Auburn Tigers preview

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Back-to-back defeats (Iron Bowl and Outback Bowl) made for a disappointing finish to ’14. But despite the departure of the Tigers’ QB and RB, there is still plenty of optimism on the Plains with the arrival of D-coordinator Will Muschamp, who gives Auburn one of the top coaching tandems in college football.


How the Tigers beat you: Auburn ran the ball on 68 percent of plays the past two seasons with Nick Marshall under center (1,866 rush yards, 23 TDs combined), but a change at QB—and the loss of RB Cameron Artis-Payne (SEC-high 123.7 ypg)—means a change in style. Expect more balance with pro-style passer Jeremy Johnson (11.8 ypa on 37 throws in ’14) and the return of WRs D’haquille Williams (730 yards in 10 games before a right knee injury) and Melvin Ray (8 catches, 22.8 ypc). Still, the core of coach Gus Malzahn’s offense—the hurry-up, no-huddle—will never change. “We believe in playing fast and up-tempo,” says O-coordinator Rhett Lashlee, whose unit dropped from No. 3 to No. 6 in the SEC in total plays in ’14. “That’s something we are really stressing to get better at this year.”

How you beat the Tigers: In Auburn’s eight wins, it failed to score a touchdown on just seven of 35 red zone trips. In the Tigers’ five losses, their red zone TD rate dropped from 80 percent to 43.5 (just 10 TDs on 23 drives inside the 20). That inability to capitalize was never more glaring than in the 55-44 Iron Bowl loss to Alabama, in which Auburn failed to score six on six of its eight red zone trips. Auburn will still move the ball, but the offense, featuring four new skill-positionstarters, can’t afford to waste drives.


How the Tigers beat you: Eight starters return from a defense that allowed 26.7 ppg (fifth most in the SEC) and gave up 230.1 pass ypg (third most). While some blame goes to the secondary, the lack of a pass rush (21 sacks at a 4.8 percent rate, No. 12 in the SEC) was atypical of an Auburn D. Losing Dee Ford (NFL) and Carl Lawson (ACL injury) took a toll on a unit that thrived on pressure in ’13 (32 sacks, No. 3 in the SEC). The addition of Muschamp’s schemes should help, as will the return of five starters to the front seven, including last year’s top three players in sacks. With Lawson also back, Malzahn believes Auburn can rush the passer with just four up front, allowing its athletic LBs to help against the pass.

How you beat the Tigers: Former defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson might still be employed had Auburn cut down on what he called “trash plays.” The Tigers allowed 68 plays (24 runs, 44 throws) of 20-plus yards last season, most in the SEC, and allowed 5.7 yards per play, fourth worst in the league. Keeping containment is an area—like so many others on defense—that should improve under Muschamp, but the loss of safety Jermaine Whitehead (6 INTs, tied for second in the SEC with returning teammate Jonathan Jones) can’t be overstated.