Jeremy Johnson (above) struggled throwing the ball vs. Georgia.
Quarterback Questions Continue
Following another less than impressive performance from Jeremy Johnson in a loss to Georgia and with Sean White obviously still not full speed there are more questions than answers for Auburn at quarterback heading into the Idaho game. Throwing for just 62 yards against the Bulldogs with an interception, Johnson’s couldn't build on his solid game against Texas A&M and that’s bad news for the Tigers.
While Auburn’s running game is good enough to move the football, the need for a downfield passing game is evident for the Tigers as they try to finish strongly this season. Against Georgia there were opportunities to take shots down the field, but instead almost all the throws were on short routes that weren't enough to help the Tigers consistently move the football.
Gus Malzahn has always maintained Auburn’s offense is built on a run/play-action philosophy. With Auburn running the football well with Jovon Robinson and Peyton Barber that should have meant one-on-one situations down the field and the potential for big plays. When you look at the best offensive performances of the Malzahn Era at Auburn you can usually find several "chunk" yardage plays involved in each. Those have been few and far between in 2015 and with Alabama's strong defense looming in two weeks this weekend is a good time to try to find some confidence throwing the football because it's going to be needed.
Where Was Jovon?
Speaking of Robinson, it’s hard to fathom why Auburn didn’t make him a bigger part of the offense in the second half of Saturday’s loss. Carrying the ball just four times after intermission, Robinson all but disappeared for an offense that fell apart in the final 30 minutes until a last-ditch final effort. With the need for a playmaker in the worst way the Tigers instead ignored the one guy who had shown that ability on Saturday. If you’re not going to take some of those deep shots down the field then the only other good option is to give the ball to No. 29 as much as possible with Peyton Barber also getting some touches. Auburn chose to do neither against Georgia in the second half and it didn’t work.
Defense Continues To Make Strides
Will Muschamp said on Sunday he was pleased with the play of his defense in the loss of Georgia. Saying the group has “come a long way” since the start of the season, the veteran coordinator has Auburn playing at a higher level since the bye week with the numbers starting to show that improvement in the last two games.
One of the reasons for the improved play is because of the return of Carl Lawson to the front four, but there is no question that Cassanova McKinzy has had a profound impact on the defense since moving to more of an outside linebacker/pass rush role at times in addition to his duties at middle linebacker.
Noting that McKinzy was the most productive player on defense for the Tigers against Georgia, Muschamp said the veteran has done a great job of being a playmaker for the Tigers while juggling multiple roles. Moving from defensive end at times to an outside linebacker in situations and still the middle linebacker in goal line duties, McKinzy has been a player the young guys can learn from this season about doing whatever the team needs to be successful.
While the football game didn’t turn out well on Saturday it was a great first outing for Bruce Pearl’s Tigers on the hardwood in a win over UAB. In a game that had more of a feeling of March than November, Auburn battled tooth and nail with an experienced and physical Blazer squad and found a way to pull out a dramatic win in front of one of the best crowds in Auburn Arena history.
There are still plenty of questions for Pearl’s second team with injuries to guards Tahj Shamsid-Deen and New Williams leaving this team thin in the backcourt, but just like last year’s team this group plays hard and isn’t afraid to make a play. That’s a product of playing for Pearl who wants his guys to play fast and loose.
With lots of challenging games coming up in the non-conference schedule, including Tuesday's 2 p.m. home game against Colorado, the Tigers should have plenty of opportunities to get ready for what proves to be a much tougher Southeastern Conference. That is just what Pearl wants for this team loaded with newcomers, but when March rolls around for real Auburn Arena maybe rocking once again.