No. 24 Auburn has a well-timed and much-needed bye week midway through a brutal 2020 schedule that has seen its fair share of bumps and bruises for the Tigers along the way.
Auburn sits at 4-2 ,having opened with a win over Kentucky before traveling to Athens and losing to Georgia. The Tigers once again broke even with a close win over Arkansas followed by a loss to South Carolina that exposed many concerns on the team. Auburn responded to the loss with two straight wins over Ole Miss and LSU.
As Auburn moves into the second half of the season, let’s take a look at how the team has done so far on each side of the ball.
The Auburn offense has scored an average of 28.3 points per game. That’s good for eighth in the SEC, and without the LSU game Auburn would more than likely rank 10th. This is not horrible but far from where many hoped the team to be.
Quarterback Bo Nix has been at the helm of the offense all season and has become progressively more reliable after an inconsistent start. Nix has passed for 1,407 yards, completing 60.7 percent of his passes for nine touchdowns and four interceptions.
Freshman running back Tank Bigsby has been the emerging star this season, leading the offense on the ground with 503 yards rushing and five touchdowns. He has 229 more yards on the ground than Nix, who is the second-leading rusher on the team.
Seth Williams leads the team in receiving yardage at 511, but Anthony Schwartz leads the team in receptions at 38. The offense has begun to find its stride, but only time will tell whether the offensive explosion seen during the LSU game was a one-hit wonder or a sign of an offense finally gelling together.
On defense, the Tigers are second in the conference in tackling and have held opposing offenses to 22.8 points per game. This is especially impressive when you consider that Auburn has faced the number three-, four-, and sixth-best scoring offenses in the SEC and held them all under their average points per game.
Zakoby McClain leads the team in total tackles with 62 and is in a three-way tie for most sacks with Owen Pappoe and Derick Hall, each of whom boast two. Roger McCreary leads the team in interceptions with two.
Much like the offense, the defense’s best performance was against LSU, holding the number four offense in the SEC, which was averaging close to 40 points per game, to just 11 points and 32 rushing yards.
The defense will not have to face a better offense statistically until they take on Alabama, so there are no excuses not to improve.
On special teams, Anders Carlson has proved consistent once again. Midway through the season, Carlson is 16 of 17 on extra points and 8 of 9 on field goals, with a long kick of 47 yards and touchbacks on 54 percent of his kickoffs.
Auburn’s punting unit has been good but not great, averaging 39 yards per punt but having several be downed inside of the five-yard line. As far as returns go, Auburn has done exceptionally well this season. The Tigers lead the SEC in kick return yards with 344, 12 more than Georgia. Auburn also has the third-most punt return yards, with 70. Only LSU and Texas A&M have fared better.
As Auburn heads into the bye week and then into the second half of the season, they are where they want to be in terms of momentum.
Now, their focus is on harnessing that momentum, healing up, and as head coach Gus Malzahn has repeadtedly emphasized, not contracting Covid over the break.
“The number one thing we have to do this week is have Covid etiquette and be responsible,” said Malzahn.
Auburn will return to play Nov. 14 when they travel to Starkville, Mississippi to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs.