The final day of SEC Media Days has come and gone, but it did not leave us without some new information about the Auburn football team. Head Coach Gus Malzahn took the stage in Atlanta Thursday morning and faced the media with answers to all the questions, despite his inability to hear the questions at points (ha-ha). We will discuss some of the major points from Auburn’s time at the CFB Hall of Fame this week.
Malzahn began his time by opening with a recap of last season, admitting that the team was very close to an SEC title, but going further to say that they are a hungry team with the same expectations as always. Malzahn discussed QB Jarrett Stidham, adding that this is only the second time in his nine years as either OC or HC at Auburn that they return their QB from the previous season. He seems to believe that is a huge deal and will allow Stidham to take the next step in his development and leadership both on and off the field.
Toughest schedule in the nation?
After discussing the returning players, Malzahn dove into the Tigers’ schedule. He began with a strong statement: “I feel like we have the toughest schedule in college football, just like we did last year”. While this is a bold statement, it is also not far-fetched. Auburn will have to play a top ten team in Washington for the first game of the season in Atlanta. Adding to that game, the Tigers also have to travel to Mississippi State, Georgia, and Alabama. The rest of the SEC West slate is no cakewalk either, especially because you never know what to expect from LSU and Texas A&M.
After discussing the gauntlet of a schedule that his Tigers will face, Malzahn opened up the room to questions. He was asked a variety of questions ranging from the running back situation to Auburn’s backup QB competition to Malzahn’s trip to Israel last week.
Offensive side of the ball
As far as the backup QB competition is concerned, Malzahn did not convey much more than saying that both Malik Willis and Joey Gatewood both had reps with the first team this spring. He added that Willis got game reps with the first team offense last season, so he has real speed experience. When asked about the RB competition, he claimed that Kam Martin would be the first guy on the field if the season began today, but there are four or five other guys that the coaching staff is confident in.
Malzahn talks defense
On the defensive side of the ball, Malzahn had rave reviews for DL Dontavius Russell, saying he is one of the most underrated players in the SEC. He also spoke highly of the entire defensive line, a unit that could be the best and deepest in the conference. Aside from the defensive players, Malzahn seems excited about the chemistry of the defensive (and offensive, for that matter) coaching staff. The Tigers brought back every defensive coach from last year, so the goals and game plans should be clear for this team.
When asked about his trip to Israel last week, he noted that it was based around his 30th wedding anniversary to his wife, Kristi. It is a trip that his wife had wanted to take for years, and he said it was an amazing trip. However, he was gone for nine days and began to miss Auburn and the grind of football season.
A new season awaits
Malzahn closed his time on stage by recounting the loss to UCF in the Peach Bowl last season stating that they “laid an egg” in that game. He was asked about UCF’s claim to being a national champion, and he responded with “I really don’t have an opinion on that…I don’t get into that debate”, showing that he is focused on this season. That is a great thing for Tiger fans and alumni who are hoping that Auburn will not lay a third “egg” in a row in Atlanta.