This is part one of a two part series that will conclude tomorrow.
One week from today, either Texas A&M or South Carolina will be looking at an uphill battle to keep their dreams of making it to the SEC Championship game alive. It seems a lifetime ago that Oklahoma beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, and a lifetime minus a week ago that Florida State won the final BCS Championship game. I think we’re all ready for the college football season to begin.
If you’re like me and don’t listen to PAWWWWL Finebaum (surely I’m not the only one), then you miss out on the really interesting interviews that Paul does between the “PAWWWL, BAMMER CHEATS, PAWWWL!” and “PAWWWL, WHAT’S A TEAM FROM WEST GEORGIA DOING IN THE SEC WEST, PAWWWWL?” calls. All that to say, I offer no expert analysis, but here is my 2014 regular guy’s outlook for the Auburn Tigers.
Blend of Experience and Youth on Offense
For the first time in his college coaching career, Gus Malzahn has his starting quarterback returning. I know that Nick Marshall isn’t technically starting the Arkansas game, but you know what I mean. Having an experienced quarterback allows the offensive coaches the opportunity to put more time in to developing Auburn’s young running backs, led by Roc Thomas, and receivers that were really not huge parts of the Auburn offense last season. Of course, when you have Tre Mason running for 200+ yards a game, why do you care about throwing the ball?
One of the biggest questions that I have about Auburn really isn’t about Auburn, but rather its competition. Can SEC defensive coaches solve Gus Malzahn’s offense – or at least slow it down? It seemed that, as the season wore on last year, the defensive coaches made adjustments that slowed Auburn’s offense a little. Georgia should have won their game, but for a defensive back doing the exact opposite of what rec league coaches across the southeast are teaching 8-year old defensive backs to do. The Iron Bowl was a 21-21 game until the last second. Point is, SEC defensive coaches are pretty smart guys. Can Gus Malzahn stay ahead of them?
That’s why having a returning quarterback is so important for Auburn. It allows Malzahn the opportunity to be creative and keep his offense fresh, and keep opposing defenses guessing.
But What About the Defense
The second question that I have about Auburn is, will the real Ellis Johnson please stand up?
To be clear, Auburn is 12-2 with Ellis Johnson as its Defensive Coordinator, but with time ticking away, did Auburn fans really want to see the defense on the field? My guess is that Auburn would be more comfortable in the final minute being down by two and having Malzahn’s offense on the field than being up by two and have the defense on the field. Remember, the Alabama drive in the closing minutes of regulation began deep in its own territory and came within 5 yards or so of being within field goal range. Then there was the Florida State drive in the closing minute.
There just weren’t a lot of games (if any) last season that could be claimed as defensive victories. If anything, there were probably more instances of the offense wishing the defense would hurry up and let the other team score so that the offense could get the ball back.
Auburn will have a very good season. Whether it can be a great season or not depends on the defense. I believe that the offense will put up enough points in every game to win, but how many times can they win 59-57? It goes against the old saying that “defense wins championships”, but my guess is that Malzahn doesn’t buy in to that.
Part two tomorrow, the Alabama Crimson Tide. Have a good day.