Preview 2017: Auburn Tigers
Previewing and looking ahead at the Auburn Tigers season – and what you need to know.
What You Need To Know About The Auburn Offense
Chip Lindsay comes in from Arizona State as the new Auburn offensive coordinator, but this is still Gus Malzahn’s team and his offense. However, for a team that ranked sixth in the nation in rushing and was 112th in passing, expect more downfield throws and more balance under the new guy.
It also helps to have the Baylor starting quarterback.
Jarrett Stidham knows how to wing it around the yard a little bit from his days with the Bears, but are the receivers in place to make the O go through the air? Yup – four of the top five targets are back. Leading receiver Tony Stevens might be gone, but the freshmen who got their feet wet last season as about to get the ball a whole lot more.
As improved as the passing game should be, it’ll be hard not to keep handing the ball off to the 1-2 punch of Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson – along with the other good options in the rushing rotation.
The line that was so effective loses a few key parts in Alex Kozan at one guard spot and Robert Left at right tackle, but with Braden Smith kicking to the outside, and Darius James back at left tackle, the blocking will be more than fine again.
Biggest Key To The Auburn Offense
The passing attack has to work, and there’s where Stidham comes in. The Tigers were relatively efficient, but six of the 12 touchdown passes came against Arkansas State and ULM – there weren’t two scoring passes or more in any other game. While interceptions weren’t the main reason for any losses, five of the six picks were thrown in the four losses, and the only other one was thrown in the win over Mississippi State.
Stidham isn’t going to wing it around like the Baylor offense used to, but he’ll add more accuracy and more efficiency. Auburn failed to hit 50% of its passes in three of the last four games – all losses. That will change.
What You Need To Know About The Auburn Defense
What was the big difference for Auburn? The running game worked like it was supposed to, and the defense was far, far better, going from giving up 405 yards per game and getting crushed against the run, to allowing 362 and being far stronger against the better ground games.
Losing top pass rusher Carl Lawson on the outside and star DT Montravius Adams from the interior hurts, but six of the top seven tacklers are back including Tray Matthews at one safety spot and Tre Williams in the middle of the linebacking corps.
The defensive backs can tackle, but the won’t need to do too much in run support with all three starting linebackers returning – the run defense might improve even more. However, the Tigers need work up front.
There’s size in the interior, and there might be a few good prospects for the outside, but can anyone crank up the pressure like Lawson did? Is there a defensive tackle who can be as disruptive as Adams?
Everything is in place for another big year for the Tiger team that finished seventh in the nation in scoring D, as long as it can …
Biggest Key To The Auburn Defense
Continue to get behind the line. It wasn’t all Lawson and Adams, but they were the ring leaders. Marlon Davidson came up with a strong freshman season on the other side of Lawson, and Donatavius Russell is promising in the interior. They’re not going to be Lawson and Adams, but they won’t have to do it alone.
As long as the D can come close to matching the 25 sacks, 83 tackles for loss, and constant pressure, it’ll be fine. The attack will come from all sides, and it’ll need to because …
Auburn Will Be Far Better If …
The run defense is terrific – always. Even with all of the fireworks and fun, the offense still has to control games, and the defense has to do its part to get off the field.
The Tigers were able to survive the miracle against LSU despite allowing 220 rushing yards, but they were 0-3 in the other three games it gave up 200 yards or more. Since beating Louisville to open up the 2015 season, Auburn is 1-7 when allowing two bills.
Texas A&M, Alabama and Oklahoma all took control on the ground, and Clemson and Georgia – despite getting stuffed and being held to around three yards per carry – were each able to come up with more than 40 carries.
Best Auburn Offensive Player
RB Kamryn Pettway, Jr. – While he earned All-SEC honors with 1,224 yards and seven scores, he missed three games hurt and wasn’t right in the Alabama loss. However, when everything was fine, he was a machine, taking off for 100 yards or more in seven of the nine games he played a major part in, destroying Ole Miss for 236 yards and hitting Arkansas for 192 yards and two scores.
The 6-0, 235-pounder was originally thought to be a fullback who could provide a little power, but he’s got the speed to crank out big plays when he breaks into the open field. There’s not a whole lot of wiggle to his game, but he can dart through the hole and bring the thump when he gets to the second level. Now he has to be able to last the season.
2. QB Jarrett Stidham, Soph.
3. RB Kerryon Johnson, Jr.
4. OG/OT Braden Smith, Sr.
5. QB Sean White, Jr.
Best Auburn Defensive Player
S Tray Matthews, Sr. – The former Georgia Bulldog turned into just what the Auburn secondary needed. He was fine in his first season for the Tigers with 46 tackles and two picks, and cranked it up with a team-leading 76 tackles last year. He doesn’t do all that much when the ball is in the air, but he’s a smart, tough leader who came up with a steady season for the improved defense. He might not be spectacular, but he’s rock-solid.
2. LB Deshaun Davis, Jr.
3. LB Tre Williams, Sr.
4. S Stephen Roberts, Sr.
5. DE Marlon Davidson, Soph.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Jarrett Stidham, Soph. There are other options – Sean White started last year, and John Franklin III could step in from his receiver spot and add some pizzazz to the attack – the hype for Stidham is off the charts for a reason.
The 6-3, 214-pound sophomore was brilliant at Baylor before getting hurt, hitting 69% of his passes for 1,265 yards and 12 scores with two picks, and he even showed a little running ability. Malzahn hasn’t had a quarterback quite like Stidham since he’s been at Auburn, and now the offense has a guy who can pick up the slack when the running game isn’t dominating like it’s supposed to.
The Auburn Season Will Be A Success If …
There’s a shot at winning the SEC West going into the Alabama game. Once again, Alabama is better, but the showdown is in Auburn this year. Despite the rivalry, the venom, and no matter what both sides believe, there’s no shame in losing to the Crimson Tide if they’re still national title-good. But Auburn has pulled it off before – as Tiger fans are more than happy to remind you.
There’s a brutal – BRUTAL – three game midseason road stretch against LSU, Arkansas and Texas A&M before dealing with Georgia, but the Tigers miss Florida and Tennessee from the East. Throw in the road game at Clemson, and the season won’t be easy, but again, if you told Auburn right now that it could go to the SEC Championship with a win on November 25th, it’ll take it no matter what.
Key Game To The Auburn Season
Oct. 14 at LSU – As always, of course the Alabama game is the one that matters most to the base, but for that to matter on a larger level, the Tigers have to take care of the other SEC West games first.
Last year, Auburn survived LSU on a reversed call at the end to avoid a potentially program-changing, crippling loss – sort of like what happened to the other Tigers. With Arkansas and Texas A&M to follow on the road, a loss in Baton Rouge will put the pressure on to survive the second half of the season without a blemish.
2016 Auburn Fun Stats
– Red Zone TDs: Auburn 31-of-55 trips (56%) – Opponents 32-of-43 trips (42%)
– 1st Quarter Scoring: Auburn 121 – Opponents 43
– Rushing Yards: Auburn 3,527 – Opponents 1,726