FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — No. 17 Arkansas is scheduled to visit No. 21 Auburn on Saturday evening at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Justin Ferguson covers Auburn for SEC Country and joined the Borderline Erotic Podcast earlier this week to help us break down the game. What follows is an abridged version of that conversation.
Jason Kersey: Has Auburn exceeded expectations so far this year or is this about where it expected to be?
Justin Ferguson: Heading into the season, I think a lot of people looked at what Auburn had coming back and the schedule, and thought if they won eight or nine games this season, that’ll be a good season. At the beginning of the year when they started 1-2, people thought, “Oh man, Gus Malzahn’s in trouble; this team can’t get anything going on offense; they’re wasting really good defensive play.”
But the move to (Rhett) Lashlee as coordinator has kind of gotten Auburn back on track. If you look at the rest of the season, if they take care of business the way that most people expect, they’ll get to that 8-4 mark.
I think definitely the defense has exceeded beyond what anybody thought. Defense has been Auburn’s really big problem since Tommy Tuberville was the head coach, and ’08 was his last year. Kevin Steele has picked up where Will Muschamp left off. It’s a similar system, guys have been able to grow, they’ve got a lot of depth and they’ve gotten a lot of good performances out of some surprise areas.
Kersey: How do you think quarterback Sean White has played, especially the last couple of games?
Ferguson: I think Sean White’s done a whole lot better than a lot of Auburn fans and even some people in the media were expecting. I think it’s because Auburn has settled on him. They rotated way too much against Clemson and that ended up costing them the game, really. They’ve had John Franklin III and he’s kind of pushed White to play at a higher level this season.
When healthy, he’s a very accurate passer. Very efficient. He’s top 10 in the country when it comes to passing yards per attempt and completion percentage this year. I think Rhett Lashlee this year, since he’s gotten the play-calling responsibilities, he’s done a really good job of building this offense around White’s strengths. That’s a lot of first- and second-down passes, a lot of quick passes and setting things up for the run that way.
Kersey: Do you feel like Gus Malzahn has done enough this season to cool off his seat a little bit?
Ferguson: I think he’s done enough to cool it off. I think the way that LSU game ended, if the one second happens a different way and that touchdown stands, we could be in a whole different situation. And it’s not just the three-game winning streak, but also, Auburn is figuring out some of its problems. They couldn’t score touchdowns in the red zone, but they seemed to get that going again the last few weeks. The defense has done well. They made a good hire in Kevin Steele. … I think if he goes 7-5 or 8-4, there’s really no problem there. The way Auburn’s rolling right now, they’re thinking that they can possibly make a run at nine or 10 wins.