Earlier this week I answered some questions for College and Magnolia to preview the Southern Miss-Auburn game. You can check them out here. Because they’re good people, Jack Condon returned the gesture and offers his insight on the game from an Auburn perspective.
What’s your general feeling when you see Auburn schedule G5 teams? Would you rather the Tigers schedule P5 teams exclusively like what Nick Saban believes all P5 teams should do?
C&M: First of all, Nick Saban can say whatever he wants, but when he’s got Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, and Citadel on the schedule, he can take a seat. I don’t think that the schedule should mandatorily have all P5 games, because I think that means college football becomes more like the NFL. It then essentially creates another division with P5 and G5, and that’s not what I’d personally like to see. I do enjoy the mandatory singular P5 matchups that teams have to schedule, because it helps create interesting matchups. Auburn had never played Washington before this year, and we’ve got games against Oregon, UNC, Cal, and Penn State in coming years. That’s fun.
However, if we didn’t have games against G5 teams, then we wouldn’t get great moments like Troy beating Nebraska a couple weeks ago. There are fans of those schools too, and I imagine it’s pretty exciting when they get to go see a game against a good team at a big stadium. It also helps fans of our school that might not normally get to go to the Alabama game, or the Georgia game, because tickets will be in less demand. And that’s to say nothing of the money that changes hands. I’d like to see Auburn play UAB or Troy, because then the money paid out stays in the state, and those games would likely have higher attendance because of the proximity of those schools.
How are we feeling about Gus Malzahn nowadays?
College & Magnolia: While there are still the Auburn fans that think we should be toe-to-toe with Nick Saban, many people realize that’s just not possible. Fact is, nobody’s going to do that, and we’re all just waiting for him to finally retire before order is restored to the college football universe. That said, there are some legitimate gripes about Gus Malzahn that get brought up year after year -- it takes us a few games to figure out what we want to do on offense, we don’t really seem to develop the talent that we have on the team, and we’re good for a WTF game each season.
However, there’s exactly two head coaches out with multiple wins over Saban. There’s Gus and there’s Urban Meyer. Gus is the only one to do it at his current school. He’s currently batting 40% against Alabama, which is a fantastic number considering what they’ve done. He’s bringing in top 10 recruiting classes regularly, and he’s playing tougher competition week in and week out. Gus may not be the best coach in the country, but the question you have to ask the Auburn fans who want to make a change is who would we realistically get.
What are Auburn’s weaknesses on offense?
C&M: Right now the weakness is the offensive line. We had a few new starters this year, and we just made a change in our starting center for the game against Arkansas. Add in a minor injury here and there, and they haven’t had much time to grow. Word is that they’re close to clicking, but we’ll need to see that to believe it. After that, Auburn’s running back corps isn’t quite as powerful as it’s been in years past. It’s not truly plug and play yet back there. Boobee Whitlow looks like the guy that will become the guy, but even he’s had a bit of a slow start, and with the line having trouble, it hasn’t helped the rest of the offense.
People mocked the hire a few years ago, but Kevin Steele has built a really good defense on The Plains. Why is this year’s defense on pace to be a successful unit yet again?
C&M: Kevin Steele has been nothing short of incredible. He’s shut down the Dabo offense in two meetings, dominated Alabama last year, and has Auburn as one of the top defenses in the country this season. It all starts with the front seven. If anyone’s going to run on us, it’ll be a tremendous feat. We’ve got a top 15 pick in defensive tackle Derrick Brown, but our nose tackle Dontavius Russell will get drafted and have a good pro career as well. The ends are great at containing the run, and the linebackers aren’t going to miss tackles. If there’s any complaint on defense, it’s that we haven’t quite gotten the pass rush just yet with the front four, but Steele’s adapted and started to mix in blitzes the last couple of weeks. It’s worked.
Southern Miss wins the game if... Auburn wins the game if...
C&M: Southern Miss wins the game if Auburn has a complete breakdown and turns the ball over 5+ times. With the Tiger defense, USM needs a short field to score, and they’ll have to do it more than once or twice. Auburn hasn’t had the explosive plays that we saw last year, but I can imagine that we’ll start to hit those with more regularity sooner rather than later. If you make Auburn drive, then that growing offensive line might make a mistake. Turnovers, limit big plays.
For Auburn, I think it’s pretty much play their game. The defense will likely hold USM to 14 points or less, so the offense doesn’t have to do too much. Gus might use this game to work on some things as he looks forward to SEC play, but either way the offense should get a big play or two, and a couple of sustained drives. Special teams exploded last week for some huge returns against Arkansas, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a return touchdown or a big punt block.