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Auburn Panel: Mississippi State week

What most surprised you about Auburn’s performance on either side

of the ball Saturday?

Jonathan Jenkins: Greatest surprise was the special teams. This phase of Auburn’s game is so dominated by underclassmen that I was quite a few trepidation sitting down to watch. Yet, Utah State was constantly starting on or inside their 20 yardline after kickoffs and punts. Add to that a kickoff return for a touchdown and pinpoint accurate onside kick. Suddenly, Auburn no longer has special teams worries. In fact, I’m hoping to see a lot of Auburn’s kickoffs this season.

Bill Meador: What surprised me most about Auburn’s performance was the lack of physicalness of the defense. They seemed to be confused and got manhandled.  I was impressed with how solid the special teams were all around. I thought the offense was just okay and must improve its running game greatly.

Rick Dunn: I honestly felt that our Defense would play much better. I understand that Utah State came at us with a new offense, but I would have thought that we would come up with an answer for it by the third possession or so. Several times we just could not stop them on 3rd down; which was one of our strengths last year. Utah State had a great game plan and executed it very well.

What did you take away from this game as the biggest positive? How

would you improve that?

Jonathan Jenkins: With two minutes on the clock and down 10 points, I told Dad, “We don’t have Cam to bail us out this year.” Honestly, longtime Auburn fans remember numerous thrilling victories snatched from the closed jaws of defeat over the decades. This 2011 team quickly placed their names on the list of greatest Auburn comebacks. Nobody on that sideline looked for Cam. Nobody in the huddle looked for Cam. Their put their names in the book of Auburn football history. That kind of enthusiasm and expectation mixed and poured into confidence will carry this young team a long, long way in 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Bill Meador: The biggest positive, I thought, was how many freshmen we played and the experience they got. The depth it will create will be invaluable down the stretch.

Rick Dunn: The biggest positive was that we found a way to win. We played 62 different players, so we picked up a little experience. (I’m not sure that the price paid was worth it.) Another positive was that the coaching staff should learn a great deal about where we are. We should be thankful that Utah State played such and good game and tested us so well. Beating up on a Cup Cake team for a season opener serves no one.

How much blame does the defense shoulder for the near upset Saturday?

Jonathan Jenkins: Consistency. The young Tigers up front made several great plays tackling runs for huge losses and sniffing out screen passes. However, there were times that third-and-fourteen situations would turn into

first downs for Utah State. The ability is obviously there. Consistency will come with time. For many of these young men it was the first time they had stepped in Jordan-Hare for a nationally televised game. The excitement of living dream has to mature quickly for that dream to become a reality.

Bill Meador: I don’t know that “blame” is a good word, but they have got to stop the run better and get more pressure on the quarterback. It starts up front with the line and linebackers tackling better.

Rick Dunn: I would say that the defense shoulders roughly 70% of the blame. Missed tackles, not getting off the blocks, and a general lack of physicality were the major culprits. Utah State “bowed up” and played mad and thus won at the line of scrimmage. Our defensive and offensive lines had better develop some pride and aggressiveness. Size and athletic ability will only take you so far. The offense bears some blame due to their inability to convert third downs in several key situations. I feel that we did not throw enough early in the game. I understand why, and of course hindsight is 20/20; but had we thrown more early in the game, I feel that the outcome would have been very different.

Based on what you saw Saturday, grade Barrett Trotter’s performance.

Jonathan Jenkins: I would grade Trotter on the A-B borderline on overall performance. The win edges him toward an A-. Yes, he was bailed out a couple of times by his receivers who were reaching back for passes. The pass to Lutzenkirchen was obviously late. However, Trotter never lost poise throughout the game. As cameras showed him on the sideline during the Aggies last scoring drive, he seemed to be studying the game and considering the possibilities. There was no dejection on his face.

Yes, his leadership is entirely different from Cam. Barrett doesn’t read with his emotional optimism; he’s leading with ice-cold confidence flowing through his blood.

Bill Meador: I give Trotter a solid B for both leadership and performance. Early in the game he was 13 for 18 passing and no interceptions. He finished 17-23 passing for the game. He was exceptional on the last 2 drives taking AU in for 2 touchdowns to win the game.

Rick Dunn: Trotter gets an AAA rating. (And remember; the federal government only has an AA+) If the coaches had a hard time choosing a starting QB, we must be in very good shape at that position. It is impossible to not be impressed with his passing performance. And, I was particularly surprised by his foot speed. I would say that it is too early to grade him as a leader; although early indications are very positive.

What is your final score prediction for Mississippi State?

Jonathan Jenkins: This is tough because I’ve actually predicted that the Bulldogs are the darkhorse favorite to win the West due to unanswered questions on Alabama and LSU’s teams. However, a Tiger upset of Mullins’ kennel can throw a shockwave through the SEC West. Expect State to have more yards rushing at the end of the day. Expect the Auburn defense to

continue growing pains. Expect 85,000 Auburn fans to make their

attendance known. The second half of last year’s game was nap time.

End the end of this one, we may still have something on the line in

the last three minutes. Auburn 37 – Mississippi State 35.

Bill Meador: MSU is big and strong as always and really runs the ball well. I believe the Tigers have worked on their shortcomings this week and will have a better game plan and effort. I look for a mild upset.   AU 29 – MSU 24.

Rick Dunn: I have looked a little deeper in to Utah State and Memphis over the past week. Utah had four key players, who had missed last season due to injury, come back for this game. Bear in mind that they played Oklahoma for the season opener last year and lost by one touchdown and they Beat BYU who went 5 – 3 in the Mountain West last year. I believe that they will win nine games this year. Memphis’ only win last year was against Middle Tennessee State, 24 – 17, in a game where MTS had four turnovers. They were outscored, on average, 40 to 14. I know that I may see Auburn through rose colored glasses, but I expect to win. Auburn 41, MSU 35.

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