We hope you've enjoyed our series of posts this week, or at least found them to be educational. It was a great deal of fun to work our way through the SEC and really see what everyone thinks of the SEC school which, if we're being honest, we're probably most like -- at least in the mission sense.
But now it's time to wheel this party bus into the garage until bowl season (oh, yes, I'm implying a promise). However, it appears that we've been pulled over by a Trooper waving a towel and screaming something about equal time and fair treatment and other such nonsense. I think. I'm really not sure what he's on about other that, to be honest.
So now it's time to let our target fire back. Auburn is the second school on our list to have undergone a drastic change as far as its representation on SB Nation during the last three years. Our guest today is the most recent man in charge at College and Magnolia, Walt Austin.
Jon: Twice, K-State has basically been in "win this one tough game and go to the national championship," and both times they fell short. Auburn's not only made it twice, but won one. Seriously, now... how does that FEEL?
Walt: I wish I could say it feels awesome, but I'm still haunted by the way the FSU game ended up last year. I really wanted that one. In 2010 I was deployed with no other Auburn fans around, so I really wanted to be able to celebrate one surrounded by other Auburn fans. I guess it is better than never having gotten to that point at all, though.
Jon: We've had a lot of discussion here over the last couple of years regarding the models under which conferences are operating under. How do you feel about the 14-team operation, and only seeing SEC East teams other than Georgia every six years? How bad does it hurt losing Florida as a regular opponent?
Walt: It's horrible and I hate it. It's not just Florida, it's Tennessee, too. Most students now don't even understand how big those two games used to be for Auburn. Someone came up with a system that would allow schedule rotations so that if you were in school for four years there would be a home-and-away with every single school in the conference during that time frame. It would require getting rid of the division structure, however. I'd be all for that. I don't even know why we bother with calling it a "conference" if we go 6 years or more without playing a team in the conference.
Jon: I know you've been following our Knowing Your Enemy series, and I want to get a couple of comments in response that. First, what's your perception of K-State as a program, and how'd you feel about things back in 2007 when the Wildcats almost yanked the turf out from under Auburn before that comeback?
Walt: I watched Kansas State from a distance back when Bill Snyder was building the program, and I was a fan because I've always been a fan of someone from outside the normal picture making it into the discussion. I remember first seeing Kansas State rise in the rankings and thinking "hey, good for them" and enjoying it as the program rose to more prominence in the Big XII and national picture. Bill Snyder is a genius of a coach, and I really hope y'all are able to find someone who can continue what he's been able to do there when he retires. The Ron Prince Experiment didn't go so well.
That 2007 game was a nail-biter, for sure. I was only two weeks removed from a year in the Iraqi desert and was really hoping it would be a nice, relaxing Auburn win. Nope. It came down to the last second. That year was Al Borges' last year at Auburn as OC, and Brandon Cox's senior season as QB. Brandon Cox is one of my favorite Auburn QBs and I wish he could have ended his career on a better note. You have to admire someone who starts at QB in the SEC with an illness that prevents the body from healing at a normal pace. He took a pounding in his career and still stuck in there. I was glad to see Auburn escape with that win, but I think it definitely showed the beginning of the end for Tuberville, since he fired Borges and attempted the failed "Tony Franklin Experiment" the next season.
Jon: Outside of schematic and personnel questions, which we'll get to in a bit, do you have any rebuttals to anything our guests had to say about the Tigers over the last week -- or, for that matter, anything you want to just nod your head at in rueful acknowledgement?
Walt: This would take all day, honestly. So I'll keep it as short as I can.
I have no real problems with anyone from Texas A&M, that series is too new.
Ole Miss fans are fun. MSU fans are ok, but the cowbells are the most annoying thing in the world, and I really just dislike Dan Mullen.
I have a soft spot in my heart for Arkansas because of Army friends I've had on both of my deployments, but they've seemed to have Auburn's number more often than I care to think of. I don't have a problem with them, but I really cannot stand their coach. I understand what he's trying to do, but it's just coming off wrong and annoying.
LSU fans I've never really had a problem with, either.
Georgia fans are just sad. They have the entitlement of Alabama fans with absolutely no reason to feel that way. Every season they believe is their year, and they always find something to complain about. Complaining about Auburn's infractions? Most of those are so minor that nowadays people would laugh that they're considered an infraction. Auburn hasn't had a major infraction in football in over 20 years. Every media outlet was looking in Auburn for something during the Cam Newton stuff just on the assumption that because allegations happened AT MISSISSIPPI STATE, NOT AT AUBURN, then there must have been things at Auburn. In the time where Miami, Oregon, Ohio State, USC, etc were investigated and penalized, the NCAA and media were camped out in Auburn and all they could find were a few disgruntled players who were laughed down by their former teammates and the NCAA actually issuing a letter saying basically "yeah, we found nothing." So cry me a river.
Georgia fans want so much for this to be a hated rivalry, and most Auburn fans don't treat it that way. I hate them because I grew up in the middle of them with their "We're gonna win it all this year!" mentality that always led me to ask why, and their response was "'CAUSE WE'RE THE DAWWWWGS, WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF!" They're insufferable people who can't get over the fact that the state of Georgia isn't exactly all that much better than the state of Alabama, but it has very little success in major athletics associated with it.
One thing to always remember: the last time UGA won a national championship, their head coach was an Auburn graduate (Vince Dooley). Their defensive coordinator who built their "Junkyard Dawg" defense was also an Auburn graduate (Erk Russell). The last time Auburn was on probation for any major infraction, our head coach was a Georgia graduate (Pat Dye).
Jon: I get the sense Georgia irritates you a little. But now, on to the actual game. We've got a decent feel for who Gus Malzahn is, and his history's well-known. What's your perception as far as the kind of guy he is? What does he seem to value above all else as far as coaching?
Walt: Intense. That's the kind of guy he is. I've heard others mention how his intensity rivals Saban for his attention to detail and pursuit of excellence in football. As far as coaching, I think he values speed, intensity, and confusion. I hear people say that others have "figured out" Malzahn's offense or that they will figure it out. I don't think you really CAN figure it out. Malzahn's offense isn't about schemes that you can figure out. His offense is about style. It's the Hurry Up/No Huddle. It's the belief that we're going to play hard-nosed football so fast and with so many different plays out of different formations (often the same play can be run out of a number of different sets and formations) that it confuses you and defenses make mistakes. Look no further than the pass that tied the Iron Bowl. Auburn ran the same play over and over on that drive and they did it fast enough that it lulled the defense to sleep and they left Sammie Coates with no one standing within 15 yards of him.
Jon: Nick Marshall needs no introduction to us, since K-State was in on him pretty hard as well. Tell us about the offense, what you think we'll see tomorrow, and any concerns you have from the K-State defense.
Walt: I don't think you'll see much different from what Auburn looked like late last year. A ton of zone-read plays, play action passes, jet sweeps, quick pitches, etc. The added wrinkle this year is Duke Williams. Sammie Coates was available last season on the deep balls, but if the throw wasn't there Marshall either just threw it out anyway, threw it away, or tucked and ran. This season Duke is there (along with TE CJ Uzomah (You-ZOM-ah)) as check downs. CJ is almost a lock for a catch. Duke is a lock for the catch and then making some ridiculous moves to get away. As for Sammie, he'll get behind your DBs. He is a physical freak and there will be times he breaks free and you're left wondering how someone can be that fast with his bulk. The question then becomes can Marshall accurately get the ball to him.
It will be fast and keep coming. KSU has a very good DE in Ryan Mueller, and I think he'll be Marshall's focus for when to pull or leave the football on the zone-read. I really wish I knew more about KSU's defense to offer a detailed opinion, but KSU has had a good run defense, and that's going to be key. Down the stretch last season it seemed all we heard every week was "stop Auburn's running game and they can't beat you passing." No one ever really stopped it, though. And now there are so many more weapons to keep track of in the passing game. I'm really not that concerned about Auburn's ability to score points on anyone in football. Stopping the other team from scoring more, though...
Jon: Jeremy Johnson was a fair bit of alright in the first half against the Razorbacks. Are you completely confident in him taking over if anything happens to Marshall?
Walt: I am 100% confident in Johnson taking over. He's not as fast as Marshall, but he CAN run the football. He just hasn't needed to in any of his appearances. The running game is still there if he plays (albeit not AS threatening), but his ability to throw the football is what makes him even more dangerous. He has an NFL-caliber arm.
Jon: The defense, on the other hand, has been a little suspect in areas. How do you think they'll approach the Wildcats, and what are you worried about from K-State's offense?
Walt: I'm worried about QB draw plays and passes to Tyler Lockett. Auburn's defense gave up 6-10 bad plays to SJSU, but those six were BAD. Only one of them scored, but against better teams that could easily have resulted in a lot of points against the Auburn defense. I think you'll see a defense concerned with containing Waters while still pressuring him. Auburn lost that containment a few times against Arkansas and SJSU. However, those were against QBs not known for mobility. Auburn will be planning for Waters to run, whereas Arkansas and SJSU's QBs weren't really big threats to do so until they broke free.
Jon: Finally, the moment of truth. You have a prediction lined up?
Walt: 48-31 Auburn. I think it's a close game going into the 2nd half, and probably even into the 4th quarter, but Auburn pulls away after a very tough fight.
Our thanks to Walt for answering our questions (and actually for helping out behind the scenes with quite a few things over the last week), and we'd once again like to thank the folks at For Whom the Cowbell Tolls, Good Bull Hunting, Red Cup Rebellion, And the Valley Shook, Dawg Sports, and Roll Bama Roll for making this a great week here at BotC. If nothing else, it's a demonstration of how SB Nation really is just one huge community, even if we all segregate out for day-to-day affairs.
Once you're done here, be sure to head over to College and Magnolia to check out the inevitable other half of this tradition: my answers to Walt's questions.