Oct. 10, 2013
AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn is a virtual lock to move to 5-1 after Saturday’s homecoming game against FCS foe Western Carolina. After that, the Tigers face five SEC opponents in their last six games. Three of them will be on the road.
Here are my best attempts at answers to some questions often asked about Gus Malzahn’s first Auburn team as it nears the halfway point in the season.
Q: Who will start at quarterback against Western Carolina?
A: The short answer is I don’t know. Word is that Nick Marshall’s knee has steadily improved over the course of the week. I don’t believe he’ll play unless he’s 100 percent. If he doesn’t start, it’s an open question whether sophomore Jonathan Wallace or true freshman Jeremy Johnson will get the call.
Q: Why would coaches pull Johnson’s redshirt for an opponent like Western Carolina?
A: If they do that, it won’t have anything to do with Western Carolina. It won’t necessarily mean anything about Marshall’s status for next week’s game at Texas A&M and beyond. It will mean they have come to the conclusion that Johnson can help them win down the stretch.
Q: Why does Auburn give up so many yards on defense, yet rank so high in the SEC in scoring defense?
A: One reason is that these Auburn players don’t give up. They keep playing hard, regardless of the circumstances. As a result, they have been dynamite in the red zone. And a really big reason is that Ellis Johnson is one heck of a defensive coordinator who, over the course of a game or even a drive, will figure out what an opponent is doing to have success and give his players a plan to stop it.
Has Auburn practiced for Texas A&M this week?
A: As much as people like to talk about teams doing that, it actually doesn’t happen often. Western Carolina’s scheme is similar to Texas A&M’s, so in that respect Auburn defensive players have seen some of the same things they’ll see next week. It goes without saying that the players they see this week will be nothing like those they will see next week.
Q: Why has Marshall been inconsistent throwing the ball?
A: I’m not sure he’s been as inconsistent as some seem to believe. He’s missed some open throws, and he’s had some good throws dropped. I watched Heisman Trophy candidate Teddy Bridgewater badly overthrow two wide-open receivers on deep balls Thursday night. It happens.
Q: What players have been the biggest surprises for Auburn?
A: Robenson Therezie has gone from backup to, some would say, the best player on Auburn’s defense. You’d have to say freshman wide receiver Marcus Davis, who was a high school quarterback a year ago, has been a surprise. He’s second on the team in receptions. Linebacker Anthony Swain leading in tackles against Ole Miss would have to be a surprise since he’d played sparingly before that game. I don't know if offensive guard Alex Kozan would qualify as a surprise, but he's shown maturity beyond has years as a redshirt freshman starter.
Q: What have been the strengths of Auburn’s offense and defense?
A: The line on offense. Reese Dismukes might be the best offensive player on the team. The running backs, led by Tre Mason, would be close behind. It's the secondary on defense, and it will only get better with the return of Chris Davis.
Q: How many games could Auburn win this season?
A: If this team continues to improve, it will have a chance against anybody it plays. How many will it win? That’s anybody’s guess.
Q: Why does this team seem to play with so much more enthusiasm and purpose than last season’s team?
A: The easy answer is it’s been winning, but that enthusiasm and purpose is a significant reason it has been winning. It started in the weight room in January and built through spring practice and preseason camp. Players didn’t want to feel again like they felt last season. They bought into what Malzahn and his staff were teaching and preaching.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: