Wade Rackley/Auburn Athletics
Offensive strategy questions dominated the return of the SEC Country Auburn football mailbag this week.

Auburn football mailbag: How to attack Week 1, players to watch and a 2013 Iron Bowl alternate ending

Leading up to kickoff Saturday, we’ll be tackling the best question from Auburn fans. Go here to see all of our previous answers.

AUBURN, Ala. — The Auburn football mailbag at SEC Country is finally back, boys and girls. With the season kicking off this weekend, what better time is there for reader questions on Georgia Southern week, expectations for 2017 and an alternate reality in which we erase the Kick-Six?

Special thanks to those who sent in questions on Twitter @JFergusonAU and sent them in during SEC Country Auburn’s Facebook Live sessions with Lauren Shute and yours truly during the week.

The mailbag is a big highlight of mine during football season, and I genuinely thank all you readers who help make this thing possible. Seriously, y’all are the real MVPs.

Now let’s get to it.

Auburn football-Auburn Tigers-Chip Lindsey-Kevin Steele
While Kevin Steele’s defense won’t offer too many surprises, Chip Lindsey’s offense should raise some questions in Week 1. (Benjamin Wolk/SEC Country)

Cooper Shoemaker: Would it be a smart move to air it out against GS or keep the passing game in the shadows, not giving Clemson much to prepare on?

I wrote about this extensively in my first “On the Auburn football beat” column this week. I think the smart strategic move for this matchup is for Auburn to stick to a more vanilla game plan and run the ball right at Georgia Southern.

Jarrett Stidham can and should still get his chances to make plays downfield. But all the tweaks of this offense shouldn’t be on full display against Georgia Southern. This game should be more about getting Stidham comfortable in a game setting with his new teammates.

Georgia Southern’s weakness on defense appears to be up front, so it makes since for Auburn to keep it more on the ground and take care of business the old-fashioned way. This could still be an offensive showcase without Stidham slinging it around the yard too much.

John Cargile: Will Chip Lindsey’s offense trust versatile players and not sub packages as often as Lashlee did during drives? We need hurry-up benefits.

This is an excellent question, and it’s one the staff has talked about a decent bit throughout the offseason. Chip Lindsey’s standard offensive set features three receivers, one running back and one additional player — H-back, tight end or big slot receiver.

In a perfect world, Auburn wants that wild-card player of sorts to be just one guy. They want their tight ends to be able to play H-back and split out wide. Right now, though, it appears Chandler Cox, Jalen Harris and Sal Cannella are specialists. Auburn wants them to be well-rounded, and they need to show they’ve made strides in those areas early in the season.

I think Auburn will make the steps toward this goal by leaving players in there longer and avoid pace-killing substitutions. If Cannella can prove himself to be a good enough blocker, or if Harris and Cox can become weapons in the passing game, there’s a big role to be won in this offense. As it stands right now, I see more mixing and matching — just maybe not as often as Rhett Lashlee did it.

Auburn football-Auburn Tigers-Auburn-Jarrett Stidham
Jarrett Stidham will make his first start since November 2015 on Saturday when Auburn faces Georgia Southern. (Wade Rackley/Auburn Athletics)

Heidi Stollenwreck: What can we expect from the quarterback?

I would expect Jarrett Stidham to get a few opportunities to hit some deep throws, especially on first downs. That’s a big emphasis for this offense this season, and it’ll keep defenses off balance. Malzahn and Lindsey will send a message in that area without showing their hands too much for future opponents.

But, like I wrote earlier, this appears to be a run-first game for Auburn on paper. That being said, I wouldn’t expect Stidham to get too many chances to show off his running ability against a Sun Belt opponent, especially with an important game against Clemson next weekend. Auburn will want to get Stidham’s feet wet, but they will also want to keep them healthy before a trip to Death Valley.

Steve Kinsaul: How will we defend the triple option? 4-3 or 3-4?

Auburn is going to stick to its standard 4-3 defensive front with a Buck and a traditional defensive end. The Tigers’ base defense for most of last season was a 4-2-5 nickel package. However, Georgia Southern’s run-heavy style will allow Auburn to keep three linebackers on the field at the same time.

Keep an eye on Buck, though. T.D. Moultry is a natural linebacker who could make it look like a 3-4 when he rotates into the game Saturday.

Nate Craig Myers-Auburn football-Auburn Tigers-Auburn
Auburn wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers had a strong final few weeks of fall camp. (Benjamin Wolk/SEC Country)

Colby Morris: Is it kind of concerning that Kyle Davis and Nate Craig-Myers aren’t being brought up much?

It shouldn’t be, really. The standard M.O. for anyone who talked in interviews about Auburn’s receivers was that the entire unit took a step forward. The only players singled out, for the most part, were either veteran leaders (Darius Slayton and Ryan Davis) or a dynamic true freshman (Noah Igbinoghene).

It’s easy to lump the rest of that crew together, including Kyle Davis and Nate Craig-Myers. But as the depth chart showed earlier this week, both are starter-quality receivers. Auburn will move those two pieces around to get favorable matchups, because they both have the size and catch radiuses to do damage both inside and outside. The staff can get creative with those two sophomores.

Kasey Langley: If you could pick one player to watch this season, not including Jarrett Stidham, who would it be?

Five names jumped into my head as soon as I got this question Wednesday afternoon. Fortunately, a few hours later, Kevin Steele solidified my final answer — redshirt freshman Nick Coe.

Coe will start Saturday against Georgia Southern. That will take some pressure off Marlon Davidson, who Auburn needs at full strength more against Clemson in Week 2 than anything. But even if Steele didn’t decide to start Coe this weekend, I still would think he would be my top player to watch. As my colleague Lauren Shute has said multiple times this fall, Coe is going to be a fan favorite rather quickly.

The 6-foot-5 defensive end is a powerful player capable of dominating one-on-one matchups, and some inside the program think he has the potential to play in the NFL some day. Think of this versatile lineman as a 2016 Derrick Brown with the chance to get a lot more snaps. Auburn will find a lot of ways to get this former wrestling champion on the field, so pay close attention to him.

Auburn football-Auburn Tigers-Auburn-Nick Coe
Auburn defensive end Nick Coe will be a key fixture in the Tigers’ line rotation this fall. (Benjamin Wolk/SEC Country)

Michael T. Scunziano Jr.: What’s our DL rotation?

The defensive linemen on the two-deep depth chart alone could almost fill out three full waves up front. In the scope of an entire season, I think the 11 linemen would fit into a pecking order like this:

  • Marlon Davidson, Derrick Brown, Dontavius Russell, Jeff Holland
  • Nick Coe, Andrew Williams, Byron Cowart, Paul James III
  • Big Kat Bryant, Tyrone Truesdell,  T.D. Moultry

I bolded the first unit, plus Coe and Williams, for a reason. Those are the clear top six, and any of those players could start at any given time this fall. Coe can play inside and outside, and he already will start Week 1. Brown can play on the end in certain packages, and Davidson can play inside, too.

I think the top six will get most of the snaps, but Auburn will use all of them, because Rodney Garner wants a double-digit rotation. I also wouldn’t count out someone such as Alec Jackson giving the Tigers additional depth on the inside. This unit doesn’t have Carl Lawson or Montravius Adams anymore, but it’s arguably deeper and possibly better as a whole — if it can produce a consistent pass rush.

Auburn football-Auburn Tigers-Jeremiah Dinson
Auburn defensive back Jeremiah Dinson should be a “swing man” of sorts in the secondary. (Benjamin Wolk/SEC Country)

Justin Mcpherson: Why is Jeremiah Dinson placed so low on the depth chart?

Jeremiah Dinson looks like he’ll be a Swiss Army knife of sorts for the secondary this season. Dinson is a possible starter at nickel with Daniel Thomas, and he’s listed as a second-team free safety.

He also can play cornerback, as Steele mentioned him as one of the Tigers’ top four at the position Wednesday. Expect Dinson to float around in different roles and create valuable depth for a secondary that needs it.

Stan Tolliver: How much do you think the wildcat will be utilized?

I wrote about this earlier in the week as well, but here’s a quick synopsis: Chip Lindsey will use the wildcat, as it was a prominent feature in his offense at Arizona State. It may look different than the standard Malzahn wildcat in terms of formation, but it can be effective with the right player. Kerryon Johnson has plenty of experience to produce in that capacity.

I would expect the wildcat to continue to be a go-to package in goal-to-go situations for this Auburn offense. Both Lindsey and this set of offensive players are proven in this area. While Stidham might bring plenty of changes for Auburn between the 20s, the wildcat is here to stay in close-range chances.

Auburn football-Auburn Tigers-Ricardo Louis
What if Ricardo Louis had another famous touchdown one week after the Prayer in Jordan-Hare? (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Graham Carr: Alternate universe — What happens if Ricardo Louis catches that go route for a 95-yard TD with 4:48 left in the 2013 Iron Bowl?

I missed these questions so much, Graham. Thank you for bringing these back with a bang.

So let’s set the stage. Auburn is down by a touchdown with less than five minutes left when Nick Marshall floats a deep ball to Ricardo Louis on third-and-long. It’s just out of Louis’ reach, and the Tigers punt the ball back to the Crimson Tide. Auburn forces a second missed field goal, ties the game, and the rest is Kick-Six history.

But let’s say Louis catches it. Auburn ties the game four minutes earlier at 28. What happens next? Well, Auburn’s defense was simply on fire at that point. After giving up a 99-yard touchdown pass, it forced a turnover on downs in five plays. On the two drives before the touchdown, it forced another missed field goal and a three-and-out.

I’m saying the Tide are having a hard time moving the ball against Auburn’s defense at that point in the game, especially with the in-stadium energy from what would’ve been a 95-yard touchdown catch from Louis.

Alabama might get a first down on the ensuing drive, but not enough to threaten. Auburn gets the ball back with a couple minutes left on the clock and runs the same run-heavy 2-minute drill as what happened in reality — just with less pressure because of a tie game. I see hard-fought first-down runs from Tre Mason and a game-winning field goal from Cody Parkey as time expires.

Auburn wins 31-28 in slightly less memorable, but still SEC West-sealing, fashion.