Sorry to step on Crip's big welcome, but I have returned from enemy territory. Earlier this week, the guys over at Joe Cribbs Car Wash sent us over 10 questions to answer about LSU. In the spirit of goodwill which exists between our programs, Jerry submitted to my 10 questions.
I know, I know. Talking to an Aubbie is not my idea of a good time either, but these are the sacrifices I'm willing to make for you, dear ATVS reader. I'm currently dousing myself in disinfectant to wash the Auburn off of me. I'm hoping its not contagious.
1. Why the move to the spread offense and how goes the experiment so far?
A: Why, haven't you heard? It's going just peachy, thanks for asking! Scoring three points on Mississippi St. was always what we hoped our offense would aspire to. To turn off the sarcasm for a moment, though, things weren't actually quite as bad as the score suggested. They were bad all right--really, really bad--but Auburn did gain 315 yards, making it the first time since 2000 they'd had more than 300 yards and still failed to score a touchdown. Bad, yes, but not apocalyptic. As for why the move was made, Auburn finished 97th in the nation last year in total offense; particularly coming off a steep decline from 2005 to 2006, it's not surprising Tubby made a change at OC. He's repeatedly cited recruiting gains (specifically at WR) as part of his reasoning in picking Tony Franklin and the spread, but Franklin's success against other SEC teams at Troy probably played a large role, too.
2. The list of former Auburn running backs is a terrifying list of players populating my nightmares. What tailback am I now going to be referring to after a long list of profanities?
A: Sad to say it's unlikely there's going to be another Rudi Johnson or Kenny Irons haunting your dreams this year. Auburn's had a lot of success running the ball regardless, but both last year and this season-to-date it's been running back-by-committee, a concept I'm fairly sure LSU fans in particular are familiar with. As of last week I would would have called Brad Lester the closest thing we had to our traditional nightmare-inducer, but he landed on his head and sprained his neck in a scary-looking incident vs. State; he's practicing, but I'll be surprised if he plays. That leaves battering ram Ben Tate and more-explosive Tristan Davis as the two primary ballcarriers, though Tate will probably see more touches with Davis still finding his way back after a series of injuires. (One caveat: Tate's had fumbling problems and could be yanked if he loses it again.) Fireplug freshman Eric Smith could also see the field.
3. In 1994 and 2004, Auburn went undefeated and did not win a national title. In 2003, LSU won a national title with one loss and in 2007, LSU won a national title with two losses. Exactly how infuriating is that?
A: Honestly? Unless we're talking about Alabama winning a national title after a loss in the Iron Bowl someday, there's not much that can make 2004 more infuriating than it already is. The Auburn fans I know don't begrudge LSU their success--we just curse our rotten luck, root against Oklahoma and USC at every opportunity, and pine for a playoff so the 2004 team's martyrdom will not have been in vain.
4. Chris Todd. Kodi Burns. Do you have faith in either of these guys to run the offense? Any hope of a quarterback controversy?
A: Funny, you could say there's already a quarterback controversy in that there are two very differing opinions as to who should be under center, but those opinions are held by such two distinct camps that it doesn't feel like one. By which I mean that the Auburn coaches seems fully committed to Todd, while Burns is widely seen as the better option amongst Auburn's fans. As for me, if forced to pick one or the other I'd take Burns, but I'd really like to see Auburn try Option C: a balanced, situational rotation between the two similar to what we saw with Burns and Brandon Cox in the bowl win over Clemson. You probably won't see that Saturday, but I'd be willing to wager that Burns will at least replace Todd once Auburn gets into the red zone. (This assumes Auburn will, in fact, get into the red zone at some point.)
5. Auburn returns all five starters on the offensive line this season. In the first three games, Auburn averaged 4.7 yards per carry and 3.6 yards per carry against MSU. Still feeling good about the line?
A: Mostly, yes. The YPC against State doesn't bother me too much; the Bulldogs defensive line played a whale of a game and with the passing game struggling, there wasn't much room to maneuver. The big issue from Saturday line-wise was the penalties, particularly sophomore tackle Lee Ziemba (a future first-day draft pick or I'll eat my burnt orange shorts) getting called for holds on multiple occasions and generally playing the worst game I've seen from him in an Auburn uniform. There were multiple false starts and of course State's only two points came on another hold in the end zone. I don't see our line getting overrun even given how staunch LSU's defensive line is, but that doesn't mean the matchup won't be a major issue if Auburn's racking up the penalty yards and putting the offense in untenable 2nd-and-15, 3rd-and-11-type situations.
6. MSU gained 116 yards. Auburn's only allowed 641 yards on the season. Teams have converted 3 of 46 third downs. How much of this is due to the awesome Auburn defense and how much is due to pitiful offenses you've faced?
A: Whoa, hold on there--I make no claims for Louisiana-Monroe or the endless vortex of suck that is the MSU offense, but Southern Miss's attack is anything but pitiful. A heady QB and guys at RB, WR, and TE that would play for any number of SEC schools. It's true that the eye-popping nature of Auburn's stats are at least partly a creation of the other two teams on the schedule, but trust me: these guys pass the eyeball test with flying colors. They're really, really good, and a lot of Auburn fans are already calling them the best defense Tubby's had at Auburn. I'm not ready to go that far yet (2004's was one hell of a unit) but that it's even worth discussing should give you some idea of how frightening they've looked in these three games.
7. How does your kicking game plan on imploding against us this year? Has Vaughn run out of eligibility because I really miss that guy.
Yes, sadly--no, wait, fortunately--John Vaughn (or as he's referred to at the JCCW, J**n V****n) has graduated and now surely spends his days in an office somewhere, flinging wadded-up pieces of paper at one of those basketball hoop-wastebaskets and seeing them glance off the rim every time. The current kicker is sophomore Wes Byrum, who up until last Saturday I would have told you was surefire money--then, of course, he missed two including a 22-yarder, so now I don't know what to tell you. Holliday's going to have a great chance on kickoff returns--Byrum's also been struggling to get his kicks into the end zone. New punter Clinton Durst has been terrific, though, with tons of hang time, and Robert Dunn has already established himself as Auburn's best punt returner in ages. So I'm hopeful we can at least break even in special teams this year.
8. Auburn's red zone offense has been ineffective so far. Is this just a fluke or are these early season failures a harbinger of doom?
A: It's not a fluke--no matter where it's run, the spread can have issues pounding it in on 1st-and-goal, and it's been no different at Auburn. Franklin told reporters in the preseason Auburn would have an I-set for goalline situations; we haven't seen it yet. Burns was deadly last season running QB draws in the red zone and scored the winner against Clemson that way; he got one carry against Southern Miss and then didn't take a single snap against State. I'm desperately hoping Tubby and Franklin have some kind of hidden red zone wrinkle for Saturday's game, because if what we've already seen is all we've got, Byrum's going to have to score every point Auburn gets.
9. So far this year, Auburn has 8 fumbles, 2 interceptions, and 25 penalties for 202 yards. That's not good. Why so many errors this season?
A: The two picks I can live with. Weird QB situation, new system, questionable receiving corps--two's honestly a little lower than I might expect at this point. Penalties weren't a particular problem against ULM and Southern Miss, so I'm hopeful that was a one-week aberration. The fumbles, however, are a lot more troubling. This is the second straight year Auburn has put the ball on the ground every other handoff, it seems, through their first few games. I don't have any explanation for it, but I do know that if it doesn't correct itself Saturday, Auburn will obviously be in for a long night.
10. OK, last question. Has the check to the referees cleared?
Actually, my understanding is that we're waiting to see if the replay official is going to get back on his Dictator-for-Life throne and start randomly wiping away illegal formation penalties before they get their payola this year.
Hey, thanks for stopping by. I would wish your team good luck, but that would be a lie. I wish your team lots of bad luck and misery.
If you want to scout the enemy, go check out Joe Cribbs Car Wash. They are good people, for Auburn fans.