Malzahn looking for Auburn to get its ‘edge’ back

Gus Malzahn at the 2014 Media Days. (WIAT-WIAT 42, Sebastian Posey)

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HOOVER, Ala. (WIAT) – When Gus Malzahn took over as the head coach of the Auburn Tigers, it was automatically understood that the makeup of the Auburn offense would be different in 2013 than it was under Gene Chizik.

Malzahn’s up-tempo approach to the game has been successful at most places he’s coached, most recently during his stint as the head coach of Arkansas State. On Wednesday, he took to the podium at SEC Media Days and was not shy about his expectations of the Auburn offense this season.

“Offensively, we’re a two-back run play-action team that will run our offense at a two-minute pace the entire game,” Malzahn explained. “Our goal is to play faster than anybody in college football. We feel like, if you can execute our offense at a fast pace, it’s a big advantage. So we’ll be striving for that.”

PHOTOS: Auburn Tigers Media Day

That fast-paced approach to offense has drawn criticism from some, namely Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema. During an interview on Wednesday, Bielema noted that playing a no-huddle, fast-paced offense is dangerous for the players. When asked about those comments, he didn’t back down.

“Gus is an educated man. He’s got his own faith and belief. But what I said, I didn’t just throw that out there,” Bielema said.

Malzahn, who is as passionate as any coach in the nation when it comes to his offensive style of play, wasn’t too fond of that notion.

“When I first heard that, to be honest with you, I thought it was a joke,” he quipped. “As far as health or safety issues, that’s like saying the defense shouldn’t blitz after a first down because they’re a little fatigue and there’s liable to be a big collision in the backfield.”

“I’m not a comedian. Everything I say is something I believe in,” Bielema later responded.

The Tigers have a number of question marks on both sides of the ball in 2013, but perhaps the most glaring unknown is arguably the most important position of all – quarterback. The Tigers have a number of players competing for the starting gig.

Junior Nick Marshall is a player many feel should be able to come in and take the job, but returning quarterbacks Jonathan Wallace and  Kiehl Frazier aren’t going to make it easy for him to earn the first-string spot.

“Offensively, our biggest challenge this year is going to be our quarterback. We don’t know who our quarterback is,” Malzahn said.”We have four guys. Going to give them an equal shot. Figure out who gives us the best chance of winning.

“Ideally we figure that out sooner rather than later in fall camp, but we won’t make a decision until we’re a 110% for sure.”

Auburn’s tumultuous 2012 campaign resulted in a 3-8 record (0-8 in conference play). Their winless conference record was the worst in school history, but if anything was clear on Wednesday, it’s that the new vision Malzahn and his coaching staff has instilled in the Auburn locker room is one that has them fashioned for success.

“The number one thing that our players have to do for us to be successful this year is get our edge back. That is the mental and physical toughness, the blue-collar, hard-nosed, hit-you-in-the-mouth Auburn football that’s made Auburn great,” Malzahn commented. “Worry about your teammate, not worry about yourself. Lose the entitlement issue. History shows if Auburn has their edge, they can compete for championships and win games.”

The Auburn players have taken notice to this change in attitude, and, if anything, it’s provided a refreshing approach to the 2013 season.

“As much winning as we are destined for. If you put in the work during the week, there’s no telling how much winning there can be,” defensive end Dee Ford said. “The difference in this year’s team is we have the same guys but we’re more mentally tough and mature.”

“It was completely different as soon as Coach Malzahn came. It was a new attitude,” senior fullback Jay Prosch added. “He started a fire in everyone; it’s really exciting.”

“Last year is last year. It’s a new day,” defensive back Chris Harris stated.

Copyright 2013 WIAT-TV CBS 42

Lauren Sisler’s interview with Auburn’s Dee Ford and Chris Davis

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