Mike Cortez

Answering Questions About The Auburn Tigers As They Prepare To Face LSU

Talking about the Auburn Tigers as Gus Malzahn's team prepares to face LSU on the road in the SEC opener.

KJTiger: I think there has been much consternation about what exactly is a Gus offense.  In your opinion/estimation what is it?  What are his foundational schemes?  I think the read option for him evolved with Cam and then carried over with Nick.  Would he be more Tulsa or Au in the Cam years?  What is your opinion based on what you see and hear around campus?  I appreciate your time.

Gus Malzahn always wants to be a run/play-action team. That has been his philosophy and really Cam was the first running quarterback he had. I think fundamentally it all starts with the running game and one of the reasons why I think the offense is sputtering a little bit right now. While the quarterback play hasn’t been good at all, if Auburn can’t run it then things aren’t going to work.


autigerman: If our QB and offense as a whole continues to sputter,what do you see our Coaching staff changing?

I’m not sure what I see them changing at the moment if things continue like they have. It would be tough to imagine them making sweeping changes when all they have said is that Jeremy is their guy. I think it would simply be a matter of finding what this group does best and then sticking with it. The problem is I’m not sure what that would be right now.


WSlay: How confident is the team?

Actually, I think this team is still very confident. My take is that these players believe they’re still every bit a challenger for the SEC title and that could be something that works in their favor this weekend. With many, including some of their own fans, not giving them much of a chance in Baton Rouge they should have plenty of extra incentive to play well.


MelissaNGa: How do you think that the freshmen will be affected by playing in Baton Rouge for the first time?  Has Gus made any special preparations for them to deal with the crowd noise?

Auburn has several periods of very loud music in the indoor facility during practice to prepare for crowd noise so that shouldn’t be much of an issue. As crazy as it sounds I think it should help the young guys on defense to be on the road because of the lack of crowd noise. That should make it easier for them to communicate with each other.


irontiger: Be totally honest!! Am I crazy and been totally wrong about JJ? I have always thought JJ could be a very good zone read QB (not a NM runner) but good enough to get the first downs and carry the ball 10 or so carries a game and defenses would have to respect that and what he lacked in running ability he made up with his arm.

I’m right there with you. There’s no question in my mind that Jeremy is athletic enough to make some plays running the football. In my opinion I don’t believe they have given him a green light to run a whole lot to this point, but that needs to change one way or another. If this offense wants to take a step forward I think he needs to at least show the willingness to run every once in a while.

One thing I’ll add about Jeremy is that it took him until his senior season in high school to really become a big-time runner. It could be a confidence thing for him because he hasn’t been asked to run the last two years. It may be something as simple as having a few successful runs to break him and the offense out.


aupops: Jason, did you foresee or have any thoughts that Jeremy would have these kind of problems ? Was there ever any indications he might stumble coming out of the gate?

I didn’t see him having these types of problems, not even close. Now I wasn’t expecting 300 yards per game and all perfect play, but his interceptions are very different from the guy I’ve seen for so many years. It’s hard to explain without knowing the plays, routes and reads as to what he saw, but it hasn’t been pretty. The good news is the coaches don’t seem to believe it’s a huge deal and think it’s a matter of helping him out more.

I tend to agree with that and will also add I think the offense has to be able to run the football much better starting Saturday. This season linebackers are bailing out and getting into passing lanes, something unheard of when facing a Gus Malzahn offense. Until the running game makes those guys stay at home and opens up the play-action it’s going to continue to be tough to throw the ball over the middle.


gtwstock: How do we set up the front 7 on defense vs. LSU?  I assume no nickel and a lot of Mitchell at LB instead, but do we go 3-4 or 4-3 most of the time?  And why?

I think you’ll see them stack the line of scrimmage and mix back and forth between three and four-man fronts. I wouldn’t be surprised to see something closer to what Auburn did last season against Arkansas and have more size on the line of scrimmage this Saturday. There is always a need for pressure, but if you can’t stop the run you’re not going to win the game anyway.


wtbtiger: Do you see any personal changes on the OL? It seems we are getting beat up front and is really hurting our run game.

I believe the biggest thing is getting Avery Young back at right tackle. With him back in the lineup it allows Braden Smith to move back to his more natural spot at guard, something that helps the running game. I thought last week the line was shuffled a little too much and it hurt the continuity up front.


gmason73: Do you think losing Reese Dismukes is the central cause of our OL woes?  Golson is athletic enough, but is he making the correct line calls from what you can see?

There is no question that losing Dismukes was always going to be tough for the offensive line, especially early in the season. I believe Austin Golson has done a pretty solid job in his first two career games at center and will only get better, but there are bound to have been problems with his lack of experience. That should get better with every passing game.


TKane3117: It seems to me that between LSU's probable desire to make Jeremy Johnson throw the ball, and their confidence in their secondary to match up with our WR's one-on-one that they could stack the box, or at least bring multiple run blitzes early. How would you expect Gus to respond strategically?

Both Louisville and Jacksonville State have actually backed off the line of scrimmage somewhat and put more guys into coverage the first two weeks. I think that’s one thing that has been different and surprising for the coaches because they’re not used to seeing that.

While LSU will bring the pressure at times, my guess is they feel like their front six/seven is good enough to hold their own. I would make this Auburn offense drive the field and not allow the big play, meaning fewer one-on-one chances, but Kevin Steele is known to gamble to the Tigers could have some opportunities for big plays.


AUFanRick: We're all hoping that this game is the Offensive Coming Out party, but so far we really haven't seen the big Playmaker on offense.  Who's the guy on our team that can seize the moment and make this offense really explode?

Ricardo Louis is one of those guys and I think Jason Smith is the other. Both guys are big-time playmakers and can really do some damage on the edge. We saw a taste of Roc Thomas in that role as well and maybe using him out of the backfield is a way to stretch the defense as well.


AugTiger: With this being the opening SEC game, what new wrinkles from the offense may we see this week that we have not seen in the first two weeks?

I can’t help but think that soon we’ll begin to see more of the speed sweep game like we did in 2009 when Onterio McCalebb was so effective for the Tigers. In essence that became the option in the running game to make the linebackers and safeties take a false step at times, opening up the middle in the running game.

I think there are several very good options for that role right now including Louis, Smith, Thomas and Kerryon Johnson. All would be guys the defense would have to pay attention to.


spiritsoarsatjordanhare: In your opinion who is the most valuable assistant coach on this staff (from recruiting, coaching, etc)?  Who would be missed more than anyone else if he was not here?

I honestly have no idea how to make that distinction just two games into a new season. Every coach on a staff is valuable because every position is important to a team. If you check back with me at the end of the year I might have a better idea based on how guys performed, etc.


Tiger36022: Did you see Sean White get any more work in practice or any snaps with the first string OL? Do you think Gus stays with JJ regardless of the game's outcome Saturday?

I think Jeremy Johnson is still very much the man for the Auburn offense. If you believe all spring and all fall that he’s the guy then two games isn’t enough to pull the plug right now.


Fleagle: With a QB who has been in the system for 2 years, why is coach Malzahn so conservative with his game plans in the first two games?

I’m not exactly sure either, but it’s not like they’ve only kept the ball on the ground. They have thrown the ball a good bit, but they appear to have been pretty basic concepts for the most part. I think it was an attempt to take some of pressure off, but in doing so it only added to the pressure in the end.


howells: Who is your past auburn player that sticks out as a guy who always played great against LSU? Who is your guy that you think will play great for us this week?

It wasn’t a long and storied career against LSU, but I’ll always remember Kenny Irons trying to take over the game in Baton Rouge. He ran like a wild man that game and that has always stuck out to me. Another guy was Courtney Taylor. He just always seemed to make a play against the Bengal Tigers.


justafanwde: At the start of the UL game we had an OL that was Shaun, Alex, Austin, Braden and Avery. With three new starters on the interior of the line our running game suffered. For JSU, after Avery went down, we had only one OL playing the position that he started/played for UL. Do you think we will have our starting 5 back for LSU and will they be in the same positions that they worked at all fall? IMHO we need for that to happen before we can hope for consistency on the OL.

I think it’s one of the most important things to watch for this Saturday, having Avery Young back at right tackle. Continuity is very important for an offensive line and having the starting group back together and playing the positions they’ve worked in all fall is going to be huge for Auburn’s offensive chances against LSU.

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