After getting shut out over the course of the first three quarters against Georgia, it's become painfully clear that the Auburn offense is struggling to sustain drives and turn what success it does find into points — a trend that has been borne out in the Tigers' other matchups against highly-regarded and ranked teams.
The Tigers have managed only 18.5 points in their four games against Oregon, Florida, LSU and Georgia, well below their season average of 30.8.
Against the Bulldogs, the Tigers largely abandoned the ground-and-pound mentality and relied on the passing attack to come back in the game, scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and giving the team a chance to tie the game late.
The big difference between the first three quarters and the last? Explosive plays, according to Gus Malzahn.
"We actually had some explosive plays that got us in pace, we had some that we got the first first down, that we were wearing them down and that helped, too," he said. "Well you look at the fourth quarter — that gives you something to build upon. At the same time, I mean right now, I think, we are in the top half in our league offensively, so there are some things — we’ve just got to put more points on the board. Like I said, we’ve had a couple opportunities and we didn’t."
The Tigers also need to find more balance on offense, as the running game has increasingly faltered over the past three games, picking up on 130, 167 and 84 yards against LSU, Mississippi and Georgia, respectively.
The offense should find little trouble picking up chunk yardage and points against overmatched Samford on Saturday before facing the elephant on the schedule next weekend.
The Tigers likely can't afford to run such a pass-heavy offense against the Tide, whose strengths lie in pass defense, which gives up only 192 yards a game and has picked up 11 interceptions on the season.
On the other side of the ball, the defense has continued to be the heart and soul of this team, consistently giving the Tigers a chance to pull out a win in tough games.
The Tigers rank second in the SEC behind Georgia in giving up only 4.81 yards per play in conference play and 4.67 yards per play overall.
The defense played at a championship level against the Bulldogs, holding their offense to only 251 total yards and forcing 10 three-and-outs, including the last three Georgia drives when the Bulldogs managed only one total yard of offense.
You can ask much more of a defense than that, and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele should be a favorite to win the Broyles Award for the nation's best assistant coach.
The starters on the Tigers' defense deserve as much time off this weekend against Samford as can be afforded. They've earned it and need to recharge for next weekend's showdown with the Tide. The offense? Get as much work in as possible to build confidence before facing another tough test.
Prediction: Auburn 59, Samford 3.