Gus Malzahn Press Conference Review: Washington Week

August 29, 2018 By Taylor Jones

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn talks Tuesday.
Tuesday Game Week presser on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018 in Auburn, Ala.
Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics

Auburn Head Coach Gus Malzahn addressed the media on Tuesday, ahead of the Tigers’ game against Washington at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. No. 9 Auburn’s matchup with No. 6 Washington will be the third straight game played inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium and will be the only game played featuring two top-10 teams on college football’s opening weekend

 

It’s finally here… game week.

The first two things that Auburn fans look for when the time finally comes, is the initial release of the depth chart, and the game week press conference from Gus Malzahn and players. There were a few surprises on the depth chart when it was released on Tuesday, and the head coach addressed those notable listings. Malzahn also discusses this week’s opponent, and how well the team has prepared during training camp.

Opening comments/injury report… 

Malzahn addressed week one’s opponent, and how excited the team is about getting their chance to play them. The head coach is impressed with the Huskies.

“When you look at them offensively, their quarterback is a veteran guy, one of the most veteran guys in the country.  They have eight starters back. Their running back has had three straight 1,000-yard seasons; I think he’s set up to break their all-time rushing record in the history of their school. They have a big offensive line. When you look at their special teams, they’ve got the majority of their guys back. They’re very good in all three phases so it will be a big challenge for us and it will be a really good test about where we’re at this season with the first game”

Malzahn also addressed a couple of notable injuries.

“Richard McBryde is going to be out for the season. He’s a wonderful young man; he had a neck injury and he’ll be out for the season. We hate it for him — he’s been with us a long time and he was set up to have a very good season. Joey Gatewood has a thumb issue; he will not play this week.”

Cord Sandberg will serve as the third-string quarterback in the Washington game, behind starter Jarrett Stidham and backup Malik Willis.

There were rumors that Jamel Dean had been nicked up and possibly going to miss 1-3 weeks. Malzahn indicated that Dean injured his finger in practice last week, but expects him to play on Saturday. The junior corner has been seen on campus wearing a soft cast – it sounds like he may have jambed or sprained a few fingers and should be fine.

Malzahn also suggests that a handful of freshmen could see the field in some capacity in Saturday’s game.

Examining Washington… 

Myles Gaskin has been one of the most prolific backs over the last few seasons and is a huge contestant for the Heisman Trophy at season’s end. He will be a challenge for Auburn, says Malzahn.

“He should get a lot of attention. He’s set up to break their school record and they have had some great players. He’s a dynamic guy, a veteran and very experienced. That’s one thing when I look at this team — they are very experienced, an experienced team that has had success, that presents some challenges. They won 10 games last year and have the majority of their guys back, so that’s a challenge.”

With Washington checking in as the No. 6 team in the nation, Malzahn feels that his team does not need much motivation.

“Usually teams are excited no matter who you play week one. It’s not one of those things you have to worry about getting up for. The fact that we are playing a really high-profile game brings a little bit more to the table on both sides from a national standpoint.”

Playing at Mercedes-Benz Stadium…

“The Benz” has not been too kind to Auburn in the two games that the Tigers have played there. Auburn fell in the second meeting with Georgia in 2017 in the SEC Championship game, and could not keep up with UCF in the Peach Bowl. This will be the third straight game that Auburn has played in the stadium, and is looking to reverse their luck. The first step is to forget about those performances.

“That was last year. From a coach’s standpoint, every year is different, and this is the first game of the season. Obviously, we like playing there because that’s where they play the SEC Championship and of course that’s our goal every year. So we are looking forward to playing there and playing one of the top teams in the country. I know a lot of people have (Washington) as a popular pick to be in the final four and I think that’s well deserved when you look at them. Yeah, we are glad to be playing in Atlanta again.”

Another step? Play well and silence the critics.

“Of course you hear a lot from the media, and I get that question a lot. And I’m sure fans think about that but really from a player-coach standpoint it’s a new year, and we’re playing one of the best teams and we’re playing right down the road in a place where we play the championship game. So we need to play well — we need to play well to win. But don’t get caught up too much in all of that. Every game is big, but it’s a new year.”

Offensive Line… 

With the departures of Casey Dunn, Braden Smith, Austin Golson, and Darius James, there will be four new starters on the offensive line this season. Malzahn is impressed with how well the new-look offensive line is playing now. They are playing with confidence and communicating well which is developing consistency.

Kaleb Kim will start the Washington game at center, with Nick Brahms waiting in the works. Marquel Harrell and Mike Horton are poised for leadership roles as the redshirt juniors man the interior guard spots.

“Those are veteran guys. They’ve been around a long time. I know Coach Grimes is leaning on Marquel and Horton for leadership up front. Both of those guys have been very consistent, very solid. You know what you’re getting with those guys. They’ve really stepped up in a leadership role for Coach Grimes too.”

How important will the offensive line’s performance impact Jarrett Stidham’s play on Saturday?

“You looked at our sack total from last year, it’s one of the most that we’ve had since I’ve been at Auburn and that’s been a focus — protecting our quarterback, not the negative plays, but the sacks. Of course, that’s going to be a challenge against this group, with a very talented front seven with one of the best secondaries out there. We’ll have to do a good job of protecting him. I think that will be a big key in the game.”

The offense/running backs…

Chip Lindsey is back, and so is returning star quarterback Jarrett Stidham. Malzahn hopes that makes for a smoother ride heading into the 2018 season.

“I think if you have continuity, you have experience with the guys back, it does nothing but help you. Chip (Lindsey) did an outstanding job last year; everybody can see that. He’s back for the second year and we have the whole offensive staff but the offensive line coach, but Chip was very experienced with J.B. (Grimes) before. J.B. was here in ’13, so it’s a pretty smooth go about it this time, compared to last year.”

But, then again, Saturday will be the first time that Auburn has played someone other than themselves.

“When you are playing a really solid opponent sometimes your deficiencies can be recognized early. From a coach’s standpoint, there’s always some questions that we have going into the first game — how are people going to respond, especially if they are new people, new starters or freshmen. You feel pretty good about how you think they are going to react, but you don’t know until you go out there. I think there’s a lot of factors that go into that.”

Along with the offensive line, Auburn has questions, but fans should not worry. Kam Martin has the most experience, with “Boobie” Whitlow, Asa Martin, and Shaun Shivers bringing big league potential to the table.

“We’ve got some talented guys — some inexperienced guys, but they are talented. I think you will see that group grow, and the thing that stood out to me is they all run hard. They are all tough guys, they are all a little bit different, but if you look back at our history, I’ve really felt like when we’ve been at our best at the running back position, we’ve had some different-type guys. I am excited to see how that group moves forward.”

Whitlow is listed as the second string running back, he is a guy that plays and practices with an edge, and is a great teammate according to Malzahn. Shivers and Martin could see playing time as well.

Could Auburn’s tenth consecutive 1,000-yard rusher come from that group? Malzahn says that he likes his chances.

Defense…

Malzahn calls this year’s defense one of the best that he has coached.

“We’ve got a lot of guys back that had successful defensive seasons and we’ve got a chance to be just as good or better. All of that is yet to be seen — we’ve got to transfer that over to games. But I like our defensive makeup and our defensive staff is all back; Coach Woodson came on board to add to that. The continuity of the players knowing the coaches and the coaches knowing the players — I think that goes a long way.”

Three-year starter, defensive end Marlon Davidson and 6-foot-5, 282-pound freak Nick Coe are two key components to the Tigers elite front-seven. Coe has separated himself from the pack due to consistency, so he’ll start at the buck and will be backed up by T.D. Moultry. Malzahn is also excited about Davidson.

“I think the biggest difference now from last year is that he’s healthy. He was not healthy at this time last year and I think it kind of hurt him throughout the year. He didn’t ever get fully 100 percent. I think he’s healthy. He’s really playing good football now and I think he’s in a good spot.”

In the secondary, Smoke Monday, Jamien Sherwood, and Christian Tutt are true-freshmen listed as top backups on the depth chart, spots that they all deserved according to Malzahn.

“Trying to develop that depth in the secondary — the first guys we put out there have experience, we know what we are getting, but those young guys are in a good spot. They just have to go out there and execute.”

Auburn faces Washington on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. central in the Chik-fil-A Kickoff Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Power of Dixieland will be there to bring you live coverage of the game as well as continued coverage of Auburn Football in the days leading up to the huge top-ten matchup.