Although Auburn football fans probably won’t be able to get a real good read on their team’s strengths and weaknesses on Saturday night considering the competition is a long way from SEC quality, it will be interesting to see how smoothly the Tigers function in game one of the Bryan Harsin Era.
In addition to an almost entirely new coaching staff, the Tigers have switched from a spread to a pro-style offense under the direction of Coordinator Mike Bobo. They have also changed from a 4-3 defense and are based out of a 3-4 front, which will change into different looks under the direction of Coordinator Derek Mason, who has a history of mixing up his alignments during the course of a game.
It will be interesting to see if the Tigers can control the line of scrimmage when Akron has the football. When the Zips are trying to put the ball in the air, something to watch is can a speedy defensive front consistently pressure the quarterback and how good a job the rebuilt secondary does working together as a smoothly functioning unit?
Offensively, a veteran line will be counted to perform at a higher level than it did in 2020. There were some hiccups in preseason with not all of the players available for all of the practices.
Also worth watching carefully is can Bo Nix complete a higher percentage of his throws with a more sophisticated passing game to manage. Adding to his challenge is that the Tigers will be putting a mostly inexperienced receiver group on the field to run pass routes.
Harsin and his staff inherited a very good situation on special teams with the return of Anders Carlson, a second team All-American last year, and two solid punters.
Carlson is coming off a memorable performance as a junior when he connected on 20 of 22 field goals. That will be tough to match, but based on the way he has been kicking in preseason he looks ready to pick up where he left off last year.
Aidan Marshall, a senior, and sophomore Oscar Chapman from Australia are competing to be the No 1 punter. It won’t be surprising to see both guys in action as was the case in 2020, although the Aussie is listed atop the opening night depth chart.
Unless there is a change of plans, the Tigers plan to use many of their offensive and defensive starters on one or more special teams groups, a sure sign that the head coach is serious about those units.
Overall, Harsin and his staff inherited a lot of experienced players and brought in other experienced guys via the transfer portal. In the game one, two-deep depth chart there are 11 seniors on offense and nine on defense. There are three juniors on offense and three more on defense along with nine apiece from the sophomore class on offense and defense.
There are just two redshirt freshmen on the depth chart, both on defense, and the lone true freshman on the depth chart is second string receiver Tar’Varish Dawson.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter.