Plenty of people have asked me since Saturday about why I thought this team had a chance to be really good. All I can say is like many I was fooled because of the history of Gus Malzahn coached offenses and the need for just a little bit of improvement on defense. Put those things together and you have a team that should compete with anybody in the SEC this year.
A big problem is the offense hasn’t performed to the standards of previous teams, not even close. Because of that the defense has been forced to shoulder the weight of extra burden, something it’s not prepared to do yet.
Something else that changed perceptions was the success of the defense in fall camp against Auburn’s offense. With the expectations of another good offense under Malzahn that would have meant some significant improvement for the defense, but what we now know is that it was more of a false positive because of the problems we’ve now seen on offense.
There is still time and talent to turn things around, but it’s not going to be easy at all for this team. Unless the Tigers can find a way to start to grind out the yards running the football teams are going to continue to drop into coverage and make the Tigers drive the ball down the field through the air, something that doesn’t look likely at this point.
Perhaps the biggest problem is a lack of depth and talent up front on the defensive line. Auburn has some top level talent in guys like Montravius Adams and Dontavius Russell, but with DaVonte Lambert still not playing up to his potential coming off knee surgery there’s just not much to work with for Rodney Garner. Now may be the time to get a good dose of Byron Cowart and even Andrew Williams to see if they can give you a spark, something that is sorely needed for this defense.
Another place it wouldn’t be surprising to see more new faces is at linebacker. Tre Williams played a whole lot in the second half against LSU and with Darrell Williams traveling and on the depth chart it may be time to see what the freshman from Hoover can do. I’m not advocating giving up on Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost, but a rotation may be the best way to utilize everyone’s abilities right now.
All Things Must Pass
While Auburn needs to be able to run the football this may be the time for Malzahn to go back to his Tulsa days and throw the ball to set up the run. In 2007 Malzahn’s Golden Hurricane offense threw for 5,194 yards and 49 touchdowns while adding 2,421 yards and 28 scores on the ground.
I’m not suggesting this team could get close to those totals, but he has done it in the past and I think it fits Jeremy Johnson better at the moment.
There is no question he’s struggling throwing the football, but in his career Johnson has always done better in the two-minute style of offense when allowed to get into a rhythm. It also takes the thinking out of the game and allows the quarterback to just play football, something that could be good for the junior.
If it works then it could be just the thing to get him going and when that happens it could be a much different Auburn offense. If it doesn’t work then it may be the sign to give Sean White a look. Either way at this point it couldn’t hurt to give it a shot.
Maybe the biggest thing for this Auburn team is just to get help in the big play department from both sides of the ball. That happened in the first game on defense, but since then things have been a grind. Those big plays don’t necessarily have to be scoring plays, but that would sure help right now.
It could be as simple as making plays behind the line of scrimmage on defense. In the first half of the Louisville game Auburn had three sacks and five tackles for losses against the Cardinals with Carl Lawson leading the charge. Since that time Auburn has just three sacks and 11 more tackles for losses in 10 quarters of football, not nearly good enough considering one of the opponents was Jacksonville State.
That’s where the help comes in. With Lawson still out and his return still very much undecided this year someone else has to take things over for the Tigers up front. That guy is Adams.
We saw Nick Fairley take over for an Auburn defense in 2010 and become the force that would help propel the Tigers to the national championship. If Adams can give just a fraction of what Fairley brought to the table and take some of the pressure off the rest of the defensive line it would go a long way towards improvement for this Auburn defense.
It Don’t Come Easy
Auburn’s test on defense doesn’t get any easier this Saturday when Dak Prescott and the Mississippi State Bulldogs roll into Jordan-Hare Stadium. While this group may not be as strong as last year’s team because of depth issues on the lines of scrimmage, there is no doubt Prescott is still one of the best offensive players in the Southeastern Conference.
His skill set is one that has given Auburn fits the last two years and with the struggles against running quarterbacks so far through three games it could be enough to give Will Muschamp nightmares this week. in his career Prescott has carried the ball 43 times for 254 yards and four touchdowns in two games against Auburn with 459 passing yards and another score on 33-62 completions.
With Auburn’s problems slowing down Lamar Jackson and Brandon Harris in particular this season running the football out of the zone read, having Prescott coming in Saturday is a tall task for the Tigers. It will take a whole lot of improvement this week and much better play out of Auburn’s front seven to keep the Bulldogs from having plenty of success.