Gus Malzahn vs. Todd Grantham.
These two have met before, most recently during Auburn’s famous Hail Mary comeback win vs. Georgia in 2013 known as “The Immaculate Deflection”. Louisville’s Josh Harvey-Clemons & Shaq Wiggins were with Georgia during that game as well as Auburn’s Trey Matthews. Malzahn may have come out ahead 43-38 in 2013, but in 2011 when Malzahn was the OC, Grantham’s Defense dominated Auburn and led Georgia to a 45-7 victory holding the Tigers to just 195 yards. In 2010 however Gus held the advantage leading Auburn to a 49-31 win with 463 yards with Cam Newton.
Auburn has a series of fantastic players starting with its Quarterback Jeremy Johnson. Johnson represents a change in style for the Tigers. Last year, Auburn utilized the skill set of Nick Marshall who was best known for his running ability. Marshall did an OK job throwing the ball, but Jeremy Johnson is the inverse of Nick Marshall. Jeremy is mobile, but he shouldn’t be considered a major threat to run. The Tigers are who they are and Johnson will continue to employ a lot of the main concepts from a year ago, but where Johnson will excel is in the passing game for the Auburn Tigers.
Gus Malzahn (as Bobby Petrino said) has always been a ‘spread’ with run emphasis. Auburn attacks the outside in their rushing attack. The Tigers use motion, run/pass options, speed options, and then will attack the middle to test the temperament of its opponent. And Auburn will go DEEP…. A LOT. D’haquille Williams, Ricardo Louis, and Melvin Ray are all big targets that are 6’2 or taller that can challenge Louisville’s secondary in the vertical passing game.
But where Auburn REALLY makes its mark is in the run game. The Tigers attack the outside and find all kinds of room inside and AU does it with power. Keeping Auburn’s offense at a quick pace and taking advantages of mis-matches and disallowing the defense to substitute is really where the Plainsmen place the most pressure on its opponents.
For Louisville, the Cardinals MUST TACKLE. Auburn’s offense is effective enough that it’s normal production is enough to cause plenty of problems. If Louisville hopes to beat the Tigers, they must have an elite tackling performance particularly outside with its cornerbacks. Louisville’s pressure on the QB SHOULD eliminate the time necessary for Auburn to go deep, but if Malzahn is able to run the ball with Roc Thomas, Jovon Robinson & Co. Quarterback pressure really doesn’t matter much and UofL will be spending its time trying to get off the field against the rush.
It is extremely important for each Louisville defender to play his position, stay home and trust his teammates. Whenever teams try to do too much defensively, Auburn takes advantage. The Cards have a great deal of players who are capable of causing disruption in the backfield, but that aggression can be used against Louisville in Auburn’s scheme. Last year, Auburn routinely threw to receivers when corner’s blitzed for big gains. Keith Kelsey & James Burgess have to make the proper decision decisively in all phases. Auburn will attack the middle & outside with similar regularity, and will attempt to disguise their attack until the last possible second. Louisville must be solid up the middle, they are going to need the Bash Brothers to make plays against this Auburn offense.
One advantage Todd Grantham’s defense has is its versatility. Coach Grantham talks all the time about having players who can play multiple positions and do multiple things. Because Auburn really does everything it can to create mis-matches by disallowing substitutions, the flexibility of Louisville’s personnel is a nice fit vs. the Tigers. Josh Harvey-Clemons is the best example playing the Star position. Josh can line up against a slot, at outside linebacker, or back at safety. He has the size and athleticism to do all effectively. Also players like Sheldon Rankins can play inside and outside (which he may be asked to play a lot inside vs. Auburn).
In all, Auburn has a lot of questions on offense…..but it’s still Gus Malzahn that we are talking about and with that reputation QB Jeremy Johnson is already being mentioned in the Heisman race. Louisville returns a number of studs on defense…but it’s still a new defense with a secondary that is entirely revamped. Auburn is going to move the ball and they will score, but we’ll have to wait and see just how easily the Tigers will have success and how often they are able to put points on the board. If the Cards can frustrate the Tigers offensively and set the tone in this game, they can allow Louisville’s Offense time to settle down and play deliberately. Auburn’s entire system is based on scoring and forcing the hand of its opponent by making it desperate to catch up. If Louisville can buy the Cardinal offense time Louisville has a chance to win the game…….and Louisville has the defense to do it, they just have to execute.