StatTiger: Previewing ULM Vs. Auburn

StatTiger (Stuart Carter) crunches the numbers and predicts the outcome of Saturday's home opener for the Auburn football Tigers.

Auburn 0-2 vs. Louisiana-Monroe 1-0

Series Record: Auburn leads 8-0-0 (Auburn)

Last Meeting: 2010 Auburn 52-3 in Auburn

National Statistical Rankings:

Rushing Offense: ULM (No. 79), Auburn (No. 80)
Pass Efficiency Offense: ULM (No. 81), Auburn (No. 112)
Total Offense: ULM (No. 11), Auburn (No.108)
Scoring Offense: ULM (No. 44), Auburn (No. 78)
Rushing Defense: ULM (No. 30), Auburn (No. 109)
Pass Efficiency Defense: ULM (No. 50), Auburn (No. 89)
Total Defense: ULM (No. 58), Auburn (No. 98)
Scoring Defense: Auburn (No. 78), ULM (No. 90)
Net Punting: Auburn (No. 34), ULM (No. 107)
Punt Return Offense: ULM (No. 75), Auburn (No. 96)
Punt Return Defense: Auburn (No. 61), ULM (NA)
Kick Return Offense: Auburn (No. 8), ULM (No. 119)
Kick Return Defense: ULM (No. 6), Auburn (No. 12)

About Louisiana-Monroe... •Though seven of the previous meetings with Louisiana-Monroe have been decided heavily in favor of Auburn, the Warhawks nearly pulled off the upset in Auburn in 1996 with Auburn sliding by, 28-24.

•The Warhawks return eight starters on offense from 2011, but only four on defense.

•The last year ULM finished a season with a winning record was in 1993 when the team finished 9-3.

•ULM is currently 10-15 under head coach Todd Berry.

•ULM is currently 4-53-0 against teams from BCS conferences, including a 4-34-0 record against Southeastern Conference teams.

•The Warhawk offense is led by junior quarterback Kolton Browning, who has appeared in 25 games. He has passed for 5,447 yards and 34 touchdowns during his career.

•Browning's primary targets will be senior Brent Leonard with 116 career receptions and junior Tavarese Maye with 102 career receptions.

Kolton Browning runs the football vs. Arkansas.

•Running back Jyruss Edwards enters the game with 242 career rushes for 1,078 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns. He also has 48 career receptions, making him a dangerous weapon out of the backfield.

•Of Browning's 42 completions against Arkansas, 19 went for seven yards or less. Though he threw for a career high 412 yards, the junior quarterback averaged only 6.1 yards per attempt. It appears the ULM spread offense will be similar to basketball on grass.

•One of the primary reasons for the Warhawks' upset of No. 8 Arkansas was their willingness to gamble on fourth down. ULM converted 6 of 7 fourth down plays, but was only 8-23 on third downs.

What to watch for...

•The Warhawks' confidence level should be sky-high coming into Jordan-Hare after pulling off their first victory against a Top 10 team. It will be essential for Auburn to play well early on to take the fight out of the visiting team.

•Look for Auburn to return heavily to its nickel package to combat a spread offense that will likely try to throw the football 50-60 times. If Auburn's tackling issues carry over into game No. 3, it will be another long day for the Tigers.

•There will never be a time for Auburn to feel confident in this game, even if Auburn plays well early in the contest. ULM was down 28-7 against Arkansas before making its rally. The rally included 6-7 fourth down conversions with four of those 10 yards or more.

•ULM operates from a 3-3-5 defense, an alignment Auburn struggled running against when the Tigers faced it against West Virginia in 2009. Auburn was held to just 100 yards rushing that day and it required four touchdown passes from Chris Todd to win the game. The Warhawks' defensive alignment could cause confusion with a young Auburn offensive line as the Tigers try to determine which four or five players are attacking on each down.

•Look for ULM to flex and adjust its 3-3-5 alignment, which often has a 3-4 look. The constant pre-snap movement by the defense is designed to cause confusion with the opposing offensive line.

•Arkansas had more success running inside the ULM front than on their perimeter plays, but struggled overall running against the Warhawks.

•ULM's linebackers could cause matchup issues within their 3-3-5 scheme. They average 232 pounds with their smallest backer checking in at 223 pounds.

•With Auburn's struggles in coverage and pass offense, the Tigers won't likely win this game focusing primarily on their running game. The Warhawk offense could score into the 20s, which means Auburn must discover a way of scoring offensive touchdowns. Through 125 offensive snaps, the Auburn offense has generated only one offensive touchdown this season.

•If Auburn's pass offense continues to struggle during the first four offensive possessions of the game, offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler has to make a change at quarterback to give the Tigers the chance to win. If the players believe the coaches are doing everything they can to win, they will continue to play hard.

Final word...

With the Auburn offense scoring only 11 points per game, it's difficult to forecast anything better than a 3-8 or 4-9 finish this season. That's a very scary thought when there was so much hope that this season would be a stepping stone for a special 2013 season.

The 2012 defense has improved compared to the 2011 defensive performances against Clemson and Mississippi State. Last year the defense gave up an average of 577.5 yards and 36.0 PPG in those two games. This year the defense has allowed 458.0 yards and 27.0 points per game. Although not a dramatic improvement, it is improvement nonetheless. On the other hand, the offense has tanked compared to last year. Auburn averaged 408.0 yards and 32.5 points per game against Clemson and Mississippi State during 2011 and 295.0 yards and 14.5 points in 2012.

Gene Chizik has a 1-0 record vs. ULM as Auburn's head coach.

Auburn defeated Louisiana-Monroe just two years ago, 52-3, and without much effort. Superior talent allowed Auburn to score seven offensive touchdowns on just 57 plays with the Tigers averaging nearly nine yards per snap. Though Auburn will field the better team in terms of athletic ability, games are won on execution and not potential or ability.

The Warhawks' style of offense will keep them in this game, especially if Auburn's offense continues to struggle. Based on what we have witnessed during the first two games, Auburn must score at least three touchdowns to win this game. It should not be forgotten that Auburn scored only two offensive touchdowns against Florida Atlantic coming off its 38-24 loss to Clemson last season. The Warhawks' will empty their bag of tricks to keep this game competitive.

This game could be decided on first down alone. During the first two games of the season, Auburn has defended 32 pass plays on first down, with 23 completed for 230 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. That equates to a pass rating of 152.9 on first down defense. Last week against Arkansas, ULM attempted 27 passes on first down alone, completing 15 for 150 yards. If Auburn struggles against the Warhawk pass offense on first down, it could turn into an 80-90 snap game for the Tiger defense. This will certainly result in fatigue, which translates to missed tackles.

The Auburn offense has now gone 12 consecutive games failing to average at least six yards per play on first down. This must change for the Tigers to become a more efficient offense. During the last 12 games Auburn has averaged 4.3 yards per play on first down and the opponent has averaged 6.5 yards.

Credit should be given to the Warhawks for pulling off the upset against Arkansas, but one game doesn't make a team or program. ULM benefitted from Arkansas losing the services of quarterback Tyler Wilson during the game and the Warhawks converted 6-7 fourth down plays to extend their opportunities to attempt 67 passes. The Warhawks will be confident they can beat Auburn when they come to Jordan-Hare Stadium, and it will be up to Auburn to deliver a dose of reality. As poorly as Auburn has played through two games, there should be some concern entering this game. The Auburn coaches and players have expressed a sense of urgency this week, which should prevent this team from overlooking any opponent. Look for the Tigers to be focused on the challenge at hand and for the offense to execute better against an inferior opponent. Auburn 27, Louisiana-Monroe 17

Picks from around the Southeastern Conference...

Vanderbilt over Presbyterian
Texas A&M over SMU
Alabama over Arkansas
Tennessee over Florida
South Carolina over UAB
Arizona State over Missouri
Mississippi State over Troy
Kentucky over Western Kentucky
Georgia over Florida Atlantic
LSU over Idaho
Texas over Ole Miss

Season picks record: 21-3

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