A year after winning the SEC Championship and falling short against Florida State in the national title, Auburn regressed to an 8-5 record in coach Gus Malzahn’s second year. But the Tigers are poised for a rebound in 2015, as Malzahn’s offense will be one of the nation’s best, and the defense should show marked improvement under new coordinator Will Muschamp.
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Previewing Auburn’s Offense for 2015
Few teams feel good about replacing six starters on offense, but Auburn should have little reason to worry. A blend of experienced backups ready to take the next step, incoming talent ready to make an instant impact and the mind of Gus Malzahn leave the Tigers in good position.
Expect Auburn’s offense to change, though. Gone are the days of Nick Marshall’s zone-read attack, replaced by a more balanced offense led by experienced backup Jeremy Johnson, who has been brilliant in brief glimpses over the past two seasons. D’haquille Williams (45 catches, 730 yards, five touchdowns) returns to lead the receiving corps, and reliable contributors Ricardo Louis and Marcus Davis — along with newcomer Jason Smith — look ready to step into the roles left by Sammie Coates and Quan Bray.
At running back, hyper-talented freshman Roc Thomas will compete against Jovon Robinson, the nation’s No. 1 junior college transfer, for the right to take over the lead role in an offense that has produced 11 1,000-yard rushing seasons in Malzahn’s nine years at the collegiate level. Those two will be running behind an offensive line that lost three starters but somehow returns six players who have made a start in the SEC, led by tackles Shon Coleman and Avery Young.
Previewing Auburn’s Defense for 2015
The big news in Auburn is the arrival of Will Muschamp, who tries to fix a defense that hasn’t been dominant since the last time he roamed Auburn’s sidelines.
Muschamp’s toughest task is fixing a pass rush that produced just 10 sacks in eight SEC games. Getting Carl Lawson back from a torn ACL that cost him last season will help, as Muschamp plans to plug the sophomore into the “Buck,” his hybrid defensive end-outside linebacker spot, and turn him loose. Lawson’s presence should also help free Montravius Adams, a rising star at defensive tackle. Auburn lost four senior contributors at tackle, but redshirt freshman Dontavius Russell could be a star, and five-star defensive end Byron Cowart is on his way.
The top three tacklers from 2014 — safety Johnathan Ford, linebacker Cassanova McKinzy and linebacker Kris Frost — are all back, along with Jonathan Jones, who picked off six passes and earned second-team All-SEC honors. To that mix, Auburn adds the services of Tray Matthews, the former Georgia safety who looked like a star before he was dismissed following off-the-field issues. Now that his transfer year is complete, Matthews will be a physical presence in the back end.
Previewing Auburn’s Specialists for 2015
Daniel Carlson stepped in as a freshman and instantly extended Auburn’s run of reliable kickers, punching through 75 percent of his field goals in his first season. What he won’t have to do this season is also handle the punting duties; Auburn signed punter Ian Shannon to take the load off of Carlson’s leg. Who will fill big holes in the return game is anybody’s guess; Auburn plans to audition a wide range of players through the spring and summer.
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Some moving parts have to come together for Auburn to once again be a player in the SEC West, but Malzahn’s reputation as an offensive mind and Muschamp’s prowess on defense mean the Tigers are a safe bet to make some noise. With Johnson at the helm, Auburn should be a dangerous passing team, and the combination of talent at both running back and offensive line, plus Malzahn’s history of churning out 1,000-yard rushers, means Johnson should have a solid complement. The pressure, then, falls on Muschamp, who doesn’t have to hold teams to 10 points or less; if he can get the Tigers around 20-24 points against per game, Auburn should be a contender.