Friday, August 23, 2013

The Auburn Realist: The Washington State Game Preview

I've already broken down the first section of the season in an earlier post, but with so many moving pieces still in the air, I was very hesitant to make any in depth predictions. But, all the pieces are now in place. Well, MOST of them...anyway. Here were my thoughts on QB race....I haven't gone back and re-read....but I can imagine what I said...And I was pretty the finalist.

So, let us speak on the first game of the season and how it looks in perspective to the rest of the first 3rd:
08/31/13 vs. Washington State TV Auburn 6:00 PM CT
09/07/13 vs. Arkansas State TV Auburn 6:30 PM CT
09/14/13 vs. Mississippi State TV Auburn 6:00 PM CT
09/21/13 at LSU Baton Rouge TBA

The Washington State Game
Washington State enters the season with cautious optimism. All of you may remember their first game last year. It was a Thursday night game against BYU. With Mike Leach at the helm, everyone expected a high scoring shootout for the years first televised game. It's the PAC-12. You don't need a defense as long as you can outscore, right? I admit, I was one of those that expected it. No one seemed to notice that WSU had been gutted on the offensive line. They hadn't had a defense to begin with, and the cupboard at skill positions would make Leach's job tough. I, along with everyone else, figured that if he could win in the Heart of Texas with the cast offs of every other major programs players, then he could win in the Pac12 North. Nope.

So, a year later. i don't think much has changed. Until the last month, Leach hasn't had a clear starter. The offensive line is still crewed by Walk-Ons. The defense will still be mediocre by Pac-12 standards, at best. And, they have to come to the Loveliest Little Village. I think, talent and coaching aside, the fanbase is absolutely rabid just to see life from their team. I think the fans respond and make it more hostile than we have seen in an opener since the first quarter of the USC game in 2003.

But, like every Auburn fan...I find myself very slow to judge a team. Especially one that is backed into a corner and embarrassed the way WSU was on national TV. I am also slow to have faith in a team that basically returns the same personnel and a few JuCo guys.

This game will be ugly in 1 of 2 ways or a combination of both. Auburn wins this game. Errr...Malzahn wins this game. And, also...the run. And a hungry defense. Ok. More on that later. I believe that the mismatch of talent will also play a roll in it. But, after last years debacles (see the win against LAMO) talent won't blow people off the field. Auburn's offense will score points, but I don't think they will put up a ton of points. I do think, yardage wise, they will double on WSU but the score will be closer than people think.

The difference?

The defense. The Auburn secondary is hungry for turnovers. So hungry that I expect them to over pursue the ball on several occasions and commit a few pass interference calls. You know what? After watching most of the same players play 5 yards off the ball last year, make terrible pursuit angles, etc...I'm ok with it. They will have 3 picks and one gets housed.

The linebacker play will be adequate. I still don't think that Auburn has the elite talent they need. You either get over aggressive run defense with McKinzy, Flowers, etc with terrible coverage or the opposite with Holland.

Up front...I just don't know what to expect in the long run, but I expect 5 sacks and 1 fumble recovery.

Offensively: Yes. Marshall will put up big numbers. Well, yardage, that is. The ground game will eat WSU alive and I see +250 yards in the air and another 75 on the ground before the chain gets yanked on him. But, I don't think he will have a +3 TD game or anything. e. But, I do expect a few bum series and at least 1 bonehead play from Marshall, which will earn him couch time with Coach on Sunday. Whether that is a fumble on a scramble or a pick from throwing across his body...time will tell. I expect the group of receivers to all double their yardage from last year in 1 game, with maybe the exception of Bray, who I do expect to have 150 APY. That isn't saying much, I realize. There won't be a break performance by the receivers simply because the ball will be spread around. I do expect Bray to take a slant/bubble/hitch to the house, though.

Breakout players and What to Watch for:
Cameron Artis-Payne will get the lion's share of work. Mason will be use sparingly...maybe even sat at halftime entirely. While this will be done to preserve Auburn's "Feature Back", A lot of head scratching will start. 'Cause I fully expect Mason to become a 2nd-and-short/3rd-and-long back by midseason. CAP will become the Ben Tate to Mason's Brad Lester circa 2008. Book it. CAP beats them up inside. He breaks it outside. All in all, he rolls up 150 APY and 3TDs. Ballsy, you say? Again. Book it.

Kiehl Frazier gets on the field by late 2nd quarter as a safety and gets a standing ovation. He makes plays, and good for him. I will be a much bigger fan of a proto-typical size and speed safety as I was of his dregs of the galaxy bust QB. By the end of the season, I full expect him to be a 1A player or even a starter.

The true freshman d-line duo of Adams/Lawson sees the field early. Like, real early. 3rd or 4th possession. The result will be immediate. Both of them record tackles for loss in this game. I don't expect them to have the impact that Clowney had, and I think Auburn fans should temper their expectations of them...though it will be hard with their early field time and impact on this game.  But these two get in the game and the stadium will wring their hands....and they will make a pure adrenaline play. they will also make a pure adrenaline miss-play too. Honestly, ever D-Line player will have a TFL in this game and I don't think this will be indicative of the season, either. In fact, the WSU line...walk-ons or not...will keep the D-line at bay. For a few series.

Zach's "WHO THE HECK WAS THAT?!?!?!?!" player?That would be #27, Robenson Therezie. Garrett is no doubt a good player. But I think he is more feel good than real good. If you know about him, you know he was typed last few years as an undersized LB now turned star position breakout. Yeah yeah. But few players...heck...NO players have shown me the Jr Rosegreen level of meanness that Therezie has. Kid is mean. Loves contract. Has a nose for the ball. Does he commit penalties? Yes. Can they be boneheaded and committed at the worst time? Yes. But, just like I tell my flag football team...I will take 1 a game just to let the offense know you were there and you want blood. He gets in early and he takes over the defensive backfield with at least one game stopping hit.

The player you keep waiting on: Corey Grant. With CAPS performance, the hungriness of the freshman RBs behind Mason/CAP, the emergence of Quan Bray in the slot, poor Grant will not get the touches people expect.

Final Score? 45-35 with a few late scores to look respectable against an SEC opponent by WSU.