This week's blogger Q&A comes to you from College and Magnolia, SBNation's new Auburn blog. Their questions for me were cooler and more multitudinous. Check those out here.
1. So Clint Moseley threw four touchdowns against us last year. Obviously our fans are hoping not to see a repeat of that performance Saturday. What do you think about his playing style? Was his success simply based on how terrible we were last season, or is he actually a decent quarterback? Do you expect him to start? If not, how does Kiehl Frazier differ?
That performance last year was definitely the exception and not the rule. Moseley is a traditional pocket passer -- he's about as immobile as it gets -- and it's honestly been difficult to evaluate him. Auburn's offensive line was terrible last season, and Moseley rarely had proper time to throw. Last week against Arkansas, the O-line, which has been pretty good at times this year showed serious regression, and when Moseley entered after halftime, he was pummeled for five sacks. I suspect Moseley is better than he's been able to show, but he's nothing to write home about.
I would expect Kiehl Frazier to get the start against Ole Miss. Frazier has a completely different skill set, and he's much more talented. Unfortunately, he isn't really suited for offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler's system, and that has resulted in some severe struggles this year. Frazier has played his entire life in a Malzahn-style spread, and he has looked lost trying to run Loeffler's pro-style offense. Still, I think he'll get the start. If he doesn't, I would take that as the coaching staff giving up on him. I don't think Chizik wants to do that.
2. Let's say that Auburn doesn't make a bowl this season. Is Chizik fired? If not, what does the university expect him to do moving forward? If so, who do they look at as a replacement?
No matter how this season ends, there will be some folks behind the scenes looking to give Chizik the boot, and the next two weeks will probably decide his fate. You can go ahead and chalk up losses to Georgia and Alabama and wins -- God, I hope -- against New Mexico State and Alabama A&M. I'd say it's highly unlikely that Auburn beats Texas A&M, so for argument's sake, I'll count that as a loss. With those results, Auburn has three wins and seven losses. The games on the road at Ole Miss and Vanderbilt will make the difference between a really bad year and an absolute disaster. I think he gets another year with a 5-7 record, but if Auburn is 4-8 or 3-9, it's hard to imagine him coming back. This year is supposed to be about building a foundation for the future, and 3-9 would say the Tigers are going in the wrong direction.
If Chizik is not fired, he's going to have to show Auburn something next year. Pretty much everyone expected 2012 to be a developmental year, and that 2013 would be the year Auburn gets back into SEC contention. With the way this season has gone, it's probably foolish to think Auburn will be back in contention next season, especially when the Tigers will have away games at Texas A&M, LSU and Georgia and a home date against Alabama. I think the expectation next season would for Auburn to be competitive in every game. If the Tigers went 8-4 and lost to four good teams by a touchdown, he'd probably be okay. But if Auburn was 7-5 and blown out against the SEC's better teams, he'd probably be done. I don't think he'd survive anything worse than 7-5, and even if Auburn happened to be competitive in five losses, Chizik may be gone with only seven wins.
IF Chizik is fired this year, I'd like to think that the top name on the list of replacement candidates would be Louisville's Charlie Strong. Strong was a great defensive coordinator at Florida, and he's done a nice job of bringing the Cardinals back to life. I also wouldn't mind seeing Auburn open up the checkbook for TCU's Gary Patterson. I don't know if Auburn will go after either of those guys, but I would imagine the athletic department will try to find someone with a defensive background.
3. When Gus Malzahn left, it was announced that the team would move back to a more pro style offense. What do you think the offense does schematically? What are the bread and butter plays?
When Loeffler was hired, it signaled a shift to a pro-style look. But as I mentioned earlier, Frazier has struggled severely at times trying to execute that offense, so we've seen a number of spread formations, especially last week against Arkansas. If you polled 10 Auburn fans, at least nine of them would be disappointed in Loeffler, and that's because his play-calling has been so inconsistent. When Auburn has used traditional power running plays out of I-formation, the Tigers have had success. Unfortunately, Loeffler gets away from that too often. It's almost as if he knows the power run will set up the rest of the offense, but he gets too excited to run other plays before the power run has fully sucked the defense in.
So, as you might have gathered, out bread and butter is any type of power run up the gut. It works best out of the I-formation with fullback Jay Prosch leading the way and Tre Mason rushing through either the 2- or 3-hole. It won't pick big yardage every time, but it will consistently move the ball down the field and wear down the defense. And eventually, it will open up other plays like jet sweeps for Onterio McCalebb and play-action passes for Frazier.
4. Who are the defenders who might have a big game? What's the defense's biggest weakness?
The likeliest candidates for big games on Saturday are defensive ends Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford. They have been Auburn's best and most consistent players all season, compiling a combined 49 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks and 12 quarterback hurries. They know how to get into the backfield, and if quarterback Bo Wallace doesn't get rid of the ball quickly, he could get knocked around a few times.
The biggest weakness on defense is easily the linebacking unit. For the most part, these guys have been mediocre at best and flat-out awful at worst this season. Junior Jake Holland gives a ton of effort, but in a season and a half of being a major contributor, he hasn't proved that he has what it takes to play middle linebacker in the SEC. Holland has been better about being in the right position before the snap, but is constantly blocked out on running plays, and he rarely makes a play on passes over the middle. Daren Bates, a converted safety, has been the best, but he's undersized -- 5'11, 215 -- which can lead to obvious problems.
5. What is your prediction on the game? What's the final score, and how does it play out?
After last week's debacle against Arkansas, and considering how good Ole Miss has looked at times this year, I don't have much faith in an Auburn win. Playing on the road certainly won't help a team that is struggling this badly, and we're beginning to see the signs of some players questioning the team's leadership. That can often lead to a lack of effort. Chizik has said Prosch will get more snaps this week, which leads me to believe we'll try to do a better job of running the ball, but I'm not sure Loeffler will stick with it. And whoever starts at quarterback probably won't have the best of days, especially if the offensive line is as bad in pass protection as it was last week -- the O-line gave up eight sacks, when Arkansas had seven total entering that game.
I think we'll see spurts of good play from Auburn on both sides of the ball. Frazier or Moseley -- I think Frazier -- will look good at times, and when the Tigers run the ball, they'll have some success. On defense, Auburn will force a few three-and-outs and keep the Ole Miss offense in check. But Auburn won't be able to play well over the course of 60 minutes. Even if it doesn't score at will, I expect Ole Miss' offense to give Auburn problems, and if the Auburn offense couldn't move the ball consistently against Arkansas' terrible defense, there's no reason to believe that will happen against Ole Miss. The Rebels will probably take an early lead, Auburn will fight back to make it close, and Ole Miss will pull away in the fourth quarter -- Auburn has been outscored 45-3 in the final quarter this year. After it's all said and done, Ole Miss celebrates a 27-16 win.