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Auburn has little to say about Birmingham Bowl, plenty to prove

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn speaks at a press conference previewing the Birmingham Bowl at Legion Field Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn speaks at a press conference previewing the Birmingham Bowl at Legion Field Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn promises his team is ready for the Birmingham Bowl.

It was about all he had to say about the matchup against Memphis less than 24 hours before kickoff.

Both participants held press conferences at Legion Field Tuesday afternoon to preview the game, but Malzahn was reluctant to even share his feelings about the weather.

Malzahn maintained the high level of secrecy he’s had throughout December regarding Auburn’s quarterback situation, declining to reveal a starter for the second time this week. 

“We will in pregame tomorrow kind of like I’ve said before,” Malzahn said. “Both guys have had good practices since we have been here, it hasn’t changed. Sean White is close to being 100 percent healthy and Jeremy Johnson is healthy. We feel good about both the guys. We will name a starter right before the game.”

Malzahn wasn’t comfortable discussing off the field issues — updating the team’s defensive coordinator search, which players were evaluating their NFL draft stock — or looking back on what went wrong on the field over the course of a 6-6 season. “We’ve had a lot of ups and downs this year, but really the only thing I’m focusing on is this bowl game to get some momentum for next year and more importantly getting these seniors out with a victory,” Malzahn said.

Malzahn fielded questions along with running back Peyton Barber and linebacker Kris Frost for 14-plus minutes. The only time Malzahn relaxed to give an expanded answer is when he was asked about Barber approaching 1,000 yards.

“I’m very proud of Peyton,” Malzahn said. “The whole season he’s (been) a very tough, tough guy. He’s a team guy. He works extremely hard and doesn’t say much. He’s just ready for his moment. What he’s done this year is really led us, he seized the moment. He played with a banged up body a lot of the year and really made the difference in a lot of games.”

Malzahn’s reluctance to talk was in stark contrast to Memphis interim coach Darrell Dickey’s portion of the press conference.

After fielding questions for 25-plus minutes with tight end Alan Cross and linebacker Wynton McManis, Dickey encouraged reporters to keep the questions coming.

“You can ask all you want, we don’t get to do this that often,” Dickey said smiling.

Dickey is temporarily filling in for coach Mike Norvell. Norvell was hired as Justin Fuente’s replacement in early December, but Norvell didn’t want to coach in the bowl game because of connections to Malzahn going back to their time together at Tulsa.

Dickey, who is staying on Norvell’s staff in an unspecified role, was at ease as his team’s spokesperson. He also made for a better pitchman for Auburn’s offense than the team’s own coach.

“We haven’t quite seen the struggle you are all talking about,” Dickey said of Auburn’s offense. “We know they played really quality people and there are great defenses in the SEC.”

Dickey compared Malzahn’s ingenuity in recent years — “he’s taken offensive football to another level” — to Steve Spurrier innovations with the run and gun offense and Mike Leach’s spread offense.

“What coach Malzahn has done is taken no-huddle football adding the tempo to it to where you are trying to snap the ball as fast as you can,” Dickey said. “And it’s not just throwing passes, it’s the running game. It’s extremely difficult to defend.”

Dickey praised the athletes on Auburn’s offense including quarterbacks Jeremy Johnson and Sean White.

With Auburn hinting that both could play Wednesday, Memphis has spent the bulk of its practice time preparing for Auburn’s patented misdirection run game and play-action pass attack versus individual matchups.

“We are preparing for the Auburn offense at its best because that’s what we feel like we are going to see and it’s a very dangerous offense,” Dickey said.

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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