cooper is one of the better playmakers in all of college football, if not the best playmaker. He is a special player. Add to that a very good running game so they present a lot of challenges offensively.

“Defensively, it is pretty much the same as it is every year. They have talented players at every position. They are good with their run fits. They are strong and athletic up front. They usually stop the run with their front six or seven and let the other guys play back in the pass. That presents a lot of challenges.

“As for us, Davonte Lambert will not play. He had (knee) surgery today. He will be out for the year. That is a big blow and we will need some guys to step up. Jeffrey Whitaker will also not play. He is still injured. Everyone else we are expecting to play. We are excited to play this game and we are looking forward to going to Tuscaloosa.”

On D’haquille Williams returning: “He is one of our playmakers. He has had an outstanding year. He has the ability to make one-on-one plays and plays in traffic. I don’t know if he is at 100 percent, but we are expecting him to play.”

On Blake Sims’ impact on Alabama’s mobility: “He has had an outstanding year. He has done a great job protecting the ball. When he throws it, it has been accurate. When he runs it, he can really run. He is a very good athlete. He has done a really good job managing their offense.”

On Auburn’s confidence level: “We went through some tough times, but this is the Iron Bowl. We have got a lot of character on this team and I expect our guys to be ready to play and I know They are excited to play.”

Are there different implications for the game this year? “We wanted to try and repeat as SEC champs and the reality of that is no longer. This team still has a lot to play for. We have the chance to have back-to-back 10 win seasons for the first time since 1989 so this group has a lot to play for. This is the Iron Bowl and these guys will be ready.”

On the loss of Davonte Lambert: “He’s a factor, that’s no doubt. We need some other guys to step up. Football is a team game and when you’re playing against your rival we need guys to step up and have guys play better than they’ve played all year.”

On the importance of getting Nick Marshall involved in the run game early: “When he is a run threat, it changes the dynamics of the game. That will be a factor. Any time you have experience in a particular game or against a team, it can help us. It’s not a shock to the system. Nick has a good understanding of all that.”

What will Nick Marshall’s legacy be? “He was a big part of leading us to the national championship and it would have been extremely hard to get there without him. He has been very good for us. He’s one of the best to ever come through here. That question is probably better answered at the end of the season.”

Nick Marshall goes into Saturday's game ranked ninth in Auburn career passing yardage.

On what an Iron Bowl win would mean in terms of a 10-win season or a New Year’s bowl: “I think all of the above are in play. We are trying to be as good as we can be, and finish this thing as strong as we can. Our guys are committed to that, and I know our coaches are, too.”

On Alabama’s front seven on defense: “That’s definitely a factor. It looks like they are playing a few more guys than they did last year, too. They do a good job of keeping those guys fresh so that will be a challenge, but to be able to beat a team like this you’re going to have to be able to run the football. You have got to make some plays in the passing game, but you have got to be able to run the football. We were able to do that last year, and we need to do the same thing this year.”

On avoiding a slow start: “We have got to do a good job as coaches helping these guys get off to a good start, and our players need to respond.”

Why is Alabama playing so much better at home than on the road?: “They’ve played very well at home. They are obviously very comfortable there. It’s a tough place to play. Most teams are going to play better at home, but this year specifically, they’ve been quite a bit better.”

All the talk this week about the Kick Six: “I know it doesn’t distract us. It’s a new year. This is a new team just like theirs is a new team. There are players who have overlapped that played in it, but this is a new year and a new game.”

How has Lane Kiffin has changed Alabama’s offense? “They are playing with some tempo. They are spreading things out. In the past they have been a little more old-school-approach style offense and now They are spreading things out. They’ve done a very good job doing that.”

Why is the Iron Bowl the best rivalry in college football? “It’s Auburn and Alabama. It’s 365 days a year.”

Is there a difference in the team’s mindset this week? “It’s been different than the last few weeks and it should be. I’m sure They are doing the same thing; that’s what makes this rivalry that much more special. I know they’ll be ready, our guys will be ready, and we’ll see who wins.”

On playing at Bryant-Denny Stadium: “It’s loud. There are a lot of places that are loud, but it’s a rivalry game so it’s usually different at their stadium and it’s usually different when they come to our stadium.”

On his involvement in the Iron Bowl: “I actually coached against Alabama in 2006 when I was at Arkansas, and, of course, the Iron Bowl in 2009. People can tell you about a certain rivalry, but until you’re initially a part of it that first time you don’t understand it. Things become a lot clearer after that first time you experience the Iron Bowl. You understand it better.”

On the meaning of the rivalry: “It’s the Iron Bowl. In my opinion, it’s the best rivalry in college football and it’s very important to our players and our coaches, it’s very important to their players and coaches and both fan bases.”

On Quay Bray’s fumbles returning punts: “He needs to protect the football, but he needs to make plays. He needs to make a play in this game, but he also needs to protect the football better than he has in the last few games. He’s still one of the better punt returners in all of college football. Bottom line is that he has to protect the football better.”

On simulating Amari Cooper in practice: “You can put a jersey on somebody that has the same number, but to simulate one of the best players in college football it’s probably not realistic. You do the best you can.”

On the passing game in recent games without Duke Williams: “He has a big impact. Until he got hurt he made a lot of plays for us in the passing game. You know we didn’t have him or Ricardo last week and it definitely changes things. To get both of those guys back on the field, that will get things back into balance better than it has been the last few weeks.”

On the team seam’s Thanksgiving schedule: “We are going to use the same schedule we did last year, which I think worked out pretty well. We’ll have a Thanksgiving practice and a Thanksgiving meal with our team and coaches and everything that goes with that. We’ll give them some time that afternoon and bring them back later that evening. Thanksgiving, we definitely want to celebrate. We have got a lot to be thankful for.”

Comfort level between Marshall and Williams: “It’s very important. Any time you’re a quarterback, it’s important to have certain receivers you feel comfortable with and after you’ve played with them, it gives you the confidence they’ll make a play for you if you put the ball in a certain area. That will definitely be a plus.”

Can you put too much focus on Amari Cooper.? “It is going to be about balance. They have other weapons that have been extremely talented in the passing game, but they are also good at running the football. They are one of the better offenses in college football and you know, obviously, when they play at home they’ve been that much better. You’ve got to strategically mix things up and try to keep them as off-balance as you can, but they are a very good offense.”

On Auburn’s issues with penalties this season: “We haven’t been disciplined enough. That’s where it really starts, but at this point right now, you put everything behind and you’re playing the Iron Bowl. We have got to do a better job in the penalty area and I expect us to do that. Like I’ve said, the penalties start with me. I’ve got to do a better job of making our guys understand.”

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