Unless this week’s Auburn football opponent, Ole Miss, self-destructs like it did last Saturday at Arkansas, the Tigers will need to clean up their offensive mistakes when they take the field on Saturday morning at Oxford or it could be another disappointing road trip for Gus Malzahn’s team.
The Rebels, even including their game-four fiasco that featured six interceptions and a lost fumble by quarterback Matt Corral, are averaging 36.5 points per contest. Auburn’s highest total this season is the 30 points scored in a home win over Arkansas.
On the plus side for the Tigers, they settled on five starters for the offensive line and went with the group for a whole game at South Carolina. For a second straight week, they rushed for more than 200 yards and usually gave Bo Nix enough time to pass the football, so there looks to be progress up front. However, on the downside there were other problems that limited the Tigers to 22 points in the loss.
The obvious issue was Bo Nix throwing three interceptions that changed the momentum after the Tigers got off to a good start. However, the offense’s lack of production was a group effort. There were dropped passes and on some plays the receivers didn’t do a good job of creating separation from defensive backs. Also, the play-calling could have been better and there seemed to be confusion at times on who was supposed to be where on pass routes.
For a second straight week, freshman Tank Bigsby was a threat with the ball in his hands, but he only got 16 touches vs. South Carolina on a day he averaged right at seven yards per carry. The lack of carries didn’t make sense and it won’t make sense this week if it happens at Oxford where the Tigers will face an Ole Miss defense that is allowing 6.2 yards per rush.
Traditionally, good Auburn teams win football games against Ole Miss, but at 2-2 the Tigers have a lot of improvement to do to reach the level of “good” this season. It is not just the offense that needs work. The Tigers have struggled making stops in the red zone and on third downs, two areas they have generally been successful in during recent seasons.
After the loss at South Carolina, Coach Gus Malzahn promised that fans will see his team improve as the season progresses. If that doesn’t happen, he could be looking at his worst record since taking over as head coach beginning with the 2013 season.
On the subject of teams that will need to improve during the course of a season, that description should fit Bruce Pearl’s rebuilt basketball Tigers. They started their regular preseason practice schedule last week minus all five of last year’s starters plus their top guy off the bench. Samir Doughty, J’Von McCormick, Austin Wiley, Isaac Okoro, Danjel Purifoy and Anfernee McLemore contributed to success at home, in road games and neutral sites. Auburn, Kentucky, Duke and Kansas are the only four major college teams to win 25 or more games each of the past three seasons, so those guys will be missed.
With five talented freshmen expected to contribute during the 2020-21 schedule and a roster with no scholarship seniors, Pearl’s team has the look of a group that has the potential to steadily improve as it gains experience during the coming season.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter