From the season-opening quarterback carousel, to Gus Malzahn on the hot seat to — can you believe it — Auburn ranked in the AP Top 25.
You can’t say the first six games of the season haven’t been entertaining for the Tigers.
With three consecutive wins, there’s a lot of positivity on the Plains. And why not? The offense is playing well and the defense is better than anything Auburn’s seen in years.
Who is your offensive MVP?
Ferguson: Kerryon Johnson. Heading into the season, Auburn had a huge question mark hanging over the running back position with the departures of Jovon Robinson, Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber. Johnson was in line to be the No. 1 running back, but he had never been in an every-down role in his football career. He looked too small to be that between-the-tackles runner Auburn needed.
Then he had a pair of 90-yard games against tough Clemson and LSU defenses and ran wild on Arkansas State and Louisiana-Monroe. Johnson has run over people more than he’s run past them this season, which was completely unexpected. He’s shown all the tools necessary to be a star running back for Auburn.
Shute: Kerryon Johnson. While Sean White clearly has grown as a quarterback and running back Kamryn Pettway has been outstanding, Johnson has outdone himself. Halfway through the season Johnson has shown toughness and power that you wouldn’t expect from the 6-foot, 211-pound back who also leads the team in rushing (538 yards).
Wolk: I’m going with the man under center — Sean White. Auburn needed someone to step up as a leader, and White has done that with the 7th-best completion percentage in the nation. The Tigers needed consistency at the position, and they got it.
Who is your defensive MVP?
Ferguson: Like the running back position, Auburn’s linebackers had major question marks before the year. This unit returned only one regular contributor in Tre’ Williams and didn’t get any star recruits in the 2016 cycle. So it was up to the underclassmen to step up. Deshaun Davis took that responsibility and ran with it.
Davis has been on the field more than any other Auburn linebacker this season, including Williams. He’s the most well-rounded linebacker Auburn has in terms of being able to stop the run, rush the quarterback and provide good support in pass coverage. He’s a vocal leader who is making the checks and pre-snap adjustments for the defense. He’s commanded a unit that has played extremely well since Week 1 and could be the best Auburn has seen since Tommy Tuberville roamed the sidelines.
Shute: Montravius Adams has been an absolute beast through Auburn’s first six games. The senior’s been even more valuable than his 17 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, fumble recoveries and touchdown indicate.
Wolk: I’m going with the default answer: Carl Lawson. Auburn’s edge-rusher has finally lived up to his billing as a potential top-10 draft pick. He’s tied for second in the SEC with 6 sacks. He’s tied for seventh in the SEC with 7 tackles for a loss.
Player you didn’t expect to be discussing at this point?
Ferguson: Some might say Tony Stevens here, but I’m going to pick another Auburn wide receiver — Ryan Davis. At one point this season, Davis was getting more snaps than anyone on the offense. He’s carved out a spot as Auburn’s No. 2 receiver behind Stevens, and that took me by surprise.
Sure, I thought Davis would play some sort of role in Auburn’s offense. But the short- to intermediate-range threat that Davis has become already had a player in it heading into 2016 in Marcus Davis. But the elder Davis has had some injury and drop issues, so Ryan Davis has been able to step in and perform well with sure hands and strong perimeter blocking.
Shute: Tony Stevens. Despite a lot of preseason praise from the Auburn coaching staff, Stevens didn’t start the year like he was going to lead the team in receiving. It’s been fun to watch him takeover through Auburn’s first five home games (408 yards, 3 TDs).
Wolk: Based on preseason talk, I wouldn’t necessarily have said running back Kamryn Pettway. But after the season-opener against Clemson, I thought it was only going to be the Kerryon Johnson show. Pettway has put himself in the discussion among the top running backs in the conference.
Most impressive newcomer?
Ferguson: Is there any other answer than Marlon Davidson? He took over a starting job as a true freshman on one of the deepest defensive lines in college football. He’s wreaking havoc in pass rushing across from Carl Lawson and has been a tackle magnet when teams try to run on his side of the field.
Shute: Marlon Davidson. It’s tough enough to be a true freshman on an SEC team, but to earn a starting spot, play next to Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams and actually have a huge impact (on one of the best defensive lines in the country)? Marlon Davidson is going to be a name Tiger fans remember for a long, long time.
Wolk: I’ll take this softball question and knock it out of the park. Marlon Davidson, no contest. There are a bunch of contributing newcomers, but Davidson is doing it every other play in a position group deeper than any unit on the team.
Who are the three most important players in the second half?
Ferguson: Kerryon Johnson, Montravius Adams and Daniel Carlson. Johnson has to get back to being healthy and running people over again in Auburn’s rushing attack. No one is playing better football right now on Auburn’s roster than Adams. When he’s on his game, he makes everyone on Auburn’s defensive front better. With the likes of Arkansas, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama coming up in the second half, close games should be expected. Auburn can rely on one of the best kickers in the country to get clutch field goals and be automatic on extra-points. His touchbacks on kickoffs will be key in the field-position battles.
Shute: Sean White, Kerryon Johnson and Carl Lawson need to continue to be productive and more importantly, stay healthy.
Wolk: White needed to continue his efficiency. Pettway has to assert himself as a durable, season-long runner if Johnson has lingering injury concerns. Montravius Adams must continue leading the charge at defensive tackle in stopping the inside run game and chasing the passer.
Sean White’s midseason report card would be an …
Ferguson: A-. The efficiency and the accuracy since taking over as the primary quarterback for Auburn’s offense has been astounding. He’s Top 10 nationally in completion percentage and Top 20 in both quarterback rating and yards per attempt. A lot of fans and analysts thought White wasn’t the right fit for this offense, and he wasn’t at the beginning. But Malzahn and Lashlee adapted. They’ve put him in positions to succeed, and that’s gone a long way in this three-game winning streak. He doesn’t have to be Nick Marshall or Cam Newton on the ground. He can be a better version of Chris Todd, and Auburn can still exit 2016 with an improved record.
Shute: B-. It’s clear White has grown as a player and leader (and also that he’s a really tough guy), but he needs to be more productive in the red zone against SEC teams moving forward.
Wolk: B+. As you can see from my offensive MVP, I think White has stepped up. He’s given Auburn what it needs at the position. Could he open up more? Sure. Will he open up more? I think so. But, so far, he’s met expectations.