Jason Caldwell of Inside the Auburn Tigers was kind enough to share some of his thoughts about what he has seen from Coach Gus Malzahn's tream through three weeks.
The Tigers are 2-1 on the season, but were sent back to the drawing board on both sides of the ball after last week's trip to Baton Rouge. Auburn was the trendy pick to win the west in the pre-season, so some of the early struggles by the Tigers have been a bit surprising.
"I think some expected defensively there would be a transition period on defense, but offensively I don’t think anyone saw the struggles on that side of the ball," Caldwell shared. "Based on what Jeremy Johnson did in his limited time on the field the last two years, I think most assumed that he would be a prolific passer in this offense but it just didn’t happen. The early turnovers against Louisville seemed to take the life out of him and really the entire offense.
"On defense there is no question the loss of Carl Lawson has made a huge impact on Will Muschamp’s defense. The difference in the play of the defense in the first half of the Louisville game and since that time is dramatic. Without enough depth on the defensive line the Tigers need help from the offense to keep them off the field, something that hasn’t happened to this point."
Earlier this week, Auburn head football coach Gus Malzahn reported that the Tigers would start redshirt freshman quarterback Sean White in place of highly touted Jeremy Johnson. While White has yet to cut his college teeth, he brings some real talent to the position.
"Sean is a quarterback’s quarterback, meaning he’s a guy that has worked really hard to improve his skills every step of the way," Caldwell explained. "Without huge size at 6-0, 205, White has gotten this level because of his accuracy throwing the football and his knowledge of the game.
"He’s not going to be a runner and likely won’t have too many big gains on the ground, but White is athletic enough to make a few plays with his feet when needed. The biggest thing about him is that he’s someone the coaches and his teammates believe in. Every young quarterback is a little bit of an unknown and White is no different, but the Tigers feel like he’s someone they can count on."
First year defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said in his Wednesday briefing that the Tiger defense would also undergo a bit of a face lift this weekend after some early season struggles in run defense.
"I mentioned a lack of depth on the defensive line and there’s no question that has been an issue," Caldwell said. "Without Lawson to help set the edge and draw multiple blockers, it has allowed the opposition to focus more on containing Montravius Adams and Dontavius Russell inside. With communication issues still a problem according to Muschamp, a few missed assignments here or there has led to big plays and big yardage."
Many questioned the wisdom of announcing a quarterback change this week, but it appears that the line-up change his boosted morale in the Auburn fan base and locker room alike.
"With no change at quarterback this week I’m not sure what the attitude would have been like, but with White in things are almost like a reset button has been pushed for the Tigers," Caldwell said. "That alone won’t be enough for Auburn to win on Saturday, but there’s no question the mood of the team and fanbase has gotten a jolt of energy since Tuesday’s announcement. Still a very talented team, all it takes is a positive play or two and this team could turn the corner in a hurry."
The Tigers remain a slight favorite according the oddsmakers, but the point spread has come down two points or more on most betting lines. In a contest that both teams simply have to have, Auburn will look to play their best game of the season in hopes of picking up a big win to right the Tiger ship.
"It’s simple and an old saying, but for Auburn to win the Tigers will have to run the ball effectively and stop the run," Caldwell said. "With White making his first start, it’s imperative for the offense to be able to run the ball and take some of the pressure off him in the passing game. That’s not the only reason the Tigers need to run effectively as Gus Malzahn’s offense works best when the tempo gets ramped up, something that is tough to do unless Auburn can pile up the first downs on the ground.
"On the other side Auburn’s goal has to be slowing down Dak Prescott and the MSU running game. He’s been a thorn in the side of the Tigers the last two seasons and with Auburn’s struggles slowing down the quarterback run this year Prescott is the ultimate key on defense Saturday night."