Q&A: AU Style

Inside the Auburn Tigers Publisher Mark Murphy fields some questions on the Auburn Tigers heading into Saturday's SEC Western Division showdown.

The LSU/Auburn series is one of the best in the conference and this year’s matchup should be quite entertaining as both teams still have dreams of making it to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.


To get a better perspective on Auburn heading into Saturday’s showdown we reached out to Inside the Auburn Tigers Publisher Mark Murphy where he fielded some questions pertaining to the big game from an Auburn point of view.


LSU Subscribers: What have been the biggest problems with Auburn's defense? Is it surprising since Gene Chizik's background is on that side of the ball?

Auburn Publisher: The Auburn coaching staff knew heading into the season it would have a problem with depth at linebacker, but the problem has been worse than expected and that has impacted the overall performance of the defense. Auburn lost starter Tray Blackmon during the coaching transition when he left for the Canadian Football League. Another linebacker pushing for a starting spot, 2008 Freshman All-SEC selection Spencer Pybus, suffered a serious concussion and has been shut down for the season. True freshman Harrison Gaston got off to a promising start, but is also sidelined with an injury.


The problem has been compounded when juco All-American transfer Eltoro Freeman missed the Arkansas game due to what Gene Chizik said were “personal issues.” Freeman returned for the Kentucky game, but only saw limited action on special teams. He may see action at linebacker this week.


Other issues on defense include the absence of two returning starters in the secondary (Mike McNeil and Aairon Savage) due to injuries. Savage is out for the season with an Achilles injury and McNeil is still recovering from a broken bone in his leg. The Tigers have also had to play much of the season without one of their most talented defensive linemen, junior Zach Clayton, who is out with an ankle injury. The D-line group really misses Sen’Derrick Marks, who left for the NFL during the coaching transition.


Against Kentucky last week defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Ted Roof did not play a backup linebacker in the game and that may explain why the Wildcats had much of their offensive production and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.


LSU Subscribers: Who is the one playmaker on the offensive side of the ball that LSU should fear and why?

Auburn Publisher: If he is 100 percent healthy, the most dangerous player on the Auburn offense is freshman tailback Onterio McCalebb. However, he has been slowed the past three games with an ankle problem that has limited his effectiveness.


LSU Subscribers: How do Auburn's cornerbacks match up with LSU's wide receivers?

Auburn Publisher: Despite losing an All-SEC caliber corner (Jerraud Powers) who left early for the NFL and Savage to an injury, the Tigers are solid at the corners with senior Walt McFadden and sophomore Neiko Thorpe handling the starting duties. McFadden injured his knee earlier this year, but is almost back.


LSU Subscribers: If you had to choose one matchup on both sides of the ball that is key to Auburn’s success, which would it be and why?

Auburn Publisher: The key matchup is the Auburn linebacker group vs. the LSU running backs. Auburn has struggled to stop the run so expect LSU to test the linebackers early and often by running straight at them.

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  • LSU Subscribers: How does the Auburn defensive line match up with the LSU offensive line?

    Auburn Publisher: One of the bigger surprises in SEC football this year is that LSU is averaging just 295 yards per game on offense. With an extra week to prepare for Auburn, I expect the LSU offensive line to try to win this week's game with some old-fashioned, SEC smash-mouth style football. How well the Auburn line handles that will be a major factor in the game.


    Auburn's defensive front has been mediocre so far. The best player, 2008 All-SEC defensive end Antonio Coleman, has been limited due to a wrist injury that requires him to play with a cast on his arm. D-line coach Tracy Rocker has been playing an eight-man rotation in an effort to keep players fresh.


    LSU Subscribers: Considering Auburn's successful beginning, where does Gene Chizik place his finger on the problem leading to the past two losses?

    Auburn Publisher: Gene Chizik hasn’t singled out one specific area as the reason why his team has lost the past two games. The overall play of the linebackers and a high number of missed tackles on defense have been major concerns. In the Kentucky game the offense hurt itself with penalties and made too many mistakes to consistently drive the football.


    LSU Subscribers: What has happened to Chris Todd over the last two games?

    Auburn Publisher: Although fans are speculating that Chris Todd has a sore arm, offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Gus Malzahn, Chizik and Todd himself say that is not the case. Whatever his health status, the senior’s quarterback efficiency rating has plummeted the past two weeks and he has not been as been as accurate throwing the ball as he was earlier in the season.


    LSU Subscribers: Has Auburn had any injuries that could affect the starters or back-ups?

    Auburn Publisher: As mentioned previously, the depth issues at linebacker are a huge factor on what is happening defensively with the Tigers. The offense really needs to get McCalebb back to full speed because he is a major threat running on the corners running behind what has been a good offensive line.


    LSU Subscribers: Is DeAngelo Benton redshirting? If so, what's the reason?

    Auburn Publisher: DeAngelo Benton is seeing limited playing time as a backup. Darvin Adams, a sophomore, and Terrell Zachery, a junior, have emerged as Auburn’s primary receivers and are having strong years. Those guys have been tough to get off the field. Early in the season Benton dropped several passes thrown his way. His position coach, Trooper Taylor, says the freshman is making progress.


    LSU Subscribers: From a recruiting standpoint, how big is this game for Auburn with the new staff recruiting more heavily in Louisiana and with the two schools squaring off for several 2010 recruits? Also, what are your thoughts on Auburn’s chances with Lache Seastrunk and Trovon Reed?

    Auburn Publisher: I don’t see this game having a major impact on recruiting unless something really unusual happens. Auburn is in the mix with three high-profile running backs – Michael Dyer, Marcus Lattimore and Lache Seastrunk. With Ben Tate a senior and not a lot of depth at the position this is a critical year for Auburn to sign a couple of running backs and all three of those guys are possibilities. Seastrunk is interested in Auburn. I won’t be surprised if he ends up at either LSU or Auburn. Trovon Reed has expressed a lot of interest in Auburn and has been a regular visitor to the campus, but it is tough to beat LSU for recruits from the state of Louisiana and I think that will be the case with Reed.

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