Hoover, Ala.--While Auburn’s search for a defensive coordinator continues, the Tigers open practices at Hoover High on Sunday morning as Coach Gus Malzahn’s team looks for the first bowl win for the program since defeating Virginia following the 2011 season. Facing Memphis on Dec. 30 at Legion Field, the Tigers still have plenty of questions left unanswered in the final days of practice before Wednesday’s game.
Who’s The Man?
Sharing starting duties as Auburn’s starting quarterback, Jeremy Johnson and Sean White have combined to throw for just 2,107 yards and 10 touchdowns this season with nine interceptions. While Johnson has been the most productive in terms of scoring with nine of the touchdowns, he also has seven of the interceptions and has averaged just 94.8 yards per game in 11 games.
Playing in just six games White has averaged 177.3 yards per game and while his completion percentage is just 57.7 percent, a huge amount of drops in the Arkansas game contributed to that.
Injured late in the season, White is back practicing and could get the starting nod for Auburn against Memphis if full speed, but Johnson has played solid football in his last four starts. Solid was only good enough to get Auburn two wins however and may not be good enough against a very good Memphis team. This game will take a strong performance from Auburn’s offense and if healthy it may be time to give White another chance to see what he can do.
Who’s The Man, Part 2?
Much like the quarterbacks, the running back position has seen its share of shuffling as well with Peyton Barber taking over in the opener after injuries to Roc Thomas and Jovon Robinson and running away with the job. Rushing for more than 100 yards in five of the first seven games this year Barber was perhaps the biggest reason why Auburn was even playing to be bowl eligible at the end of the year because without his play they could have easily lost to Louisville and Jacksonville State.
The only downside to Barber’s play was overuse. His 118 carries in four games, finishing with 37 carries at Arkansas, put Barber on the shelf and opened the door for Robinson. Carrying the ball just four total times the first seven games of the season, the junior college transfer showed his skills the second half of the season with 86 carries for 493 yards and a pair of touchdowns down the stretch.
Barber earned the right to keep the job during the year, but Robinson brought a different edge to the offense when he was on the field at the end of the year. Pounding them in a rotation at a Memphis defense that has given up some chunk rushing yards this season could be just the right plan for the Auburn offense on Wednesday.
What Does The Defense Look Like?
Without Will Muschamp and Travaris Robinson on the field things will look very different for this Auburn defense. First of all, Muschamp was the playcaller of the defense and that’s something that is very much a feel that develops over the course of the year. How well Lance Thompson handles that role may determine just how much Auburn is able to slow down what has been a very, very dangerous Memphis offense.
Because he hasn’t been calling the plays for a defense in almost a decade the biggest problem for Thompson may come when Memphis goes up-tempo to put the pressure on the Tigers. That may mean more base defense so that guys can get lined up and ready to play. That’s not always a bad thing because it allows defenders to turn it loose and just play football. If that happens it could be just the thing that allows guys like Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams and Cassanova McKinzy to make the plays Auburn hasn’t been making on defense this season.
Bowl games can be a time when someone steps up and showcases what is to come in the following season. For this Auburn team that guy could be Jason Smith. A talented athlete that is continuing to come on as a wide receiver, Smith is a player the Tigers have to get more touches for heading into next season and there is no time like the present to start that.
This season Smith caught just 12 passes in 12 games for 192 total yards, but 77 of that came on one play against Alabama in the Iron Bowl. When you add in his five carries that’s just 17 total touches for one of the most dynamic players on Auburn’s offense. It would be a big statement for what’s to come to see Smith get plenty of chances to show what he can do against Memphis.