Aubserver Mailbag 91: Freshly Squeezed
This week: JerseyGate, matchups to watch for Auburn-PSU, avoiding turnovers, creating turnovers, DB play, snow cone flavors and a lot of fun with a certain color
(Jacob Taylor/Auburn Athletics)
The first big game week in Auburn has been filled with anxiety, debate, excitement, dread, confusion, doubt, anger, joy and determination from fans.
And that’s only because of the orange jerseys.
To briefly recap: On Monday, Brian Stultz of Rivals asked Auburn players if they would like to see the team wear orange jerseys sometime. They said yes. Derick Hall confirmed they would be wearing orange face masks and accessories — but, like his teammates, said “obviously Auburn's very traditional and, you know, we can't compete with that.”
Yet rumors of Auburn wearing orange jerseys exploded online this week. Fans demanded to see them. Auburn’s social media accounts did nothing to rule out that option and, with certain retweets, seemed to put more fuel to the fire. Then on Thursday afternoon, this tweet came out, and it got ratioed pretty quickly.
Unless this is all a massive swerve, Auburn will wear the classic blue jerseys with the orange face-masked helmets against Penn State in the All Auburn, All Orange game. (It’s a good look, as evidenced by the Ole Miss and Alabama games last season.) But the hype that surrounded the jerseys ensured that this will Definitely Be A Thing, win or lose, on Saturday.
Of course, a lot of the questions for this week’s mailbag — one of our biggest ever — had some fun with the orange theme. Those are towards the end.
But there’s a lot in here about the Penn State game, specifically the matchups, the quarterback play and the all-important questions about Auburn’s pass defense in a rematch of a game that went poorly in that area last year.
Thanks for reading and listening to The Auburn Observer and having some orange fun with us. Let’s go.
What in your opinion do you consider schematically, or with individual matchups, where Auburn holds the advantage? (On both sides of the ball, if there is one for both.)
Michael P. Jordan
I believe the biggest advantage Auburn has in this game — and the one that could go the longest way in getting a victory — is its defensive front against Penn State’s offensive line.
As I wrote earlier this week, Penn State was No. 96 in rushing against Power 5 opponents last season, No. 112 in tackles for loss allowed per game and No. 93 in sacks allowed per game. The Nittany Lions couldn’t run the ball effectively against Purdue in Week 1 and then allowed five sacks and eight tackles for loss to Ohio in Week 2.
Auburn’s defensive front has gotten a ton of pressure when it’s had a realistic chance at it — that is, when the quarterback isn’t throwing as soon as he gets the ball — and the run-stopping has been strong early. If the Tigers can make Penn State more one-dimensional and apply effective pressure to Sean Clifford, then they could be in business Saturday. However, as Auburn players like to tell each other, coverage and rush work together, so any of this must come with improvement in the secondary.
When Auburn has the ball, the only area where I see something of an advantage is Auburn’s running backs against Penn State’s tacklers. That’s kinda vague, but let me explain: Tank Bigsby and the rest of the Tigers’ backs have done a good job early of breaking tackles and creating opportunities on their own, even when the offensive line hasn’t been great. This is crucial, because Penn State is generally a strong run defense up front, even if it doesn’t generate a lot of havoc in the passing game.
Penn State’s linebackers and safeties, from what I can tell, had some real tackling issues in the first two weeks of the season. This could also manifest itself in yards after catch, but I like Bigsby and Co. against a defense that might not be tackling well early. Tackling usually gets better as the season goes on, yet the Nittany Lions had more missed ones than average against Purdue and Ohio. Keep an eye on that.
Are the quarterbacks going to be efficient and not turn the ball over? Is the defense going to wreak havoc and cause some turnovers for once under this coaching staff? Enough of the jersey talk. Let’s talk about the game.
You heard the man. (Although we will talk a little more about the jerseys later. Sorry!)
Avoiding turnovers has been a key emphasis for Bryan Harsin this week, as he’s harped on it pretty much every time he’s been in front of a microphone and asked about quarterback play. Auburn has to play clean football in order to have a chance to beat teams that have more or comparable talent to them right now, even at home.
I personally think T.J. Finley has been solid outside of his three interceptions — which, as we all know, are quite damaging. Finley’s three picks have been a bad decision, a bad throw and a not-terrible ball that was met by a great play. But his pre-interceptions start against Mercer and post-interception finish against San Jose State are the numbers you want to see from your quarterback: 20-25 (80%) for 256 yards (10.24 YPA).
If that version of Finley can show up against a tougher Penn State defense, I definitely think you can win with that and what you’ll get out of the running game with Bigsby, Hunter and Ashford. However, as the case has been with Auburn quarterbacks for quite some time now, there needs to be consistency.
As for the defensive side of the turnovers issue, well, that was the subject of more than one good-sized question this week…