Bob Przybylo/Scout

Jason Caldwell's Monday Morning QB Column: Big Plays, Big Commitment, Big Week For Auburn Tigers

Avoiding big plays a big key for Auburn's defense, big addition on the defensive line and a big week for Auburn basketball.

Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook (pictured above) will present a serious challenge for the Auburn defense

Back To Work

When Auburn arrives in New Orleans on Tuesday it will be an important week for Gus Malzahn’s team as the Tigers put the finishing touches on the game plan for the Sugar Bowl vs. Oklahoma.

One of the keys for this team to finish the season with a victory will be the health of cornerbacks Josh Holsey and Carlton Davis as Auburn takes on perhaps the top quarterback/wide receiver tandem in the country in Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook.

Third in the nation in yards per attempt as a team (10.8), the Sooners have 41 touchdowns with only eight interceptions this season. Individually, Mayfield tops all other quarterbacks in the country, averaging 11.1 yards per attempt.

It’s not just big plays where Mayfield excels, however, as the redshirt junior leads the nation in completion percentage as well. This year he is hitting 71.2 percent of his passes for Oklahoma’s offense while averaging 27.5 attempts per game.

Even though Auburn is allowing 223.6 yards per game through the air on defense, the Tigers have done a good job of making opponents work for that yardage. Facing 438 attempts, 102nd in the country, Auburn is giving up an average of just 6.1 yards per completion. That’s good enough for 13th in the country.

Tied for 13th in fewest touchdowns allowed as well, giving up 12 this year, Auburn’s secondary will be challenged by the Sooners next Monday night and not allowing big plays will go a long way towards a win in the Big Easy.

 

Action Jackson

While he’s not a player you expect to come in and start like we saw from true freshman Marlon Davidson this season, there is no question that new commitment Alec Jackson has all the tools to be a big success at Auburn down the road.

Raw but very athletic with good speed, Jackson reminds me of a young Nick Fairley when he came out of Williamson High in Mobile. The first time I saw Fairley he was a 240-pound tight end at a Scout.com camp for prospects and you could see he had a bright future.

What happened was that Fairley grew into a mountain of a man in the middle on defense following a pair of junior college seasons and a year of developing while at Auburn.

Who knows what the future holds for Jackson, but he is a player who has the skill set to be a major contributor for the Tigers. How quickly probably will be determined on how much bigger he gets in the next seven months.

Around 255 pounds right now, Jackson could easily get up to 280-285 by the time the Tigers get on the field next season and could push for playing time behind guys like Derrick Brown and Andrew Williams in the middle as an interior pass rusher. If he’s able to jump into the rotation that would be a big boost for Auburn in 2017.

Something that helped Jackson speed up his decision was playing alongside Auburn commitments K.J. Britt, Tadarian Moultry, Malcolm Askew, and Jordyn Peters in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic earlier this month. Getting a big push from the group to join them on the Plains, Jackson said they all told him to "come home." That bond built with the group is something that impacted his decision and could be the start of a fun defense down the road in orange and blue.

 

Impressive Week For Pearl's Young Tigers

Oklahoma and UConn may not be teams that will compete for a Final Four berth this season, but beating the Sooners and Huskies away from home in a span of just three days would be a huge step for any Auburn basketball team, but for a roster with so many young players it’s hard to discount the importance of the trip.

Winning games like that when you’re playing great basketball is one thing, but the way this team won is perhaps the biggest thing for Bruce Pearl and his program. Without Danjel Purifoy lighting it up offensively and the Tigers struggling to shoot the basketball from the perimeter as a whole, the players got down and dirty and showed they’re capable of more than holding their own on the backboards in a physical game.

While Purifoy’s play and the addition of Austin Wiley has made a big impact for the Tigers, college basketball is a guard’s game and that is where this team could make some hay in the Southeastern Conference led by the play of freshmen Jared Harper and Mustapha Heron.

They will run into their share of issues this season when the grind of conference play jumps on their back, but the two have shown they are fearless and when you combine that with their obvious talent it should make for some good times for the Tigers on the hardwood.

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