Another week, another SEC West opponent.
This week’s Pick 6 features Jay G. Tate, an Auburn reporter for Rivals.com who was kind enough to answer our questions about those other Tigers. You can follow Jay on Twitter @JayGTate and read his work here.
I have to ask a question that’s on a lot of people’s minds: what’s the deal with QB Jeremy Johnson? Touted as a preseason Heisman Trophy contender, he has five interceptions through two games and seems to be struggling reading defenses.
Jeremy Johnson is poised to lead Auburn's offense. (auburntigers.com)
Jeremy Johnson is poised to lead Auburn’s offense. (auburntigers.com)
It’s a damned mystery. I have no idea what happened to Jeremy Johnson. I’ve been covering him since he was in middle school since his family’s home and my home are about a mile apart. He’s always been a calm, nuanced leader at quarterback (and small forward for a state-championship team.)
He’s not picking up underneath zone coverage very well at all and his throws beyond 20 yards almost seem aimless at times. His track record suggests he’ll get straight at some point soon, but Auburn needs him to perform at a high level every week beginning with this trip to Death Valley.
After needing a last-minute comeback and overtime to avoid an upset against FCS foe Jacksonville State, how much concern is there about Auburn?
There is concern. That’s one way to put it. There is panic. That’s another way to put it. Auburn didn’t take Jacksonville State seriously at all. I don’t know if that’s a coaching problem or a player problem. It’s probably a mixture of both. So the Auburn we saw last weekend wasn’t the real Auburn team.
With that said, I’m not sure how strong the real Auburn team is at this point. I don’t understand the team’s run-game paradigm and Johnson is a mess and the defense is beset by an inordinate number of injuries.
Auburn has had trouble defending the read option, even against Jacksonville State. How big of a problem is that, and can LSU take advantage of it with QB Brandon Harris’s mobility?
Everybody has trouble defending the read-option when it’s administrated by a shrewd, fast quarterback. Is Brandon Harris that guy? I’m not sure.
Auburn has a ton of experience and reputation at linebacker right now and defensive tackle Montravius Adams is playing at a much higher level than before right. I believe Auburn is on the verge of a breakthrough specifically in how well it defends the read option, but that’s just one element of what it takes to be good in this conference.
Auburn had an easy time last year defending Harris, a then-freshman making his first start in a hostile environment. But now that he’s a year older and seems more comfortable running the offense, how does Auburn plan to rattle him?
Gus Malzahn. (AP)
Gus Malzahn. (AP)
I’m sure Will Muschamp knows a lot about Harris and the offensive coaches here know a lot about him, too. They worked hard to sign him out of high school. I think the Tigers’ plan will be impacted significantly by Carl Lawson. Will he be available or will he be on crutches like he was last weekend? It’s a mystery. He went down with a hip injury in the Louisville game and didn’t play against Jacksonville State.
If he’s playing, he’s a terror for opponents. If he’s on the sideline, he’s replaced by a much lighter, less fearsome defensive end. Auburn desperately needs Lawson to create pressure. If he’s out, Harris probably will have ample time to consider his options in the pocket.
LSU held Mississippi State’s running backs to only 62 rushing yards while keeping QB Dak Prescott contained. Can an Auburn rushing attack averaging almost 80 yards less than it did a season ago have success against LSU’s front seven?
As far as the rushing attack, I mentioned earlier that I don’t understand the new paradigm. When Auburn has been good lately (2010, 2013) it has relied on a run-first quarterback to flummox defenses. Jeremy Johnson isn’t much of a runner, which has negatively affected what Auburn gets from its running game.
Tailback Peyton Barber runs with a ton of toughness and spirit, but he’s not a home-run hitter. If Auburn is going to beat LSU this weekend, it’ll have to throw for 200+ yards. LSU’s front is likely to shut down the run game. I just don’t see how Auburn can run successfully against a good front seven right now.
Auburn’s top three receivers are all 6-foot-2 or taller, but how will they fare trying to create separation from LSU’s physical defensive backs?
I’m not sure size is the important figure here. Johnson isn’t throwing the long ball very well right now at all and I suspect Auburn will modify the passing plan this week to feature more swing passes and screens and other quick throws.
Height comes into play more often when you’re talking about deep routes. Long throws always have been a Malzahn staple, so it’s ignorant to discount them completely. With that said, I don’t think Johnson can hurt anyone beyond about 25 yards right now. They’ll have to fuel the passing game with another propellant, so to speak.