So what will it take to transform the program? What, in fact, are the keys to Auburn’s season?
Malzahn has rebuilt Auburn's team chemistry.
This time of year, everyone seems to have the answers. There appear to be so many possibilities.
We’ll find out for sure soon enough. Auburn plays its season-opener Saturday against Washington State at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
That’s when we’ll begin to know. Until then, we can only guess.
Here are five of the biggest issues entering Gus Malzahn’s first season as Auburn’s head coach, in my estimation.
I’ll put them in order of importance.
1. Team chemistry - Let’s face it: There could be some tough times.
A team doesn’t magically go from 3-9 to conference contender, especially in the Southeastern Conference.
So how do the players react when the losses arrive? How do they respond if some of those losses are lopsided?
Will Wright step up this season?
Team chemistry should be an Auburn strength, considering how much of a priority this has been for Malzahn.
A person familiar with the team says the players who need to be gone are, indeed, no longer around.
That’s important. For Malzahn to succeed, the buy-in factor needs to be high, almost complete.
Right now, the buy-in factor seems to be where Auburn needs it.
2. Control the pace - This is almost essential, considering Auburn’s offensive style.
With fragile depth on defense, few things could be as damaging as a series of consecutive three-and-outs.
On the other hand, few things could bolster Auburn’s offense as much as the breakneck pace of Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense.
Imagine opposing defenses in the fourth quarter if Malzahn is able to implement the pace he wants to establish.
There will be more empty tanks than pit row before the final laps.
3. Nick Marshall’s ability to run the offense - Perhaps no other player is as important to Auburn’s fortunes.
By all accounts, Marshall has the confidence of his teammates. He’ll likely be a dramatic improvement over Auburn’s quarterback play the previous two seasons.
His development should be enhanced by a strong offensive line and some of the most imaginative play calling in college football.
Give Marshall a strong line and some creative offensive license, and we’ll see what everyone has been saying about his athletic ability.
4. Defensive depth - This may be Auburn’s biggest team weakness.
Auburn appears thin at defensive end, linebacker and in the secondary.
That’s almost every defensive position.
A few injuries at some keys spots could lead to a long season on defense. If the defense stays healthy, though, Auburn has a chance to make some improvement, especially in the secondary and at defensive tackle.
I’m guessing the defense will be more physical and the entire team will be in better physical condition.
5. Pressure from the defensive line - People talk over and over about the linebackers. They also talk about the secondary’s lack of interceptions last season.
Want to know how to begin to remedy both of those issues? Get some pressure from the defensive line.
This appears to be the one spot where Auburn has some depth on defensive. At least five defensive tackles appear likely to play.
Is Gabe Wright ready to live up to his promise? And is Montravius Adams prepared to contribute? Word is, he might be.
Here’s another reason for optimism: Defensive line coach Rodney Garner, known for his intensity on the practice field, coaches the way defensive linemen respond to.
That will lead to better results, in all likelihood.
Better results in the defensive line will give Auburn a more effective defense.
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