1. What’s your feel for this Auburn team through two weeks?
Normally, Gus Malzahn teams start slow and take three or four games to find the kind of offensive rhythm that’ll define the season. The last two seasons, that’s resulted in an early loss or two, and Auburn fans have grumbled. With Jarrett Stidham returning at quarterback, the offense is more settled and feels like it has the pieces in place to be one of the best offenses in the conference. The two main points for improvement are up front on the offensive line and at tailback (mainly just identifying who the main guy is going to be). Defensively, this is a top ten group in the country at worst. As for the feel of the team, it’s hard to identify. We’ve had a game against a top ten team where you can’t really say that the things that went wrong were the result of mistakes or the caliber of the opponent, and it’s the same with our last game against an FCS bottom feeder. I think this game against LSU will tell Auburn fans exactly where the team is. SEC rival, at home, revenge factor. I feel like we’ll be seeing more of this type of game all year long, and so we’ll get a great feel for where we are on Saturday night around 7:30.
2. Jarrett Stidham played well against Washington and appears to have improved. But what about his targets?
Stidham’s been exceptionally efficient, and really hasn’t been asked to do all that much so far. He’s got three favored targets in Ryan Davis (84 catches last season), Darius Slayton (deep ball threat), and Nate Craig-Myers (big bodied and sure handed), but there are other guys that have been involved in the passing game as well. In the first quarter along against Washington, Stidham hit seven different receivers. H-back Chandler Cox has gotten involved in the passing attack as a safety valve a good bit, and freshmen Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz have both shown flashes in the first two weeks. I expect all of them to get touches against LSU. Stidham’s obviously most comfortable throwing to Davis or Slayton, but he should get Will Hastings and Eli Stove back this weekend after spring knee injuries. Receiver is actually one of the deepest positions on the team, and they’ve been great through two weeks without having been asked to do all that much.
3. Who has stood out on defense so far?
The defense has been highlighted by the entire front seven through two games. Marlon Davidson, Derrick Brown, Dontavius Russell, and Nick Coe up front have been monsters and have disrupted a ton of what both Washington and Alabama State wanted to do. Neither team got the run game going and the defensive line is a big reason why. Russell and Brown have been adept at blowing past blockers and ruining the inside run game. Brown’s even made some tackles on the perimeter as well. Behind them, Deshaun Davis and Darrell Williams at linebacker have played like you expect seniors to play after years in Kevin Steele’s system. That was a group to look out for heading into the season and they haven’t disappointed so far. The secondary, however, was an unknown. With some moving pieces at cornerback and new faces at safety, they’ve played relatively well (when Washington receivers aren’t making circus catches on every other play), and it feels like Daniel Thomas has started to assert himself with two interceptions over the weekend. Overall, the defense has been as expected and should be one of the big reasons that Auburn’s favored against LSU.
4. Kam Martin was expected to lead the way for the rushing attack, but freshmen JaTarvious Whitlow and Shaun Shivers currently lead the team in rushing. Have they passed him up, or is it too early to see?
Kam Martin got the nod mainly because of experience, but anyone that watched the spring game knew that JaTarvious (we call him Boobee) Whitlow was the guy that would eventually take the reins and become RB1. He scored the game-winning touchdown against Washington, and got in more work against Alabama State with his first 100-yard game. He’s got a little bit of everything -- some shake and bake, the stutter step, good speed and power — and I think he’ll be the full-time starter before too long. Shaun Shivers is an interesting true freshman that converted a key third down against the Huskies and then got his own 100-yard game against Alabama State. He’s small (5-6), but fast and very strong for his size. I think he may eventually pass Martin up as well, but Martin’s still been steady when called on, he just hasn’t had his number called all that much.
5. How do you see this game playing out?
I think we’re going to have a callback to the old Tuberville-Saban/Miles matchups that were hard-hitting and low-scoring. None of this shootout mess. Auburn’s defensive front should be able to get plenty of penetration against LSU’s offensive line, and I think they’ll be able to get to Burrow and the running backs behind the line more than enough. The home crowd will be electric and I think that Auburn wins (won’t cover the -11 line) something like 21-13.