Q: The Auburn community was in shambles prior to Gus Malzahn’s hiring. What has impressed you most about how he has handled the development of the program on and off the field as head coach?
A: Obviously, Malzahn was aided by the fact that he was Auburn’s offensive coordinator from 2009-12, so he already had an in-depth knowledge of the people within the program — including many players he personally recruited — as well as how things were done here on the Plains. So both those proved to be key advantages. But what Malzahn brought was a bigger sense of purpose, as well as a focus and a message to compartmentalize everything by doing the little things to improve on a daily basis. It started with the weight training and conditioning program and carried over into his week-by-week and day-by-day approach.
Q: There are plenty of reasons to like Auburn in this game, but K-State has a history of competing well with larger nonconference programs in Manhattan. How will Malzahn have his guys prepared for this out-of-conference road game?
A: Malzahn’s approach goes back to focusing on the little things they can control, like avoiding self-inflicted mistakes, etc. He’s also huge on maintaining a strict weekly routine that he believes better prepares his players for such a challenge. Last season’s first road game didn’t go so well (a 35-21 loss at LSU), but it was also a turning point for Auburn as the coaches used the setback as a learning tool on what to avoid to be successful. You saw that in their next road game (a 45-41 upset of then-top 10 Texas A&M;). Preparation is a key staple of a Malzahn-coached team.
Q: Nick Marshall had clear interest in K-State prior to committing to Auburn. How do you believe he has handled this as he prepares to visit Manhattan as a Tiger?
A: By all accounts, Marshall has tried to downplay the connection for the most part – saying this is just another opportunity to get a win for his team. But how Marshall responds on the field Thursday will be interesting, especially given some undue pressure he’s received from fans with regard to his development as a passer.
Q: Tre Mason is gone, but Auburn still carries a strong run game. How has the backfield developed after his departure?
A: Auburn’s ground game has picked up right where it left off last season, averaging 330 rushing yards per game after leading the nation a year ago averaging 328 per game. Fellow seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant have filled in nicely for Mason after the latter took over the lead back role with a sensational second-half of the season last year. Artis-Payne seems to have emerged as the every-down option with an added speed and quickness dimension, averaging 144.5 rushing yards per game so far this season.
Q: Carl Lawson is out with a torn ACL and Dee Ford is a Kansas City Chief. How has Auburn looked with its new pass rush? Name to watch?
A: The pass rush was certainly a concern this offseason, but with the emergence of sophomore defensive tackle Montravius Adams and senior tackle Gabe Wright (both of whom have also split time at end) the Tigers have been able to get to the quarterback more frequently. A key to this game could be how much Auburn’s defensive line is able to disrupt K-State quarterback Jake Waters.
Q: How many Auburn fans do you expect to see at Bill Snyder Family Stadium tonight?
A: Being a mid-week game, I can imagine it’ll be difficult for many fans, both student and professionals, to travel to Kansas. However, Auburn has a loyal fan base that routinely goes above and beyond for their team, especially in big games like this one. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see 5-7,000 Auburn fans sporting their orange and blue tonight.