The Auburn Tigers, reeling from two straight losses for the first time under Gus Malzahn, have an opportunity to get back in the win column this weekend against Samford.
Pat Sullivan returns to Jordan-Hare as the head coach of the Bulldogs. Kodi Burns has joined his staff as the running backs coach and will also return home to the Plains. Despite the homecoming of sorts, Auburn’s play the last couple of weeks has created a different tone for this game. They need a win and would like to return to form on both sides of the ball in order to finish the season strong.
As with any non-conference game of this sort, it’s more about Auburn than it is about the opponent. The offense must regain its rhythm and confidence. After being held to 7 points in Athens, Nick Marshall and the Auburn offensive attack must show that the most recent performance was an aberration.
On defense, fundamental tackling has regressed and the consistent lack of a pass rush has doomed the Tigers’ efforts. Samford has some playmakers and will probably score some points, but this game presents an opportunity for the defense to regain their early season form and make big plays.
Perhaps the most glaring weakness of the 2014 Auburn team has been special teams. Daniel Carlson has been solid as a kicker and on kickoffs, but punting has been wildly inconsistent. Kick returns have been a nightmare. After leading the nation in punt returns early on, that unit has struggled recently.
Auburn needs to approach this game with 100% intensity and effort. They should be hungry to get back on the field after that embarrassing loss against Georgia. Maybe if this team was 9-1, this would be an opportunity to rest some starters and take it easy a bit. But at 7-3, their season at a crossroads and a trip to Tuscaloosa looming, the team as a whole must begin to make things right Saturday night in Jordan Hare by playing Auburn football.
Here are my three keys to the game:
- Offensive Tempo – It never got rolling against Georgia, and Malzahn’s offense is often pedestrian without the tempo element – see the 2011 Auburn team. Even though it’s Samford, Auburn needs to get their pace going this week. It can be a key weapon against Alabama, as we saw last year.
- Win the Turnover Battle – Seven turnovers in seven wins. Ten turnovers in three losses. This team’s issues are not that simple, but it’s probably the biggest factor in the 7-3 record thus far. Against Samford, there’s no reason to lose the turnover battle. Get back to taking care of the ball and creating turnovers on defense.
- Senior Leadership – The seniors are saying all the right things, but they need to come out fired up for their last game in Jordan Hare, even if it’s not against an SEC opponent. The tone they set will be clear for the rest of the season in the wake of these two losses.