This week's Blogger Q&A comes from the good folks at War Eagle Reader. They didn't ask any questions of us, but you should still go look at some of what they've written. It's good stuff. Forgive the messed up formatting of the text. I have no idea how to fix it.
RCR: Over Auburn's last four games, the offense hasn't really produced much in the way of points. With Ole Miss likely searching for a new head coach at the end of the year and Gus Malzahn as the top candidate for many fans, to what would you attribute this downturn?
WER: It feels like such a cop out to say that it's a combination of things that have slowed the Auburn offense in recent weeks, but it really does seem like there's a lot of different reasons. For one, Malzahn and Auburn have chosen to slow down the offense's pace themselves in order to help the defense and dictate the tempo of games. It's a move that's paid off in victories against South Carolina and Florida, where the Tigers were able to control the clock and win low-scoring games.
Another reason for Auburn's struggles on offense simply goes back to the lack of production from the quarterback position. In the last few weeks Auburn has seen the fall of Barrett Trotter as their starting quarterback and the rise of Clint Moseley as their new starter, and in any transition like that, the offense is going to be slowed.
All the while, Auburn has simply been playing more road games lately, where they've had a hard time finding the end zone all season. It seems pretty obvious that any team would be less productive in hostile environments than at home, but the Tigers haven't had much trouble finding the end zone at home, where they're scoring 32.5 points per game, while scoring just 16 points per game away from Jordan-Hare Stadium this year.
RCR: Talk about Gene Chizik as a coach. Many people are down on him and thought it was laughable he won Coach of the year last year. What would you say to those people?
WER: I think Auburn folks in general would say that Chizik has a much worse reputation nationally than he deserves. Chizik has done a lot in his short time on the Plains, and it goes beyond obviously bringing home the hardware last season. Chizik and his staff have already established themselves in the recruiting world, bringing in very successful recruiting classes in the past two years. He doesn't get the credit he deserves for what he did in 2010, nor for what he did in 2009, when he took an Auburn team coming off of an abysmal 5-7 2008 campaign and had the Tigers instantly winning again, beginning with a 5-0 start to 2009.
And as far as his Coach of the Year awards go, I would say most Auburn folks would say that what was really laughable was Steve Spurrier winning SEC Coach of the Year last season -- a guy that Chizik has beaten three times head-to-head in the last 13 months, in Auburn, Atlanta, and Columbia.
RCR: Talk about a player on your defense who is underrated. Offense?
WER: One guy on defense that even Auburn fans tend to overlook is strong-side linebacker Daren Bates, who has started to come on here in the middle of the season. The junior was a Freshman All-SEC selection his freshman year while playing safety, but was moved by the coaching staff to linebacker last season out of neccessity, and this season has really begun to start thinking and playing like a linebacker. Bates is not without his struggles, as is every player on Auburn's defense, but he's quietly become Auburn's second-leading tackler, and quietly ranks is top-ten in tackles in the conference.
On offense, opposing fans should get to know the name of Auburn's secondary running back, Onterio McCalebb. Obviously Mike Dyer fills the role of Auburn's every-down back, but in 2011 McCalebb has found the ball in his hands often, and he's done well with it. It could perhaps be for a lack of a downfield passing game from Auburn's quarterbacks, but McCalebb leads the team with 22 receptions on the season. I think a lot of fans would be surprised to learn that McCalebb has registered five games with 90+ all-purpose yards, and he's evolved into a much bigger part of the offense than just a niche speed threat or a secondary scat back.
RCR: Auburn produced a highly ranked signing class. Which players from the freshman class are contributing the most so far this year?
WER: A member of last year's signing class that has really stood out is Reese Dismukes, who has been starting all season as a true freshman at center. Auburn's re-tooled offensive line has gone through a lot of shuffling so far this year, but Dismukes has stayed the course and kept his play up to par all year long.
Meanwhile, a lot of young guys have gotten in the mix on defense, providing a big boost of talent and some strong depth on the back end of the rotation. Defensive backs like Robenson Therezie, Jermaine Whitehead, and Erique Florence have found their way onto the field in different formations, and guys like defensive tackles Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright have been a huge help in relief and in keeping fresh bodies in the trenches.
RCR: What's your prediction on the game? Give a score as well as how you think it will get there.
WER: I think the game on Saturday will be a lot more interesting than people think.
For Auburn, it will be all about how they respond after last week's thrashing in Baton Rouge. Auburn's had one of the nation's toughest stretches on the schedule this October, but they're not out of the woods, and not out of this month, just yet. Auburn will be facing fatigue, and they'll be trying to make sure the LSU game doesn't beat them twice, in gunning for one more win before a much-needed bye week coming up next.
For the Rebels, it seems that they showed last week against Arkanasas that they've found themselves a little here in the middle of the season, and that on any given day they they can give just about anyone in the conference a run for their money. The challenge for Ole Miss will be to find a way to play well consistently, and it could start this week against Auburn. The Rebels might be sitting at 2-5 now, but they could easily finish the weekend 3-5 if they give their best effort Saturday against a reeling Auburn team.
As far as how the game will go, I think I would feel a lot worse about this one if it weren't being played in Auburn and in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn still hasn't lost a game at home this season, so they'll at least have that bit of confidence to hold onto, even after a 45-10 loss to LSU. Meanwhile, this will be just the third road game of the year for Ole Miss, so it will be interesting to see just how they respond in the hostile environment of Jordan-Hare Stadium under the lights Saturday night. Auburn has played well at home so far this season, while Ole Miss, especially when you take into account their trip to Vanderbilt earlier this season, has had some struggles when playing on the road.
It's definitely an interesting matchup, and it's between an Auburn team that's desperate for a win to finish October and to go into their bye week, and an Ole Miss team that has been, well, desperate for a win all season. I think there's a reason the Auburn coaching staff has been playing up the Rebels all week long, beyond even your usual coaching jargon, and that's because they expect a fight from them on Saturday.
Still, I do think Auburn will be able to find a way to win. Dyer and Auburn's running game isn't going anywhere, and Moseley should show at least a little improvement from the quarterback position, and hopefully Auburn will get back some key guys from injury that they've been missing for weeks, like wide receiver Emory Blake. But Randall Mackey is on the verge of turning the Ole Miss offense around and beginning to put some serious points on the board, and the Ole Miss secondary that held Tyler Wilson in check last week will be in a good matchup against a poor Auburn passing attack.
In the end, I think Auburn will somehow be able to find the finish line with the lead at home, and win this game 26-22. But when you have a pair of teams as unpredictable and as inconsistent as Auburn and Ole Miss have been, you never know what's going to happen.