AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn’s opening statements at his regular-season press conferences are predictable and almost robotic.
The Auburn head coach usually launches into a brief preview of the upcoming opponent, highlighting strengths and key players on both sides of the ball before speaking about the confidence he has in his Tigers before opening the floor for questions.
It’s like clockwork, and it’s exactly why his meeting with the media Tuesday morning was so out of the ordinary.
He was apologetic and downright gloomy at some points, starting with his first few sentences to reporters ahead of 1-2 Auburn’s home matchup with No. 18 LSU.
“I’ve been at Auburn for seven years now, experienced some very good times, a few rough times,” Malzahn said. “The last two losses have probably hurt me worse than any of the others. I fully understand our fan base is disappointed, and they should be. The bottom line is we’ve got to coach our players better, and that starts with me.”
Malzahn’s opening statement set the tone for a press conference unlike any other he’s had at Auburn. Instead of looking forward to the next game, he spent a lot of time talking about the mistakes made in the 29-16 loss to Texas A&M, which was Auburn’s sixth straight SEC home loss.
Well, I can say I've never seen Gus Malzahn like that in a press conference. Apologetic, reflective, accepting blame, "feels pain" of fans.
— Brandon Marcello (@bmarcello) September 20, 2016
One of the most notable miscues came against Texas A&M defensive ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall, who started “mesh charging” in the middle of last Saturday’s game to great success.
“Mesh charging,” as Malzahn explained, is when the defensive ends charge straight at the middle space between the quarterback and the running back instead of taking one or the other.
“We didn’t do a good enough job from an offensive coaching standpoint adjusting quick enough,” Malzahn said. “I think they had four negative plays through the mesh charge. We’ve got to do a better job of making adjustments quicker … They’d never done that before, but the bottom line is we’ve got to adjust earlier.”
Malzahn absorbed the blame for Auburn’s slow start instead of pointing out errors in execution by the players, especially those on the offensive line.
Auburn’s offensive line allowed 13 tackles for loss against Texas A&M, giving the Tigers 32 negative plays on the season. That ranks the worst in the FBS, and it’s 4 more than the second-worst teams on the list.
“Our offensive line, just looking at it from Saturday, we’re improving,” Malzahn said. “We’re going to have to play well this week, but I’m not going to blame the offensive line.”
Malzahn even pointed the finger at his play-calling through the first three weeks of the season.
“It hasn’t been very good. It’s got to be better,” Malzahn said. “It’s got to be better, and it will get better.”
That was the main message of Malzahn’s press conference, which ran an unusually long 22 minutes — he and his coaching staff haven’t done enough in Auburn’s 1-2 start, but he feels the breakthrough coming.
“We’ve got to coach (the players) better and that starts with me, and that’s what’s going to get done,” Malzahn said. “We’re close. When you really look at everything, we’ve played two very good teams, had opportunities.
“We’ve got to take that next step. We’re going to get this thing turned around. There’s no doubt in my mind.”