After suffering its first loss the Auburn football team has an extra week to prepare for the second half of the regular season and there are plenty of areas Coach Gus Malzahn and his assistants can focus on improving.
Before the Tigers take their show on the road again to Arkansas they need to be better prepared to get the ball to their offensive playmakers than they were at Florida. Anthony Schwartz and Will Hastings got one touch apiece, Eli Stove had two and Seth Williams finished the 24-13 loss with four touches, including his team’s only touchdown. Joey Gatewood, who had contributed in the early wins, didn’t get on the field.
With opponents likely to set up defenses to put extra defenders near the line of scrimmage to contain the run, Malzahn needs to find ways to make opponents pay for that strategy and getting the ball in space to guys like Schwartz, Stove and Williams seems like a very good strategy.
Defensively, the secondary needs to be prepared to stay very busy because opponents have had more success attacking the Tigers’ man-to-man pass coverage than they have had trying to run the football. If the Tigers can improve in coverage with the way Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson and others are rushing the passer, it will be a big deal for the Tigers.
The comment by Florida coach Dan Mullen that Davidson made a dirty play when he hit UF quarterback Kyle Trask was pitiful. I had a great view of that play. Davidson was being held by a Gator offensive linemen, who grabbed the Auburn player’s shoulder pads and pushed him into the Trask.
Davidson is a first class person, but I have no reason to have the same opinion of Mullen. Marlon was definitely not trying to hurt the quarterback.
On the subject of Davidson and Brown, those guys have been a lot of fun to watch. If you want to see a pair of seniors going all-out, all of the time, focus on No. 3 and No. 5 during a game.
Each has won the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week award twice this year and it won’t be a surprise if that trend continues in the second half of the season.
Comparing the 2019 Tigers to last year’s group, the record after six games is better despite playing a more demanding schedule. Last year Auburn was 4-2 overall and 1-2 in the SEC. The current group is 5-1 and 2-1 in the league.
Scoring is up from 28.7 to 33.8 points per outing, but the scoring defense has gone the other direction with the Tigers giving up 18.3 points per game compared to 14.3 at this time last year.
There is plenty of room to improve offensively, although the Tigers are rushing for 229.8 yards per contest, way up from 163.8 at this time last year.
The passing game, as inconsistent as it has been, is averaging 193.7, just seven fewer yards than at the midway point in 2018.
Defensively, the Tigers have been more successful vs. the run this year, giving up 101.3 yards per contest compared to 135.5 after six games in 2018.
The big area for improvement on defense is pass coverage. Opponents are averaging 231.8 yards, up from 188.0 allowed by the 2018 defense. To go with that the Tigers have just one interception through six games, which is another reason to expect most of Auburn’s opponents to throw the ball more than they run it when facing the Tigers.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter