1. Starting linebackers Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost sustained injuries last week versus Louisiana Tech. What's the latest on their status for this Saturday night and who will Auburn rely on as alternate options in the event one or both can't play?
Murphy:Gus Malzahn lists both McKinzy and Frost as “day-to-day” and says he hopes they will be able to play this week. McKinzy took a blow to the jaw while making a tackle vs. Louisiana Tech and Frost hurt his leg in a pile-up after he forced an interception while blitzing Tech’s quarterback.
Anthony Swain, a junior, and true freshman Tre Williams are the top backups. Swain played much of the game last week and Williams saw his most extensive action. Ellis Johnson, the defensive coordinator and coach of the linebackers, said both played well. Swain was a safety in high school and runs well as does Williams, who played linebacker, safety and receiver as one of the top recruits in the country.
Johnson also pointed out that he liked what he saw from two other backup linebackers – sophomores JaViere Mitchell and Khari Harding. Both saw their most extended playing time this season vs. Louisiana Tech.
Another possibility at linebacker for the Tigers is using junior Justin Garrett at the position. He splits time with Robenson Therezie at the “star” rover spot, but has seen some playing time at linebacker.
2. How does 2014 Nick Marshall look through four games compared to the Marshall of 2013?
Murphy:With a deeper and more experienced receiver group for Marshall to throw to Auburn’s coaches were hoping the senior would show major improvement passing the football. However, his completion percentage is down from 59.4 to 56.2 percent.
Auburn likes to throw deep passes and Marshall has a very strong arm to do that, but so far this season the connections on balls thrown more than 20 yards downfield have been few and far between although the senior threw touchdown passes of 37 and 44 yards last week to Quan Bray.
Marshall continues to be very dangerous to opposing defenses when he runs the football. He rushed for 1,068 yards at 6.2 per carry last season. He has rushed 42 times this season and is averaging a team-best 6.4 yards per carry.
3. Wide receiver D'haquille Williams ("Duke") is a player LSU fans remember very well from his prep days in Louisiana. Just how much does he change the game for this year's Auburn offense?
Murphy:With last season’s top receiver, Sammie Coates, less than full speed because of a knee problem, Williams has become Auburn’s go-to guy in the passing game. He has 23 of the team’s 60 receptions and is the only player in double figures for catches. Williams is averaging 15.5 yards per reception and has three touchdowns.
Auburn has faster receivers than Williams, but the JuCo transfer stands out because he runs excellent routes, has a knack for making circus catches and is a physical guy who doesn’t shy away from catching the football in traffic.
4. Kansas State was able to hold the Auburn offense to 128 yards rushing and only 2.8 yards per rush, both numbers almost inconceivable for a Gus Malzahn offense. What was their secret and in what ways is the War Eagle offense evolving in response to that?
Murphy: There were probably several factors in play in that night vs. K-State. First, and foremost, Malzahn admitted that he was stubborn in his play calling vs. the Wildcats. Kansas State lined up seven, eight and even nine defenders at the line of scrimmage daring the Tigers to throw the football. Last year Auburn was often able to run the ball through all of that traffic, but it didn’t happen vs. Kansas State, which has a very disciplined and aggressive defense.
Auburn’s offense also missed on two potential first half touchdowns when Williams dropped a perfectly thrown pass when he got behind the secondary and Coates just missed bringing in a bomb for what would have been a sure six points.
Combine those factors with Kansas State’s offense playing as slowly as possible to chew up time and keep the Auburn offense on the sideline and you have to give Coach Bill Snyder credit for putting together a good recipe for a potential upset.
5. Many on the LSU side of the fence feel this game has to be a shootout for the Bayou Bengals to win. What's the mentality over there? And if that is to be the case, just how bizarre is it that we're talking about an LSU-Auburn shootout?
Murphy: Since John Chavis took over as defensive coordinator in Baton Rouge points have not been easy to come by for Auburn in games vs. LSU. If it is a shootout that will certainly be different. You have to go back to 2002 when Auburn took a 31-7 victory to find a game in the series when either team got to 30 points at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn’s offense has been hot and cold from quarter to quarter this season. The potential is there for Malzahn’s guys to put up big numbers with a lot of key players back from last year’s team, but so far the group hasn’t developed the consistency when running the football that was the major factor in the 2013 team winning the league championship and being the first team in SEC history to lead the nation in rushing yards per game.
A shootout is certainly a possibility, but that will be a bit of a surprise although a low scoring game like 12-10 on LSU’s last trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium in 2012 would be an even bigger surprise.
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