CRAWFORD | Malzahn: Auburn will have "hands full" in opener agai - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Malzahn: Auburn will have "hands full" in opener against Louisville

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AP photo. AP photo.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Auburn University football coach Gus Malzahn was the first coach to speak at this year’s Southeastern Conference Football Media days, and he took only one inquiry about the Tigers’ first game of the season — against the University of Louisville in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic in the Georgia Dome on Sept. 5.

Malzahn was asked if he knows Cardinals’ coach Bobby Petrino, a former Auburn assistant. Both are viewed as offensive gurus, but Malzahn said they haven’t talked often.

“I really don’t know him well,” he said. “I talked to him a handful of times. I respect him as a coach. He’s a very good offensive coach with what he does and his approach. You look at his track record, we’ve got our hands full that first game. I know that they’re a top 25 team. He’s had them for a year, and he’s been successful at that place before. So we’re playing them in the Dome in Atlanta. We’re going to have to play extremely well to have a chance to win that game.”

Auburn has been anywhere from a 10- to 13-point favorite, depending on which sports book you look at. The Tigers are viewed as a national championship contender, though they’re just one of several in the SEC. They’re particularly excited about the addition of former Florida coach Will Muschamp of defensive coordinator. He takes over a unit that was viewed as very talented, but underachieving. Malzahn says he’s already made a big difference.

“His approach, his energy, his enthusiasm for the game. He just has that presence around him that he gives all the coaches confidence,” he said. “He gives his players confidence. And he’s got the ‘it’ factor. So we’re very blessed to combine his defense
with an offense that we’ve been running. We think the future’s very bright. . . . The fact that he’s been a head coach in this league, which is very unique, and he can be a sounding board for me. I’ve already used him at times to get his advice on some things and really helps me being a young head coach in this league. He’s a true professional. That’s what really excites me. And he’s a lot of fun to work with.”

Malzahn also has a new starter at quarterback, and he’s excited about the ability of junior Jeremy Johnson, who takes over for Nick Marshall but who knows the system. He’s 6-5, 240 pounds and is a running and passing threats. His versatility means Malzahn won’t have to change his high-powered running game, the “Gus Bus,” but he’ll have the freedom to open up the passing game.

Over two seasons as a backup, appeared in 13 games and completed 57 of 78 passes for 858 yards and nine touchdowns. Called upon to start last season’s opener against Arkansas, he threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.

His size has people comparing him to Auburn great Cam Newton, but he wasn’t having any of that at SEC Media Days.

“Cam is Cam and not me,” Johnson said “I don’t compare myself to Cam that much.”

Malzahn said he knew Johnson could be successful in his system from the first time he saw him as a freshman in high school. That he has been as patient as he has been for this opportunity impresses the coach.

“I’m very excited about Jeremy,” he said. “Even in high school — I started recruiting him in ninth grade, and he ran a very similar offense. The fact this will be his third year in our system, even though he’s the backup, he got a lot of reps with the ones in practice. He has two starts, of course last year starting out against an SEC opponent in the first half at home. I feel very good about where he’s at. His coaches and his teammates have a lot of confidence in him, and he’s earned that. I really appreciate the way that he responded to not being the starter the last couple of years, when he could have started for the majority of the teams, and the way he’s really responded is really
something special.”

“Jeremy has the ability. He can flat-out throw it. He can make every throw you ask him to make,” Malzahn added. “He’s a better runner than people think. We didn’t ask him to run a lot the last couple years, but he’s a big, athletic guy who probably runs a 4.6. So he will allow us to call all of our offense.”

U of L’s Petrino will get his turn at the media day podiums next Tuesday when the ACC holds hits annual media event at the Pinehurst resort in North Carolina. Petrino has never lost a season-opener at Louisville, but this will be his toughest task.

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