AUBURN, Ala. — Whenever football schedules are finalized, the timing of a team’s off week can get as much attention as the actual games.
Auburn’s 2016 off week comes in the exact center point of its regular season — six games before, six games after. And head coach Gus Malzahn thinks that setup is ideal for what his 4-2 team needs right now.
“This off week this week, it couldn’t have come at a better time,” Malzahn said Wednesday on the SEC coaches teleconference. “It’s been a very physical first six weeks. This week, our goal is to rest up some of our starters, develop some depth and get ready for the stretch run in the second half of the season.”
Malzahn said his team’s main focus for the current off week isn’t getting a head start on preparation for a Week 7 visit from No. 22 Arkansas. That will mostly come after the bye weekend.
“We’ll look at Arkansas a little bit this week, but really, it’ll be next week,” Malzahn said. “This is more about healing up. That’s probably the biggest advantage of having an off week.”
Auburn’s two biggest health concerns coming out of its recent 38-14 win over Mississippi State are centered on starting running back Kerryon Johnson and center Xavier Dampeer.
Johnson left the game early against Mississippi State with an ankle injury, putting the responsibility on second-team running back Kamryn Pettway to carry the ball 39 times. Auburn’s coaching staff remains optimistic Johnson will be able to return from injury for the Arkansas game.
“We’re hoping we get him back. We’ll see,” Malzahn said. “We’ll probably know more when we get to next week, when we get to Sunday. We’re just trying to be smart with him and get him as much treatment as we can this week.”
Dampeer, who played through an undisclosed injury in the second half of Auburn’s Week 4 win against LSU, has sat out the last two contests for the Tigers. In his absence, Auburn has moved Austin Golson back to center — where he started all of last season — and started Darius James at left tackle.
Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said Tuesday night the staff would continue to monitor Dampeer’s status throughout the off week.
“He was able to practice last week,” Lashlee said. “He wasn’t as good as we thought he would be … we just felt like the best thing to do was to put five healthy guys out there. We’ll just kind of continue to evaluate how he improves this week and next week and kind of go from there.”
While taking a break during the middle of a 3-game winning streak might be viewed as somewhat of a negative for Auburn, Malzahn says the bye week is a net positive in terms of the rest he can get for players such as Johnson and Dampeer.
“You want to keep your rhythm, especially when you’re playing well,” Malzahn said. “But right now, just for us personally, it’s more important for us to heal up. We’re pretty banged up from a team standpoint. It came at a great time.”