I could look up a bunch of Auburn stats and piece together my own little preview of their offense for this season. It would be informative. Or I could have someone write about the Auburn offense that knows the team inside and out, and that is the direction I went. The average fan probably can tell you that Auburn will be ranked in the top 5 or top 10, and that they have a quarterback named Jeremy Johnson that is supposed to be pretty good. Why not learn a little bit more about the opening opponent for the Cards?
As you may or may not know, I lived in Auburn, Alabama from 2008-2012 and still have some friends down that way. A friend of mine that I still keep in touch with is Scott Bagwell, one of the biggest Auburn fans I know, who is also a good writer. He is very knowledgeable and won’t just be an Auburn homer. He will tell it like it is, which is what we want. He attended SEC Media Day on Monday and then decided to help me (and all of you Louisville fans) out by writing a post about both the offense and the defense of Auburn. This post will focus on the offensive side of the ball. There will be another post to preview the defense soon.
By Scott Bagwell:
For the second straight year, Auburn will start the year in the top 10. Historically speaking, starting in the top ten has not been a good thing for Auburn. Auburn has started in the top ten 17 times, and only 6 of those times did Auburn finish in the top ten. Auburn his hoping a new starting QB and a familiar face running the defense will lead to a memorable season.
Since Gus Malzahn was hired as the offensive coordinator in 2009, Auburn has averaged just over 254 rushing yards per game. Even with pure passer at QB this year, Auburn will run the ball first. Malzahn likes to run basic run plays that set up downfield play action passes. Run first and play action pass has pretty much been Auburn’s offense since Malzahn came back to Auburn in 2013. A lot of that had to do with Nick Marshall; he was an athlete playing QB. Without Marshall, Auburn does not win the SEC Title in 2013, but the offense should be more balanced this year. And possibly the best offense Gus has had at Auburn.
Auburn will start former 4 star recruit Jeremy Johnson behind center this year. At 6’5 230, he has an NFL body. He also has an NFL arm. He can make every throw, and has shined in the little playing time that he has gotten in his first two years at Auburn. In his only start against a FBS team (Arkansas), he went 12 of 16 for 243 yards and 2 TD. That includes going 7 for 7 for 186 yards with a TD first quarter.
Johnson is also more than capable of running the ball. He ran for 9 TDs his senior year in high school, and was in the running to be Mr. Basketball his senior year. During SEC Media Days, Johnson looked eager to show that he has the ability to run the ball. He is not the runner that Marshall was but he will keep defenses honest in the zone read game.
Johnson’s arm talent will allow Malzahn to expand the passing game. As mentioned earlier, the past 2 years just about every time Auburn dropped back, it was nothing but deep routes. Or a tunnel screen to Sammie Coates. That’s about it. I expect to see a lot more short and mid-range passes from Auburn this year.
Another reason why I expect to see an expanded passing game from Auburn is because there is a good bit of talent at receiver. Duke Williams, Johnson’s roommate, returns for his senior year after a strong junior senior. Williams had 45 catches and 750 yards with 5 scores in 10 games last year. Williams is not a burner but he has great hands and at 6’2, 224 he has the frame to get position on smaller DBs. He also runs good routes. He has proven he will go over the middle and make the tough catches needed to extend drives and he also has the ability to go up and get the ball in crowds. Without a doubt, Williams will be the go to receiver for Johnson.
When Johnson was asked at SEC Media Days, which receivers will need to step up this year to help out Williams, Johnson immediately answered with Melvin Ray and Ricardo Louis. Ricardo Louis should fill the role left departed Sammie Coates just fine. For the most part all Sammie’s job was to beat the defense when they were over playing the run. Louis, the hero from the prayer at Jordan Hare, has 4.4 speed and the ability to get down the field quickly. The issue with Louis has been drops. That has been why his role has been limited in his first three years.
Melvin Ray averaged over 22 yards per catch last year, but he only had 8 of them. One was a 49 yard TD catch and run from Johnson against Arkansas. Ray and Johnson have both been on the second team offense the last two years, so Johnson is comfortable throwing to Ray. Other names to watch are Marcus Davis, Jason Smith, Myron Burton, Stanton Tuitt, and Tony Stevens.
Running back is a position for Auburn that has little experience and no clear starter, yet no one is worried about it. Why is that? Talent. And a lot of it.
Cameron Artis-Payne and his 1,600 yards are gone after being drafted by the Panthers. Replacing him with be former 5 star recruits Roc Thomas, now a sophomore, and 5 star JUCO transfer Jovon Robinson. Both are backs that do multiple things well. Both have the ability to run with power and have the ability to get to the second level quickly.
True freshman Kerryon Johnson is 6’1 205 pound and Malzahn has already said Kerryon will have a role in the offense. In his last high school game, Johnson had 9 offensive touches for 244 yards and 5 TDs along with 6 tackles and a pick 6. Johnson will get the ball on bubble screens, jet sweeps, will line up in the back field and out wide. He can do it all and that is how Auburn plans to use him.
Peyton Barber is a redshirt sophomore who is also in the mix to get carries. Gus Malzahn and Jeremy Johnson said that Barber, Robinson and Thomas were competing to be the main back.
Auburn fans found out how important this position was in 2014. In 2013 Auburn could do whatever they wanted in the run game because of Jay Prosch. The FB, who got drafted by the Texans, could block anyone on the field. Last year, Auburn had no one that could seal the edge. This year, Auburn thinks they have 2 guys that can. Kamryn Pettway and Chandler Cox are the two guys compete for playing time. This position is an underrated part of the Malzahn offense.
If this group is healthy, it will be the strength of the offense. The last two times Auburn has won the SEC and competed for a national title, the offensive line dominated. Alex Kozan and Avery Young are both on the Outland watch list. The other starters are Shon Coleman, Austin Golson, and Braden Smith. There is a lot of talent up front, they just need to mesh. If this group comes together and plays to their talent level, this will be one of the best OLs in the nation.