Auburn’s Gus Malzahn expects to get Arkansas’ Best Shot on Saturday

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Auburn will host Arkansas on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. in Jordan-Hare Stadium. 

Despite Arkansas coming off 34-27 and 44-17 losses in consecutive weeks to Colorado State and North Texas, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn isn’t expecting anything less than the Hogs’ best shot on Saturday.

“We have got Arkansas and their backs are against the wall,” Malzahn said. “They are a team with a new staff and they are going to improve each week and there’s no doubt we’ll get their best. We have to worry about them. 

“That’s what we have to worry about. You can’t worry about last week or the next week. You’d better worry about this week. That’s easier said than done and a lot of teams can’t do that. But that’s what we’re going to do.”

Auburn (2-1) suffered a home loss to LSU, 22-21, on Saturday on the last play of the game. Malzahn talked about losing Auburn’s SEC opener.

“What you have to do with a loss is you’ve got to learn from it,” Malzahn said. “That starts with the coaching staff. We have to first of all learn from it and and the players the same way. You learn from it, see what you need to improve on and do better. You put that in your back pocket and you move on to the next game. We have a lot of experienced guys to do just that. 

“There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll rebound. It’s a bump in the road. We still have a good team.  We’ve got good coaches. We just have to put it all together and improve each week and I really feel like we will.”

Malzahn knows Arkansas’ Chad Morris and showed a lot of respect for him on Tuesday.

“You look at Arkansas their head coach Chad Morris is a very good friend of mine,” Malzahn said. “He’s an excellent football coach and he’s got a staff that is very talented. He’s got some veteran coaches that have been in this league a long time. He’s got quite a few starters back on offense and quite a few starters back on defense.

“We expect them, I think back to  2013 when I came over here. It took me three or four games to really get in a rhythm. So we expect to get their best. We’re focused on getting better. Obviously Saturday we didn’t play our best. That’s our responsibility. We will improve through the season.”

The Auburn coach went into the story how he got to know Morris and become close friends.

“Chad was very successful high school coach in Stephenville, Texas,” Malzahn said. “We were playing a state championship game and he called me out of the blue and asked if he could bring his staff. I was kind of leery but I said, ‘Yeah.’ We developed a relationship and he’s a great person. One of the good guys in our business. 

“He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around. You look at Clemson now  when everything really changed for them is when they hired Chad Morris. He went to SMU and it was low, low, low and he got them out of it and he’ll do the same thing there.”

Auburn is known for explosive plays from its running backs in past years, but that hasn’t been the case this season according to Malzahn.

“Traditionally to have a chance to win a championship you have to run the football effectively,” Malzahn said. “That will still hold true. We only had one play over 30 yards. When we are at our best we have more explosive plays. I think you’ll see this team grow in the running game. When you are able to run the ball you get more explosive opportunities.”

JaTarvious Whitlow leads the Tigers with 254 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 44 attempts. Shaun Shivers has rushed for 149 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries while Kam Martin has 31 rushes for 124 yards and a touchdown. 

Quarterback Jarrett Stidham has completed 48 of 75 passes for 584 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. He also has rushed for 36 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.

“He’d like to have a couple of those plays back, but Jarrett, we have a lot of confidence in him,” Malzahn said. “He’s going to play extremely well. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in college football.  He’s our guy.”

In the loss to LSU, Auburn was only 4 of 12 on third-down conversions. Many of those were third-and-long plays as well.

“Those are tough continually to convert,” Malzahn said. “We have to do a better job of getting in that third and medium area. So that was a big factor in the game. Third and longs against good teams it’s hard to convert. We’ll work hard to correct that and get a little more third and mediums.”

Malzahn talked about one of the reasons for Auburn getting itself into so many unfavorable plays thus far.

“We have  a bunch of young guys touching the ball on offense and a new offensive line coming together,” Malzahn said.

One area where Auburn isn’t having trouble is applying pressure to the opposing quarterback. Kevin Steele is Auburn’s defensive coordinator.

“Our goal is putting more pressure on the quarterback,” Malzahn said. “Kevin is one of the best in the business.”

Saturday’s game will be televised on the SEC Network.

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