September 18, 2014

Auburn Preview: The Game Within the Game

Nick Marshall (Photo By Wesley Hitt, Getty Images)Finally…GAME WEEK IS HERE!!!  After the longest off-season in the history of man, the Razorbacks are ready to roll as they visit Gus Malzahn and the #5 ranked Auburn Tigers.  The 3:00 Saturday kickoff will be televised by the SEC Network.

From all reports, and from what little we have seen with our own eyes this pre-season camp, we are very excited to see how the Hogs perform, especially on defense against a very prolific Auburn offense.  We think this side of the ball is much improved from a year ago.

New defensive coordinator Robb Smith has completely changed the defensive mentality from a safe, ‘keep everything in front of you’ approach to an aggressive, attacking style.  It is evendent at all levels of the unit – from the way the corners are pressing to the ‘tilted nose’ technique being employed up front.  That side of the ball is night and day different.

“You’re going to see a defense that is a lot more aggressive,” Bielema said. “I don’t mean aggressive by the number of blitzes called, I’m talking about the way they play. They’re communicating very well before the snap, the formations they play, they know what they are supposed to do and they are playing very, very angry.”

Anytime you play Gus, there is always going to be the ‘game within the game’.  Whether it’s the matchups he’s trying to exploit, or the pace that he wants you to play at, the chess match is always on.

Will the injuries and suspensions affect the Tigers?  The big story for Auburn this pre-season has been the suspensions and plethora of injuries.  Starting quarterback Nick Marshall and starting cornerback Jonathon Mincy will play, but not start after their offseason exploits.  Starting guard Alex Kozan (back) was lost for the year, while defensive end Carl Lawson suffered an ACL tear during the summer and will be out for most of the season.

Jeremy Johnson (Photo By Julie Bennett, AL.com)Sophomore Jeremy Johnson will start in place of Marshall and Hog fans should expect Auburn’s offense to not miss a beat.  Johnson is a better passer than Marshall, so Gus may air it out a little more than he would normally, but the level of play will not be dimished.

When the Hogs have the ball, can they keep it and sustain drives?  We are interested to see if offensive line coach Sam Pittman will experiment with some different combinations up front.  We expect the Hogs to try and grind it out, and use all three running backs (Jonathan Williams, Alex Collins, Korliss Marshall) to the fullest.  We expect the Hogs to be the more physical team.

Who wins the battle of Auburn’s wide receivers vs. the Razorback cornerbacks?  Keep a close eye on this matchup early on.  If the Hogs corners can have success playing up against the best duo of receivers they may face all year in Sammie Coates, and #1 JUCO player D’haquille ‘Duke’ Williams, then it’s going to be a good day for the defense.  Coates has incredible speed to get behind a defense, while Williams and his 6-2, 218 frame work the middle.  Coates got loose against the Hogs last year for an 88-yard TD catch down the sideline.

How does Brandon Allen fare without a ‘green practice jersey’ on?  Allen has received high praise from his coaches this pre-season, but mixed reviews from some that got to watch the public scrimmage on August 16.  Look for Malzahn and Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson to over-populate the line of scrimmage and dare Allen to become a playmaker.  Fingers crossed.

Our gut tells us the Hogs can hang around in this one and make it a game into the fourth quarter.  Extended forecasts call for partly sunny skies and a high of 90 degrees Saturday.  Auburn is favored by 21.