Monday Morning QB Column: Time To Improve

Jason Caldwell looks at Auburn through two games following an impressive win over San Jose State.

After playing two games the Auburn Tigers get a break before taking to the road to face a Kansas State team that will be much different than the one that struggled with Iowa State on Saturday. With Bill Snyder at the helm and a veteran quarterback leading the way, the Wildcats will present a tough challenge for Coach Gus Malzahn’s bunch when Auburn heads to the Little Apple a week from Thursday.

The good news for the Tigers is that they are just scratching the surface of what they can do on offense and defense early in the 2014 season. Much of that was on display, both good and the not so good, in an easy win over San Jose State.

The Good

There is plenty to go around, but the running game continues to shine with Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant providing a lethal one-two punch for the Tigers to go along with the threat of Nick Marshall out of the backfield as well. With plenty more to add in terms of formations, Auburn’s running attack should only get stronger as the offensive line continues to gel.

Auburn’s ability to stop the run has improved greatly since the first half of the Arkansas game. That continued against the Spartans as the front seven controlled the line of scrimmage and held the visitors to just 1.7 yards per carry.

On special teams Auburn got a punt return for a touchdown from Quan Bray. The senior looks more explosive than ever and has always been solid catching the ball. His added quickness and power should make him fun to watch the rest of the season, not only on special teams, but also on offense.

The Not So Good

Auburn’s lack of consistency in the passing game is something that should get better as the Tigers get deeper into the season, but so far the lack of rhythm for Marshall throwing the football is apparent. As the starter and part of the first-team offense, the senior got very little scrimmage time in the preseason as Malzahn and the staff focused on getting the young guys ready to play and keeping the proven players healthy.

Sitting out the first half of the season opener against Arkansas and throwing just a handful of passes in week one only gave him another week without an opportunity to shake off the rust. He completed 10-19 throws, but had at least two that could or should have been caught. Throw in a well-thrown deep ball that was broken up on a good play and things would have looked a little different. I expect Marshall to be just fine throwing the football when the Tigers hit the field against Kansas State.

Auburn’s secondary play has been strong for the most part and seniors Jonathon Mincy and Jermaine Whitehead have been very solid, but the breakdowns have been costly and could be a real issue for this team if it continues to happen. Against San Jose State the Tigers were the victim of a great play design, but it shouldn’t add up to a 75-yard touchdown if the defense is all on the same page. Those problems are going to happen early in the season, but the schedule ramps up dramatically when Auburn faces Kansas State and that means any breakdowns could be the difference between winning and losing.

Stepping Up His Game

Auburn’s coaching staff hasn’t labeled Cameron Artis-Payne as the man yet, but through two games the senior running back has done everything he could possibly to do earn the job. Carrying the ball 42 times for 289 yards and four touchdowns, the former junior college standout is quicker and more decisive in his cuts than last season. That combined with his power makes him a great complement to Marshall and Grant in the running game. If he continues to get to the edge and turn the corner it could be a monster year for CAP.

Stepping Up His Game Part 2

While Artis-Payne’s play has been a bright spot for the offense, defensively that guy has been Jermaine Whitehead. Already with a pair of interceptions, the senior is still getting more comfortable at the safety position and that shows with each game. Showing more instincts in both the passing and running game on defense, Whitehead is also a big leader for the Tigers. That was on display following his interception against San Jose State on Saturday when he made a beeline to the defensive front to thank every guy for putting pressure on the quarterback. Those are the types of things that are big for team unity.

2004 A Special Group

It was great to see so many guys back from the 2004 SEC Champion Auburn Tigers, including Coach Tommy Tuberville. He was thrilled to be back with his guys and especially to be back in Auburn. He said it’s the place he’s going to retire to when his coaching days are done and I have no doubt that is the case, especially following the huge ovation he received from the sellout crowd on Saturday.

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