HOOVER, Ala. – SEC Media Days 2017 wrapped up with orange and blue. Auburn Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn strolled in to the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Hoover bright and early to tackle the media. Malzahn enters his fifth season as the head man on the plains. Over the four seasons coached, Malzahn has compiled a 35-18 record. Taking away the epic 2013 season where the Tigers shocked the world and appeared in the final BCS Championship game, Malzahn is just 23-16 (58%) in games coached at Auburn.
After going 8-5 in 2016, Malzahn said he knows his team under performed, but said they are hungry. He even compared this team to his 2013 squad.
“The biggest similarities I see from that team, this team, is how hungry they are. And in that 2013 team, you know, they went through a storm the year before. They were embarrassed. They wanted to redeem themselves. And they had that edge to them that just brought everybody together and just do that little extra more that it takes, and they were an extremely close team,” Malzahn said. “This team, we got more starters back than we’ve had in the last 12 years. We were close. We were close. Like I said, we were playing as good a football I felt like as anybody for six games. We had some impact player injuries.
Senior kicker Daniel Carlson agreed with his head coach saying, “I think that we do have a special team this year. This is my fifth year and I was here during 2013, and it feels special and similar to that year. We’re all working hard and this team is really coming together. All of the talent and all of the pieces of the puzzle that need to come together, we have a shot at a really special year. I think we’re all just going to have to wait and see, but I’m really excited for the first game.”
The Tigers hung their hats on dominant offense in the 2013-14 seasons. But since Nick Marshall’s departure at quarterback the offense has seen a revolving door at the signal caller position. Jeremy Johnson, Sean White, and John Franklin III were all supposed to be “the guy” at quarterback, but there may be a new sheriff in town.
Enter Baylor tranfer Jarrett Stidham.
During his short stint at Baylor, Stidham passed for nearly 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns while throwing just two interceptions. He is a multi-dimensional QB who can run and pass, and quickly make decisions, which is every defensive coordinator’s nightmare. SylacaugaNews.com spoke to some of the nation’s leading analyst including Tony Barnhart and ESPN’s Cole Cubelic on the potential Stidham brings to the table.
According to Barnhart and Cubelic, Stidham will be “the guy.”
…and he will be good.
Barnhart explained without Stidham, the Tigers have no chance to compete with Alabama in the SEC. But with Stidham taking the snaps, the Tigers significantly close the gap with the Tide.
According to the numbers, Auburn only has one direction it can go with its passing game.
In 2016, the Tigers ranked last in the conference in passing at just 169 yards per game. Opposing defenses loaded the box with seven or eight guys nearly every play taking away the bread and butter of running the ball. Even with defenders crowding the line of scrimmage, the Tigers led the conference in rushing with over 271 yards per game. Any type of passing game could lead to big improvements for this Auburn team in 2017.
Rushing wise, Auburn returns its leading rusher from last season. Kamryn Pettway led the league in rushing, but Malzahn spoke highly of its “change of pace back” Kerryon Johnson.
“Kerryon is one of our most versatile players. He’s an excellent player. I know the thing with Chip, he was brought in to provide balance and worked extremely hard getting the ball to the back side of the backfield. Really that’s K.J.’s strength. You see that will be a little bit difference than what you see in the past. Kerryon is an excellent running back in his own right, too. He’s a tough guy, he can catch and can do a lot of things,” Malzahn explained.
The defense loses two of the nation’s best defensive linemen in Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams. Now it is time for a few highly touted recruits to step in and make a difference. Senior safety Tray Matthews represented the Auburn defense at Media Days and said the front seven “is going to be nasty.” He listed Marlon Davidson, Derrick Brown, Tre Williams, and Deshaun Davis as the difference makers on the defensive side of the ball.
The defense, which Malzahn teams have not been known for, was a light in the dark for Auburn in 2016, especially early in the season. Kevin Steele enters his second season as defensive coordinator, and so do seven starters from last years defense. Experience returning on defense will help Auburn early in the season when it kicks off against Clemson in week two in Death Valley while giving the quarterback time to settle into the position.
The Auburn Tigers open the 2017 season at home against Georgia Southern before heading to Clemson. With a favorable schedule, including Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia, and Alabama all at home, do not be surprised to see Auburn make a push for the SEC crown in 2017.
Jeremy Law for SylacaugaNews.com | © 2017, SylacaugaNews.com/Marble City Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.