Jerry Hinnen from Joe Cribbs Car Wash was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Auburn Tigers. Feel free to snicker at my questions, then be impressed by his cogent answers as we look a little into Tennessee's opponent on the Plains.
[Note by hooper, 09/26/08 9:46 AM EDT ] My responses to his questions may be found here.
1. Assume the game is close at halftime (perhaps tied and relatively evenly played). What signs in the first half would make you feel confident about a win, and what would give you fear about the second half?
Forgive me the forthcoming yawn-inducing answer, but it's always been true in the SEC that you have to run the ball and stop the run to blah blah blah. Unfortunately, I think that's especially true for Auburn in this game, since Chris "Float (the ball) Like a Butterfly" Todd trying to thread needles through the Vol secondary is a situation I don't think Auburn wants any part of. While Todd played a reasonably good game against LSU, he also got to take advantage of some breakdowns in the Tiger secondary that I doubt will be there Saturday. On the other side of the ball, our secondary's probably the wobbliest unit on our defense (true frosh Neiko Thorpe is the nickel corner and got toasted for LSU's first TD), but I'd still much rather take my chances with Crompton trying to air it out than Hardesty and Foster grinding along, particularly after the way Charles Scott diced Auburn up last week. If Auburn's winning the battle on the ground at the half I'll be happy; if they're not, I'll start sweating.
2. What would you expect Auburn's defensive strategy to be: (1) sell-out blitzing and other gambled attacks on the offense, or (2) sit back, prevent deep passes, and wait for mistakes?
New AU defensive coordinator Paul Rhoad's m.o. seems to be to rely on the front four to create pressure the majority of the time, with the occasional all-out blitz tossed into the mix in the second half when the line starts to need the help. I might expect a little more blitzing from Auburn in this game given the Vol offensive line's track record in pass protection and Crompton's apparent willingness to make a mistake under pressure, but I'd still doubt we see much gambling out of Auburn's D in the first half or if the Tigers take a decent-sized lead. One thing worth noting, though, is that the youth in Auburn's secondary makes a blitz an especially risky proposition: both Southern Miss and LSU got repeated big gainers (including the aforementioned LSU TD) on Auburn blitzes that field to reach the QB in time.
3. How would Auburn fans interpret a win/loss against Tennessee? (For example, would a win be considered a big deal, or simply another step closer to a bowl game?) Would a win be a bigger deal than a loss?
Coming on the heels of the agonizing LSU defeat, another loss would be just this side of devastating for Auburn, particularly if the offense continues to sputter around the field the way it has thus far this season. Most (reasonable) Auburn fans saw 2008 as a key opportunity to grab a West title while LSU looked for a quarterback, Saban was still getting things revved up at 'Bama, and those pesky Hogs were stuck in a rebuilding year. To be all-but eliminated five games into the season with both SEC losses coming at home would be an awfully hard pill to swallow, and that's even before you take into account that most Auburn fans will consider the Tigers a favorite after the way Tennessee took the pipe against Florida. A win would be nice, a win in which the offense looks competent-or-better would be great, but honestly, the only two games left on Auburn's schedule where the potential gains outweigh the potential losses are the ones on the end.
4.How would you compare Auburn's spread to Florida's spread? What differences can you see between the two? (Also, how is the new offensive coordinator working out?)
Uh ... one works and the other doesn't? One is run by Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin and one by Chris Todd and [pick an Auburn receiver, none are remotely in Harvin's class]? There's some pretty big differences for you. Schematically, I would say the passing games are somewhat similar: short throws to fast guys in space to set up longer shots down the field. But when it comes to the ground game, Florida and Meyer have shown a hundred times the willingness to be creative and unpredictable where Tony Franklin seemingly hasn't yet figured out how to call a run that isn't your basic zone read--a nice play in and of itself, but hardly intimidating when the quarterback with the option to keep is Chris "Slow Burn" Todd. Lots of Auburn fans were dead set against the spread from the beginning and I'm not one of them, but if Franklin doesn't figure out how to move the ball on the ground, a lot more fans are going to abandon ship, and pronto.
5.Another dirty little secret: UT's not very good at special teams. [In fact, I think Brandon James just returned another punt for a TD -- wait, no. That was UCLA blocking one for a TD. Sigh.] Please tell us about Auburn's special teams while we sit in the corner hugging our knees, sucking our thumbs, and desperately seeking our happy place. With birds. And trees. And puppies.
Well, up two weeks ago I'd have told you that special teams (aside from kickoff coverage) was a huge strength for Auburn, but since then: 1. Our kicker missed two easy makes, one a 20-some-odd yarder, against Miss. St. 2. We couldn't even start a punt return against LSU 3. While the starting punter was out with the flu, the backup averaged 35 yards a punt gross and helped throw the game away with a fourth-quarter shank 4. the kickoff coverage was still awful. If Wes Byrum returns to his 2007 form and if Robert Dunn gets a chance to return a punt and if Clinton Durst is healthy again, it should be all good. If not, you're going to need to scoot over in the happy place and loan me one of those puppies.
6. We Tennessee fans have been obsessively focused on our own team's, um, development this season, and we're feeling a little bit underprepared in terms of opponent scouting. Who are the key Auburn players we should watch for?
There's the obvious answers --Todd, rugged likely starting RB Ben Tate, star defensive tackle/Kodiak bear Sen'Derrick Marks. Also on offense, despite his Harvinesque lack of size Dunn has more-or-less become Todd's big-play receiver and is especially dangerous on the underneath screens or end-arounds that Franklin never called against LSU (not that I'm bitter or anything). Left guard Tyronne Green is a future first-day draft pick and a bulldozer; he's going to figure prominently if Auburn gets anything going on the ground. Defensively, Jerraud Powers has been phenomenal at one corner, arguably the best player on a very good Auburn defense. Tez Doolittle is a very large, very experienced sixth-year senior (excuse the redundancy) who's earned the other tackle position opposite Marks with some timely plays.