Just two games into the 2020 Southeastern Conference football season, only four teams remain unbeaten, which is a by-product of the revised schedule with no non-league contests.
Auburn not being in the foursome that includes Alabama from the Western Division plus Georgia, Florida and Tennessee from the SEC East is no surprise considering the questions about how strong the Tigers were at the line of scrimmage when they took the field at Sanford Stadium last Saturday night.
Georgia took command early by exposing Auburn’s shortcomings on the offensive line as well as the defensive front four. How quickly the Tigers can improve in those areas will determine how much of a struggle the remaining eight SEC games are going to be.
The Tigers and this week’s opponent, the Arkansas Razorbacks, are in a group of six teams in the SEC West with 1-1 records. Arkansas should arrive in Auburn with momentum from a 21-14 road victory over then 16th-ranked Mississippi State last week.
There are a variety of things that need to happen, starting this Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium for Coach Gus Malzahn’s Tigers to break out of the pack in their division. First, and perhaps foremost on offense, the Tigers need to develop consistency running the football.
They rank 13th of 14 teams in the league for rushing yards per game at 65.0 per outing, a number that really needs to improve starting this week. Averaging just 2.5 yards per rush for all players is not getting the job done. The same is true for the average of 3.75 yards per carry by the running backs on first down plays.
Defensively, the Tigers have been good in recent years at turning the ball over to their offense on a regular basis, but through two games opponents are converting 63.6 percent of their third down opportunities vs. Auburn. Combine that with the AU offense averaging just 15.5 first downs per game and that goes a long way towards explaining why opponents are controlling the football for right at 60 percent of time. It also helps explain why the Tigers are averaging just 270 total yards per game
Until those issues and other shortcomings on both offense and defense are fixed, the Tigers will be vulnerable every week, even against the Razorbacks, a team they have pounded for four consecutive years. Auburn has won each of those matchups by at least 31 points, a strong run for the Tigers that includes a 51-10 victory last October at Reynolds-Razorback Stadium.
In the 2019 matchup vs. the Hawgs the Tigers dominated the line play on both offense and defense. Until the 2020 Tigers get much tougher to deal with at the line of scrimmage it is tough to predict any easy Saturdays for Auburn this fall, much less a victory by a margin of 31 points vs. Arkansas or anybody else on the schedule.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter