Coach Gus Malzahn has this week’s game vs. Ole Miss plus a bye week to try to get his offense fixed before the next major challenge on Auburn’s football schedule arrives when the Georgia Bulldogs show up at Jordan-Hare Stadium on the Nov. 16.
However, before the Tigers face a fourth team currently ranked in the Top 10 they would be wise not to overlook Saturday night’s SEC West matchup vs. Ole Miss.
Auburn certainly has a better team than the Rebels, but Ole Miss has found its niche offensively with the ground game since going to speedy freshman quarterback John Rhys Plumlee. Because of that the potential is there for an upset if the Tigers sleepwalk through this week’s game.
Malzahn’s offense has generally been solid this year against defenses the Tigers can overwhelm with better talent, but against Top 10 opponents Oregon, Florida and LSU the Tigers averaged just 20 points and as a result two strong Auburn defensive performances were wasted at Florida Field and at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge.
Auburn’s head coach developed a reputation for having a sharp offensive mind and if this season is going to have a strong finish he needs to figure out a way to get his guys performing at a higher level. If that had already happened the Tigers could easily be undefeated despite playing the nation’s toughest schedule.
On the subject of scheduling, college basketball features a marathon season that starts in early November before concluding at the Final Four in Atlanta in early April. Teams can change considerably from the start to finish of their schedules.
In Auburn’s case, with eight new scholarship players to replace five Tigers who are currently on pro rosters, Bruce Pearl’s team has plenty of potential for growth. His Tigers will go on public display for the first time with a home exhibition game on Friday night vs. Eckerd.
On Tuesday the Tigers will open the regular season against what is expected to be a good Georgia Southern squad on Tuesday at Auburn Arena. The Eagles were one of the top shooting teams in the country last year.
From what I have seen in preseason practice the 2019-20 Tigers won’t shoot the three-ball anywhere nearly as well as the record-setting bunch led by Bryce Brown and Jared Harper, but this year’s group will have capability in that area.
Where the strength of the current team is likely to be is nearer the basket with big guys like Austin Wiley, Anfernee McLemore and Babatunde “Stretch” Akingbola giving Pearl his most formidable front line he has had during his time at Auburn. The Tigers should also have good depth, which is very useful in dealing with the physical challenges of playing an 18-game SEC schedule.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter