Here we are, back again! It’s another Auburn football Saturday, and this one is more important than the opponent may suggest.
The Tigers take on the Golden Flashes of Kent State this evening at Jordan-Hare Stadium, but the fact of the matter is that this game is all about Auburn. Through the first two weeks, Gus Malzahn has piloted a 2-0 ship, but that hasn’t come without a few leaks and the need to bail out some water.
THE GOOD: Auburn’s defense is elite, no way around it. The 21 points allowed to Oregon skew any stats a bit, but the majority of that damage was done in the first quarter. Afterward, the Ducks went 1-12 on capping drives with points, and Auburn mounted the comeback. Last week, Tulane scored on its opening drive, and then just one other (two field goals) on the way to a sub 250-yard total output. The defensive line is fearsome, the new linebackers have *pop*, and the secondary is full of talent.
Elsewhere, Bo Nix has shown that he’s not afraid of the moment, and he’s got every skill necessary to steer the offense. He just hasn’t gotten any help. He won’t have much today either, with the wide receiver injuries, an offensive line that’s still trying to find itself, and a running back corps that hasn’t figured out how to be great yet.
Also, Christian Tutt has turned into a star on defense and in the punt return game. His performance is a total mirror image of something that we’ll mention below.
THE BAD: We just mentioned it. Auburn’s offensive line is problem number one. The tackles are fine, and when things need to go around the edges, it’s been fairly successful, but we just cannot generate a push up the middle. Couple that with tailbacks who haven’t been able to really see the holes they need to hit, and Ric Smith gets a ton of practice droning “Whitlow with the carry, no gain on the play”.
It’s not just the offensive line either... our receivers haven’t had the same panache that they did in the past when clowning defensive backs on the edge. Kodi Burns was a great blocking wideout, but this group just hasn’t had it the same way he did. It’s an extremely important part of Auburn’s offense, and it’s hampered things much the same way that the line troubles have.
THE UGLY: Can we do two things? Can we defend punt returns and can we keep our wide receivers healthy? The punt coverage has been abysmal to start the year.
It nearly gave Oregon the oomph to put the game out of reach, and even Tulane found room to run when Auburn was forced to punt, which is, sadly, often so far. Right now, Auburn has the nation’s WORST punt coverage unit. That’s hard to do! You have to actively try to be that bad, and they’ve succeeded.
Finally, can we get our wide receivers healthy? Bo Nix’s time running the offense and getting cohesive with them in the fall was limited because of Anthony Schwartz’s broken hand. And Seth Williams’ back. And Will Hastings/Eli Stove were being held out for precautionary reasons much of the time. Today would be a perfect opportunity to tune up for A&M next week, but Williams won’t play after last week’s shoulder collision, and Schwartz may only get one deep ball thrown his way — the guy with the cast on his hand is the perfect decoy.
So what does that mean for today?
It means that Auburn needs to play the type of game that’ll make the fans sleep a little easier as we get into SEC play. How do they do that? It could come in a couple of different ways. Maybe the best way would be for the offensive line to blow Kent State off the ball for about 400 rushing yards. I’m not sure that’ll happen, but going for about 250 on 40 carries would be good.
Otherwise, getting Bo Nix to hit close to 65% through the air and spreading the ball to guys like Matthew Hill (who will need to be big for now) and Marquis McClain (who played a ton but got no targets last week) is a solid start.
I think we’d also like to see a more understandable plan from Gus Malzahn. The script has looked weird over the first couple of weeks, and the sassy Gus playcalling that we thought we were getting hasn’t emerged yet. Maybe he’s saving it for the SEC slate, but either way, we need to see something a little more real tonight.
Finally, please keep the injury list empty for this game. We can’t go into the road games we have over the next few weeks and come out successful if guys keep getting bruised.
Let’s make today a good one, enjoy what’ll likely be an easy win, and War Eagle!