Time to continue chasing the idea that we know anything about the new version of the Auburn Tigers under their new coach Gus Malzahn. Lew will be tackling the Tiger defense later in the week, but for now let’s focus on the offense.
The quarterback we’ve talked about, multi-dimensional Nick Marshall. Combined with 1,000 yard rusher (from 2012) Tre Mason, the Tiger backfield gives the appearance initially of being quite explosive. Marshall is incredibly elusive and Mason has the one-cut, downhill running style that makes it tiring to play in the front-7 by the end of the first half (even if he’s catching passes out of the backfield all night instead of getting hand offs).
Add in the versatile CJ Uzomah at the H-back or tight end position catching passes in the flats or right over the middle and that’s three tough cookies to deal with. Hopefully it’s not a long night on the field for the Cougar defense, or those three will wear out the defense and eventually take those 12-15 play drives that seem to kill us in these road games late.
Just like Washington State will do, Auburn will constantly rotate in receivers throughout the game. Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis are probably the guys that are most dangerous as far as downfield threats are concerned, so keeping them bottled up is premium. Both are 6’2″, 200 lbs+ so doing that will not be easy with WSU’s undersized corners.
Falling asleep on a play where Marshall ends up improvising and scrambling can not happen, or either of those receivers will look to sneak behind the coverage and score. That exact type of thing has happened against this group of corners (sanz freshman Daquawn Brown), so that is probably my biggest concern going into the game defensively.
The rest of the recievers are by-committee and anybody could step up to have a big game. Quan Bray, Trovon Reed and Jaylen Denson are names to watch for. Just as it is against Oregon, Arizona, UCLA or Washington, discipline and patience in coverage is going to be a big factor, but it’s nothing the Cougs haven’t seen before, from a personnel standpoint.
The offensive line is very similar to Washington State’s, except of the look of scholarship vs former walk-ons. But as far as experience goes (and especially in a new system with a different style of quarterback), the Tiger O-line really isn’t any further along. The thing the Tigers do have initially is some good size, but with the Wazzu D-line being so big, it’s not as much of a deal as it would have been last season.
Reese Dismukes, much like Elliot Bosch, is their leader from center and has the most experience. Greg Robinson is a beast at 320 lbs and anchors the left side. Other than that Chad Slade and John Fullington are pretty similar, they’ll probably start a redshirt freshman at left guard and Rico Forbes probably has the edge in comparison to their right tackle, Pat Miller.
The Auburn scheme is going to vaguely resemble what Washington State did last season as far as tempo, though they would like to ultimately be faster than that. They’ll line up in multiple sets to see what the Cougars do and then attempt to exploit the biggest mismatch they can through the air, except they’ll also have a much clearer focus on the running game.
I expect Malzahn to try and really take advantage of the speed he possesses at quarterback, just as he did in 2010 with Cam Newton and with capable back Mason in the backfield it’s possible that we could see a fair amount of read options. But that’s more complicated than it looks offensively when you’re working with a new quarterback and like we saw with the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins in the NFL last year (and even in 2010 with Cam at Auburn) it might be a situation where Auburn kind of adds that in and perfects it as the year unfolds.
Malzahn wants to pass, that much we know. However in this first game I think he will veer more towards whatever works early. If the Tigers can run the ball a little bit in the 1st quarter and not fall behind for some reason, they may not pass very much at all, just to keep Marshall from being pressured into making a costly mistake. That would also work towards keeping the Cougar offense off the field, which was a major problem for the Cougs in last year’s season opener against BYU.
Back to if the Tigers pass a lot, they have to like their matchups on paper with their bigger receivers on WSU’s average sized corners. If Sammie Coates or Ricardo Louis can get behind the defense or even just go up and make a big play on a jump ball early, it’s not going to bode well for the Cougars’ chances in keeping Auburn from multiple attempts over the course of the football game. Even with Deone Bucannon roaming back in the secondary, that would most certainly be advantage; Auburn.
Overall it’s a little tough to predict how Auburn will come out. They probably will try several things on the first couple of possessions and really attack whatever has the most success the rest of the way. The only thing that could really change that is if the Coug-offense goes down and scores a couple times early to force Auburn into the pass. As always, that’s an interesting process to watch.