Jason Caldwell

Jason Caldwell's Monday Morning Quarterback Column: Important Week for Tigers

It's not often that a bye week is important, but it just may be the biggest week of the season for the Auburn football team.

Important Week On the Plains

Excluding the 2013 SEC Championship Game and BCS Championship Game, this week may be the most important in Gus Malzahn's time with the Auburn Tigers as an assistant and head coach. Expected to be one of the top teams in the Southeastern Conference this year, Auburn is now on the verge of having hugely disappointing season and the main reason why is the lack of offense.

Replacing Jeremy Johnson after the junior threw six interceptions in just 72 pass attempts, redshirt freshman Sean White has completed 26-38 passes (68.4 percent) for 296 yards in his two starts, but on Saturday against San Jose State the Tigers chose to run the football almost exclusively in the second half. Only throwing 10 passes in the win over the Spartans, and just two in the second half, the Tigers were able to grind out the win, but now what?

With a bye week before a Thursday night game at Kentucky, Auburn’s offense must get better in a big hurry if the Tigers hope to make any noise the rest of this season. While the defense is still very much a work in progress, the offense was supposed to carry the load again this year while Will Muschamp’s group tried to improve week to week.

Saturday was the perfect opportunity to make those improvements in the heat of competition, but instead Malzahn chose to keep the ball on the ground. Now the Tigers have to get better in practice, something that hasn’t worked to this point in the season. It’s not only gut check time for the players, but also the coaches because the overall performance from this football team during the first five games of the year won’t get it done moving forward.

Leff Is More

For 6-6, 288 junior offensive tackle Robert Leff, Saturday’s game against San Jose State was a coming out party of sorts. Seeing very little action his first three seasons on campus as a backup for the Tigers, Leff is a second-team tackle at the moment, but saw time as an extra tight end in Auburn’s offense against the Spartans.

Earning a perfect grade from J.B. Grimes for his play, according to Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, Leff did a good job of sealing the edge in the running game and also played very hard. That doesn’t come as a surprise to me because that’s the Leff I remember seeing in high school.

A standout offensive tackle from Fairhope, Leff was a lifelong Auburn fan, but with no early interest from the Tigers in the recruiting process he committed to Southern Miss. That changed following his senior season when Auburn came into the picture. Getting an offer from then head coach Gene Chizik was all he needed to say yes tot he Tigers.

Now Leff is living out a lifelong dream of playing for Auburn’s offense. There are other good options, but if I had a yard to get in a key situation then he may be the one to follow.

More Talented Group

I don’t know how this basketball team will turn out in Bruce Pearl's second season on the Plains, but if my first glance proves to be correct then Auburn fans are going to have fun watching this group develop.

The talented level compared to last season is significantly higher with transfers Kareem Canty and Tyler Harris ready to bring experience and skill to the court immediately. While Canty was a known commodity to me because he played well in practice last season as a redshirt, Harris looks like he will contribute with his ability to step out and hit shots from the perimeter in addition to giving the Tigers another much-needed rebounder. In Pearl’s system that features slashing guards getting into the lane, Harris could be an important piece of the puzzle for the Tigers with his outside shot and size in the paint on defense.

When you mention slashing to the basket that is what newcomer T.J. Dunans does best. The junior college transfer guard is long and athletic and has the ability to get to the rim at will. His scoring ability from inside the three-point line should clear out space for guys like T.J. Lang and Bryce Brown to bomb from long range. Throw in the athleticism of guard New Williams and you have an impressive group of young players on the perimeter.

The two most physical newcomers look to be Horace Spencer and Danjel Purifoy. A presence in the paint with the ability to run the floor, Spencer has a chance to be the rim protector Auburn has been missing.

Still not cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse, Purifoy can practice while waiting and has already shown upper level talent during his time with the team. Easily 6-7 with the range to knock down perimeter shots, Purifoy just has the “it” factor and getting him on the court this season would be a boost for Pearl’s Tigers who have to replace their main scorers from last season, K.T. Harrell and Antoine Mason, who will need all the help they can get to deal with the demanding schedule the coach has lined up for his 2015-16 team.


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