Air It Out
Even though LSU’s secondary is the strength of the defense, allowing just 130.6 yards and a 46 percent completion percentage, Auburn needs to continue to turn Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson loose because Mississippi State showed you can throw and make LSU’s defense pay. Just two weeks ago Dak Prescott and the Bulldogs completed 15-24 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns in a huge win in Tiger Stadium.
With Duke Williams heading back to his home state and Quan Bray coming into his own as a playmaker, Auburn’s receiving corps could be the deepest in the SEC when you throw in Sammie Coates, Ricardo Louis, Marcus Davis and company. Seven teams have played four or less games in the SEC this season and only one, Georgia (96), has thrown less passes than Auburn’s 98. It’s time for Auburn to turn it loose and make defenses pay for crowding the line of scrimmage on first down.
Another positive of throwing the ball more would be getting Marshall into a rhythm. Attempting just 17 passes with 10 completions for 166 yards and a career-high three touchdowns, the senior made some good throws, but also missed opportunities to keep drives alive. Part of the reason for that is that he was put in tough situations. Seven of his 17 attempts came on third down with five or more yards to go for a first down with just five coming on first down. With the conversion rate in the NFL over a three-year period just 42 percent on third down and five, and just 20 percent on third and 10, getting more production on first down is a must for the Tigers.
Despite losing starting linebacker Kris Frost early and then the other linebacker starter, Cassanova McKinzy, early in the second half, Auburn’s defense more than held its own against talented back Kenneth Dixon and Louisiana Tech. Allowing Dixon just 29 yards on 14 carries, Auburn gave up 105 yards for the day on 33 carries while rotating guys left and right for much of the last 20 minutes of the game.
While getting Frost and McKinzy back will be very important for this weekend’s game against LSU, Anthony Swain and Tre Williams showed they can get the job done if called upon as did reserves like JaViere Mitchell and Khari Harding.
Even though Chris Davis had a monster season for Auburn returning punts (and one field goal), what Quan Bray has done so far this year is just about unmatched in the long history of football on the Plains. Already with a pair of touchdown returns this season, Bray is averaging 36.8 yards on five opportunities this season to lead the nation in that category. It’s not just on punt returns where Bray is making his mark, however. He has caught six passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Both came on Saturday with one in dramatic fashion as he out-jumped a Louisiana Tech defender for the ball on a scramble play and throw from Marshall. Always a talented athlete, Bray has stepped up his performance level as a senior and has given Auburn another playmaker.
Hold That TigerAuburn’s defense will once again be challenged this weekend by a powerful ground attack. Having already faced Arkansas and Kansas State, Auburn should be prepared for a deep and talented running back group from LSU. Averaging 226.2 yards per game with 15 touchdowns, LSU is led by freshman Leonard Fournette, but he’s far from the only dangerous runner for Coach Les Miles. With Kenny Hilliard, Darrell Williams and Terrence Magee all powerful runners in their own right, Auburn’s defense will have to be ready to play tough on on first downs to keep the play-action game to a minimum for freshman quarterback Brandon Harris. If LSU can get the running game going it will take much of the pressure off the young signal-caller playing in a true road game for the first time.
Around The SEC
It was survival mode for the Georgia Bulldogs at home against Tennessee as Todd Gurley kept Mark Richt’s team in the title hunt on Saturday. The hero of the game for Georgia may have been the helmet of a pass rusher that knocked Vols’ quarterback Justin Worley out of the game in the third quarter. If he plays the entire game it may have been a memorable day between the hedges for the big orange.
The best SEC game of the day took place at Jerry World as Arkansas showed it has got a much improved team in 2014, but the Hogs couldn’t finish the drill. Allowing big passing plays to Kenny Hill and the Texas A&M offense, Arkansas is better, but still hasn’t arrived. You can also say the same thing for South Carolina. While they are better than the team that was blown out in the opener by Texas A&M, losing at home to Missouri was a huge blow to the chances for Steve Spurrier and company to win the SEC East.
On the flip side Missouri’s rebound from a stunning loss to Indiana shows that Gary Pinkel and his staff can get the job done. I’m still not ready to anoint Mizzou a contender in the East, however. With a schedule that features Georgia in two weeks and games at Florida, Texas A&M and Tennessee before finishing up at home against Arkansas, the Tigers must get a lot better to avoid at least two more losses.
This week is one of the biggest I can remember in the SEC with Top 15 match-ups featuring LSU at Auburn, Texas A&M at Mississippi State and Alabama at Ole Miss. The nation will be watching and I expect the league to deliver once again.