Gus Malzahn has some changes in mind.
Amid Auburn’s (4-3, 1-3 SEC) first week outside the AP Top 25 since Oct. 3, 2016, the Tigers’ head coach plans on making alterations to the team’s lineup and schemes for its SEC road tilt at Ole Miss this Saturday in Oxford.
“There will be some tweaks this week,” Malzahn said. “I’m not going to sit here and say exactly what they are. I don’t want to incriminate us against Ole Miss.”
Facing the possibility of his first three-game losing streak as Auburn’s head coach, Malzahn is prepping for showdown with a Rebel team that has only lost to No. 1 Alabama and No. 5 LSU this season.
So does Malzahn feel like he's coaching for his job?
"No, I feel like I’m coaching for my players for the next game," Malzahn. "We have to finish this thing the right way. I really expect us to do it. Are you disappointed? Yes, we’re disappointed, I’m disappointed and our players are disappointed, I know our fans are disappointed, but we have to get through this and we are going to get through it. The way you get through it is finish strong and that’s what we’re going to do."
Here are more key takeaways from Tuesday’s media availability.
Sign up for our newsletter
Get The Plainsman straight to your inbox.
Sticking with Stidham
A lackluster offense has been primarily to blame for Auburn’s nosedive. Like the 2015 season — the last time the Tigers began 1-3 in the conference — Malzahn’s team started the year in the top 10 with Playoff expectations thanks to a Heisman hopeful quarterback.
But unlike that 7-6 campaign three years ago, when the Tigers benched starter Jeremy Johnson in favor of Sean White, Malzahn is sticking with his QB1 under center.
“Jarrett Stidham will be our starting quarterback,” Malzahn said. “He needs to protect the football better, be understands that, but I do have confidence in him and I think he’ll lead us in the right way moving forward.”
The redshirt junior has a 60.6 percent completion percentage after leading the league in that category in 2017 (66.5).
Stidham lost one fumble and threw two interceptions last Saturday, leading to 14 Tennessee points. Since last November’s home win over Alabama, Stidham has 10 turnovers. His quarterback rating is No. 9 in the SEC this season after being selected to the All-SEC second team in the preseason.
Offensive line still in question
Stidham has digressed exponentially, but his uninspiring offensive line hasn’t helped, either.
Malzahn said there were improved areas against Tennessee, specifically in run-blocking, and the backups are continuing to push the starters.
“There’s some competition that’s building,” Malzahn said of the offensive line. “I will say that. I’m not ready to say anything more than that, but there is some competition that’s building and some guys that are improving.”
If the Tigers are going to continue their trend of musical O-linemen, they’re going to do so without former 5-star tackle Calvin Ashley. Malzahn said Tuesday that Ashley is still out with an undisclosed medical issue, but the team hopes to get him back soon.
Injuries piling up
Speaking of the injury front: Malzahn listed running back JaTarvious Whitlow (shoulder), cornerback Jamel Dean (shoulder) and defensive end Marlon Davidson (ankle) all as “day-to-day” in preparation for the Ole Miss game.
Against Tennessee, Auburn utilized its deep front four to seamlessly fill in for the loss of Davidson. Andrew Williams was the first sub in.
In addition to the possible loss of Dean, Auburn will be without starting free safety Jeremiah Dinson for the first half against the Rebels. Dinson was called for targeting in the third quarter against the Vols. Malzahn said Tuesday that sophomore nickel Jordyn Peters and freshman safety Smoke Monday are among the candidates likely to fill in for Dinson.
Kam Martin losing ground
If Whitlow can’t go against the Rebels, the by-committee backfield approach will continue.
Recently, it’s been redshirt sophomore Malik Miller who has stepped in to fill the production gaps left by nagging injuries to Whitlow. Miller, who was all but written off as a tailback contender in the preseason thanks to his injury-prone history on The Plains, averaged nearly 7-and-a-half yards per touch against the Volunteers.
“You see Malik really coming on now,” Malzahn said. “Malik’s been our third-down back, but as far as the every-down back, I think you’ll see it kind of by-committee as far as moving forward and then go with the hot hand.”
Malzahn also spoke highly of Asa Martin, a true freshman who will not redshirt according to the coach.
Kam Martin, who is still being listed as the starter on the Jumbotron and on the weekly depth charts, was not mentioned.
Feed the fast freshmen
Malzahn wants to keep the speedsters involved.
True freshmen Anthony Schwartz and Shaun Shivers will get more touches moving forward, Malzahn said Tuesday. Schwartz scored against Tennessee on a 76-yard catch-and-run.
"They made plays, they can really run,” Malzahn said. “I think that’s part of the evaluation process that I said after the game, and you look at everything, and I’m really excited about Anthony Schwartz, too. You’re talking about a guy that’s not playing like a freshman, making big plays, and not just when you hand him the football but just the route he ran and turned upfield and broke a tackle, and of course he’s super fast.
“Then, Worm (Shivers), I’ve been really impressed with him, with his attitude and competitiveness. Both of those guys have explosive, big-play opportunities and you could see them with the ball in their hands a little bit more.”
A common knock against a Malzahn-led offense is that it often telegraphs its schemes. Malzahn addressed the statistics and affirmed that the offense remains under the full control of coordinator Chip Lindsey.
“Chip’s going to call plays and I think Chip’s done a solid job for the most part,” Malzahn said. "I’ve got confidence in him. I think for the most part, a lot of our plans have been good. We just hadn’t, for whatever reason, been able to execute, especially in certain situations. We’ve got to do a better job in that.”
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.Support The Plainsman