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Iron Bowl Preview: Q&A with College and Magnolia

Alabama and Auburn are squaring off again. As usual, Tiger fans have too much confidence

Western Kentucky v Auburn Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

While most of you were out giving thanks and stuff, I toiled away at having to converse with an Auburn fan. With that said, College and Magnolia’s Jack Condon isn’t horrible, despite his poor taste in team colors.

Here are his thoughts on the Auburn team:

1- Okay, okay, I’m going to go ahead and get the elephant in the room out of the way: Your coaching search is a spectacle from the outside. Maybe it’s Lane Kiffin? Maybe Matt Rhule? Stick with Cadillac? Or, like usual, some other random option that no one expects? What do you want to happen, and if it differs, what do you think will actually happen?

First of all, we wouldn’t have it any other way. What good is college football if you can’t have a spectacle like we always give the nation? As far as who we want it to be, it’s Lane Kiffin. With the way our roster was left by Bryan Harsin (and by extension Gus a couple of cycles ago), we need a quick injection of talent, and the Transfer Portal King would be able to bring in some guys to give us an immediate boost in 2023. There are some people who would like it to be Cadillac, but even he knows that he’s filling a role for a little while. The ideal scenario is to keep him on board and give him an AHC title along with his current duties. I think whoever gets the job is smart enough to keep him around. They’ve seen the kind of support that he’s received from the fanbase over the past couple of weeks. I think that’s what will actually happen as well. Ideal situation is that this all goes down on Black Friday, and Kiffin is either in Tuscaloosa for the game or he’s sitting in some recruit’s living room during the game getting a head start. Realistically, it probably happens Sunday.

2- Auburn is, without a doubt, a powerful rushing team with Tank Bigsby, Jarquez Hunter, and QB Robby Ashford. I remember back during the Nick Marshall years when Auburn kind of had that triple threat rushing the ball. How would you compare 2022’s rushing scheme to that old Malzahn scheme?

As much as we would like to compare this current rushing attack to the Nick Marshall version, there are a couple of humongous differences. First, Marshall was a savant at running the zone read, and Gus Malzahn’s attack was still fairly new. We also had some first-round draft picks and future professional offensive linemen paving the way for those backs. Unfortunately, Auburn hasn’t had the linemen to compare in a few years, and Robby Ashford is several steps down from Marshall in terms of making decisions and in his running skills in general. What Auburn has done over the past few weeks is integrate some of the scheme that Cadillac himself would’ve been a part of back in the day. We’re putting an actual I-formation on the field regularly, and getting both Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter in formation at the same time like Cadillac/Ronnie Brown. They’re getting the yardage, and it may be more impressive than some of our more touted offenses, purely because we have absolutely zero passing game right now.

3- Which Wide Receiver is most likely to score on a jet sweep or on a trick play deep ball?

Yikes. I would say Ja’Varrius Johnson is our biggest deep threat, but if we see Auburn scoring on a deep pass I’ll be convinced we’re winning this game.

4- So, Robby Ashford is an amazing rusher. But it’s been quite a while since I’ve done an opponent preview and saw a starting QB’s completion % start with with a 4. How would you describe the Auburn passing game? And how on earth is the percentage that bad when the running backs are two of the top 4 receivers?

You’re mistaken that Ashford is an amazing runner. He’s fast, and would beat just about anyone in a straight-line race, but he has no wiggle and doesn’t have vision. Auburn’s best rushing moments lately have come in more traditional running plays that don’t utilize the threat of a quarterback run. Toss sweeps, off-tackle type of stuff. Ashford’s passing is just not good. You’ve been spoiled with quarterbacks who can hit a pass to anyone on the field, and you think that him connecting with backs in the flat or on screens is an automatic assumption. Our passing game is relatively non-existent, and Ashford is good for a couple of turnovers per game whether that’s a fumble after slipping in the backfield, or an interception. Anything we do accomplish through the air will just be an extension of the running game. We may get one or two “deep” passes, but it’s likely not in the stars.

5- Auburn’s secondary in 2021 was really tough, with guys like Scottie McCreary, Smoke Monday, and Chandler Wooten manning things. 2022 was basically a total turnover from that team. What the strong and weak points of this new group?

You want to know something crazy? We were an absolutely awful defense before Bryan Harsin got fired, and suddenly his Boise Buddy Jeff Schmedding concocted a pretty good defense after halftime of the MSU game. It’s not like Schmedding suddenly became a good coach, it’s more likely that our guys cared when they weren’t playing for a dead man walking. We did get some transfers coming into the fold, like D.J. James from Oregon. He locked up a starting spot and has been really solid all year. Some of the backups from the last couple of seasons have grown and looked pretty good at times too, namely Jaylin Simpson, who’s played since his freshman year, and Nehemiah Pritchett as well. Keionte Scott has gotten plenty of run coming in from JUCO. I’d say that one of the strongest points is that they’ve been great at helping defend the run (just 192 total yards allowed over the last three games), and keeping the passing games in front of them and not allowing the big play. We’ve played two really heavy passing attacks in MSU and WKU, and they had a bad first half against MSU but haven’t allowed much at all since that time.

6- Derick Hall and Colby Wooden have combined for 12.5 sacks, or nearly 50% of the Auburn’s sacks. Just how good of an edge rushing duo are these two? And if Alabama commits a whole bunch of blockers to just these two guys, is there anyone else who can take advantage of it to get a sack?

Derick Hall is the heart and soul of the defense, and by extension the team as a whole. He’s drawn a bunch of attention especially after what he did against Alabama last year. Colby Wooden has played both inside and outside, and he’s gotten much better this year after starting three straight seasons. They may not get Bryce Young on the ground much, but they’ll disrupt the passing game enough to give Auburn some chances to make big defensive plays. If they’re both drawing double teams, then I would look at Marcus Harris in the middle making some waves. As a Montgomery native who began his career at Kansas, he’ll want to make a big impact in this game.

7- There’s not too much press being given to many of Auburn’s players right now. Tank Bigsby is about the only name that most any SEC fan would recognize. Give me a young guy or two who’s been showing some flashes that you think could be All-SEC or even All-American players in 2023 or later that we need to look out for.

I’ll give you one on offense, defense, and special teams:

Offense: Camden Brown at WR. He’s a big Sammie Coates type of guy, but it all depends on getting a coach who’ll prioritize the passing game more and a QB who can actually distribute the ball (Ashford will not be the starter and likely won’t be at QB in 2023).

Defense: Keionte Scott at CB. He’s played a ton already this year with 48 tackles, 1 pick, 4 TFLs, and a sack, and he’s got two more years left. With Auburn’s recent trend of putting defensive backs into the league, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him continue that in a couple of years.

Special Teams; Alex McPherson at K. Younger brother of Evan McPherson, and he should be able to use this year as a redshirt season and play four more years. Huge leg, and he’ll continue our kicker tradition for the foreseeable future.

8- Coming back out of the weeds on this one... Can you give your thoughts as a whole on the Brian Harsin era? Both how Auburn handled things and Harsin as a coach.

Glad it’s done!

For real, though. His hiring was a case of a guy relatively unfamiliar with the Auburn landscape hiring a coach who was also unfamiliar with the SEC landscape. You can bring in some former SEC assistants, but even that won’t help when half the staff is Boise Boys who think that recruiting is a side gig you do when you’re bored. We signed zero players in February, and it was fairly well-known that Harsin wasn’t out on the trail all that much. He skipped high school coaching functions and dinners that Saban and Kirby were at, and that’s just something you can’t do if you’re hoping to compete. We at College and Magnolia are also of the opinion that this dude flat out thought he was good and was going to put a quality product on the field. It’s pretty clear that he was just non equipped to run this program. I personally think we waited too long to get rid of him. Once it became clear that he lost support of basically everyone including the team, it was time to pull the trigger. They gave him a chance to turn it around and he didn’t do anything to show that he could.

9- This is a poll for my own curiosity: Were this game being played in Jordan-Haie and Auburn got the win, would the fans storm the field? Personally, I feel like it should have lost its luster at this point, as we’re just a run-of-the-mill 4th place team in the SEC and it’s already been done twice.

We’d rush that field and carry Cadillac on our shoulders so that he could drag his nuts over Saban’s face.

Big words, Jack. Big words.