With Arkansas’ SEC Opener coming up, we talked with Jack Condon of College and Magnolia, SB Nation’s Auburn site, about the matchup. As always a big thanks to Jack and be sure to check out their work for the rest of the lead up to this Saturday’s game.
1. After such a close loss to LSU, what is the climate of the fans looking like and how do you expect the team to respond?
JC: As usual, there are the vocal fans that want to get off the Gus Bus, when we lost a close game to what’s now a top ten team. Personally, I think it’s ridiculous, and if you watched the game, many of the issues we had were execution problems. The coaching staff put the team in a good position to win, we just didn’t see the blocks, catches, tackles, etc. made when they needed to be made. Also, the penalties were pretty egregious, and that’s something that I think most people agree on. There’s a reason that Auburn only fell two spots in the AP Poll after the loss.
2. It’s no secret Arkansas was interested in bringing Gus Malzahn to Fayetteville last offseason. Is that something Tiger fans will remember going into the game, or is that not even on their radar anymore?
JC: Honestly, I don’t think that’s really on anyone’s radar right now. We’ve locked Gus up with a nice contract, and he’s the only coach that’s consistently competed with Nick Saban in the SEC. He knows he’s in a good spot at Auburn, and I don’t think he’ll choose to leave to go anywhere else. Auburn hasn’t had a coach leave to go elsewhere in decades.I also didn’t really see anything worthwhile in the rumor mill last year when people thought Gus would leave to go to Arkansas. He had just beaten Alabama and won the West, and it would’ve been a huge step down for him. The only thing that would’ve been a plus is that he would’ve been back home, but if Chad Morris’ start is any indication, he may not have fared any better with the talent on hand.
3. Looking at the numbers, Auburn’s offense has been much more efficient with fewer explosive plays than is the norm for Malzahn’s offense? Has that been by design this year, or a cause for concern?
JC: I think it’s a little cause for concern. We haven’t been as effective in the running game, and the interior of the offensive line hasn’t given Jarrett Stidham much help either. There were a couple instances on Saturday where pressure caused him to roll out and scramble rather than letting the planned deep ball route develop. We were very good with hitting the home run last year, and it might not really happen until we can shore up the center and right guard spots. Nick Brahms should start in place of Kaleb Kim this week, and that will likely help at center, as Brahms was the guy in spring ball before he got hurt. Kim has struggled and it was part of the reason we allowed LSU to come back on Saturday.
4. The defense, especially the defensive line, has gotten after teams this year. Who’s been the MVP of that unit that Hog fans need to keep an eye on?
JC: The defensive front seven is fantastic and hasn’t really missed much of a beat after losing Jeff Holland. Right now the star is Derrick Brown in the middle, and he’s playing like a top fifteen pick at the moment. Unfortunately for everyone else, you can’t focus on him, because Dontavius Russell is also a monster at nose tackle, and the two ends (Marlon Davidson and Nick Coe) are great defenders as well. If there’s any critique so far, it’s that they haven’t gotten quite the pass rush we expected, but LSU went max protect a lot last weekend, and they did sack Jake Browning a good bit in the opener. Deshaun Davis might be the next best player after Brown though, and he’s been as productive and nasty as you want your senior middle linebacker to be.
5. Lastly, what are your predictions for the game?
JC: I think Auburn gets right in a nice way on Saturday. We’ll see some of the deep passes that we’ve been missing, and with Brahms at center, the run game works a little more. I think Stidham gets better this week going through reads and has a really efficient game. Since Gus and Chad are buddies, we’re probably not going to run up the score just because, and I can’t imagine he’ll run any of the dipsy-doodle trick plays either like he did against Bielema (who he never liked). I’ll say 41-7 Auburn, with a quick second half.