With three pre-conference football games in the record book and the Tigers coming out on top each time, Auburn’s next challenge is dealing with three consecutive weeks of tests vs. SEC teams.
The first of those games may prove to be the toughest as Auburn makes a return trip to the Lone Star state for a Saturday afternoon matchup vs. the Texas A&M Aggies. Coach Jimbo Fisher’s 2-1 team is ranked 17th nationally with its loss a 24-10 setback on the road against No. 1 ranked Clemson. The Aggies are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball and feature an experienced and dangerous quarterback, Kellen Mond.
One of the reasons I think this game will be a major challenge for the Tigers is because it will be the first SEC road test for freshman quarterback Bo Nix. Combine that with facing an Aggie team that should be ready for payback after the Tigers made a late comeback in last year’s 28-24 victory, and I think this matchup will be even tougher than the road trip vs. No. 9 Florida in October because the Gators haven’t done much to earn such a high ranking.
Auburn’s three consecutive weeks of SEC matchups include a home game vs. Mississippi State to close the September schedule before heading to Florida. Playing Mississippi State at Jordan-Hare Stadium won’t be a gimme, but the Bulldogs lost a lot of key guys from 2018 and that game doesn’t look as challenging as the road trips vs. the Aggies and Gators.
Positives for the Tigers as they open SEC play include how well the defensive front is performing. Seniors Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown are off to strong starts and that is true of juniors Big Kat Bryant and Tyrone Truesdell.
Davidson has been SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week in games two and three, and without a doubt is playing his best football in his fourth year as a starter. Brown, who had to leave the Homecoming game early with an upper body contusion, is expected to be ready to play vs. the Aggies.
Another plus for the Tigers is they were able to give many of their backups much needed playing time last Saturday night. That is especially important at quarterback where Joey Gatewood was able to lead the offense on a pair of touchdown drives with each covering 69 yards. Four of the SEC’s starting quarterbacks have already suffered significant injuries with three out for the season so it is a big deal that the Tigers were able to give Gatewood much needed game experience.
From the Notebook:
• One of the most important positions in Auburn’s defensive scheme is the nickel. To play it well a defender has to have the speed and agility to run with quick and shifty slot receivers while also being physical defending the run. The Tigers picked up a verbal commitment for the 2020 class who has those tools when LaDarius Tennison, a four-star prospect from Rockledge, Fla., chose the Tigers over Florida, Miami and North Carolina.
• On the subject of AU’s secondary, the Kent State game marked the debut of true freshman cornerback Nehemiah Pritchett from Jackson High School. Skinny at 6-1, 162 pounds, he needs to add muscle and weight, but there is a lot to like about his coverage skills. Down the road look for him to become a starter after spending time in AU’s strength and conditioning program.
• A case can be made for a variety of different Auburn players as the most improved from the end of the 2018 season to now. If a vote was being taken this week, I would put junior Tyrone Truesdell at the top of the list.
The defensive tackle improved considerably from his freshman to sophomore seasons, but as a junior his performance level has really jumped. Considering the Tigers had to replace two key tackles from last season’s team, Truesdell’s emergence is a big deal.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter.