Auburn kicks off the 2022 season against Mercer in fifteen days, thankfully at nighttime, and the Tigers will open the season with an opponent they should crush.
The same was said about the Bears back in 2017, when Gus Malzahn was on shaky ground in his employment, and the Tigers were trying to figure things out.
If you recall, Auburn started the year against Georgia Southern, and handled the Eagles easily, but Kerryon Johnson got hurt, and that’s where things got weird over the next couple of weeks. Auburn then went to Clemson in Week 2, and lost 14-6 in a game that they likely win with KJ running the ball. Instead we got the Chandler Cox experience on the goal line, and Auburn never found the end zone. Lack of a reliable running game also ended up earning eleven sacks of Jarrett Stidham, and so things weren’t rosy when we all went back home for a date with Mercer.
In classic Gus form, he decided not to show anything, and I mean anything, to anyone concerning the offense. With Kerryon still out, we turned to Kam Pettway, whose presence I wish we had more of late in 2017, and the short passing game from Stidham.
Watch all of this if you dare, it looks like they run the same four plays over and over again.
The reason for consternation came when Auburn fumbled on the first drive of the game after driving 41 yards into Mercer territory. Okay, whatever.
That wouldn’t have mattered, but then Auburn punted on its next drive, and finally hit the end zone on drive number three. That would be all the scoring we’d see for quite some time. Of the first nine combined drives of the game, we got a fumble, seven punts, and a 4-yard Kam Pettway touchdown run with about a minute left in the opening quarter. Both teams added second quarter field goals, and the Tigers led 10-3 at halftime.
Over the course of the second quarter, Auburn fumbled twice more, but moved the ball nearly at will running an extremely limited playbook. Gus clearly wanted to just get out of this one in the third quarter, and the Tigers ran with drives of 78, 44, and 63 yards, but only came away with 7 more points. Things got extremely dicey when Mercer scored to pull within a 17-10 deficit after they picked off Jarrett Stidham. Auburn was able to ice things in the end with a third Pettway touchdown run, but it was a day that didn’t exactly instill confidence into the fanbase after the performance against Clemson.
The Tigers ran up 510 total yards of offense, with Stidham going 32-37 for 364 yards through the air. Seven players caught three or more passes, and with the thin lineup in the backfield, Pettway got nearly all the work with 34 carries. Stidham was the only other ball carrier with 7 attempts.
The next week Auburn figured it out for a moment with the blowout win at Missouri, and Kerryon Johnson got back in the groove with 5 touchdown runs. Auburn would win handily until the collapse at LSU.
Two weeks from now, Auburn will be starting either TJ Finley or Robby Ashford at quarterback, and the running game will likely have much more distribution than just one guy. I can’t imagine we’re going to see the most limited playbook in the world either, since we’ll likely still be auditioning a couple of guys to give them shots at running the full offense. There was a scrimmage tonight, but word out of it is extremely tight. Expect to see some actual news out of the program over the next couple of days, particularly early next week!