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Counter Intelligence: Auburn

auburn_logoFrom time to time, OTP likes to touch base with bloggers who know our opponents best. Today’s guest is Jerry at the War Eagle Reader, your one stop shop for anything Auburn related. While the game itself may be hard to watch, at least Jerry wasn’t a miserable prick about it. Kudos.

We exchanged questions and answers to said questions with Jerry about the Tigers and the chances Ball State has to potentially upset them at home. You can check out our answers to Jerry’s questions at the above link. Let’s get it on…

OverThePylon: Reading the messageboards and the fan sites, heck even one of your own writers, most seem to think that this is going to be a cupcake stroll for the Tigers. Something akin to the Navy Seals battling a paintball team. Of 5th graders. From Special Ed. What’s your take? Is there any possibility of the Tigers finally having a bad game or looking forward to Tennessee?

War Eagle Reader: I’ll say this: I wouldn’t wager anything more valuable than Monopoly money on Auburn covering that fat 30-point spread. For starters, because Auburn’s been kicking off the Gene Chizik era–an era I think you know has been viewed with more than its fair share of skepticism in non-Auburn climes–these first three weeks have been a lot more emotional than “vs. Louisiana Tech, vs. Mississippi St., vs. West Virginia” makes it look like they should have been. And next week comes the trip to Tennessee, Auburn’s first road tilt of the year and a chance for Chizik to prove he was the best offseason hire in the SEC all along.

But not only is Auburn emotionally primed for a let down, they kind of have to let down from a personnel standpoint: Auburn is a thin, thin team, and our first-string linebackers, wideouts, defensive ends, corners, offensive linemen etc. have wound up playing a metric assload of snaps. Part of that is the lack of a second string the coaches trust, part of it is the Gus Malzahn-dictated hyperdrive tempo that forces both sides of the ball to play an extra 20-30 snaps or so. So: I expect to see Auburn’s backups in early and often, and I don’t expect them to blow Ball St. off the field.

I think Auburn’s still too good to be seriously threatened by a team that has the kind of issues the Cards seem to have, but it’s not going to be a Florida-vs.-Charleston Southern-style beatdown, either.

OTP: Oh look… it’s Gus Malzahn. Gee… he looks familiar… oh wait… WAIT… that’s the guy who totally decimated our team last year in the GMAC Bowl. Fabulous!! Give me some sort of weakness this Auburn offense has. I mean, you have to have one. Right? RIGHT?!!?

WER: Honestly … I don’t know. Before last week I would have suggested packing eight into the box to stop the run and hoping your corners could keep up with Auburn’s iffy receivers one-on-one. But West Virginia tried that and sophomore Darvin Adams blew up (6 catches, 80 yards, 3 TDs) while the shockingly efficient Chris Todd wound up with career highs in yards and touchdowns.

So I’m not sure. Auburn does still need a second and third receiver to emerge and take some heat off of Adams (Terrell Zachery has made a few big plays, but hasn’t been a consistent threat as of yet), and I haven’t been all that impressed with the Tigers’ ability to handle a blitz. Tailbacks Ben Tate (he’s the bruiser) and Onterio McCalebb (he’s the burner) are too dangerous to let them get going, so I’d say you stack the box, shade your coverage towards Adams, blitz like hell on any obvious passing down, and just pray Todd has an off-day.

How Malzahn’s built something as versatile and intimidating as Auburn’s offense in this short a time, I have no idea. He is The Genius of Our Time.

OTP: Little known fact… Tommy Tuberville, aside from being your ex-coach, is married to a Ball State grad! Huzzah! On a scale of ambivalent to seething rage, how do you think Tubs watches this game? Follow up: Now with Chizik winning games and looking good, are the fans sold on him? Are they glad they got rid of Double-T?

WER: Wow–to quote Jimmy Carson, I did not know that. (About Tubby’s wife.) I suspect that Tubby is ambivalent about how Auburn fares these days–as a coach I’m sure he roots for his former players and is happy for them when they win, but at the same time his relationship with the Auburn administration was already frosty even before they showed him the door. His relative silence on the Chizik hire and conspicuous lack of public support for the program suggests to me that he doesn’t care all that much about Auburn for Auburn’s sake.

As for whether the Auburn A.D. made the right decision, I said at the time that Tubby had earned the right to come back for one more year, even if it wasn’t the best thing for the program–there was no way he and his coaching staff were going to get the ship turned back around. But now that Chizik is on board, I can’t imagine Auburn not having made the change. The energy in the fan base, the excitement in Malzahn’s offense, the joy Chizik and his staff have brought to the team and the program … even though Tubby won 9 games as recently as 2007, it feels now like the change was, somehow, overdue.

OTP: From what we’ve gathered, Chris Todd is the passing QB, Kodi Burns is the rush it down your throat on the goalline QB. Fair assessment? How does anyone hope to contain this offense? And more importantly, if the offense cannot be stopped, is the defense one that can be scored on… you know… assuming BSU can maybe sort of kind of muster any offense whatsoever?

WER: Yes, that assessment is fair, although unlike most Wildcat operators Burns was a QB in high school and his first two seasons at Auburn, so he’s much more of a threat to throw the ball than, say, Darren McFadden was.

I think I already covered how you might hope to contain the offense, but that brings us to the one sore spot on Auburn’s season to date: the defense’s tendency to give up yards, and I mean in chunks. For all the bending they haven’t broken that often, and they’ve shown a fun knack for coming up with a big, big play here or there … but Auburn’s also getting nothing from their weakside linebacker position and while they’ve been nice on the pass rush, the defensive line hasn’t bowed up and shut down the opponent’s running game since the opener. I don’t expect that BSU will bring in the same kind of strength on the ground that Miss. St. or especially West Virginia brought, but I’d wager MiQuale Lewis will see some space here and there. The Cards will probably have a handful of red zone opportunities–if they want to make a game of this, they’d better make the most of them.

OTP: Normally we ask visiting bloggers for a prediction about the score. Assuming you, like everyone else who watches, follows, or even knows about football would pick Auburn: A lot, Ball State: not as much, instead give us some recommendations of must hit places while we’re down in Auburn. There is a decent number of Cardinals fans who would love some good BBQ to drown their tears in.

WER: Unlike Dreamland in Tuscaloosa, I would say there’s not one single go-to BBQ place in Auburn, but Byron’s Smokehouse is highly thought of for a reason. Country’s Barbeque is also popular (and good), but I personally think it’s a touch overrated. Probably the most popular restaurant in Auburn is Niffer’s Place–it’s got a great college town feel and is famous for its burgers, corn nuggets, and cheap beer, though I’m partial to its grilled chicken sandwiches. Downtown pizza places Brick Oven Pizza and Mellow Mushroom both do very good work if you’re in the mood for a slice. If you’re looking for a quality pint, try the Olde Auburn Ale House–it’s been a while, but last time I was around it wasn’t as overrun (or as “clubby”) as some of Auburn’s bars can be on the weekends. And lastly, if you’re coming from Muncie or anywhere in the Midwest, you’ll need to eat some high-quality chicken fingers while you’re in the South. Chik-Fil-A, Guthrie’s, Zaxby’s, or any half-dozen other chicken finger joints in the Auburn area will work.


One Response

  1. Jerry’s picks are good, but he’s missing two places that are must-see in Auburn: Momma Goldberg’s – best sandwiches in town and within sight of the stadium at the corner of Magnolia and Donahue. Also, Toomer’s Corner for some lemonade (corner of College and Magnolia).

    Note: If you want to see an event of a lifetime, Auburn-style, make sure you go to Toomer’s AFTER the game (providing Ball State doesn’t upset). One of the great traditions at Auburn is the celebration at that corner after a home win.

    All in all, welcome to Auburn. Hope you enjoy your visit.


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