Jason Caldwell

Jason Caldwell's Monday Morning QB Column

Looking at the Auburn Tigers as they get ready to face Louisville on Saturday in the season opener.

Jason Smith (above) could be a big-play threat for the Auburn offense.

Let’s Get It On

It’s time for the 2015 football season to kick off and we get it started Thursday night with several solid games, but the real season starts Saturday when Auburn faces off against Louisville in Atlanta. This is always an exciting time of year because of so much uncertainty surrounding teams, but this year seems to be more than most with Ohio State the only possible exception.

That doesn’t escape Auburn either with plenty of question marks on both offense and defense despite some quality experience back on both sides of the ball. One of the things worth keeping an eye on is the punting game for the Tigers with Kevin Phillips expected to get the first shot at the job. Consistency has been the name of the game for him since arriving in the spring and if he can deliver that in the game it would be a huge boost for Auburn’s defense.

Something else that will be iimportant this season is how quickly Jason Smith can become a key part of the offense. A player who I am expecting to have a productive season, Smith can be a weapon as a eceiver and in the running game. Along with Ricardo Louis he could be a big addition to the running game and take some of the carries tha went to the quarterback the past two seasons.

Young Defense Forced To Grow Up

While names such as Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams, Cassanova McKinzy, Kris Frost, Justin Garrett, Jonathan Jones and Josh Holsey will play a key role for Auburn’s defense, as many as eight true freshmen could see action against Louisville on Saturday. Even though Byron Cowart gets much of the attention on the defensive line the most important freshman for the Tigers is Dontavius Russell. A redshirt last season, Russell has been strong and is one of the leaders on the defense despite his lack of playing experience.

In the secondary Jeremiah Dinson is expected to play a key role in Will Muschamp’s system, capable of playing cornerback as well as nickel because of his coverage skills. His skill set is exactly what Muschamp and Travaris Robinson are looking for and the coordinator said that’s not an accident.

"He really runs well, he's got great length, he's extremely bright, really really smart, he can judge the ball well in the deep part of the field, and he's a great competitor,” Muschamp said of the three-star prospect coming out of Hialeah, Fla. “What did y'all not like about him? He's a good player. At the end of the day, we had a lot of these guys in camp and we were able to see their skill set, just because they aren't ready yet doesn't mean they aren't a good player."

 

Jeremy Johnson Time

We’ve seen glimpses of Jeremy Johnson in each of his first two seasons at Auburn, but it’s finally time to see what the big junior from Montgomery can do as the starter for the Tigers. A player who I have seen throw hundred of passes over the years, Johnson can make all the throws and that makes him a tough player to defend right out of the gate. However, that’s not the only part of Johnson’s game.

Also a capable runner when needed, Johnson can make plays with his legs and I think it’s something Auburn needs to show Louisville early to keep the Cardinals front honest.

We have seen very little of Johnson’s running ability at Auburn, but that has to change this season for the offense to reach its full potential. Johnson doesn’t have to rush for 1,000 yards in 2015, but he needs to make defenses think it’s an option to take pressure off the rest of the running game.

Petrino A Tough Test

There is no question that Auburn’s challenge is a major one on Saturday with Bobby Petrino game-planning against the Tigers’ defense. One of the best gameday coaches in college football along with Gus Malzahn, Petrino has shown time and time again that he can find ways to move the football no matter what.

The game that always sticks out to me in that regard came in 2002 when Auburn traveled to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama with out Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown at running back. Without a true fullback as well with Brandon Johnson hurt the Tigers had to face the nation’s No. 1 defense. All Petrino did was get Tre Smith ready and tight end Cooper Wallace moved to fullback and the results were pretty remarkable.

Rushing for 126 yards in the game with 79 coming in the first quarter alone, Smith jump-started the Auburn offense before Jason Campbell and Robert Johnson put the finishing touches on a 17-7 victory. That game will always be a constant reminder of how good Petrino is in a one-game situation. With this matchup an opportunity for Louisville to make a huge statement I expect everything but the kitchen sink from the Cardinals on Saturday.


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