FIVE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE AUBURN TIGERS

Mark Murphy answers questions about Georgia's opponent, Auburn, who come to Athens Saturday night.

1. What effect does losing Duke Williams, if he doesn’t play, have on the Auburn offense?

Williams, in addition to being Auburn’s leading receiver, is also the guy the Tigers like to throw to when they really need a pass play to move the chains.

Wiliams isn’t as fast as some of the other receivers like Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis, but he makes up for that with exceptional hands and the ability to get open with good routes. He is also a physical receiver who has a knack for catching the football in traffic.

Since he is unlikely to play vs. the Bulldogs, Williams will be missed. The good thing for Auburn’s offense is that players like Quan Bray, Melvin Ray and C.J. Uzomah are guys the Tigers can count on to make plays in the passing game along with Louis and Coates.

2. Nick Marshall’s passing - how has he progressed in year two at Auburn?

After getting off to a slower than expected start throwing the ball this season, he has steadily improved in the past month or so. Marshall has improved his completion percentage to 61 percent after being in the mid-50s earlier this year. Part of the reason for that is that he has done a better job of checking down to secondary receivers instead of mostly throwing long to mid-range passes.

As would be expected of a senior in his second season as a starter, Marshall has improved in all aspects of his performance. He remains a threat to make a big play at any time with his quick feet or strong right arm.

3. The Tigers’ defense seems to be struggling here of late. What is the issue on that side of the ball?

The team’s number one issue this season since the opening game has been the lack of a consistent pass rush. Carl Lawson and Keymiya Harrell, two of the team’s top rush defensive ends, are out with knee injuries and haven’t played a snap this year.

Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has tried to get pressure on quarterbacks with blitz packages that, at times, have left the secondary vulnerable to opposing quarterbacks.

Early in the season the pass defense wasn’t as big an issue as it has become in recent games. The return of senior safety Jermaine Whitehead, who has 29 career starts, could help an area that definitely needs improvement with the Tigers giving up too many yards due to assignment and alignment errors.

4. Talk a little about Cameron Artis-Payne and how productive he’s been for Auburn this season.

He pushed Tre Mason for a starting spot last year and has performed well whenever he has been counted on to run the football.

A junior college transfer who joined the team in January 2013, he has dropped weight as a senior to improve his quickness, but doesn’t look like his has lost any of his power between the tackles, which is his strong suit.

He is also a sweat-the-details type of back who is good in pass protection and being in the right place at the right time. A college prospect as a basketball guard in high school, Artis-Payne is a threat in the passing game with his good hands.

5. What is the mood at Auburn about playing Georgia and Bama either both now at home or on the road every single year from here on out?

I would say most Auburn fans would prefer to see those games played at home in alternate years so they can have one of their major rivals at Jordan-Hare Stadium at least once each season. There is also a sizable contingent of Auburn supporters who believe the Tigers should be in the SEC East so the traditional rivalries with Florida and Tennessee can once again be played on an annual basis.


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