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Questions The Auburn Tigers Have To Answer Against Arkansas State
Auburn Tigers: Jordan-Hare Stadium
After the first week of the 2016 college football season, the Auburn Tigers are 0-1. Despite the loss, the team played a competitive game, which is a positive considering most people had Auburn losing big to Clemson. However, there are no moral victories, especially when you play in the SEC and your rival is Alabama.
Auburn has one more game before they enter their SEC schedule. This time it's against a lesser opponent in Arkansas State, but the Tigers can't afford to overlook the Red Wolves, especially when they have so many questions to answer.
Will The Defense Get Complacent?
Auburn's defense played extremely well against Deshaun Watson, a player that is widely considered the Heisman favorite. He did throw for 248 yards, but he was only 19 for 34 passing and held to 21 yards rushing on 11 carries. Clemson was also held to 6 for 17 on third down and 1 for 3 on fourth down.
The defense wasn't perfect though. No one could stop the back shoulder throw. Even Carlton Davis, considered Auburn's best DB, struggled. In his defense, the back shoulder throw is hard for just about any defender when an offense has their timing down. Because of this, Mike Williams had a huge night with 9 catches for 174 yards. If Auburn wants to defend against other big time SEC receivers, they will have to find a way to adjust in the secondary when they are attacked over and over in a specific way.
Nevertheless, the defense came up with stops when they needed them. These stops were critical considering the offense could barely move the ball let alone score. Auburn didn't even reach the endzone until there was 3:22 left in the fourth quarter. Clemson finished the game with 19 points, and Auburn had a chance at the end of the game to win with a Hail Mary pass. This was only possible because of the defense.
Will the defense be happy with their performance against Clemson? Well, they can't afford themselves that luxury. The defense needs to come up big against Arkansas State if they want to set the tone for the rest of the season. Arkansas State was only able to score 10 points against Toledo, and they shouldn't score much more than that against Auburn. This isn't because Auburn needs to hold the Red Wolves to 10 points to win, but the defense needs to show they have arrived and are capable of carrying this team when necessary moving forward.
Will The Offense Find A Run Game?
Most people think that the quarterback carousel last week was the biggest problem with the offense. It is true. Auburn needs to settle on a quarterback. Using three different guys does not work, not for this offense at least. Consistency and flow are important. With that said, Gus Malzahn said this week that he intends to settle with Sean White.
Still, the bigger issue is the running game. The team rushed for a dismal 87 total yards against Clemson. This is pitiful for a run-first offense that is at its best when successfully running the football. In years past, Malzahn's offenses have relied on guys like Ben Tate, Cam Newton, Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne, and Nick Marshall to move the ball on the ground. While some of these guys were quarterbacks, mobile quarterbacks are not necessary. The team won games with Chris Todd at quarterback in 2009, when Malzahn was the offensive coordinator.
Will they find a way to run the football? If the Tigers want this to happen, the offensive line needs to play better. They were manhandled by Clemson's defensive line, especially freshman defensive tackle, Dexter Lawrence. Clemson's defense was in Auburn's backfield all night with 14 tackles for a loss. Also, someone besides Kerryon Johnson, who scored the only touchdown, will have to find a way to have success carrying the ball. Johnson rushed 23 times for 94 yards. Behind him, wide receiver Stanton Truitt had the most yard, rushing for 7 yards on 4 carries.
Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator, Rhett Lashlee, better not get fancy against Arkansas State. They need to run the football, run it again, and then run it some more until this offense discovers its identity again. Arkansas State provides them with the perfect opportunity to do this. Auburn plays Texas A&M the next week, and if they can't find a way to run the football by then, the Tigers will have a long day against that much improved Texas A&M defense.