Time To Run
While quarterback Jeremy Johnson’s struggles throwing the football got the most attention on Saturday it was what he didn’t do that could be the key to Auburn’s offense the rest of the 2015 season. Even though running the ball with the quarterback isn’t a necessity in this offense, as the 2009 season showed, there is no question it’s an added dimension that forces a defense to play differently.
Against Louisville in the opener Johnson carried the ball just five times for 11 yards with a one-yard touchdown to show for it. Capable of being more of a threat in the running game, Johnson’s development in that area could be something that becomes a bigger factor as the season progresses
“I don’t think we want to just get him beat up, but at the same time for us to win and to beat some of the teams on our schedule he’s going to have to make plays with his feet,” says Rhett Lashlee, Auburn's quarterback coach and offensive coordinator. “He knows that, we know that, so I don’t know if we have a set number, it’s what situations dictate.
“Maybe sometimes when we play somebody, some teams might be more susceptible to the run, some maybe less so you may see it more some game than others," Lashlee adds. "There may be some games the read takes him to carry it more, there may be some games he has to pull it down and make plays more. I think it could kind of vary week to week.”
If Johnson shows the willingness to aggressively run the football and make the defense pay for focusing on the tailback, not only will it help the Auburn running game, it will open more room to throw the ball down the field in the passing game. That’s a win-win for the Tigers.
Young Defenders Step Up
Saturday was a day to grow up for several Tigers on defense as true freshmen Byron Cowart, Jeff Holland, Tim Irvin, Jeremiah Dinson and Carlton Davis all saw action in key situations. Throw in redshirt freshman Dontavius Russell and sophomores Tre Williams, Nick Ruffin and Stephen Roberts and you had a sizable group of defenders with little or no experience on the field against Louisville.
That kind of experience is invaluable for those players as they got an opportunity to face a talented and athletic Louisville offense. With the expectations that they will get more on-the-field time again this weekend against Jacksonville State the young defense will have two important weeks of experience to get ready for what’s ahead in the SEC.
While many of them performed well the play of Russell was particularly impressive to me because of his explosiveness off the ball. With two and a half tackles for losses and one and a half sacks, Russell is well on his way to topping Montravius Adams’ total of three sacks and eight tackles for losses, which led all Auburn defensive tackles for the season a year ago.
There is no question the difference maker for Auburn’s defense is Carl Lawson. While both Russell and Adams did good things in the middle there was a noticeable difference when No. 55 wasn’t on the field for the Tigers. Even though he was credited with just one sack and two tackles for losses, the redshirt sophomore created havoc on seemingly every snap he was in the game.
That’s the kind of thing that can turn a solid defense into one that makes the difference between winning and losing. With four sacks in the opener Auburn is already nearly a quarter of the way to last year’s total of 21. More pressure equals more potential for mistakes for an offense and that’s always good news for a defense.
Kicking Game Off To Good Start
It would be hard to have a much better day than the one Auburn’s kicking game had on Saturday. A perfect 4-4 on extra-points and adding a 56-yard field goal, the second-longest in school history, Daniel Carlson looked very rock solid out of the gate. Adding six touchbacks on six kickoffs, the sophomore is quickly developing into a true weapon for the Tigers.
One of the biggest question marks heading into the season was at punter and so far that looks like it could be much improved as well with junior college transfer Kevin Phillips having a great first showing for the Tigers. Averaging 47 yards on two punts with a long of 55, Phillips had great hang time and looked like he could be a big boost for Auburn’s special teams this season.
Time In The Penalty Box
Auburn's penalty problems from last season carried over to the opener with key holding calls on the offensive line negating big plays or possible drive-extending plays. The biggest of those came with Auburn ahead 24-3 following a defensive stand by the Tigers that kept Louisville out of the end zone. With the momentum and a three-touchdown lead Auburn drove from its own 23 to the 44 when Johnson threw a strike to Jason Smith on first down for a 56-yard touchdown.
The play would have given Auburn a commanding 31-3 lead and likely put away the Cardinals for good with around five minutes left in the third quarter, but a holding call on guard Braden Smith wiped away the play. The penalty was compounded on an unsportsmanlike conduct flag on the Auburn bench, putting the ball back on the 19-yard line. Two plays later Johnson threw an interception to set up Louisville in great filed position that led to its first touchdown, changing the momentum of the game in just a few seconds.
Those are the types of plays that haunted the Tigers last season and Saturday showed the problems still exist with eight penalties for 80 yards in the game. It's an absolute must that the Tigers eliminate the major infraction penalties that serve to kill drives and eventually kill momentum.