Caldwell Column: AU Football Highs and Lows

Taking a look at some of the biggest surprises, improvements and disappointments for the Auburn Tigers through four games.

Top Player

It would have been tough to keep Auburn senior cornerback Chris Davis out of the top spot through the first two games, but an injury has put him on the sidelines the last two weeks. That makes this one an easy choice.

Coming off a 1,000-yard season as a sophomore, Tre Mason is back and better than ever for the Tigers this year. Rushing for 338 yards and four touchdowns in the first four game, an average of 84.5 yards per contest, Mason has done that while sharing the load with Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne. Still with just 65 carries despite getting 26 against LSU, Mason should be fresh for the stretch run and that's good news for the Tigers.

Top Position Group

The running backs could get the nod here, but for my money it has to be Auburn's cornerbacks. With an injury to Jonathan Jones in the preseason and the move of Josh Holsey permanently to safety, the depleted unit had just three experienced players heading into the season. When Davis went down late in week two that meant senior Ryan White and junior Jonathon Mincy had to shoulder the load. They have responded with the best football of their respective careers to this point.

A special nod goes to White, a player who couldn't find his way on the field as a defensive player under the last coaching staff and has now become an important part of the defense for the Tigers.

Ryan White has been one of the most important players for the Tigers this season.

Biggest Surprise

We heard all preseason about the play of true freshman wide receiver Marcus Davis, but rarely does a player impact his team so early like Davis has in Auburn's offense. Just behind leaders Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis with 10 catches, Davis has been clutch so far this season for the Tigers. From his touchdown catch on the opening drive against Arkansas State to his four catches on the game-winning drive against Mississippi State, Davis has proven he can get the job done.

Biggest Disappointment

While they have improved from last season, already with 28 tackles for losses in four games (just 66 the entire 2012 season), Auburn's front seven is still too inconsistent for the defense to take the next step. The biggest reason why is continued struggles against the running game.

Currently 12th in the SEC, allowing 172 yards per contest, Auburn has given up a league-high nine touchdowns on the ground. Throw in 21 plays of 10 yards or more by the opponent in the running game and you have a continued problem area for the Tigers.

Most Improved Player

Known more for being Auburn's holder on field goals and extra points, senior defensive back Ryan White has flourished in his expanded role on defense in 2013. Entering the season with just 25 career tackles, seven coming in the season opener last year against Clemson, White has played very little in his career until this year.

Already with 18 stops in four games for the Auburn defense, White is tied for second on the team with five pass breakups, one more than he had in three years. Getting Davis back full speed would give Auburn three quality veteran cornerbacks to rotate and stay fresh for a demanding remaining schedule.

Most Improved Group

There were plenty of problem areas on Auburn's offense last season and the line was one of those spots. While they did pave the way for Mason to get to 1,000 yards, the Tigers averaged just 148.4 yards per game on the ground as a team with 16 rushing touchdowns. Throw in 37 sacks allowed and it was not a year to remember for the front five on offense.

Returning experienced veterans Reese Dismukes and Chad Slade in the middle along with one-year starters Greg Robinson and Patrick Miller at tackle, Auburn's only newcomer is redshirt freshman Alex Kozan at left guard. Under the direction of J.B. Grimes in a more familiar offense, the line has responded. Averaging 232.2 yards per game on the ground and already with eight touchdowns, Auburn's running game is fourth in the league.

Allowing just four sacks in four games, the pass protection has also improved dramatically. If that kind of production can continue Auburn's offense will have an opportunity to put up some big numbers down the stretch.


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