Auburn, Ala.-- Comments from Auburn Tigers head football coach Gus Malzahn are featured from his Tuesday press conference as the Tigers prepare for an 11 a.m. Saturday game vs. Vanderbilt. The following are comments from Malzahn:
“We are coming off of a big road victory where we faced some major adversity. I am happy how our team and coaches responded to be able to come home from Ole Miss with a road victory. We will now turn our attention to Vanderbilt. They are a very good, disciplined team. They lead the league in turnover margin, they protect the football and they are one of the best in penalties. They don’t beat themselves; they really make you earn it.
“Defensively, in league play, they only give up 15 points per game, which is very impressive. They have a lot of guys back from last year and they play extremely hard and extremely physical. They don’t give up a lot of big plays and that’s what stands out to me.
“Offensively, it starts with their running back, Ralph Webb. He is one of the better offensive players in our league. I believe he leads our league in all-purpose yards, which is really something because most defenses really focus in on him. They beat Georgia in Athens and they played Florida down to the very end. They are a very good football team and they have our full attention. It’s an early kick and we are going to have to be awake and ready to go. Again, they are a very good football team and they have our full attention.
On Kamryn Pettway’s transition to tailback--“We recruited him as a running back in high school and we thought he was a very good running back. Last year, we had a lot of running back depth, so to get him on the field, he had to play H-back. He was very physical and did a very good job with that. We moved him to running back in the spring and you could tell he picked right up where he left off in high school; we knew in the spring that he had a good chance to be a good running back. He is still learning as he goes, but he is a real weapon right now. He is running really hard, he’s protecting the football and he’s getting more comfortable the more he plays.”
When did the offense start clicking--“We played well offensively against Arkansas State and then we moved the ball well against a very good LSU team. We had to kick too many field goals, but we moved the ball. LSU was the first time that we figured out that we have a chance if we can get the ball in the redzone. If you look back, we have very few guys that started last year. We have a bunch of new guys and a bunch of redshirt freshmen. They grew and they kept fighting. Sean (White) started getting more comfortable and people around him started being in the spots they needed to be and we were able to run the football. Our line started coming together and our running backs started feeling more comfortable. I think it was just a process, but the LSU game made us realize we could move the ball against a good defense.”
Is the offense starting to play off its tendencies--“Any time you have strengths, the defense is going to have to do some things to stop it and if you can do one thing off of that strength to open it up, then you go back to your strength. There’s a little bit to be said for that, but good offenses do have tendencies and that’s a good thing, but you also have to use the tendencies against the defense.”
On Sean White’s play at Ole Miss--“He played an outstanding game. The third-and-13 was absolutely huge. He sacrificed his body and found a way. There was a third-and-6 or a third-and-5 early in the game and he found a way to get a first down when they were playing man coverage. He is starting to really evolve as a quarterback in this league and really starting to establish himself as a really good quarterback in this league. He played very well the other night.”
On Sean White’s playmaking ability--“He is a tough guy. The team had respect for him already because he is a tough guy, but now he is starting to become more of a run threat. You look at the zone read where they brought two off the edge and he put his hand down and ended up making a positive play out of a negative play situation. He is starting to do the little things that a good quarterback in this league does. His teammates and his coaches have respect for his toughness and that has been there all along. Last year, he played when he probably shouldn’t have played, but that’s just his competitive fire.”
How can Kyle Davis gain playing time--“It’s just experience. He still made a big third-down catch the other night. We tried to throw it deep to him. He is doing a good job, but he is a freshman. He is a talented freshman and he is growing and competing and we are very happy with him.”
Does Pettway physically intimidate opponents…“He’s a super person, first of all. He’s a fine young man. He is running very physical. He does look people up. I told it’s ok every now and then to fake and run by them, but he really likes looking them up and running them over.”
On Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham--“I love the way he plays. Zach Cunningham is one of the better defensive players in our league. The way he sheds blocks is very impressive. He comes off blocks and makes plays as good as any linebacker in our league. He can really run. He’s a rangy guy. They have other good players too. It’s not just him. They have, in my opinion, four or five other really good defensive players.”
Was he recruited by Malzahn at Auburn…“Yeah, as a matter of fact, we were recruiting him at Arkansas State. Of course, we had four weeks to figure out what we had and didn’t have. There were some linebacker commitments we already had and we were trying to hold on to them. It’s kind of one of those things where we did talk to him, but it was just a tough turnaround with a new staff and everything. He’s a great player.”
On getting the team to focus while fans are looking ahead--“The only thing we’ve talked about is Vanderbilt. We have our hands full. If you look ahead in this league, you’ll get burned. Our players know that. Our coaches know it. We have not said one word about anything left in the schedule. I don’t know what everybody else is saying, but in our house and little room here with our coaches and players, we’re locked in on Vanderbilt. That’s it.”
On Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason coaching defense…“He’s a very good football coach. He’s a very good defensive coach. You can see it in the way his team plays. They’re tough guys. They play extremely hard. They play team defense. That’s where it really stands out to me. They fly to the ball. They tackle well. They play physical, especially at the line of scrimmage. You look at their big play run cut-ups and there’s not a whole lot of them. They do a super job with their run defense. Like I said, when you look at the stat for points in conference play – 15 points, in our conference at this time of year – they’re a real defense.”
On the play of senior offensive tackleRobert Leff--“Robert is playing very physical. Robert came on last year. He did our unbalanced look and he played some tight end. He blocked extremely well at the point of attack. He’s really emerged as one of our top guys. He’s pass protected extremely well. When running behind him and running to him, he’s been one of those consistent guys. He’s playing his best football. He’s a senior. He’s had a role up to this season. He’s really established himself as one of our better offensive players.”
Why is guard Braden Smith on the outside in the unbalanced set instead of Robert Leff -- “I’m not telling. There’s a reason, but I’m not going to tell everybody.”
Update on injured running back Malik Miller--“He’s actually jogging now -- I think this week. He’s trying to get healthy. Put it this way, it’s going really well, his progression. He’s worked extremely hard.”
Update on injured defensive end Paul James-- “Paul James is rehabbing. We’re hoping to get him back for spring practice. That’s what we’re hoping.”
Will wide receivers Tony Stevens be available to play this week? “I’m hoping so. He tried to practice last week, I think it was Tuesday, and we had to pull him out of practice because he was hurting pretty good. We were hoping maybe Thursday it would feel better. He didn’t feel a whole lot better. That’s a tough injury. So this week we are hoping to get him back. We’ll see today at practice -- let him move around -- see how he’s doing. Obviously, he’s been one of our impact players in the receiving crew and the passing game, so it would be nice to have him back. I’ll know more after today.”
Will linebacker Tre’ Williams practice? “Everybody is going to practice today. If everybody practices today, it’s usually a good sign. We’ll see once they move around. But this time of year, if somebody doesn’t practice on Tuesday, sometimes that’s a little bit of a challenge. But, we’ll see.”
On play of wide receiver Jason Smith--“He’s starting to get back in the groove. He’s played half quarterback, half receiver and did a really good job at receiver the other night. You’ll see him on the field more and more the rest of the season. And he did a good job on special teams.”
On former Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp having success as a head coach and South Carolina defeating Tennessee on Saturday--“They’ve got Bobby Bentley on staff. He’s one of my good friends. I’m rooting for him and his son Jake, so I was definitely happy for them.”