Auburn Family News: Best5Zach’s Best Five Questions for Gus Malzahn

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Best5Zach’s Best Five Questions for Gus Malzahn

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SEC Media Days kicked off Monday and Auburn’s own Gus Malzahn will bring his eclectic group of representatives to the podium on Thursday. As with every team in the SEC, there are questions that the fans really want to get the answer to but most likely won’t. Will Jalen Hurts hold the starting job? Can Jarrett Stidham win it or has it been won? Is both Sony Michel and Nick Chubb 100 percent? Will Missouri have the SEC’s only 1,000 yard receiver? 

Outside of some choice Brett Bielema moments, Media Days have been down-right boring since Lane Kiffin took the podium in his lone appearance. The chances of having any questions answered that have any real value for a fan or fantasy footballer are slim to none.

Our own Gus Malzahn has been one of the most boring coaches at the podium, using one of about three lines each and every year to answer each every question. At no point will he ever give any inkling of real insight into Auburn football. But what if he would actually field some of those questions? Let’s play a game and pretend he would.

Why Not Sean White? 

Despite the coach-speak, we all know Jarrett Stidham is the starting quarterback. Media Days is where you bring the face of your program. I have no problem with Braden Smith, Tray Mathews, and Daniel Carlson. I even like the symmetry of an offensive, defensive, and a special teams player. All of these young men represent Auburn in a great way, but no one has represented the Auburn Spirit better than Sean White.

White has battled like no one I can ever remember and he has done it nearly thanklessly. It truly started against UGA in 2015 when he hobbled onto the field in the second half to replace an ineffective Jeremy Johnson and left on crutches, despite the coaching staff selling him as 100%. His story likely ended as he played through a broken arm in the Sugar Bowl. White may not be a game breaker, but he is a gamer. He loves Auburn and he has given everything he has to his school. 

Were you ready to be Auburn’s coach? 

Malzahn spent one year at Arkansas State where he went 10-3 and won the Sun Belt Conference. While anyone would take ten wins and a conference championship, every coach at Arkansas State has been able to win at that level since the Red Wolves became an FBS team. Hugh Freeze won 10 games and the Sun Belt Title in 2012. Brian Harsin was 7-5 and won the Sun Belt in 2013. Blake Anderson went 9-4 and won the Sun Belt in 2015. 

So far, Malzahn has brought stability to Auburn, but that stability has take the form of 8-5 with many of those losses being less about play on the field than coaching, developement and preparation. These are not the kind of errors you see from coaches ready for big time jobs. 

How many games do you have to win this season? 

 

 

Nine regular season games. Auburn should pick up three easy wins in their four non-conference games. Most everyone on the planet is already conceding a freebie game to Clemson in Death Valley week two, but they shouldn’t. Auburn had a chance to win the game on the last play against the eventual national champions despite one of the worst offensive game plans since Scott Loeffler was calling plays on the Plains. Clemson will not be the team they were and for more reasons than Deshaun Watson. The other Tigers lost their 1,000 rusher and three receivers to the NFL. So, truly, Auburn should be 4-0 in non-conference games.

Auburn gets a fairly easy draw in SEC play. Missouri isn’t an SEC-caliber team, both the schools from Mississippi are down and both come to Auburn. The Tigers travel to Arkansas and Texas A&M in consecutive weeks and while neither team is expected to be that good, it’s still tough to pull off wins in those stadiums. Though Auburn gets a week off before the two week road trip, a loss is still possible. 

That would put Auburn at 8-1. Most fans would probably accept losses at LSU and against UGA and Bama. Playing in Baton Rouge is one of the toughest places and UGA and Bama are slated by most pundents to meet in Atlanta. Malzahn has to win two of these three.

Consider this: Auburn hasn’t won in Death Valley in this millennium. It’s been 18 years since the Tigers won in Baton Rouge. Of course, things get tough with Auburn’s two rivals coming to town. Since the miracle wins in 2013, Auburn is 0-3 against Georgia and Alabama. There is virtually no chance of Malzahn keeping his job if he goes to 0-4 against both of them. Auburn has to win two of these games (though one could argue that beating Bama despite two other losses would suffice).

What is Hugh Freeze doing right against Alabama? 

Both Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn are legends of high school football. The two coaches share a lot of past history and are known for their offensive prowess. Interestingly enough, Malzahn’s name as an offensive innovator and play caller is much more well known than Freeze. Yet, it is Freeze who did the unthinkable and beat Nick Saban in back to back games in 2014 and 2015. Ole Miss would have won three in a row, but the Rebel’s Akeem Judd was ruled short of the endzone on a first down run. The referees did not have enough video evidence to overturn the call and the Rebels were held to a field goal. Alabama struck back for a touchdown on the next series and that was the difference in the game. 

In the last three years, Ole Miss has scored 23 points in 2014 in a win, and 43 points in both 2015 and 2016. Meanwhile, Malzahn has scored just 25 combined points in the last two Iron Bowls after a 34 and 44 point performance in 2013 and ’14. Still, one has to remember that the Kick Six game represents six of those 34 points in 2013 and Auburn lost by double digits in ’14 despite putting up 44. That begs the question: what is Hugh Freeze doing right against Bama?

I think Malzahn would say the answer is “not playing a Bama game against Bama.” The running game has been non-existent at Ole Miss, who has taken to the air to beat the Tide. Auburn did a fantastic job running the ball against Bama in 2013, but it was the passing of Nick Marshall that broke the game open in 2013 and 2014. Since then, Auburn has been unable to do anything in an offense that has been run-first. Malzahn may also say that the hiring of Chip Lindsey may be the greatest answer of all. If a wide-open passing attack is Nick Saban’s weakness, Auburn hired the right man for the job.

What’s up with identifying and developing talent? 

This is really a multi-part question that revolves around Peyton Barber, Jeremy Johnson, John Franklin III, Sean White and Kam Pettway. Obviously, Johnson is the biggest miss in recent memory, but Johnson’s struggles overshadowed Peyton Barber’s story. Barber entered 2015 third on the depth chart and exited as Auburn’s leading rusher by a wide margin.

Obviously, injuries had a lot to do with playing time, but Barber was never considered an elite talent like Jovon Robinson or Roc Thomas, yet Barber is in the NFL and the other two have largely disappeared. The exact situation happened again last season as Kam Pettway was a little used fullback in the spring behind Jovon Robinson and Kerryon Johnson. Even to a casual fan’s eyes, his performance in the 2016 spring game (Robinson and Johnson didn’t play) revealed obvious talent. During the season, he exploded on the scene and went over 1,000 yards despite not receiving a touch against Clemson and missing several games. 

Back to Johnson, Sean White and JFIII: again, even a casual observer could see that JFIII had no business playing quarterback in the spring game. This just compounded the situation with Sean White. Even though he outplayed Jeremy Johnson in 2015 and both Johnson and JFIII in 2016, White’s hook came early and often while the other two were given very long leashes. 

The post Best5Zach’s Best Five Questions for Gus Malzahn appeared first on Track 'Em Tigers, Auburn's oldest and most read independent blog.



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