Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn met with the media on Zoom today to preview Saturday’s season opener against Kentucky, and, as expected, didn’t give the Cats any bulletin board material. In fact, Malzahn spent about half of his presser heaping praise on Mark Stoops and Kentucky, which he called one of the most experienced teams in the SEC. Here are the five things you need to know.
Tigers back at full strength
Before we get into all of the nice things Malzahn said about the Cats, a quick COVID note. While the Tigers were hit hard by the virus during fall camp, today marked the first day they’ve been back at full strength in a while.
“We had one positive two weeks ago and I believe it’s six players that have been out for 14 days that we get back today. They’ve been out for 14 days because of close contact but everybody should be back today.”
Of course, like Kentucky, Auburn’s players will be tested two more times before Saturday.
“We’ll have to find a way to overcome [Kentucky’s experience]”
Game week pressers are all about coach speak, but Malzahn is clearly impressed by Kentucky’s experience, particularly in the trenches. As Nick shared with us yesterday, the Big Blue Wall has 84 career starts, 50 more than Auburn’s offensive line’s 34.
“They’re talented, they’re big strong guys,” Malzahn said of Kentucky’s offensive line. “Like I said earlier, the fact that they’re one of the best rushing teams in college football in this league, that’s really what jumps out to you. And if you look at both their offensive and defense lines, that’s where some of their strengths [are], they’ve got most of their guys back. We lost most of our guys on our offensive front and defensive front so that’s going to be a challenge. Our guys are aware of that. That’ll be a big factor. But I’m real impressed with their offensive line.”
Malzahn noted that experience is especially useful considering there was no spring practice due to the pandemic.
“We just happen to be playing one of the more veteran opponents in our league, and if you really look at it, without having spring practice, I’ve always said, the veteran teams early could have an advantage because they’ve got the experience and all that so we’ll had to find a way to overcome that.”
He expects a loud stadium
Auburn is allowing 20% capacity at Jordan-Hare Stadium and all general seating outside of club areas, family seating, and visiting team seating is reserved for Auburn students. Despite the 11 a.m. local time start, Malzahn believes the students will give Auburn as big a home field advantage as possible in these COVID times.
“We’re really looking at that to be an advantage for us. When it’s a regular day and we’ve got 90,000 fans, there’s no better place in college football as far as atmosphere than here. The fact that the majority of our fans are going to be students and our student section is always one of the best, if not the best in the country, I know they’re going to have their A-game and they’ll be loud as possible to help us win so that along with getting the crowd noise piped in, I think it’s going to be a good atmosphere that’s pretty loud.”
He avoided a Joey Gatewood question
A reporter asked Malzahn his thoughts on transfers playing against their former schools, ala Joey Gatewood, who is still waiting to hear from the SEC about his eligibility. Like a pro, Malzahn skirted the topic.
“I think it’s just a new day in college football, with everything changing and people moving from team to team. I think it’s a new day and I think there will be more and more of that in the future.”
Kentucky’s defense “make[s] you earn it”
Malzahn isn’t just impressed with Kentucky’s offensive line. He had plenty of praise for the Cats on defense, particularly when it comes to big plays.
“They make you earn it. You look at the big play cut-up from last year and there’s not a lot of big, explosive pass plays over the top. They do a great job of keeping everything in front of them. Like I said, they know their answers. If they get hurt on something, they adjust really quick. You can tell they’ve been in that system a long time. In fact, they’ve got most of their guys back. Like I said, I think early on, the teams that have experience and not going through spring, are going to have an advantage.”
“So, this is a very good Kentucky team that is well coached and have most of their guys back and their guys that call the offense, defense, special teams back, so we’re going to have to earn it. We’re going to have to execute. This will be a game about execution, especially on offense because they don’t make a lot of mistakes.”