Thanks to those who submitted questions for this week's Plainsman Mailbag. Submissions for next week's will open Sunday.
From Lily J.
1. “What’s going on with Jarrett Stidham?”
The problems with Auburn's passing offense in 2018 are two-fold: Jarrett Stidham didn't mend his main issues from 2017 and the offensive line can't protect him.
While still a top NFL Draft prospect for this spring, Stidham tends to fall victim to the inconsistencies that caused Auburn's offense to fall off at the conclusion of last season. The redshirt junior looks through his first progression, then drops his eyes to the opposing defensive line that is often right on top of him.
Once Stidham is able to regroup and look upfield, it's been two or three seconds. By then, the receivers are now trying to create space after their routes, which usually leads to Stidham just tossing it out of bounds.
Sign up for our newsletter
Get The Plainsman straight to your inbox.
But Stidham being forced out of the pocket is a product of an offensive line unable to get much push. If the five up front can work things out — which might be a long shot against one of the SEC's top defensive lines at Mississippi State — Stidham should be able to return to his mid-2017 form.
From Scott R.
2. “Hello...could you please tell me if you have any info on why ...Harold Joiner isn't getting any reps....with the running back situation the way it is ....it's kind of puzzling...also I realize you have to have a O-line to produce...but at 6ft 3in 218lbs....WOW DON'T GET IT !!! Thanks.”
A versatile true freshman, Joiner has found himself buried near the bottom of the running back depth chart.
This isn't due to lack of ability. Assistant coaches Kodi Burns and Tim Horton raved in the preseason about his freakish athletic ability and how that translates well for the freshman at both the receiver and running back slots. It also isn't about a lack of confidence from Gus Malzahn.
“Harold is a guy that is going to be an excellent football player if he’ll keep working and all that," Malzahn said Tuesday. "Right now, he’s not in the mix as far as the every-down running back deal, but he has a bright future.”
When thrown into the offense, Joiner succeeded against Alabama State, scoring a Wildcat touchdown on his first-ever drive.
For now, behind a struggling offensive line, Auburn wants as much continuity as possible. That means using the running backs who received the most reps with the first-team O-line in fall camp.
But if for some reason Kam Martin, Shaun Shivers, Asa Martin or Malik Miller can't produce enough for Malzahn's liking — or if Auburn needs a goal-line threat — Joiner might be thrust into the mix. For the time being, however, the coaches are focused on retaining his redshirt.
3. “Why is Joey Gatewood not playing and why is Calvin Ashley not playing much to and why is our offensive line so terrible?”
a) For starters: Gatewood has been nursing a thumb injury since the preseason, and it was still wrapped during pregame walkthrough against Southern Miss. Unless Auburn blows Tennessee out of the water, don't expect to see the former 4-star prospect against anyone other than Liberty this season.
If you're insinuating that Stidham should be pulled in favor of a backup, Malzahn would turn to Malik Willis before Gatewood.
b/c) When right tackle Jack Driscoll injured his leg in the fourth quarter against Southern Miss, Malzahn initially slid in Austin Troxell. Troxell's side of the line was bullied for a sack on his first play.
So on the next drive, redshirt freshman Calvin Ashley took over. Ashley graded out as one of the top offensive linemen for the game, despite playing tackle instead of guard, where he'd been for all of the preseason.
Ashley will likely get a shot if Driscoll can't go against Miss State. But moving forward, Auburn wants to stick with the same front five as much as possible, evident in the lack of a depth chart change after the past two weeks of shortcomings.
4. “Could there be a new offensive coordinator at the end of the year?”
Depends on which way you ask the question.
If you're saying Chip Lindsey is fired, I say no chance. Lindsey's play designs haven't been awful, and he's showing ability to develop the young talent. The issues on the offensive line are mostly out of his control.
If you're talking about the possibility of Lindsey departing The Plains, that's a much larger possibility. Lindsey is well respected in many coaching circles across the country, and after a successful first season at the helm of the Tigers offense last season, his name began to pop up when discussing coordinators who are likely to become head coaches soon.
Lindsey almost took the South Alabama job at the end of last season. And despite what is now a lesser showing from his offense this season, Lindsey is still near the top of most coordinator-to-coach shortlists.
From @IAMBARNINGHARD on Twitter
5. “Besides injuries, do you think Gus & co are set on the starters at offensive line and are now just hoping for improvement?”
If Auburn remains in contention with a win over Miss State, then the answer is most likely yes.
The Tigers are in no ways eliminated from SEC Championship and Playoff talks. Offensive issues and all, Auburn will probably be favored in every game until Georgia and Alabama, meaning at least the UGA matchup will likely be a top-5 showdown — which would speak volumes to the incredible efficiency of Auburn's defense.
At that point, Auburn would want to win now and would therefore stick with the same offensive line group (Malzahn and J.B. Grimes have reiterated they would prefer to retain as much continuity as possible).
However, if Miss State comes out victorious Saturday and the offensive line continues to decline through the meat of conference play, it might be smart to build for the future.
But that future includes the same players up front. Other than Prince Tega Wanogho, who holds the best draft stock of the linemen, all the starters should return. That's when things will get tricky — an offseason of trying, again, to find the right O-line combination, possibly implementing the likes of Troxell, Ashley and Kim.
From @JoshFisherPhoto on Twitter
6. “What do you think needs to happen for Auburn to fix its O-Line problems?”
Good wrap-up question, Joshua.
It's interesting — in the past two games featuring these infamous O-line issues, Auburn's offense has found the most success playing to fix those issues, as opposed to just trying to power through them.
When Stidham gets the ball out quickly to his skill-position guys in space, they've had success. That happens because the Tigers' starting quarterback isn't able to feel comfortable on deep-ball three-step drops. Frankly, Stidham doesn't look comfortable doing much of anything at this point in the season.
Auburn has to work with who it's got at offensive line for the rest of the season, and probably next season as well. So, all that Tiger fans can realistically hope for is better play designs and game-planning to the team's strengths — something Malzahn has harped on this year, but not yet delivered.
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.Support The Plainsman