Opponent Preview: No. 21 Auburn Tigers

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    Record: 4-2 (1-2 SEC)
    Head Coach: Gus Malzahn, 6th year (49-24 overall)
    Location: Auburn, Alabama

    Leading Passer: Jarrett Stidham (RS Jr.) — 101-of-168, 1,117 yards, 5 TD, 2 INT
    Leading Rusher: JaTarvious Whitlow (RS Fr.) — 69 carries, 414 yards, 4 TD
    Leading Receiver: Ryan Davis (Sr.) — 29 catches, 252 yards
    Leading Tackler: Deshaun Davis (RS Sr.) — 49 tackles, 7.5 TFL, sack, PD

    Auburn’s offense hasn’t lived up to expectations this season, and their struggling offense is the reason why the Tigers aren’t undefeated heading into this weekend’s match-up.

    Aside from the Tigers’ performance against Arkansas where they won 34-3, Auburn hasn’t scored more than 21 points against a Power Five opponent all season, and they haven’t gone over 24 points against any FBS opponents aside from Arkansas either. Auburn is averaging just 21.8 points per game against FBS competition this season.

    But luckily for the Tigers, their defense is only giving up 14.3 points per game on the season.

    The Tigers’ defense has been stout this year so far. Auburn’s front seven has been phenomenal, and they’re the reason the Tigers have been able to weather some ugly games so far. All but one of Auburn’s 15 sacks have come from their front seven, and over 76 percent of their tackles for loss on the year have come from their front seven.

    Auburn is second in the SEC in tackles for loss per game, averaging 8.2 per contest. Not only have they been disruptive in the running game, but they’ve been able to force quarterbacks into making mistakes as well. The Tigers have picked off eight passes this season, and they’ve forced 12 total turnovers on the year. That total is good for the third-most turnovers forced in the SEC, and the only game this season in which they didn’t come away with a takeaway was against LSU.

    Up until last week, teams had a hard time running the ball against Auburn. The Tigers were only allowing 92.8 rushing yards per game before Mississippi State managed to amass 349 yards and two scores on the ground against the Tigers’ tired defense.

    The reason Auburn’s defense was tired was because the Tigers’ offense kept putting them out on the field after short possessions. Seven of Auburn’s 10 possessions against Mississippi State lasted less than two minutes of game time, and the Bulldogs dominated the time of possession.

    If Auburn’s offense can’t stay on the field again on Saturday, it could spell disaster for a Tigers team that’s already in a bad spot right now.

    Auburn’s offense has struggled all season with sustaining drives and keeping the ball out of opponents’ hands. The Tigers are averaging the second-lowest time of possession in the SEC, only holding the ball for an average of 26 minutes and 56 seconds per game. They’ve also coughed up the ball nine times on the year.

    And just like Tennessee, the Tigers’ offensive line has been a big reason why Auburn hasn’t had success this year.

    Auburn has allowed the third-most sacks in the SEC so far this season, giving up 13 to opponents so far in 2018. They’ve also allowed 5.3 tackles for loss per game on the year, and the offense hasn’t totaled 100 yards rushing in three straight games. The Tigers are averaging just 168.3 rushing yards per game, the third-lowest average in the conference. And that average is even lower in conference play. Auburn has averaged just 103.7 yards on the ground against SEC competition.

    Because of the poor offensive line play and lack of a dynamic rushing attack, quarterback Jarrett Stidham has been thrown off his rhythm this season. The redshirt junior quarterback is only completing 60.1 percent of his passes on the year, and he’s averaging just 196.2 yards per game through the air. Last season, he completed 66.5 percent of his pass attempts and averaged 225.6 passing yards a game.

    Auburn does have play-makers on offense, most notably Ryan Davis at receiver and JaTarvious Whitlow and Kam Martin in the backfield. Whitlow got banged up against Mississippi State, but he’s expected to be a full go against the Vols.

    Another name to keep an eye on for Auburn is Anthony Schwartz. Though he hasn’t touched the ball a great deal so far this year, Schwartz is extremely fast and has the ability to stretch the field. He has nine carries for 78 yards and two touchdowns along with eight catches for 163 yards and a score as well. He hasn’t gotten a ton of play on offense, but he’s averaging over 14 yards per touch and has the ability to be explosive.

    Auburn has had their issues this season, but the defense has been able to keep them in games and has only let up when the offense can’t stay on the field and sustain drives. If the Tigers can grab a lead early and sit on it, that might be enough for them to get back on track this Saturday.



    Nathanael Rutherford
    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.