Auburn, Ala.--Coach Gus Malzahn had these comments on Tuesday as Auburn football team prepares for a road game on Saturday at Alabama. Kickoff is set for shortly after 2:30 p.m. CST and the game will be televised on CBS.
Opening Statement: “We had a very enjoyable victory last Saturday night on Senior Night for our players. It was a good win and we got a good chance to get everybody to play and give us some momentum heading into the Iron Bowl.
“On Alabama, looking at them offensively, it starts with their quarterback. I have been very impressed with the way he has operated. He is like a running back playing the quarterback position. What stands out to me is that when things break down, he makes good decisions and he protects the football. He can throw the football vertically downfield very well and he has really had good command of his offense.
"They have wide receivers that are all playmakers. They will flip the speed sweep to them, they will throw it short and have the ability to take those shorts ones into the endzone.
“Defensively, this may be the best pass-rushing unit since I’ve been playing Alabama. They really do a good job, especially when they know it’s a pass situation, of harassing the quarterbacks. It’s been very impressive to see the amount of touchdowns that their defense has created, mostly off of their pass rush. It has been very impressive to watch.
"Jeremy Pruitt, their new defensive coordinator, we are very familiar with. We have gone against him numerous times. He liked to bring a lot of pressure in the past when we’ve played them. We expect him to do a lot of the same things, as far as that goes.
“Overall, they are a very solid team. They don’t have a lot of weaknesses and they make you earn it. Our guys are really looking forward to going in there and playing them.
“On an injury update, we are expecting Kamryn Pettway and Chandler Cox to play. Our quarterback situation, we are still not ready to name a starter. I want to make sure and go through practice today and tomorrow before we make a call on who will lead us out. Overall, I really like where our team is at. They are really looking forward to playing this game and I am looking forward to watching them.”
Did Sean White throw Monday? “He did throw some. We didn’t do a whole lot, but he did throw some.”
On having Kamryn Pettway available after missing two game: “He is one of our impact players. He is one of the best running backs in all of college football and one of the best in our league. Any time you have a guy like that back, it changes things and it changes things in a good way for us.”
Will Pettway have any limitations? “I can’t guarantee that he will be 100 percent at this point, but I am expecting him to play.”
Will Pettway start? “We will decide that later in the week, but I am expecting him to play.”
How does Pettway’s return help the team? “I would say that he is one of our leaders, so to have him out there definitely helps. Certain people’s less-than-100 percent is better than other’s 100 percent. We are hoping that will be the case.”
Will Jeremy Johnson start if White doesn’t start? “We aren’t ready to make that call yet. We will see how all of them throw in practice today. We’ll probably look at them tomorrow as well and then make a decision.”
Will the doctors and training staff make that decision? “First, you have to make sure someone is healthy enough to go out there and protect themselves. If that question is yes, then you decide which guy gives your team the best chance of winning and being successful so that is what we will look at the next couple of days.”
Is running back Stanton Truitt going to play this week? “I am not ready to say for sure that he will be back, but he was out there yesterday and he will be out there again today. We’ll probably know more about him later in the week.”
Cornerback Josh Holsey's status after being hurt last week: “We expect him to play.”
Will linebacker Darrell Williams be ready to play? “Yes.”
How has the defense benefitted from some rest for front line players? “I think overall, our defense is in pretty good shape, health-wise, with this being the 12th game. Giving Tre Williams another week to rest was big. He played at Georgia, but he wasn’t 100 percent and he played with a lot of guts. I think he is really close to that and defensively I think we are close to being 100 percent.”
On having Tre Williams and Deshaun Davis healthy: “I think it’s very important -- that’s our two starters. That’s the guys that have worked together a whole lot, and having them ready for this week is real big.”
On Darrell Williams’ play this season: “He’s really played well, he’s getting more confidence, he’s flying to the football, he’s been tackling well, and he’s one of those young guys who’s really grown up this year. He’s starting to turn into the player that we really expect him to be, and he’s got the potential to get even better. He’s pretty athletic. It just takes a little bit to get used to the different -- playing in the box, playing outside of the box -- but I think the transition has been very good for him.”
On running Kameron Martin’s performance last Saturday: “That had to help him, to get that amount of carries in a game and to be that successful, it had to help him. He did play earlier in the year, sparingly at time to time, but he’s getting more confidence, and I know the coaching staff is confident in him. He can run, he’s got some 'miss-ability,' some playmaking ability. He’s going to be a fine football player for us.”
On Alabama’s rushing defense: “If you go back, they’re always going to be one of, if not the best, against the run in the county. Their defensive front, their front seven is always near the top. The biggest thing this year, for me, is their ability to rush the passer. Their two defensive ends are both dynamic. Their internal guys are very good one-on-one pass rushers, too. When they get you in a pass-for-sure situation, it’s like a feeding frenzy. They get a lot of momentum, they’ve knocked the ball loose, they’ve picked it up, they’ve tipped balls, they’ve cause bad throws for interceptions, and they have a lot of touchdowns on defense. That’s real impressive when you’re looking at them.”
On the importance of establishing the run game: “I think that will be one of the keys to the game, us being able to run the football. That’s what we do. We’re a run-play action team and for us to be successful, we’re going to have to run the football, and be able to run the football effectively. That’s always the challenge when we play them. The years we do well, we run the ball effectively.”
On the importance of a pass rush against Alabama’s freshman quarterback: “I think it helps. We’ve got one of the better defenses in college football this year, and that will definitely help trying to contain the guy. We’ve got to keep him off balance; we’ve got to get after him. Our defensive front has done an excellent job all year, and that will be one of the keys for us defensively, just containing him.”
On Auburn’s defensive improvement since last season: “They’ve improved greatly from last season. When we went into this season, we felt like this had the chance to be one of our better defenses, at least since I’ve been here. Each week, it seems like they’ve gotten better. They’re stopping the run very well; we’re not giving up a lot of explosive plays in the pass or run game. Our red zone defense has been excellent.
"We haven’t given up a rushing touchdown in a while -- I think that’s the sign of a great defense, and they’re playing with a lot of confidence right now. So this will be a big challenge for our defense, going there. They’ve got a lot of playmakers, and like I said, it starts with their quarterback. He’s like a running back, he breaks tackles like a running back, he’s pretty poised too -- when you watch him, it looks like the moment’s not too big.”
Was the defensive improvement overnight or a process? “Well, I think it’s all of the above. Our impact players have stayed healthy. We had a lot of carry-over from last year. In the bowl game last year, we played our best game defensively, so we had a lot of momentum. Coach Steele and his staff have really done a lot with our guys, and then we have some guys that kind of took that next step of playing, and playing very aggressive. They’re having fun playing defense.”
How do you prepare young players for the atmosphere of the Iron Bowl? “The unique thing about this rivalry is if it’s an in-state guy they kind of already have a good idea of kind of what makes up this rivalry. Sometimes, the young out-of-state guys take a little bit to get used to everything. But we’ve got a lot of local guys playing, and got some freshmen from the state of Alabama, and so I think that’ll help us.”
Why is it so difficult to win at Bryant-Denny Stadium? “They’re very talented. They’re always one of the most talented, if not the most talented, team in the country, and I think this year is really close to the same. In 2010, we won. 2014, that’s still a tough one right there, we had a chance to (win), and we just didn’t get it done. But we’re looking forward to going there, we’re looking forward to going there with this year’s team and looking forward to playing.”
Will you talk to the team about post-season possibilities? “We’re taking this as the Iron Bowl. We’re taking this as playing against our rival and going there needing to win. After the game, we’ll talk about all the ‘what ifs’ and everything that goes with it.”
Might you be more aggressive on using Daniel Carlson this week? “That’s a possibility. Each year you’ve got to look at your team and you’ve got to look at their team and you’ve got to get a strategy of how aggressive or how conservative and all the above in all areas. Obviously, you play to your strengths, and Daniel is one of our strengths. So, we’ll just see how the game unfolds. I don’t want to give our game plan to you, to be honest with you.”
Your evaluation of Rhett Lashlee as a play caller? “I think, overall, you look at our turnaround. When he started calling the plays, we started getting some rhythm and doing some good things. Here, as of late, we’ve had some pretty key injuries, but we’re getting healthier. I think, overall, he’s done a really good job and (he) gave us some momentum.”
On similarities between Auburn’s offense and Alabama’s offense: “It’s getting more similar each year. Each offense is a little bit different. There are a lot of teams in our league that are doing a little bit more of the spreading it out and the lightning motions and the quarterback runs and the things off of it. But regardless you’ve got to stop it. Every offense is a little bit different.”
On the discussion about player safety as it relates to up-tempo offenses, a previous a talking point for Alabama coach Nick Saban: “I’d rather not comment on that.”
On Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt: “He’s a good football coach. He’s a former high school football coach. A lot of times the high school coaches are a little bit different than the college coaches. He’s always done a good job with what he’s had.”
On Daniel Carlson being a finalist for the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker: “First of all, we’re real proud of Daniel for being one of the finalists. I’ve kind of said probably since the first of the year, I think he’s the best kicker in college football, and each week he answers the bell and he shows that. He’s made unbelievable pressure kicks time and time again. He’s a huge weapon on kickoffs. He’s one of our leaders. He’s one of our team leaders, and his teammates and coaches have a lot of respect for him.”
Would you prefer Daniel Carlson not try to tackle guys on kickoff coverage? “I tell you what -- that was one of the best licks of the night there. That was impressive. He can do it all. We may put him at linebacker.”
On Jeremy Johnson's first start of the season: “I thought Jeremy did a solid job running our offense, like I said. He’s the most experienced guy that we’ve got. He’s got a lot of experience. He knows the offense. He made some good throws, he made some good plays with his feet and most importantly, he protected the football.”
Are you comfortable waiting to make a decision about the starting quarterback? “You do what’s best for your team, and you never want to make a decision earlier and be wrong rather than wait until later. You have a chance to see exactly Sean’s status and everything that goes with that.”