AN OPPOSING VIEW
ATHENS — There is nobody out there who knows about Auburn football than Phillip Marshall. There’s just not. Not on the outside looking in, at least, and Marshall has been looking in on the Tigers for a long, long time.
Probably best known for his long stints as sports editor at The Huntsville Times and Montgomery Advertiser, Marshall has plied his trade for nearly 10 years now for AuburnUndercover.com, the 247 Sports website devoted to covering the Tigers. He’s a senior writer and columnist for that outfit, a pretty incredible accomplishment considering he’s still writing daily 49 years after starting out at the Huntsville Times.
Marshall has done a lot of quality work during that half-century. He has won more that 30 individual writing awards, including Alabama Sports Writer of the Year twice and the Herby Kirby Award for state’s top sports story three times. But Marshall’s best work has been raising a loving family that includes grandchildren now numbering more than a dozen.
Obviously over that expanse of time, Marshall has been a witness to a lot of great things and a lot of not-so-great things while covering Auburn. Marshall had a great column recently about that, about how mediocrity and greatness have always gone back and forth in a cyclical flow over time. Be sure to read that and others by searching for Marshall’s “Unhinged” column with the hashtag #PMARSHONAU on following him on Twitter by the same handle, @pmarshonau.
Here’s some questions I sent Phillip’s way about Auburn and this year’s matchup against Georgia. Please enjoy:
1. Did you expect the Tigers to struggle as they have this season or is that just those of us on the outside who thought they’d be reloading in 2018?
MARSHALL: Not as much as they have. If you look at it, it was really set up for them to be 9-0 or at least 8-1 going into this game. The loss to Tennessee was extremely damaging in a lot of ways. There’s no way you should lose that game at home to that team. Having said that, I knew they had some holes to fill if they were going to be a serious championship contender again. QB Jarrett Stidham hasn’t thrown many interceptions, but he threw two against LSU and two against Tennessee that were very costly. They had LSU beat and let it get away. Against Mississippi State, they overthrew a sure touchdown pass and fumbled crossing the goal line. Against Tennessee, they had three turnovers.
2. One thing most would never expect is a Gus Malzahn team to struggle on offense. What have been the issues on that side of the ball?
MARSHALL: Putting it in a word – or two words – it’s the offensive line. Last season, they had Casey Dunn and Braden Smith, who are in the NFL now, and Austin Golson, who could literally play any OL position and play it well. This season, it’s been a struggle from the start, and it continues. On top of that, they’ve had some injuries. Boobee Whitlow looks like he is going to be a good SEC back, but he’s a redshirt freshman, he’s been hurt a lot, and he’s no Kerryon Johnson.
3. I know Auburn has one of the best defensive fronts in the league just from all those hosses back from last season, but the Tigers haven’t been as dominant as I expected on that side of ball. Typical misread by me or have there been injuries or some other explanations?
MARSHALL: I think they’ve been good. Derrick Brown is a dominant guy that wrecked A&M’s offensive line in the fourth quarter. They’ve given up lots of rushing yards two of the last three games, but I understand it has had more to do with linebacker misfits than the defensive line. I have to ask people who know questions like that, because I’m about as far from an expert as it gets.
4. Is the fan and donor base happy with the overall job Gus is doing considering that big ol’ contract AU just gave him? In your estimation what does he need to do better?
MARSHALL: There has been great unrest, especially since that Tennessee game. AD Allen Greene felt compelled to say Tuesday that Gus will be Auburn’s coach next season. The contract itself was a source of great controversy last year. As for what he needs to do better, he needs to let his coaches coach. He needs to either run the offense himself or let the OC run it. Those two things have been issues. He wrote a book on the hurry-up, no-huddle offense, but Auburn doesn’t hurry-up much these days.
5. What is the view of Georgia from over there on The Plains and how bad would the Tigers like to break some Bulldog hearts with a big upset at Sanford Stadium?
MARSHALL: I think Auburn people respect Georgia and Kirby Smart. The series has gotten lopsided in the last decade or so, moreso for Auburn than anytime since the 1940s, and they obviously don’t like that. You can imagine how hard it was for Auburn last season to beat both Georgia and Alabama and then watch them play for the national championship. Auburn players, especially the guys from Georgia, would like to destroy the Bulldogs’ national championship dreams.
PHILLIP MARSHALL’S PREDICTION
Auburn players seemed to get a real jolt of energy from their comeback victory over Texas A&M. I expect them to play well, maybe their best game of the season. But I don’t expect it to be enough on the road. Georgia 27, Auburn 20.