AUBURN, Ala. — Welcome to the second edition of the Auburn mailbag here on SEC Country, where I’ll answer your Tigers questions — and maybe a nonsports question or two — every Friday.
There’s a decidedly different tone to this week’s mailbag from last week’s, which centered mostly on the “hot seat” talk surrounding Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. Well, that noise has died down some after Auburn’s 18-13 nail-biting win over LSU last Saturday, which saw the end of the Les Miles era in Baton Rouge.
To be a part of the Auburn mailbag, tweet your questions to @JFergusonAU or email them to email@example.com. Make sure to get them in by Thursday evening.
This week’s mailbag put a lot of focus on the players and Auburn’s biggest problem to date on the offensive side of the ball. Plus, I received a question about potato chips. Everyone wins.
@cpennewill: Why not use Franklin with a jet sweep earlier in games as they have done in the past with speedsters?
This is an excellent question that has several layers to it.
Sean White has proved over the last few weeks that he deserves to be the starting quarterback for Auburn this season. His arm has become more reliable (66.0 completion percentage through four games), and he’s growing more confident in commanding the offense.
Still, Auburn has a real weapon on the sidelines in John Franklin III. The JUCO transfer quarterback is averaging 8.64 yards per carry as a Tiger, and the rushing attack opens up more whenever he’s in the game. His arm still is suspect, but he hit some short and intermediate throws in his extended work during the fourth quarter of the Texas A&M game.
If Auburn can get into an offensive groove with White, there’s no reason to take him out. That’s when the pace gets going, and Auburn’s offense looks like Auburn’s offense again. But there might be times when Auburn needs a spark after a failed first-down pass or a few short gains on the ground. Putting Franklin in there would be ideal for the Tigers. At the very least, they can get the defense on its heels again.
According to Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee this week, Auburn always tries to game plan for Franklin to play some in each game. The situation didn’t call for it as much against LSU. But Malzahn said Auburn will show some “new things” in the red zone moving forward, and Franklin in that jet-sweep package seems like it would be a perfect fit.
Tom Coleman: Red Zone offense? Creativity for offensive game plan?
That brings us into our next question from Tom Coleman on our Auburn Insiders Facebook page. Tom got this question in right before we ended our last Facebook Live chat on Tuesday after Malzahn’s press conference, and it’s such a good one that I wanted to save it for this mailbag.
As Auburn’s coaching staff has said multiple times this week, fixing the red zone offense is priority No. 1 for the Tigers heading into the UL Monroe game. Auburn is second-to-last nationally in the FBS in turning red zone trips into touchdowns. Daniel Carlson’s automatic leg is a great thing, but that’s an issue.
Like I said earlier, Malzahn promised newer things in the red zone for Auburn’s offense moving forward. What could that mean, exactly? I’d first keep an eye on the likes of Kyle Davis and Nate Craig-Myers. Those true freshman wide receivers have the size Auburn doesn’t have at the position outside of Tony Stevens, and they could be true red zone threats for White.
“It’s just going to be about each week, looking at the scheme the team plays in the red zone and try to free (big receivers) up, at least in one-on-ones,” Lashlee said Wednesday. “Again, you’re not going to be wide open, but give them some one-on-one chances, and we’ve got to make plays.”
I would also watch out for more passing calls on first downs once the Tigers cross the 20 — something they haven’t done much this season, opting to go with traditional runs up the gut to start red zone possessions. There has to be more creativity, and having a newer play-caller in Lashlee could be the change Auburn needs down there.
@CooperShoemaker: What do you think it will take for the coaches that if Chandler Cox doesn’t improve they’ll find someone else?
I received a couple of tweets this week about Chandler Cox, and they were definitely warranted. Auburn’s starting H-back has been inconsistent at best through the first four weeks of the season.
Sometimes, Cox can lay the lead block or make the key blitz pickup that Auburn needs to get explosive plays. But a common theme during Auburn’s narrow win over LSU was that if the visitors were making good plays defensively, Cox was involved in some sort of negative way, whether in pass protection or run-blocking.
Lashlee said last week that Cox is still getting used to playing H-back full time again. Remember, he was getting a lot of work at running back in preseason practices, especially after the dismissal of Jovon Robinson. During that time, he didn’t get to totally focus on improving as a blocking H-back.
The problem here is that Auburn doesn’t have many options behind Cox. He shares a “starting job” on the depth chart with sophomore tight end Jalen Harris, who plays some H-back in certain situations. Those two are the only scholarship players at either fullback or tight end following the departure of Landon Rice.
If Cox continues to struggle with his consistency, the only real solution Auburn has is to play Harris more at H-back. Even though Auburn’s already had a walk-on contribute in a big way on offense this season, I don’t see the Tigers turning to Keenan Sweeney or Robert Muschamp in key situations. They’ll push for better execution out of Cox, which would be a tremendous boost for the offense.
@aufaninthe334: With his injury, can Paul James III still qualify for a medical redshirt or has he played too many snaps/too far into season?
The biggest injury news of the regular season so far for Auburn came down Tuesday, when Malzahn announced junior defensive end Paul James III could potentially miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. Fellow SEC Country Auburn writer Lauren Shute reported later that day that James tore his meniscus.
The thing with medical redshirts in college football is that you just can’t slap one on a player as soon as he goes down with a season-ending injury. They’re technically all “medical hardship waivers,” and they have to be applied for on a case-by-case basis with the SEC.
NCAA rules state a Division I player applying for a medical hardship waiver “must not have participated in more than three contests or 30 percent of their season schedule (whichever is greater) and not after the halfway point of the season.”
James falls under this guideline — barely. He injured his knee in practice before the LSU game, which was the fourth of the season. He didn’t play, so he’s only appeared in three games this season for Auburn. According to those guidelines, he can apply for a waiver.
All of these have to be approved by the SEC, but it’s hard to imagine the league denying a waiver to a reserve defensive end who only appeared in three games. Auburn won’t officially know if James gets back his year of eligibility until next year.
@MatthewRSimmons: Why are kettle-cooked potato chips so much better than those not cooked in a kettle?
There’s an easy answer here, Matt. Kettle-cooked potato chips are so much better because they have great texture, weight and the perfect surface for seasonings. They’re not as greasy or, in a lot of cases, as thin. Take any flavor of regular potato chip and make it a kettle-cooked one, and it’s like just that upgrade button meme on Twitter.
But the real answer here is that kettle-cooked chips are so much better than regular chips because Zapp’s chips are kettle-cooked, and Zapp’s chips are the undisputed best in the world. They’re peanut oil kettle-cooked bites of heaven from the culinary mecca that is the state of Louisiana.
Once you have Zapp’s Jalapeño Chips, you’ll be blown away at how they managed to make jalapeño chips taste like jalapeños instead of just generic nuclear heat. Once you have Zapp’s Voodoo chips, you’ll spend hours trying to figure out what all is in that mixture of spices. (Short answer: Perfection.) And once you have Zapp’s Sweet Creole Onion Chips, your entire worldview of what a chip can be will change.
The entire category of kettle-cooked chips is held in high regard from me solely because of Zapp’s. Other kettle-cooked brands are perfectly fine. But these are the best, and you should always have some at your residence.