BY RYAN BLACK | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s practice on Tuesday had a game-week feel to it.
Following the Tigers’ 21st and final session of fall camp, head coach Gus Malzahn said his team is already “full force” into planning for the season opener against Washington State on Aug. 31. But first, he recapped his first fall camp at the helm of Auburn’s program.
“When I look back on the whole camp, I felt we did improve,” Malzahn said. “I felt like we were able to cover all of our situations. I felt like we were able to put our guys into situations to evaluate.”
The Tigers’ offense also ended camp on a high note, with Malzahn noting the unit had its “best rhythm that we’ve had” since he took over as coach.
“That’s a good thing,” he said. “It looked like we knew what we were doing today, and the timing was very good.”
When Auburn returns to practice on Thursday, it will start getting into a weekly regular season routine. And Malzahn couldn’t be more thankful to have more time to continue working with his team, especially since Nick Marshall is still becoming comfortable with the first-team offense.
“I think that’s very good with a starting quarterback who didn’t go through spring,” he said. “We need the extra time.”
Though Washington State went 3-9 last year, it beat arch-rival Washington in the season finale. In an early look at the Cougars, Malzahn came away impressed with what he saw on film.
“They have the majority of their guys coming back,” he said. “We’re expecting it will be a good team coming in here, and we’ll have to play well.”
However, making any comparisons between the two up-tempo offenses would be a mistake, Malzahn said, since he prefers to lean on a strong running game, while Washington State head coach Mike Leach passes at nearly every opportunity.
With that in mind, Auburn’s defensive line is already licking its chops.
“I think pretty much everyone knows that sacks equal moneymakers,” junior defensive tackle Gabe Wright said. “But definitely this whole technique, this whole change of defense and starting off (getting up the field) vertically, that’s going to set everything up. If it’s a run play, we’ve got stick it. If it’s a pass play, we’ve got to work off the pass-rush. I definitely can’t wait to get out there.”
Though the Cougars are so thin on the offensive line they could start as many four current or former walk-ons, Angelo Blackson isn’t underestimating his opponent.
“We’re not going to look down upon nobody,” the junior defensive tackle said. “Those guys are coming in here wanting to beat us with nothing to lose, so we’re going to prepare for them like we prepare for everybody else.”
That’s where it helps to have quarterback Tucker Tuberville, whose knowledge of Leach’s system — with many elements remaining in place after his father Tommy Tuberville replaced Leach as Texas Tech’s coach — will be a boost when he’s running the scout team offense.
“He gets the ball out of his hands quick,” Malzahn said, “and that’s good.”
The divergent offensive schemes of the two teams stretched to their base defenses as well, since Malzahn could find few, if any, similarities.
“They are unique,” he said. “They do a little bit of everything. You’ve got to be prepared for the different fronts. They bring a lot of pressures.”
Those are the kinds of things Cassanova McKinzy hopes to see his unit apply when they get the chance to mix it up with the Cougars. The sophomore linebacker believes the defense isn’t that far away as long as it stays healthy, since he’s seen his teammates “progressing” every practice.
“We’ve all got to stay consistent and do a lot of working out on our own,” he said. “Overall, I think we’re doing better. Now it’s got to carry over to the game field.”
Hybrid safety/linebacker Justin Garrett, who is dealing with a foot sprain, did not practice Tuesday. “I hope he’s close,” Malzahn said. “We’re hoping we’re getting him back by next week.” … Malzahn was terse when asked if he had ever shared information with Leach. “No, I haven’t,” he said. … Marshall’s newfound leadership has continued to please Malzahn, as Tuesday marked the third day he repped with the first-team offense as the unquestioned starter at quarterback. “Since we’ve named him the starter he’s been a lot more urgent,” Malzahn said. “He’s taken more of a lead, and the offensive guys are listening to him. That’s very important.”