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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Scouting the Tigers

I exchanged a few quick questions on Auburn football with the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer's beat writer Andy Bitter, whose Auburn blog can be found HERE. Andy has only been with Columbus a few months, but his Auburn coverage this year has been great, and he was kind enough to hook me up with the quotes I posted in the Crank Dat Soulja Boy blog earlier this week. He had some pretty interesting things to say about this week's game...

DH: Georgia has dominated Auburn the past two years. How much has that been talked about with players this week? Are they focused on getting some retribution?

AB: Let's put it this way: Soulja Boy's name has been referenced more this week than in the last year. It got to the point where the Auburn trainer played "Crank That (Soulja Boy)" on a continuous loop in the trainer's room to rile up the team. Auburn's players are split about 50-50 about whether Georgia crossed a line last year with all the dancing, but the Tigers are all of the same opinion that two straight losses to Georgia is unacceptable. There are 25 players on the Auburn roster from Georgia who treat this game like their Iron Bowl and would like nothing more than to get some form of payback for the way the last couple of years have gone.

DH: Auburn's offense has really struggled this season, but seemed to get things together a bit last week. Is there reason to believe they've turned the page and are starting to click or was that a one-time thing against a lower-tier team?

AB: I think the offense is improving, but not as much as last week would indicate. Against Tennessee-Martin, Auburn simply used its size and strength advantage to overpower a lower-division team. The Tigers' main source of offense was on designed quarterback runs, kind of like a high school team handing the ball off to its best player and letting him go to work. Not terribly complicated stuff. And not stuff that would work against a better-than-average defense, let alone one of Georgia's caliber. The bottom line is that after firing offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, Auburn doesn't really have an offensive mind on the staff capable of making necessary adjustments to its game plan. Something usually works in a given game, but the defense adjusts, and the Tiges are incapable of changing back. That's been their biggest problem, and it won't be fixed until they hire a new offensive coordinator to run the show.

DH: Despite their problems, the Tigers' D has seemed pretty good this season. They'll get a few injured players back this week, too. Which players do you expect to play and do you think they can shut down a Georgia offense that has topped 40 points two of the past three weeks?

AB: From the sounds of it, everybody is going to be back on defense except for linebacker Tray Blackmon, who had season-ending wrist sugery a few weeks ago, and linebacker Merrill Johnson, who broke his hand against UT Martin. Even with all of its defensive line back, I don't think Auburn can stop Georgia. Yes, the Tigers have fared well when completely healthy on defense, something that hasn't happened since heading into the Vanderbilt game over a month ago. But even then, this group wasn't as dominant as it seemed. Auburn put up some ridiculous numbers against inferior competition early. The one real offense the Tigers faced -- LSU -- gave them trouble. I'd expect the Bulldogs to put up plenty of points.

DH: What do you think are the two or three keys to an Auburn victory?

AB: 1. Auburn has to rattle Matthew Stafford. With Georgia's offensive line problems and Auburn returning all of its defensive starters, that matchup might be the one most in the Tigers' favor. Stafford will pick you apart if you let him. Auburn's got to get in his face and force mistakes, something it hasn't been able to do to opposing quarterbacks lately.

2. Shore up the run defense. Before the UT Martin game, the Tigers allowed 692 rushing yards to Arkansas, West Virginia and Ole Miss. If you don't think Knowshon Moreno is licking his chops, you're crazy.

3. Find some kind of balance on offense. Auburn has been highly one-dimensional the last two weeks. Against Ole Miss, Kodi Burns threw for 319 yards and the Tigers did next to nothing on the ground. Against UT Martin, Burns ran for 158 yards and they did next to nothing in the air. That kind of imbalance won't cut it against Georgia.

**NOTE FROM DAVID: Does the fact that Andy said, "Something usually works in a given game, but the defense adjusts, and the Tiges are incapable of changing back" worry you at all? Defensive adjustments haven't exactly been Georgia's strong suit.

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