Auburn’s early season schedule has been an interesting one. We had the two marquee games in Washington and LSU, then the warmups in Alabama State and Arkansas. Now it’s on to the Golden Eagles of Southern Miss, a team that I would categorize somewhere between the gauntlet game and warmup game characterizations.
Southern Miss isn’t bad, but probably won’t be able to compete with Auburn. Let’s be honest there. Even when the Tigers were struggling last weekend on offense, the defense and special teams picked up more than their fair share of slack and helped the Tigers not only win, but cover a crazy 30-point spread. We could see a similar story today.
In these types of games, Gus Malzahn typically doesn’t want to throw the kitchen sink out. He doesn’t have to. Our defense ought to put the offense in shorter fields, and with the emergence of special teams last week, we’ve got a legitimate threat to score in all three phases of the game. Don’t be surprised if Auburn uses this outing to continue to work on things.
So, what do we want to see?
Offensive Line Improvements
Top of the list, king of the hill, A-Number-One. The offensive line has to get better in a hurry if Auburn wants to compete with the November slate. Here are the facts:
Yards Per Carry: 65th nationally (4.5 ypc)
Rush Yards Per Game: 45th nationally (199.3 ypg)
Total Offense: 90th nationally (385 ypg)
Sacks Allowed: 55th nationally (1.75 sacks per game)
TFLs Allowed: 40th nationally (5 TFLs per game)
It’s no secret that the offensive line was going to be a work in progress after losing some of the experience that we had last year. Thankfully, the change at center seems to have worked with Nick Brahms getting a high grade after last week’s game. He’s a stronger body there, and shouldn’t get pushed around as much. With Marquel Harrell’s injury healing up, that portion of the line should improve as well. It always takes Gus’ offense a little bit of time, but hopefully they figure it out this week and we see some things.
This is still a lingering issue. The games against Washington and LSU were brutal to watch because we couldn’t seem to get out of our own way. In those two combined, Auburn committed 21 penalties for 222 yards. It nearly cost us the Washington game, it DID cost us the LSU game. Even against Arkansas, there were seven penalties, but most of those were of the procedural type. Auburn’s 110th in the country in penalties right now. Clean those up and you’re saving several first downs a game.
This was Auburn’s bread and butter at times last year. Missouri, Mississippi State, LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia, Texas A&M. All of those games had us completing long passes and breaking off huge runs. At the moment, Jarrett Stidham has three touchdown passes through four games, with the distances of those coming from 10, 57, and 4 yards out. We’ve only had five pass plays of 25 yards or more this year, and only four run plays of 20 yards or more. That’s last nationally in the passing category, and 75th nationally in the rushing category.
Southern Miss is pretty solid at preventing big plays, and so if Auburn can somehow break off a couple today, then it’ll provide some good hope for the future.
We’re good on defense. We’re good on special teams. I expect that the sack numbers will tick upward this weekend with the statuesque Jack Abraham tossing the ball for Southern Miss, and Auburn should be able to break the goose egg that they’ve got in the punt return column. USM hasn’t allowed a single return all year long, but I imagine Ryan Davis will get a crack or two. They’re 88th in kickoff return defense, so Noah Igbinoghene may get another good chance as well.
As far as the offense is concerned, we’ve always started a little slower under Gus, and September has usually been the time when we figure things out. Here’s how Game Fives have shaken out for Auburn since 2013.
2013: 30-22 W vs Ole Miss (375 total yards)
2014: 41-7 W vs LSU (566 total yards)
2015: 35-21 W vs San Jose State (342 total yards)
2016: 58-7 W vs Louisiana-Monroe (688 total yards)
2017: 49-10 W vs Mississippi State (511 total yards)
It’s about the time that Auburn’s offense clicks into high gear and starts to figure itself out. Let’s see if the same things happen tomorrow and if we get into the right state of mind just in time for the SEC gauntlet to begin next week at Mississippi State. It’s Homecoming on the Plains! Have fun, and most importantly, War Eagle!