Offense is where my heart is. And my brain. Who can blame me, though? Which looks easier to understand, four simple variations of the Mills concept or THIS PATTERN MATCHING CONCEPT VS EVERY CONCEIVABLE ROUTE COMBINATION KNOWN TO MAN??? AND IT'S UPSIDE DOWN!!!
With that said, Peggy covered everything I had to say about the offensive performance last week. And I broke down the red zone play calling vs red zone execution debate after the Mississippi State game, so I'm not doing that again.
Instead, I turned my eye to the other side of the ball, particularly when Carl Lawson was on the field. After missing the last six and a half games, our best pass rusher made his presence known. The video above is every snap Auburn had on defense with Lawson on the field.
WARNING: These are not highlights. Some plays would make it on an Auburn highlight video, others an Ole Miss highlight video. Many aren't highlights at all. Just don't be mad at me when you see Ole Miss score.
The first thing that I noticed was how the mere presence of Lawson on the field energized the defense. Corners made tackles in space on quick screens. Linebackers helped stop runs at or near the line of scrimmage. Cassanova McKinzey rushed the passer better than he has all season, whether Lawson was on the field or not.
I think my favorite play came with 5:40 left in the first quarter. Lawson was lined up further inside than normal, between the right tackle and guard. The defender to his left on the outside backed into pass coverage at the snap. Lawson went wide, taking the tackle and guard with him. Meanwhile, Montravius Adams, the nose tackle, occupied the center and pulled him the other way. This opened a huge hole in the line for McKinzey to fly through and get the sack. Without Lawson demanding two blockers, that play doesn't happen.
As a pass rushing specialist, Lawson faced Rebel left tackle Laremy Tunsil quite a lot. As talented as Lawson is, Tunsil is a projected first round pick in this year's NFL draft. After missing the first half of the season due to agent issues, he got his second start against Auburn. How did that future NFL match up look?
Lawson won some and Tunsil won some. One of Lawson's best-looking plays came with 9:41 left in the second quarter. He speeds around Tunsil, knocks the left tackle's arms down so he can't push him further up field, and turns to get the quarterback. Chad Kelly just avoids him, so Tunsil didn't give up a sack, but it showed me that Lawson has the talent to give future first round picks trouble.
Eventually, Ole Miss found ways to avoid Lawson. Very few runs went his way and in the second half, when Lawson was on the field, the Rebels threw lots of receiver screens and rhythm passes. Very little five- or seven-step drop kind of stuff. And I really think Ole Miss was doing that because of Lawson. It's not included in this video, but when Lawson was not on the field, the short and quick stuff wasn't used quite as much.
All in all, Lawson had a good game. He should only get better and better as the season continues. It will be interesting to see what he decides to do after this season. He's a very talented player, slotted only seven spots after Tunsil in this early mock draft. He's even caught the eye of Justis Mosqueda's Force Player formula, a way to predict a edge rusher's probability of "making it" in the NFL.
With the injury history, will NFL teams be willing to risk a first round pick on him? With the injury history, would he risk playing college football another year?
I don't know. I think I know what I would do if I were an NFL general manager. I think I know what I would do if I were Carl Lawson. But for now, I'm more concerned with what I would do if I were Kyler Murray, Jacob Coker, or whichever quarterback Mark Richt decides to put on the field.