Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn sees key to 2016 season: ‘Win the close games’ 

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn sees key to 2016 season: ‘Win the close games’ 
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn speaks during SEC Football Media Days on Monday in Hoover. (Wade Rackley/Auburn Athletics)

Gus Malzahn knows what it will take for his Auburn University football team to bounce back from two disappointing seasons.

“We’ve got to win close games,” he said Monday as SEC Media Days kicked off at the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover.

“The thing that stands out to me is that we lost close games last year,” he said. “I’m extremely motivated to turn that around this season.”

The Tigers finished 7-6 last year and ended the season with a Birmingham Bowl victory over Memphis. Malzahn hopes they can ride that momentum into the 2016 season.

Auburn will have to find a quarterback who can turn around a program that has fallen off its game since 2013.

That was Malzahn’s first season as the Tigers’ head coach and they defeated Alabama and went to the BCS national championship game, coming within 13 seconds of beating Florida State.

Malzahn said he feels good about the three quarterbacks – Jeremy Johnson, Sean White and James Franklin III — who will go into fall camp with hopes of earning the starting job.

Auburn is in need of a quarterback who can run the read-option offense that Malzahn practically invented. Johnson and White are pocket quarterbacks who struggled last season.

Junior college transfer Franklin had some impressive moments in the spring game and could win the job. He is extremely fast and can hit the edges quickly, but his passing needs work.

“We hope to have a starter sooner rather than later,” Malzahn said.

That would be good since the first game of the season is against Clemson, which went to the College Football Playoff championship game last January.

Asked if Franklin might be behind Johnson and White in the quarterback race, Malzahn had this to say: “Nick Marshall won the job (in 2013) after transferring from Georgia, and he didn’t have much practice at all.”

Auburn returns six starters on defense, led by junior lineman Carl Lawson, who might have been a high NFL draft choice had he decided to leave Auburn.

“It was a decision that I had to make with my family,” he said. “What was best for me was to finish my degree and become a better football player.”

Also retuning is senior defensive tackle Montravius Adams, who said he needs to be “more of a dominating specimen, more tenacious this year.”

The Tigers also have a new defensive coordinator, Kevin Steele, who left LSU to go to Auburn last year when Will Muschamp left Auburn to be head coach at South Carolina.

Malzahn called Steele “a true professional” and said the two share the same philosophy.

“We’re blessed to have a guy like him. Our defense has responded extremely well,” Malzahn said. “Our players were flying around during the spring, they were having fun.”

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