Big thanks to Ryan Sterritt from College and Magnolia for taking the time to talk about some Iron Bowl football during the Thanksgiving week. Check out their site later today for my answers to his questions.
Also, being the Iron Bowl and all, we alternated asking normal Q&A questions and more trash-talking questions. So take all the even numbered questions and answers with a grain of salt.
1. It pains me, but I’ve said many times this year that, with their defense and offensive line, if Auburn had even a semi-competent QB, they’d probably be the best team in the SEC this year. It’s obviously the perspective of someone who’s only checked in on Auburn games here and there, so would you agree or disagree with that statement, and why?
I would have to disagree with that statement. I think what you (and probably most other fans) are seeing is more a symptom than a root issue with the offense, with the root cause of the problems being the offensive line. Despite a senior laden offensive line with plenty of experience, they just haven’t been that good this year, particularly at C and RG. The pass blocking has been simply average, but the real struggles have been in the inability to run block - particularly on zone-blocking plays, which are a stable for Gus. This has led to an inability to run the ball consistently against most SEC defenses, although they can still beat less talented teams on outside runs.
A Malzahn offense that can’t hit you with body blows up the middle is down its best attack. And while Nix hasn’t lit the world on fire by any means, as a true freshman who started Game 1, you can’t ask him to shoulder the offense any more than he has.
2. Seriously, does the Gus Malzahn offense really have any more than four actual plays with varying amounts of window dressing?
Didn’t slow us down in 2013. In a game with an oblong ball and 18-22 year olds, KISS is often the best strategy.
3. I fully expect a ridiculous amount of rushing yards and 3rd down scrambles from the Auburn offense, but maybe not so much from the passing game. If Bo Nix can manage to find some completions, where/who do you think they’re most likely to come from?
If you take a look at Bill C’s advanced box scores, you’ll see an interesting trend this season - Auburn has really struggled rushing on standard downs (see, 1st & 10 or 3rd & short) and also struggled throwing on passing downs (usually 2nd & 8 after an unsuccessful 1st down rush).
Bo has been fairly solid passing on standard downs, though, and as of the Georgia game Gus finally adjusted to throwing more on first down. The points didn’t follow against an elite UGA defense, but the yards did. All of that to say, expect to see an Auburn team that’s finally leaning into a short/intermediate passing game, primarily to Seth Williams. The *Tuscaloosa* native snagged 13 balls for 121 against Georgia, and he’s both the best receiver on the team and Bo’s #1 read almost every play. Trust me, just double him every play.
4. With the game being at 2:30 instead of at night and the stakes not as high, can we please expect a little less Voodoo coming from all the cow pastures over in the Plains? (And since when are there any plains in the state of Alabama anyway?)
Hey man, voodoo is that heathen LSU’s thing. For Auburn, it’s a God thing.*
*Ed. Note: *Gags*
And they’re *rolling* plains. Where the Wiregrass means Southern Appalachia.
5. Just how healthy is Boobie Whitlow? Is he going to be a full factor in this game, or are we going to see a lot more DJ Williams? And will that affect the gameplan at all?
I *think* Boobee is fully healthy. He’s been the starter versus Georgia and Samford, and I haven’t seen him holding back in his touches the last two weeks. That being said, you’ll still see DJ Williams and Shaun Shivers get a handful of carries. If Boobee’s role is reduced, though, I don’t think that changes the game plan a ton. I think it just means you have a slightly less effective ground game, meaning Bo has to do more work on passing downs, meaning... yuck.
6. Any chance we can just move you guys over to the SEC East and have the state of Georgia annex Lee County anytime soon?
Well hell, I don’t think many people would complain about moving to the East. But if we were in Georgia, y’all have to deal with Alabama politicians by yourself.
7. We all know about your defensive line and how terrifying those guys are. But what about the linebackers and secondary? Are there weak links to be exploited there?
Auburn lost three senior starters from the LB corp last year, but that group hasn’t really missed a beat. KJ Britt has played like a more physically gifted Deshaun Davis, and you might be hard pressed to find Auburn fans that remember 5* Owen Pappoe is still a freshman. In the secondary the corners are good. They certainly aren’t All-SEC like the Alabama receivers, so that’s obviously the matchup to exploit. Javaris Davis, a starting corner who slides inside in nickel and dime sets, has struggled to cover bigger receivers, so maybe there’s something there.
8. I like to think that Nick Saban is making sure to lose to Auburn once every 4th year in order to get Auburn to pony up and offer Gus Malzahn an even bigger contract. It’s only been two years this time, but is he going to have to break that and give you guys another win to keep Gus out of Florida State and assure the Tigers don’t hire someone that could actually be dangerous?
Saban is in the midst of the greatest dynasty CFB has ever seen. It is what it is. Until that ends, I’m perfectly content with saving our wins for years when we actually stand to gain something.
Gus also wins against Nick more than anyone this side of Dabo, so I’m not hating on him too hard for that.
9. Give me one player on offense and defense that isn’t a big name, but has a good chance to make a big impact.
Offense - Harold Joiner, who Gus recruited to play a Charles Clay type roll, has gotten a handful of carries and receptions out of the backfield this year. If Bo had delivered a dump off 6 inches less behind him than he did on the 4th down play against UGA, Auburn wins that game. On just 16 touches this year, he’s got 226 yards and two touchdowns. If you see him on the field (which isn’t often), expect him to get the ball.
Defense - Ordinarily I would say Zakoby McClain, Auburn’s 3rd LB who plays primarily in obvious rushing downs. Linebacker coach Travis Williams had a famous quote on the Auburn internets when he told reporters McClain would “fight a chainsaw”. He’s forced several fumbles this year despite not starting, so I think if somebody makes a big play to force a turnover, it might be him.
10. Finally, what’s your game prediction?
I think this ones a true coin flip. I would t feel bad picking Alabama if Tua was playing, but I think JHS knows they have a chance to rattle Mac Jones on Saturday. Then it comes down to if Bo can will the offense to 24+ points. I think in our picks on the site, I said 28-24 Auburn. I’ll stand by it.