Billy Embody: Auburn has an on-going quarterback battle it sounds like, but Sean White was named the starter before Texas A&M. After that loss, where do you see the QB battle and position standing?
Jason Caldwell: "I think that’s still very much up in the air. Sean White has played solid football this season, throwing for 510 yards and three touchdowns with one interception while completing 63.4 percent of his passes, but the lack of big plays for the offense has been a big problem. Some of that is on the coaching staff, however, because much like LSU, the lack of pushing the ball down the field in the passing game has teams stacking the box against Auburn.
Against both Clemson and Texas A&M, Auburn’s offense focused on more short passing and attempting to run East and West. That’s not the offense built for success for White, but could work with the speedy John Franklin because of what he brings to the table as a runner. He provided a late spark against Texas A&M so it wouldn’t be a shock to see him get more touches this week, but is hard to get a read on what to expect from Auburn after three different offensive approaches in its three games.”
BE: Auburn allowed a few big, key plays against A&M. Where is this defense at right now and what needs to improve?
JC: "The defense is very much improved over last season despite giving up a couple of big plays against the Aggies a week ago. Texas A&M called 47 passing plays and completed just 20 so Kevin Steele’s unit actually held up pretty well with Trevor Knight’s athleticism probably the thing that kept Auburn from having multiple sacks in the game.
Defending the running game Auburn has been pretty good, but late in the game the Tigers lined up wrong on an 89-yard touchdown run. Without that mistake the Aggies would have been held to around 142 yards on 36 carries, a very respectable number. Overall, this defense has performed solidly and done a good job in the red zone this season.”
BE: Carl Lawson was highly regarded when he arrived at Auburn, but now is trying to put two injury-filled seasons behind him. How has he looked and what can LSU expect from him and the rest of the Auburn defensive line?
JC: "Lawson has done a good job this season even though his numbers don’t back that up. He’s got just five tackles and a sack in the first three games, but has five quarterback pressures. While the sack total of just five has been disappointing, much of the reason for that has been the athletic quarterbacks Auburn has faced. With 27 quarterback hurries, the front four has been able to get consistent pressure and having Lawson on the field has helped raise the game of everyone else. That total of 27 is well ahead of last year’s paltry pace of just 78 pressures in 13 games so there has been a drastic improvement.”
BE: There's a lot of pressure on both Les Miles and Gus Malzahn especially with the way the two teams have started out. How has the heat been turned up on Malzahn and do you think these are two guys coaching for their jobs?
JC: “I don’t know that either is coaching for his job, but there is no question the heat has been turned up for both. With what happened with Miles at the end of last season and the hugely disappointing year for Auburn in 2015, both have to be feeling the pressure of slow starts this year. For Auburn it’s probably an even bigger game considering this team hasn’t left home yet this season. Starting the year with five consecutive home games, a third loss would be a killer for the year with road trips left to Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama.”
BE: What does Auburn have to really change to get on the right track against LSU and get a win? How do you expect this one to play out?
JC: “It all starts with the offense. The biggest issue for Malzahn and company right now is choosing the right direction to go on offense and sticking with it. Much like LSU when Les Miles turned to Danny Etling, Auburn has to pick a guy and then tailor the offense to his skills.
“If that’s White it should mean more throwing and stretching the field with the passing game to open up the run. If that guy is Franklin it should mean getting physical and running the ball downhill while mixing in the quarterback run.
As for how this one will turn out, I think that’s anybody’s guess. I feel safe in saying this one will go down to the wire and be relatively low scoring because of the way both offenses play the game. In the end I like Auburn’s chances playing in front of the home crowd if Malzahn turns the offense loose and lets the guys make plays. If the conservative Auburn approach rears its head again then scoring enough against this LSU defense will be tough to do and the visitors will have a great chance to win."