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Friday, November 12, 2010

Behind enemy lines: Auburn edition

It's been, shall we say, an interesting week on the Auburn beat. And it's still not over. So we're very appreciative to Andy Bitter of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer for taking time to answer a few questions about the game. And other things.

Andy gave some very good, detailed answers. Here's a link to his blog, if you want more Auburn coverage.

As of the time I'm posting this (2:15 p.m. eastern time), Cameron Newton is eligible for the game. We proceeded on this assumption when I posited the questions to Andy and answered them. If something changes, well, I'm sure they're still going to play the game.

Well, onward and upward.

SE: So should media members wear any body armor when they show up at Jordan-Hare Stadium? Or at least hide our press badges?

I don't think the fans are angry at the media as a general group. They aren't pleased with certain members (witness them heckling ESPN's Mark Schlabach when he tried to do a TV standup here last week). But I think - well, I hope - they understand that we media types are simply doing our jobs in this entire matter and that some of the news will be unpleasant.

SE: What's your sense on whether Cam Newton (and his team) will have been distracted by all this, or will use it as fuel to be ticked off and take it out on Georgia?

Publicly, the team has said this is not a distraction. I'm skeptical. How can it not be? On the practice field, yes, it's probably all about the game, but what about when they leave the athletic complex? This story is on TV, the Internet, Twitter, Facebook. I believe I just got a Woof about it from Ryan on "The Office."

It's impossible to ignore and seems like it would have some kind of effect. How they channel that remains to be seen. Newton didn't seem affected by the accusations last week. Then again, he was playing against FCS Chattanooga, so it's hard to tell. As for the rest of the team, this is a senior group that's played a lot of football. I can't imagine they will be too distracted by this.

SE: Just for giggles, let's talk about football. What's the best containment policy on Newton: Somehow keep him in the pocket, and make him beat you with the pass? Or is that much easier said than done?

There was a stat out there that showed how much better of a passer Newton is in the face of a blitz than he is when a defense drops back. But that doesn't really account for his running ability.

The team that did the best job was Mississippi State. Granted, that was earlier in the year before Auburn really found a comfort zone with Newton running the show (also, LT Lee Ziemba was hurt for the second half). But the Bulldogs didn't sit back and give Newton time to do things. They blitzed, if I remember correctly. From all angles. They forced him to make quick decisions, either running sooner that he planned or throwing it.

Either way, you're taking him out of his comfort zone. If you give him time, he'll find the open receiver. If you try to contain, he's big enough and fast enough to escape. If you force this issue, you could force him into mistakes. Now, that's not easy. And there's a certain risk-reward in going all out to getting to him. But it looks like it beats the alternative.

SE: Besides Newton, what is it about Gus Malzahn's offense that makes it so effective, especially in the running game?

It all starts with the offensive line. Four seniors in the group have made 149 career starts, so they know what they're doing. But they've really thrived under line coach Jeff Grimes' tutelage, especially since the head coach called them out after the Clemson game for not being physical enough.

Where the group really becomes effective is late in the game. Malzahn is always trying to push the pace. It's a no-huddle offense geared toward running as many plays as quickly as possible. That wears on a defense near the end of a game. Auburn's offensive linemen are used to it, which is why they have thrived near the end of games.

With running back Mike Dyer emerging as a guy who can shoulder the load and get stronger late in games, it's been an effective combination.

SE: Defensively, how prepared is Auburn's pass defense (ranked second-to-last in the SEC) to defend A.J. Green?

Not very. Lesser receivers than Green have put up some pretty spectacular numbers against the Tigers this year. South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery ate them alive. It helps that the Tigers are getting cornerback T'Sharvan Bell back from a hamstring injury, but it's going to take more than just single coverage to slow down Green.

And that can be problematic, because the Bulldogs have enough weapons to make Auburn pay if it devotes too much attention to one guy. I'd anticipate a big day out of Green.

SE: Put yourself in Georgia's shoes. Besides praying for Newton to be ruled ineligible, what are the two or three things that have to happen for the Bulldogs to win?

There's a big chance to make plays on special teams. Auburn's punting situation is a disaster right now, but no team has really taken advantage of it.

Turnovers, as always, are a key. Newton has forced a few passes this year. The Bulldogs can't be content with those merely being incompletions. They've got to pick them off.

And lastly, don't get into a shootout with Auburn. That's not the way to beat this team. If Newton plays, Auburn is going to be the more dangerous side in a high-scoring affair. Georgia's best bet is to milk the clock with its running game, keep Auburn's secondary honest with some deep passes and try to keep the ball out of Newton's hands.

SE: Finally, how is Gene Chizik to cover? He seems kind of bland, but his defense of Newton earlier in the week was a step away from that.

The speech earlier this week is about as passionate as I've seen Chizik get. But that was a one-time occasion. Bland is a great word to describe him. He is what he is, but at least he's that way all the time. He's not giving better answers to ESPN or on the radio. He doesn't open up when national writers come in. He's the same every day. I guess you can't fault him for that, even if it is a little boring to cover.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

the Dawgs should assume Scam Newton will play, and assume that they'll play with the 'us against the world' united mentality, but know that that's just a mind game their playing with themselves. At this point it seems inevitable that Newton will be punished for something.
As for how we play, I say we should play the run all the way. Scam's running has been the killer all year, plus Dyer in there. Play the receivers 1-on-1 and make him throw alot, I don't think he's comfortable passing all game. We need J Houston to get in his face and shake him up with some big hits.