Questions focus on Malzahn after loss to LSU

By: Bob Holt
Published: Wednesday, October 18, 2017
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn reacts as his team falls behind to LSU in the second half during an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. LSU defeated Auburn 27-23. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn reacts as his team falls behind to LSU in the second half during an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. LSU defeated Auburn 27-23. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

FAYETTEVILLE -- Less than a week ago, Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn was leading the No. 10-ranked team in the country that had won its first three SEC games by a combined 144-47 margin.

Now Malzahn, the longtime Arkansas high school coach and former Razorbacks offensive coordinator, is getting asked whether he's worried about getting fired in his fifth season on the job.

Such is life for a coach who shares the same state with No. 1 Alabama and Nick Saban, especially after Auburn couldn't hold a 20-point lead and lost at LSU 27-23 on Saturday.

The loss dropped Auburn to 28-18, including 14-14 in SEC play, since the Tigers went 12-2 and lost to Florida State in the national championship game in 2013 during Malzahn's first season as their coach.

"No, I'm not," Malzahn said Tuesday at his weekly news conference when asked whether he's concerned about his job security. "The only thing I'm worried about is beating Arkansas and coming back and getting healed up for a week, and try to finish this thing with the goals we started with."

The No. 21 Tigers (5-2, 3-1 SEC) play the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (2-4, 0-3) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, then have an open date before a road game at Texas A&M.

Malzahn said he understands the frustration of Auburn fans.

"We've got great fans, and our fans are very passionate," he said. "Our fans want to win championships, and they should.

"Any time you blow a 20-point lead on the road, they should be frustrated. And I'm frustrated also. We can't let that happen again and we're not going to let that happen again.

"But in reality after you get done with that, you've got to put it behind you. That's in the rearview mirror. We're moving forward."

Malzahn defended his players and assistant coaches for what happened at LSU.

"Obviously, that was an extremely tough loss," Malzahn said. "Blowing a 20-point lead was tough to take, and I just want to say this: I've got good coaches, I've got good players, and any time that happens, that's on the head coach and that's on me.

"That can't happen again. It's not going to happen again, but I take full responsibility."

Auburn didn't score and was held to 64 yards in the second half at LSU, leading to questions about play calling and whether sophomore quarterback Jarrett Stidham is allowed to change plays at the line depending on the defensive alignment.

"I'm glad you asked that because Jarrett probably has more flexibility than any quarterback that we've had since I've been in college," said Malzahn, who broke into college coaching at Arkansas in 2006. "From the standpoint of changing protections, [run-pass options], and decision-making, he has more freedom than any quarterback we've had."

Malzahn said he hasn't been calling plays or interfering with offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, who came to Auburn this season from Arizona State.

"Chip is calling the plays," Malzahn said. "Chip is a heck of an offensive coordinator and has done a great job for us. I'm not in any part of that, but I'm taking responsibility for everything that happened. We'll do better next time."

A reporter said it seemed like Malzahn is calling the plays.

"As a head coach, we are going to have a philosophy. We are a run, play-action and throw the ball vertically team," Malzahn said. "We hired Chip Lindsey to be more balanced, and we are more balanced, so you need to throw that in there, too.

"Chip is doing a good job. The second half we just didn't score points. That's really the tough part right there. But we will rebound, and Chip is going to do a super job."

Auburn ran on 17 consecutive first-down plays after jumping ahead of LSU, though Malzahn said four or five times Stidham had the option to run or pass.

"But obviously they ended up being running plays," Malzahn said. "Each game unfolds differently, but like I said, that's the head coach's responsibility. We have to do better next time."

Malzahn was glad to finally be asked whether he could talk about the Razorbacks.

"That would be great. Yeah," he said. "There you go. The first question on Arkansas."

Malzahn praised Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads, said he likes and respects Razorbacks Coach Bret Bielema, and that playing in his home state is special.

"I mean, that's where I grew up," he said. "It's always a little bit different going there than it is other places. Got a lot of my best friends in the world around that area and family is still there, so it's always a little different when you go back home."

Stidham completed 9 of 26 passes for 165 yards against LSU.

"It's really hard to swallow," Stidham told reporters Sunday. "Obviously, when you're up 20 points on the road in Death Valley and everything's going right and you kind of just let it slip through your fingers, it kind of sucks, honestly.

"It's not fun to sit there and lose a game like that, but at the end of the day, that's just the way it is sometimes. We're looking past it and looking forward to playing Arkansas this week."

Despite Stidham's struggles at LSU, he's completed 108 of 165 passes (65.5 percent) for 1,510 yards and 8 touchdowns with 2 interceptions on the season.

The Tigers' running back tandem of juniors Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway hasn't rolled as well as expected.

Johnson has rushed 116 times for 660 yards and a national-leading 13 touchdowns, but an ankle injury has slowed Pettway. After rushing for 1,224 yards last season -- including 192 against Arkansas -- and earning All-SEC first-team honors, Pettway has 65 carries for 215 yards.

Auburn ranks 39th nationally in scoring offense (34.0 points per game) and 45th in total offense (438.6).

Led by junior linebacker Deshaun Davis and Jeff Holland, the Tigers rank ninth nationally in scoring defense (15.0 points) and 13th in total defense (298.3 yards).

Davis has a team-high 36 tackles and Holland has 6½ sacks and 10 quarterback hurries.

"I really believe in this team, and I believe that we'll bounce back," Malzahn said. "And not only will we bounce back, but we'll have a chance to finish this thing like we wanted to when we first started the season."


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Sports on 10/18/2017

AUBURN 2017 SCHEDULE (5-2, 3-1 SEC)

Sept. 2;Georgia Southern, W 41-7

Sept. 9;at Clemson, L 14-6

Sept. 16;Mercer, W 24-10

Sept. 23;at Missouri, W 51-14

Sept. 30;Mississippi State, W 49-10

Oct. 7;Ole Miss, W 44-23

Oct. 14;at LSU, L 27-23

Saturday;Arkansas (6:30 p.m. SEC Network)

Nov. 4;Texas A&M

Nov. 11;Georgia

Nov. 18;Louisiana-Monroe

Nov. 25;Alabama

Saturday’s game


WHEN 6:30 p.m. Saturday

WHERE Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville

RECORDS Arkansas 2-4, 0-3 SEC; Auburn 5-2, 3-1

TV SEC Network


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