Jason's Friday Mailbag: South Carolina Week

Answering your questions as the Auburn Tigers prepare to face the South Carolina Gamecocks.

tigertrainer07: With Auburn's tough schedule coming up, do you think we can afford to lose one game and get in playoff....or do you think we pretty much have to win out to be in contention even though we will of played the hardest schedule of anybody else in top 10?

Personally I think the Tigers need to win out to have a shot at the playoff. While two losses might be good enough in some years, this season I don’t think that’s going to be the case with Florida State almost assured of a spot and the winner of Michigan State-Ohio State, unfortunately, having a good chance as well if SEC teams knock each other off.

tinye: Do you think Lawson comes back at all this year? Since we will probably have him for one more full season, doesn't it make sense to play him this year if he is healthy and cleared, even if it is just for a couple of games?

I think getting Carl Lawson back this season may depend on what Auburn’s chances are for the playoffs at the time. If Auburn still has one loss and he’s ready for Georgia then I think they might decide to play him. Getting him for a possible six games would definitely make it worth it to play him. Just all depends on how he progresses in his rehab from a major knee surgery.

missd: What is the one change you would make for the second half with this team? Personnel preferably, but it can be a schematic thing if you want.

It’s tough to make changes in mid-stream, but with an off week it probably comes at a good time for the Tigers. I think getting Patrick Miller back at right tackle and Avery Young back inside is Auburn’s best move. Whether that means Chad Slade and Devonte Danzey at guard or Slade and Braden Smith or even Danzey and Smith, that’s another debate, but I like those two on the right side.

WSlay: If you were setting the offense, who would be your base/starting personnel?

That’s tough because it would depend on what kind of defense you were expecting. I really like Auburn in trips with Sammie Coates, Duke Williams and Quan Bray with C.J. Uzomah at TE. Then you have the offensive line to go along with Nick Marshall and Cameron Artis-Payne/Roc Thomas. I like the diversity of that to spread the field and create running lanes in addition to the threats in the passing game.

coreyc: More difficult schedule 1983 Auburn or 2014 Auburn??

I think 2014 is definitely tougher because of the road games. In 1983 Auburn faced Texas, Florida State, Florida and Maryland all at home and Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama (at Birmingham) on the road. This schedule is going to have K-State, Missississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama all on the road not to mention the home games. It is the toughest schedule I have seen.

gmason73: Going into the home stretch with the toughest part of our schedule, what will be the #1 key on offense and defense to bring home an 11-1 record?

On offense it is to get back to being consistent when running the football. Auburn has had plenty of explosive runs so far, but too many short or negative runs to go along with it. The Tigers need to get back to gaining four or five yards consistently and the offense will be tough to stop. Defensively, it’s all about the pass rush. The Tigers have got to find a way to get to the quarterback early and often in games.

howells: One pick to click in the second half? Only one.

Wow. Its hard to pick just one guy, but I’ll go with Roc Thomas. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him become a huge part of the running game the second half of the season.

AUviewpoint: Which members of the current coaching staff do you see as potential head coaches or coordinators in the future?

I could see just about every one of these guys as potential head coaches down the road. One of the guys who could be next is Tim Horton. He could have had the Georgia Southern job last year, but is waiting for the right opportunity. In my opinion he’ll be a great one when the opportunity arises.

nhill76: Do you think Chandler Cox steps into the H-back spot during the spring and not give it up and who do you think emerges at TE?

I think Chandler Cox will have a great shot since he’ll be able to go through spring practice. It will be interesting to see if they look at Kamryn Pettway there at all to see what he can do. As for tight end I think Chris Laye will be more of the blocking tight end with Jakell Mitchell the pass-catching guy. He’s going to be a big-time playmaker in the middle.

Saniflush: Do you think the injuries on SC's defense will affect our offensive game plan?

While it looks like South Carolina will have a lot of injuries on the defense, I don’t believe Auburn is buying that. The Tigers are preparing to see the Gamecocks at full strength so the gameplan won’t change, not that it would have anyway. The Tigers are going to run the football and play-action off that. That’s the goal every week.

4auburn15: Does Gus call all of the offensive plays or does he let Rhett call some of them?

Rhett definitely has an input into everything that is called for the Tigers, but Malzahn has the final call for the most part. They trust each other when they feel good about certain things and that’s the key to making it work.

aupops: Do you think that Nick having passes knocked down at the LOS is in part because he throws lazer like passes as opposed to passes that have a great deal arc to them? TIA

I don’t think it has anything to do with his type of throws. It’s a combination of the offensive line not sustaining blocks, Nick sometimes not finding a throwing lane, and sometimes the defensive lineman just makes a good play. Several have been when a defensive lineman stops rushing and decides to just try to bat the ball down. Happens more with a runner like Nick than most other guys. The more they rush the more dangerous he becomes if he escapes.

AUsnailscholar: Is the plan to stick with just a three LB rotation including Garrett or does coach Johnson still plan on using Swain and Tre' Williams as reserves too? Where is Melvin Ray or more directly why the decline in his role?

I believe we’ll continue to see Anthony Swain, but Tre Williams’ time will probably be less with the move of Justin Garrett. The rotation will be interesting to watch because Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost can play both spots. That basically doubles your depth because they can move to either spot. As for Ray I think much of the problems for him have been inconsistency in blocking outside. Something else has been the return to full speed of Sammie Coates. Just tough to get all those guys touches right now.

mgmzebra: Wiil J. Johnson get a series at QB without gimmicks?

It’s a possibility, but I’m not sure it’s going to happen. Coaches just don’t like to interrupt the rhythm of an offense by inserting a different quarterback or changing offensive linemen. If they are struggling it could happen, but I’m not expecting it.

aubtime: With Coates and Duke why are we not throwing the fade more often? All I have heard was that Duke could win that battle almost every time and we know Coates has some hop ( they can't double both). the old ball coach would throw this 10x a game it seem like. It just seems like a good % throw for us.

The fade is actually a very low-percentage throw in my book, but they have tried it a few times without much success. Spurrier used to throw them a ton when defenses weren’t very sophisticated, but now with bigger corners it makes things more difficult. I actually like them out on the field more than on the goal line. Give me a guy with plenty of room to make the play and I’ll take it.

aubtime: Is Toney still playing HB and if so how is he doing?

Cameron Toney is still working at the H-Back position for the Tigers. The move gives him a chance to see how he stacks up there this fall. I think he’ll be a solid player there, but I’m guessing it will be tough for him to beat out Cox and potentially even Pettway down the road.

Salemtiger: What changes do you expect that lets us get more pressure on the SC QB ?

The only real changes will be using Brandon King more as a defensive end on third downs along with Elijah Daniel inside at tackle. I think getting more speed and quickness on the field is always important and it could be a boost in that department provided the Tigers can get the Gamecocks in obvious passing situations enough times.

DCCPT: With the lack of pressure from the front 4, who do we have on the roster besides Carl Lawson that can step up this year? What happened to Freshman Andrew Williams? He has the size to play DE in the SEC. What has held him back from getting into a DE rotation that hasn't really impressed from a pass rush standpoint?

I’m not sure there is anyone else other than the guys they are working with. LaDarius Owens is the player that to come through in my book. He’s been banged up, but should be full speed now. He’s got to deliver for this defense to take a step up in my opinion. As for Williams he’s just struggling with a huge step up in competition. He played against weaker players in high school, but he has the talent to be a good one. Just has to get better fundamentally right now. He didn’t have to worry about those things in high school.

AUPMBA: Will Auburn announce a capital program at the end of the year for the PDF?

I haven’t heard that’s definitely going to happen, but I wouldn’t be surprised to get some talk about that near the end or after the season. There is no question Auburn realizes the need for improvements in Jordan-Hare Stadium and other areas. It’s just a matter of when those things begin to come to fruition.

wcvet: Which assistant coach are we most likely to lose after the season is over? Who would be potential replacements?

I don’t know if there is anybody that Auburn is likely to lose. Sure there are some possibilities as is always the case, but I don’t know about likely at this moment. I think probably the offensive guys would be the biggest possibilities with guys like Casey Woods and Bobby Bentley potential replacements for skill positions.

tigertail2: I may have too high expectations of our offense but It appears that we are not using all of our talent at Receiver. No doubt Melvin Ray, Marcus Davis, Ricardo Lewis and C J are under-used. Another performace that seemed to have a drop-off, Nick's ability to run for long yardage. Actually, Nick, CAP and Corey's production of impact plays appear to be down. My observation of Chad Slade indicates he dhould be running over DLmen and LBers. He hasn't shown his physical talents this season. I'm guessing that Coach Grimes has also seen such and plans on having Smith step in if Slade doesn't step up. All this may be a figment of my disappointed (gift to State) imagination. Correct me, but not with manipulative stats.

You didn’t want manipulative stats, but I’m going to give them to you anyway. In the running game Tre Mason had 10 plays of 20 or more yards in 14 games last season. This year in six games Cameron Artis-Payne already has six of those runs. Nick Marshall had 11 runs of 20 or more yards last season and has five already this year. Corey Grant’s production is the one that is down with just one explosive run so far after having seven last year.

The problem for this offense hasn’t been explosive runs, but a lack of consistent running. They have made big runs, but too many times have been stopped for negative or short yardage. That puts an offense behind the chains, something nobody likes. As for the wide receivers there is no way to use all of the guys without throwing the ball 35 or 40 times a game. QB’s are going to have go-to guys and that is never going to change.

alcar7: What's your favorite part of your job and what's your least favorite?

The favorite part of my job is getting to build relationships and get to know so many great people over the year. I would have never imagined growing up that I would sit down and talk with Pat Dye and he would actually ask my opinion about what I saw. Getting to spend so much time with Quentin Riggins over the years has been great also. Being on the field with him for 15 years has been pretty fun. The best part of my job has been working for Mark Murphy. Can’t imagine a better guy to train me in this field and to show me how to treat people in business. As for the least favorite part it’s probably the hours. There are very few off days in this profession, but if that’s my only complaint then I’ll take it.

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