StatTiger: Analyzing Utah State at Auburn

StatTiger's Auburn football predictions column is back for another season as he picks the winner of AU's games and the rest of the SEC.

Utah State (0-0) at No. 23 Auburn (0-0)

Series record: First meeting

2010 National Rankings:

Auburn/Utah State:

Rush Offense: 41st
Pass Offense: 66th/Pass Offense: 93rd
Total Offense: 7th/Total Offense: 84th
Score Offense: 7th/Score Offense: 94
Rush Defense: 9th/Rush Defense: 88th
Pass Defense: 108th/Pass Defense: 106th
Total Defense: 60th/Total Defense: 100th
Score Defense: 53rd/Score Defense: 101st

About Utah State...

Last season the Aggies opened the season with an inspiring performance before falling 31-24 on the road to the Oklahoma Sooners. The season did not unfold the way Coach Gary Andersen envisioned, but he is counting on the Aggies to be more competitive during his third season.

Utah State opens against the defending BCS National Champion Tigers, who are currently ranked No. 19 in the coaches' poll and No. 23 in the AP preseason ranking.

Returning to the backfield for the Aggies will be running back Robert Turbin, who rushed for 1,296 yards in 2009 before suffering a season-ending injury in 2010. Added to the mix will be junior running back Kerwynn Williams, who averaged 5.6 yards per carry last season.

Robert Turbin runs the ball in 2009 vs. Boise State.

With Turbin back in the mix the key on offense will be replacing starting quarterback Diondre Borel, who accounted for more than 8,000 yards and 54 touchdowns as an Aggie. Utah State does return four offensive linemen and its top four leading receivers from 2010.

Coordinator Dave Baldwin's first offense at USU ranked No. 12 nationally in 2009, but was hampered in 2010 with the loss of Turbin. Baldwin has been creative, employing a vast array of formations and personnel groupings. What the Aggies might lack in talent and depth, they intend to make up for with formations and schemes.

While the Utah State defense loses six starters from a team that finished No. 100 nationally in total defense and No. 101 in scoring defense, it does return its top three tacklers from 2010 including leading tackler Bobby Wagner, a linebacker who led the WAC in tackles with 11.1 per game.

The Aggies also return their leader in tackles for losses in defensive end Levi Koskan and their leader in interceptions Quinton Byrd, who had three last year.

Because Utah State is returning five of its front seven, Anderson, who is taking over as defensive coordinator, will have a solid base to rebuild his defense in 2011. The Aggies will be aggressive in their 3-4 defense, utilizing a wide variety of blitzes in hopes of disrupting the timing of Auburn's offense.

Last season kicker Peter Caldwell doubled as the team's place-kicker and punter. The Aggies are now forced into replacing two positions on special teams, which Andersen has said is a concern going into the opener. Utah State does return its leading punt and kickoff return specialists in Kerwynn Williams and Eric Moats. The Aggies were ranked No. 13 nationally in kick return offense.

Inside the Numbers...

•Over the past two decades Utah State is 1-30-0 against opponents from a major conference.

•Utah State returns eight starters on offense and five on defense from 2010.

•Over the past five seasons Utah State has compiled a record of 14-46.

•Since the SEC expanded to 12 teams in 1992, Utah State has competed against a Southeastern Conference program five times, posting an 0-5 record. The average score in those five meetings was 36-9.

•Utah State is 1-8 against Southeastern Conference teams with its only victory against Kentucky in 1970 by a score of 35-6.

•Over the past decade Utah State's average national ranking in total offense is No. 74 and its average ranking in total defense is No. 96.

•The Aggies have lost their last 13 consecutive road openers dating back to 1998.

•One of the reasons why head coach Anderson is taking over at defensive coordinator in 2011 is the fact that the Aggies have surrendered at least 30 points in 41 of their last 60 games.

•During the Aggies' last 14 victories stretched over a five-year period Utah State had to score at least 30 points to win nine of those 14 games.

•Last season the Aggies allowed 264.7 yards rushing to ranked opponents, including 191.8 yards to all FBS opponents.

Why Auburn should win...

•Since 2000 Auburn has compiled a 26-0 record against non-conference opponents from a non-BCS conference. The average score in those games has been 43-13 with Auburn out-gaining its opponent in total yardage by 480 yards to 276 yards.

•Auburn is too superior in talent and numbers to lose a game at home against an opponent who has totaled 14 victories over the past five seasons.

•While at Auburn Gus Malzahn's offense has averaged 595 yards and 52 points per game against non-conference opponents from non-major conferences. This includes an average of 301 yards rushing.

Gus Malzahn is begining his third season at Auburn.

•Auburn's advantage in talent and depth along with its pace on offense could wear down the Aggies, especially under the current weather conditions.

•The Aggies have struggled with their run defense and they will have their hands full attempting to stop the combination of Michael Dyer, Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason. Look for two of the three to have more than 100 yards rushing.

Why Utah State has a chance...

•Auburn is youthful across the board and Utah State gave Oklahoma all the Sooners could handle in 2010.

•In the last two seasons Auburn's defense has allowed 25 points per game against non-major conference opponents, including 30 points to Ball State and 31 to Furman.

•The strength of the Utah State offense will likely be its running game and Auburn will be young and experienced at the interior line positions.

•Even if Auburn takes a big lead early, a young team can easily lose its focus, opening the window for Utah State to make a game of it later in the contest just as the Aggies did against the Sooners last season.

Final Word...

As rewarding as it was to win the BCS National Championship in 2010, the 2011 Tigers must start all over while playing with a bullseye on their back. As long as Auburn remains undefeated, every team the Tigers face will have extra incentive to take down the defending national champions.

This is perhaps the most youthful Auburn team in the modern era of college football, but the Tigers are not void of talent. Experience was the backbone of the 2010 team, which means the 2011 Tigers will be more reliant upon untested talent.

For a young Auburn team Utah State will be the consummate opponent to begin the season. Auburn coaches are hoping their younger players can blossom and mature as they find their "team" identity before they face the gauntlet of their schedule. The Aggies should provide an early challenge, but the team from the WAC shouldn't beat Auburn even if the Tigers have more than the normal number of opening day miscues. This game should provide the Auburn coaching staff, which watched four preseason scrimmages, another opportunity to evaluate their personnel.

There should be little concern about Auburn overlooking the Aggies on Saturday. The silver lining of having a youthful team is less chance of the Tigers being overconfident or taking Utah State lightly. There are too many Auburn players wanting to prove their worth to the coaching staff to expect that to happen. Also, this looks to be a team that will open the season with chips on their shoulders after not getting a lot of respect in preseason polls.

Although we should expect Auburn to play hard on Saturday, that doesn't mean the Tigers won't suffer from mental and assignment issues, which should be expected with so many young players expected to see action. The key is maintaining the intensity level and focus during the course of an entire game.

In its previous six games against opponents from a non-BCS conference, Auburn's offense averaged 33.6 points by halftime under Malzahn. The sooner Auburn puts the Aggies away the better so expect Malzahn to bring the pressure early and often.

Junior running back Onterio McCalebb is a big-play threat for the Tigers.

Last season the Utah State defense allowed 63 pass plays of 15 yards or more and 73 run plays of 10 yards or more. The Auburn offense won't be short on playmakers or the ability to create opportunities for big plays. Teams like Utah State can become dangerous if allowed to hang around too long. The key for Auburn will be making the Aggies play uphill the majority of the day and not giving them hope and confidence early in the game.

Utah State possesses an average national ranking of No. 98 in run defense over the past five seasons, allowing 186 yards rushing per game. It will be important for Auburn to establish its physical dominance with the running game, which should make quarterback Barrett Trotter's first college start an easier transition.

If the Aggies run blitz early, Malzahn won't hesitate to throw over the top, but the Tigers must establish their run identity along the way. Look for the running backs to play well and for the Tigers to extend their winning streak to 16 games. Auburn 44, Utah State 17

Around the League...

Mississippi State over Memphis by 24
Kentucky over Western Kentucky by 30
Alabama over Kent State by 35
Ole Miss over BYU by 7
Tennessee over Montana by 30
South Carolina over East Carolina by 17
Arkansas over Missouri State by 35
Florida over Florida Atlantic by 30
Vanderbilt over Elon by 30
Georgia over Boise State by 6
Oregon over LSU by 4


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