I saw a lot of good things in the opening ball game for Gus Malzahn's Auburn team. The Tigers got what they needed in playing a tough, hard-nosed football game--confidence, a good read on areas for improvement and an early SEC victory.
As a coach there is always concern about how your team is going to perform in its first game. In Auburn’s case the Tigers didn’t have a lot of full speed, full contact, best against best type of scrimmage work in the preseason because the goal was to keep people healthy. The Tigers managed to do that, but the lack of scrimmage work probably hurt the defense and that showed in the first half.
You have to give the defensive players and coaches credit for the adjustments they made and how the team performed in the second half. One of the plays that gave the Tigers problems in the first half was how Arkansas trapped back inside with the wingback and turned the tackle loose. About three or four of those big holes up the middle in the first half were off that play, something Arkansas had not shown last season.
The other major adjustment the defense made was with its intensity level, which picked up in the second half. The Tigers looked like a different defensive group in the third and fourth quarters. I thought the offense was very good in both the first and second half and that wasn’t a surprise.
Jeremy Johnson did just what the coaches expected. He didn’t disappoint anybody as the starting quarterback and the receivers came through. Nick Marshall didn’t throw the football a lot in the second half. He had just six passes and I think that was because the Tigers got control of the game with the way they were running the ball. The coaches made the decision to keep on running the ball to run out the clock.
It was very noticeable that when Marshall came into the game it gave the running backs more room to operate and that was a big factor in the second half.
One of the highlights of the opener was how Cameron Artis-Payne played. The senior running back broke tackles, he hit the right spots in the defense and he looks quicker to me than he was last year while being just as strong.
Another thing that stood out was the performance of Daniel Carlson as both a kicker and a punter. Special teams play was a big question about this team heading into the season. Carlson was named the freshman of the week in the SEC and deserved it.
From what I saw the Tigers have a chance to be a special football team this year. They certainly need to continue to get better and I am sure they have more players the coaches want to get into the game and get ready to contribute.
Looking around the country the big games are outside the SEC this week. I think there is a great game scheduled in Eugene with the Oregon Ducks getting a visit from Michigan State. I think both teams are really good. I also think the Southern Cal at Stanford game will be a really good one. I think the Pac 12 is up this year with a lot of good teams in that league.
Here are this week’s SEC games and picks:
Missouri at Toledo--This road game should test the Tigers, but I expect Missouri to come home 2-0.
Florida Atlantic at Alabama--This is an easy game for Alabama.
Arkansas State at Tennessee--I think Vols will win, but this should be a close one if Arkansas State is as good as it normally is. I know a lot of people are excited about how Tennessee played in its opener, but Utah State looked terrible to me so it is too early to say the Vols are back.
UAB at Mississippi State--Look for the Bulldogs to move to 2-0 with another home win.
Ohio University at Kentucky--This will be a close ball game. I am going to pick the Wildcats to win because they are at home, but this could go either way.
Eastern Michigan at Florida--This should be an easy win for the Gators.
Nicholls State at Arkansas--The Razorbacks shouldn’t have any problem getting their first win of the season.
Ole Miss at Vanderbilt--Andre Ware said Vandy did the worst job of handling quarterbacks he has ever seen in a football game. The Commodores went all the way to the third quarterback and never got into an offensive rhythm. They also didn’t score an offensive touchdown. It reminds me of our 1985 team when we played Pat Washington, Jeff Burger and Bobby Walden at quarterback. You end up messing them all up trying to play three. Ole Miss should win this game with no problem.
East Carolina at South Carolina--The Pirates are going into Columbia thinking they have a great chance to win this game and I think they are going to do it.
Sam Houston State at LSU-Les Miles and his Tigers won’t need to make a big comeback this week to improve to 2-0.
Lamar at Texas A&M--Look for the Aggies to have another big offensive day in an easy win in their home opener.
San Jose State at Auburn--This will be a different kind of challenge for the Tigers than game one. I look for the visitors to be open and freewheeling on offense. San Jose State’s coach has a winning background and could have the type of team that can give the Tigers fits if they aren’t sharp defensively on Saturday night.
The Tigers need to show a better pass rush this week, particularly from the front four. It is not a good thing to have to count on blitzes to pressure the quarterback.
Offensively, I think the Tigers can score on anybody in the country. I think how good this team will become depends on how well the defense performs. Look for the Tigers to take another step forward to 2-0 this week.
Season record: 9-2.