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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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View from the other sideline: Auburn

The Battalion Sports Editor Carter Karels spoke with Sam Butler, sports editor for the Auburn Plainsman, about the state of the Tigers and expectations for Saturday’s game.

THE BATTALION: What is the feeling like around Auburn’s campus when the Tigers play?

BUTLER: Honestly, the campus is pretty low-key about this week’s game. After two straight games that Auburn had a very good chance of winning but dropped, the mood is kind of somber, if you will. Expectations were sky-high before the season, and now the Tigers are sitting at 4-4 and just hoping to make a bowl game. So there’s understandably not a whole lot of optimism. The last few Auburn-A&M games have been really exciting though, so maybe they’ll perk up — if only, because they won’t be playing at 11 a.m. again.

THE BATTALION: Why did Jeremy Johnson not live up to the hype and perform so poorly? Is Sean White the future for Auburn, and what does he bring?

BUTLER: Jeremy Johnson. Man, I really feel for the guy. He was anointed the starter right after spring practice ended, and he’s been a victim of unreasonable amounts of hype and projections. I mean, he was at 12-1 odds to win the Heisman before he took a snap this season, and I think it all just got to him. He looked stellar in limited action last year, most notably carving up the Arkansas defense in the first game of the season. But this year he looked completely different. Jeremy never looked comfortable in the pocket; he either refused or was unable to read underneath coverage, which resulted in 6 interceptions in three games. He looked skittish, unsettled and never found a rhythm. 

But Sean White, a redshirt freshman, has looked great since he’s taken over as the starter. He’s only thrown a pair of interceptions in five games — one of which came on his first drive of his college career. Sean looks poised and confident leading the offense, and Gus has opened up the playbook as of late, leading to more chances for White to show off what made him the MVP of the Under Armour All-America Game. As of now, he looks to be the quarterback, but you never know with Gus. With dual-threat QBs committed for the next two recruiting cycles, we could see yet another quarterback change next year. 

THE BATTALION: Will Muschamp is regarded as one of the best defensive coordinators out there. Why has the Auburn defense struggled so much this season?

BUTLER: A large part of what has made the defense perform so poorly this year is that it’s been gutted by injuries. The best player on either side of the ball, Carl Lawson, played all of one half before getting hurt, and the Ole Miss game was the first he’s been able to play an entire game since the BCS National Championship in 2014. Josh Holsey, a senior nickel corner, tore his ACL in the second game of the season. TJ Davis, another corner, tore his ACL as well in fall camp. As a result, Muschamp’s had to shuffle the deck repeatedly, mixing and matching his guys until he finds a starting unit that works. And given that this is only his first year on the job, he hasn’t had much of a chance to recruit guys that fit his system. Ellis Johnson, the old defensive coordinator, ran a hybrid 4-2-5 defense that needed a specific type of player to fit right. Muschamp runs a multiple 3-4 defense, and not everyone on the team fits both schemes. So for now, he’s just trying to work with what he’s got, and the results understandably haven’t been great.

THE BATTALION: What answer defensively does Auburn have for Kyler Murray and the revamped A&M offense?

BUTLER: If there’s one thing that gives the Auburn defense trouble — okay, there’s a lot of things, but one thing specifically — it’s mobile quarterbacks. Lamar Jackson, Louisville’s freshman QB, carved up the Tigers on the ground back in September. If Dak Prescott wasn’t so concerned with trying to prove himself as a pocket passer, he would have too. Kyler Murray looks more elusive than either of those, so I expect he’ll run circles around the Tigers this weekend. He’s a really good passer as well, and he’s more than likely going to give the Auburn defense fits. Add in Christian Kirk, who chose the Aggies over Auburn, and Speedy Noil, and there’s probably going to be a lot of points on the board.

THE BATTALION: What will cause problems for A&M on defense, considering the strengths and weaknesses of A&M’s defense and Auburn’s offense?

BUTLER: For as inconsistent as the Tigers have been, they’ve been able to run the ball well with a stable of running backs. Peyton Barber is tied for fifth in the nation with 12 touchdowns on the ground, freshman Kerryon Johnson is already proving himself as a capable orchestrator of the Wildcat, Roc Thomas was “Mr. Football” in the state of Alabama two years ago and Jovon Robinson led everybody in rushing yards last week against Ole Miss. When all of those guys are clicking, and they’re picking up 4 or 5 yards on first down, Gus Malzahn can really settle into the hurry-up no-huddle that he’s known for, and it can throw opposing defenses into a tired mess if he gets rolling. The passing attack can be really inconsistent, but the White-to-Ricardo Louis connection has been prolific when they’re on the same page. Score prediction: Auburn 38, Texas A&M 35. Every A&M/Auburn game up until this point, outside of the 2012 debacle, has been extremely close, and the road team’s been able to squeak out a win each of the past two years. I think Auburn knows they’ve got to turn things around fast or risk missing the postseason, so I think they play with their backs against the wall and pull out a thriller of a win.

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