AUBURN, Ala. — Welcome to another edition of the Friday Auburn Mailbag here on SEC Country, where we answer your questions on the Tigers and almost anything else.
Auburn is back in action inside Jordan-Hare Stadium this weekend for a matchup with Vanderbilt. The Tigers are one of the hottest teams in college football right now, but the Commodores are quite familiar with springing the big SEC upset in recent seasons.
This week, I took on questions about the challenges presented by Vanderbilt, impacts of Auburn’s first-year position coaches, the chase for a 1,000-yard season, Jeremy Johnson’s leadership, Nate Craig-Myers and the greatest sauce at Chick-fil-A. Let’s get to them.
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@WarDamnRYAN: Do you feel like linebacker is getting incredibly stronger by the day? I feel like T-Will is a good developer!
Dave Medlock (Facebook): How much of the WR success attributes to Kodi Burns taking over?
I received two different questions this week referencing the success of two of Auburn’s first-year position coaches. And I have to say Travis Williams and Kodi Burns have done incredible jobs coaching their respective units so far in 2016.
Both Auburn alums took over position units that were deemed the biggest question marks on their side of the ball. Williams has gotten top-level performances from a pair of rarely used sophomores in Deshaun Davis and Darrell Williams. Burns has developed a young receiving corps into consistent-catching, run-blocking weapons and found different ways to get the veterans involved.
Lance Thompson and Dameyune Craig were coveted position coaches when they were on the Plains. However, both are more known for their recruiting prowess than their talent development. Now Auburn has a pair of younger, hungrier position coaches who are looking to get their careers rolling. They know what it takes to develop into key players at those spots — in Auburn uniforms, too.
The wide receivers and linebackers are arguably Auburn’s most consistent units this season. Williams and Burns took a lot of inexperience and turned them into those efficient position groups. Their impacts have been tremendous in 2016.
@jeffsmith237: What specific challenges does Vanderbilt pose to Auburn?
This is an excellent question from Jeff, who — judging by his Twitter avatar — is a Vanderbilt fan. Auburn is expected to beat Vanderbilt by a few touchdowns, but the Tigers are all-too-familiar with the Commodores knocking them off in recent seasons.
Vanderbilt’s biggest strength against Auburn is its ability to play “keep away” offense with an elite defense. The Commodores love to pound at defenses with Ralph Webb, who is the SEC’s leader in all-purpose yards this season. They don’t make many mistakes in terms of penalties or turnovers.
Derek Mason’s offense will look to chip away at Auburn’s defense, work the clock and move the chains. The Commodores will want to hit a few big plays, but they want to keep the ball out of Auburn’s hands first and foremost. And since the Vanderbilt defense doesn’t give up many points in SEC play, that’s an effective strategy against a fast-paced team.
The Commodores won’t get rattled in a big road environment, and they don’t have the pressure on them — Auburn does. If they can force mistakes from the Tigers and limit the number of drives for Rhett Lashlee’s offense, this could get a lot more interesting than expected.
@robbyhale21: Do you think Kerryon has a chance at a 1,000-yd season?
Kamryn Pettway might be the leading running back now, but Kerryon Johnson still has a chance to have a huge year despite his midseason ankle injury. Right now, he has 580 yards through eight games — but he only played in six of those from beginning to end.
Ole Miss limited Johnson to 42 yards on 11 carries, but he scored two touchdowns. I think the red-zone package with Johnson taking snaps out of the Wildcat will be a go-to for Lashlee down the stretch. The touches might get closer to 50-50 again, but it’s hard to keep the ball out of the hands of Pettway, who racks up the carries without any problem.
Pre-injury Kerryon was on pace for 1,000 yards. Right now, he has at least five more games to get 420 yards. That averages out to 84 per game. That’s not too lofty of a goal for Johnson, but consider that both Alabama and Georgia boast top-15 run defenses in 2016. He’ll have to put up some big yards against teams such as Vanderbilt and Alabama A&M.
Fortunately for Johnson, he is a threat to generate a huge play at any time. So does he have a chance to break that 1,000-yard mark? Yes, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Let’s revisit this after the Vanderbilt game, when we see how many touches he gets as someone closer to full health.
@ccallrun: I always see Jeremy Johnson leading the way out of the tunnel this season. Is he still a locker room leader for the offense?
Absolutely. As Chris says here, former Auburn starting quarterback Jeremy Johnson is the first one on the field out of the tunnel every single game for the Tigers. He continues to pump up his teammates on the sidelines and celebrates victories like he used to when he was considered “the future” of Auburn football.
According to John Franklin III, who jumped ahead of Johnson in the quarterback depth chart earlier this season, the senior hasn’t changed one bit.
“To be honest, Jeremy just wants to win,” Franklin said last month. “He doesn’t care if he plays. Jeremy just wants to win. To have someone like that in your corner, especially in our quarterback room, it’s good for us because we push each other. We’re all rooting for each other.”
Johnson most likely won’t take another snap in his Auburn career, but he doesn’t let that keep him down. From the words of his coaches and teammates, he is a veteran leader who can guide his young teammates through all the highs and lows of a season. And he’s definitely experienced both as a Tiger.
@DanInNC_Ohrly21: I think Craig-Myers played more this past game but I don’t remember any targets. Why? Tight coverage or other?
Good question, Dan. True freshman wide rceiver Nate Craig-Myers played a lot more against Ole Miss than he had in recent games. Craig-Myers played on the opening drive, and Gus Malzahn even made a special note after the game to say he was more involved in the attack.
However, Craig-Myers didn’t get targeted against Ole Miss. There was one instance on a play-action toss pass to Marcus Davis in the third quarter where Craig-Myers was wide-open for a surefire touchdown, but White didn’t see him. Auburn doesn’t take too many shots downfield, so missed chances like that can hurt.
The other reason came down to Ole Miss’ coverage against the Tigers. Craig-Myers is a big outside receiver, and the Rebels held those in check for most of the game. Fellow true freshman Kyle Davis only had two targets, and one of those was a quick slant early on the first drive.
Craig-Myers looks more comfortable run-blocking these days, which has contributed to more playing time under Burns. I would expect to see the Florida native get a few chances downfield Saturday against a Vanderbilt defense that wants to play physical in the box.
@Kasey_Wynne: If you were stranded on an island with only one Chick-fil-A sauce, what would it be?
I received a lot of questions on Chick-fil-A sauces — a subject near and dear to my heart — earlier in the week. On Tuesday, when the first College Football Playoff rankings came out, I posted my playoff bracket of sauces then opened the mailbag for questions and sauce hot takes:
MY PLAYOFF TOP FOUR:
2. Honey Mustard
4. That New Sriracha Stuff
— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) November 1, 2016
I forgot to open the Auburn Mailbag this morning, so let's change that. Ask me anything — football, basketball, Chick-fil-A sauces, etc. pic.twitter.com/LFUIvelSGZ
— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) November 2, 2016
This twist on the “desert island” question is an interesting one. You can pick your favorite sauce, but you’re stuck with it for a while. So if it doesn’t necessarily work with all kinds of foods, you’re in trouble. That’s how I feel about Chick-fil-A sauce or the new sriracha sauce. That won’t work with everything that you’re hunting and foraging on this island.
Polynesian sauce, on the other hand, is the nectar of the gods. It goes well with anything — not just Chick-fil-A chicken. (It might actually taste better with waffle fries than the actual chicken.) Polynesian sauce would taste great on a rock. Plus, the name “polynesian” is perfect for the island locale. It’s literally made for this situation.
Give me my dominant No. 1 seed. We’ll take on anyone, any time and any place.