A stiff breeze might put up more resistance to Auburn than Kent State this weekend, but it will be a good game for the Tigers to continue working to find an identity on offense and give some starters, especially on defense, well-earned rest.
The defense has been terrific in its first two games, holding Tulane to 223 total yards in the home-opener last weekend and Oregon to 332 in the season-opener. The defense has also gotten stronger as the game goes on, holding the Green Wave to 92 second-half yards and zero points and the Ducks to 123 yards and seven points. The defense's strong performance after halftime bodes well for the Tigers, who will likely find themselves in more heated late-game battles as SEC play begins next weekend. In any case, the Tigers are well on their way to proving true Gus Malzahn's statement that this defense has the chance to be the best he's seen during his tenure.
While the defense has been living up to its preseason hype, not much can be said of the offense, which has struggled at times, particularly in the first half running the ball. In its two games, the Tigers have rushed for 90 combined yards in the first half, including a paltry 20 yards against Tulane, compared to a combined 288 second-half rushing yards. While the increase in production points toward coaches making solid second-half adjustments and mixing up blocking schemes, those adjustments will need to be made sooner in the game as the schedule gets more difficult and the stakes higher.
Auburn also cannot afford to give the ball away and kill momentum — Boobee Whitlow put the ball on the ground three times against Tulane, losing two, including a fumble on the Tigers' second drive as they were pushing into Green Wave territory, another in the second quarter at Tulane's 1-yard line that could have cost the Tigers a score, and his last in the fourth quarter, which gave the Green Wave the ball on Auburn's 36-yard line. Whitlow, and Auburn, needs to do a much better job protecting the ball.
While fumbles and picks might not be a big deal against a lesser opponent, turnovers will cost the Tigers games in SEC play.
The Tigers should look to get Harold Joiner, Shaun Shivers and possibly D.J. Williams more chances this week to show what they can do.
With star wideout Seth Williams out for the Kent State game, the coaches should explore giving more snaps and targets to younger receivers like Matthew Hill while continuing to build the chemistry between Eli Stove and Will Hastings, who need to help Bo Nix settle into the comfort zone in the pocket. Nix has been inconsistent and inefficient in the first two games, despite leading Auburn to a dramatic win over Oregon in the final seconds. The true freshman has only connected on 47 percent of his pass attempts so far, a number that must tick up to at least the upper 50 percent range in the coming weeks if the Tigers want to keep the winning streak going.
For this week, I see the Tigers rolling big regardless.
Auburn 52 – Kent State 3