Without a doubt the two turnovers on the first two Auburn offensive plays of the game contributed greatly to Auburn’s demise on Saturday, but it didn’t keep the offense from putting itself in position to score on numerous occasions in Starkville. Getting into the red zone six different times on Saturday, Auburn had to settle for field goal attempts too often while scoring just two touchdowns in those situations. That is something Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee said will get plenty of work between now and the South Carolina game in two weeks.A good start would be getting improved play from the offensive line. While that group's lack of consistency is far from the only problem right now with the offense, the shuffling up front has obviously had an impact on the ground the first half of the season. One of the biggest concerns is the pressure Mississippi State was able to put on quarterback Nick Marshall throughout the game. In addition to the two interceptions that were caused by a tipped ball and Marshall’s arm being hit on the throw, the Tigers had problems getting into a flow in the passing game because of the Bulldogs' active front. Lashlee said it’s definitely something the coaching staff areislooking at, but the problems are offensive-wide. “We’ve got to do a better job up front,” Lashlee said. “They had 13 hurries and credit to them. They did a really good job. We knew they had a strong front that was good at, not necessarily running around you, but pushing guys back into them, and they did that. Obviously it affected a few throws. They knocked one down the first play of the game for an interception. It affected a couple.
“The last play of the game he (Marshall) got his arm hit and the ball was intercepted. It probably affected a few throws he did throw. I know they didn’t sack us as much, but they did put the pressure and they did make the lanes tight. A couple of times we had to throw the ball earlier than we want. It’s a total group effort.”
Auburn freshman back Roc Thomas got some carries in crucial situations on Saturday and it could be just a sign of things to come for the Tigers. With some special skills and the ability to take the ball the distance, Thomas looks to be headed for an increased role because of his skill set and how it works in the offense, the offensive coordinator pointed out.
“We really haven't looked at it and labeled a depth chart, but we felt like he complements Cameron very well,” Lashlee said. “We think Peyton (Barber) is very talented. Peyton has a different skill set than Roc. And Roc has a different skill set than CAP. Right now, with what CAP brings to the table, he's really good. He's solid. He's downhill. He's making yards, but Roc and him seem to complement each other really well, and that's why we're kind of looking at that right now. But we still have a lot of confidence in Peyton Barber. Coach (Tim) Horton feels good about all four of our backs carrying the football.”Finding A Home
Since his injury early last preseason, junior Justin Garrett has struggled to get back into form and find his role in Ellis Johnson’s defense. Playing well at the star position before missing the entire year, Garrett battled Robenson Therezie in preseason camp, but since that time true freshman Nick Ruffin has settled into the role as the backup at the position. That has allowed Auburn to move Garrett back to the weakside linebacker position, something Johnson said they got to use against Mississippi State.
“He was playing quite a bit as a second linebacker,” Johnson said of Garrett. “Nick Ruffin is backing up Therezie now and really we like that better. We've got more of a coverage approach when we can get that guy out. Justin can cover a lot of guys outside and this particular game, it wasn't that type of game. Texas A&M may be a little bit more like that, more four-wides (receivers) on the field.”
One of the areas of concern for Auburn’s defense is the lack of a productive pass rusher on the front four. Having to blitz more often to bring pressure has put the Tigers’ defensive backs in one-on-one coverage too many times this season. That showed up in key third down conversions vs. Mississippi State, both in the passing game as well as with Dak Prescott running the ball.
Carl Lawson was projected to be the player to pick up the slack left by Dee Ford this season, but knee surgery in the spring has kept him out so far this season. Even though he continues to progress well and looks to be moving around without problems, Lawson isn’t expected back soon, according to Johnson.
“They just keep talking about how remarkably well he's done, but I don't know that,” Johnson said of what the doctors talked about with Lawson’s knee because of how stable it was so quickly after surgery. “I think the hope was that he would be able to play before the end of the season. It's not something right now that's in the very near future that I'm aware of.”