I didn’t have a lot of fun during the Auburn game on November 11th. But I did enjoy talking to my SB Nation colleague Jack Condon from over at College & Magnolia beforehand. I enjoyed it so much, we’re going to do it again but like, more. We’re doing a two part Q&A at each site, with one focusing on the Georgia defense and Auburn offense, then vice versa. My first set of responses to Jack can be found here. His first responses to me, below.
MD: Kerryon Johnson: is he or ain't he? And if Johnson can't go how does that change Auburn's game plan?
JC: Can I say might he? Honestly, Gus always plays injuries pretty close to the chest (Ed. note, I would have gone with "close to the vest" but here that’s probably a bit on the nose). We didn't have any idea about Carl Lawson's status heading into 2014 until right before the season when it was sort of trickled out that he wouldn't be able to go that year. As far as Kerryon goes in playing on Saturday, I think he'd have to basically be an amputee before he didn't take the field in some capacity.
The question for most of us lies in his durability and his effectiveness in the run game. Is he used as a decoy? Georgia will obviously focus a ton of attention on him after the last game, so do we run a couple of those throwback plays with some sort of other wrinkle added in? Either way, I think we'll definitely see other tailbacks early in the game -- Kam Martin and Devan Barrett for sure -- and the passing game will be expanded a bit more as well.
We may even get a bit more in the QB run game from Jarrett Stidham. All in all, we're not going to reinvent the wheel, we'll probably try to lean on our defense and see what the offense can get us if KJ can't go.
MD: Is there a Georgia defender you're more concerned about now than before the first game?
JC: I think any time you have to face Roquan Smith twice, it'll get your heartburn up a bit. He made his plays, but also made some big mistakes and got juked out a couple times in the first meeting, so I'm not excited about playing one of the best defenders in the SEC after he's gotten mad and gotten a chip on his shoulder. He's a guy that can also put more pressure on the passing game, which we may need to expand if Kerryon's out.
MD: Which Auburn offensive player is most likely to have a better game this Saturday than the last time these teams met?
JC: After the expanded role he saw in the Iron Bowl, I'd see our passing game trying to get Nate Craig-Myers involved a bit more on Saturday. He's probably got the best hands of any receiver on the team, and he caught the Tigers' first touchdown on the jump pass last Saturday. He also got open pretty consistently, and with Georgia likely to try and locate Darius Slayton and Ryan Davis on every snap, Craig-Myers could go unnoticed at times. I'd wager on him making some sort of an impact in the passing game for Auburn.
MD: Put yourself in Gus Malzahn's sweater vest. How, if at all, might you tweak the offensive game plan for this rematch?
JC: I don't really think that there's much in the way of tweaking that needs to go on -- a lot of what Auburn was successful in doing was pretty basic and stemmed from controlling the line of scrimmage. We were able to run the ball and complete the same simple passes we did all year long because the offensive line did its job and Jarrett Stidham didn't make any mistakes.
That said, we'd be silly not to add some sort of extra window dressing onto certain plays that we ran against Georgia the first time around, and try to hit some of the same plays out of different formations or motions, or even try to add wrinkles off of things like that throwback we completed, or the fake screen that ended in the long ball to Slayton.
And honestly, we may have a pretty basic offense in the first half, try to hammer Georgia with the run game or tire them out with screens, and totally reevaluate at halftime. If there's one thing that we've been really good at since the loss to LSU, it's coming out of the locker room roaring for the third quarter.
The Bottom Line
I think you can sense Jack’s confidence in these answers, and I can’t blame him for it. Auburn played great fundamental football against Georgia the first time around and if they do it again the ‘Dawgs will be in trouble.
Another good point is that we’re likely to see some wrinkles stemming off looks that Malzahn and Chip Lindsey showed in the first game. Malzahn is a master of "sequencing", using the same formation or personnel, appearing to run the same play, but adding a variation to take advantage of the defense’s reaction to the play he ran before. Beating a Malzahn-coached offense is therefore largely about not "fighting the last war" defensively speaking. We’ll be back tomorrow with part two, focusing on the Bulldog offense and the Auburn defense.