StatTiger: Breaking Down AU vs. Louisville

Stuart Carter analyzes Auburn's season-opening football game vs. Louisville, predicts a winner and tells why in his StatTiger column that includes picks for every SEC game.

No. 6 Auburn vs. Louisville

Series Record: Auburn (1-0-0)

Last Meeting: (1974) Auburn, 16-3

About the teams:

•Coach Bobby Petrino of Louisville is 92-34 as a head coach, including a 50-13 record at Louisville. Gus Malzahn is 29-10 all time and 20-7 at Auburn.

•The Cardinals finished the season 9-4 last year and Auburn posted an 8-5 record.

•Louisville is 15-35-1 against the Southeastern Conference while Auburn is 120-75-9 in games vs. current ACC teams.

•The Cardinals return five starters on offense and four on defense while Auburn returns four starters on offense and eight on defense.

•Last season Auburn averaged 485 yards and 35 points per game on offense while allowing 399 yards and 27 points. Louisville averaged 395 yards and 31 points per game while allowing 308 yards and 22 points.

•The Cardinals must replace two of their top three rushers, but leading rusher Brandon Radcliff returns. He netted 737 yards at 5.1 yards per carry last season.

The Cardinals will be looking for Brandon Radcliff to spark the running attack.

•Louisville replaces five of its top six receivers with James Quick being the Cardinals’ top returning receiver. He caught 36 passes in 2014 at 15.7 yards per reception.

•Six of the Cardinals’ Top 10 tacklers return in 2015, including their leading three tacklers from 2014.

•Auburn must replace its top three rushers from 2014, players who accounted for 2,770 yards and 27 rushing touchdowns.

•The Tigers must replace three of their top six receivers, but Duke Williams returns as a preseason All-American.

•On defense Auburn returns seven of its Top 10 tacklers from 2015, including the three leading tacklers in Johnathan Ford, Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost.

Kris Frost, a senior, has plenty of game experience for the Tigers as a linebacker.

•Junior Jeremy Johnson has two career starts and played in 11 games as a backup. He has thrown nine touchdowns passes with two interceptions. The Cardinals will likely not announce their starting quarterback until game day. Will Gardner threw for 12 touchdowns last season and Reggie Bonnafon tossed five.

How they match up...

•54.8 percent of the players recruited by Auburn during the past four years have been rated 4-star or 5-star talent. In contrast, Louisville has signed only 11.9 percent 4-star and 5-star players during the same time period.

•Though Louisville doesn’t have as many highly recruited players as Auburn possesses, more than 81 percent of its recruits in the last four signing classes consisted of 3-star talent and above. This is slightly under the 83 percent of Missouri, which has been competitive since joining the Southeastern Conference.

•In two of three meetings between Malzahn's offense and Todd Grantham's defense, Auburn had at least 463 yards in total offense and at least 43 points.

•Louisville's pro-style offense will face off against Auburn's multiple front defense. The Cardinals’ defense will operate primarily from a 3-4 look against Malzahn's hurry up/no-huddle attack.

•Louisville is hoping recent transfers will help bolster the talent level on its roster. Look for Ja'Quay Savage (WR), Jamari Staples (WR) and Kelby Johnson (LT) to bolster the offense. Devonte Fields (OLB), Shaq Wiggins (CB) and Josh Harvery-Clemons (S) should bolster a quality defense.

Devonte Fields transferred to Louisville from TCU where he was Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

•Last season the Louisville defense was No. 15 nationally in tackles-for-loss ratio, but its offense was No. 109 in allowing them. Auburn finished at No. 44 on defense and No. 56 on offense.

Keys to Victory...

*Louisville needs to be balanced on offense to offset Auburn's pass rush potential. Over his past five collegiate seasons, Petrino's teams are 18-17 when his offense fails to rush for at least 140 yards. Auburn is 94-16 from 2000-2014 when holding its opponent under 140 yards rushing.

•Auburn is 139-15-1 when out-rushing and out-carrying its opponent from 1992-2014.

*Since 1996 Auburn is 81-15 in games in which the Tigers win the "turnover battle" and 33-50 when they have more giveaways than takeaways.

*Since 1996 Auburn is 73-17 in games in which it wins the tackle for loss battle and 66-58 when losing it.

*A successful early start for either team will be important to subside the emotional element of the season opener. Since 1992 Auburn is 101-8-0 in games it leads by seven or more points after the first quarter and 12-40-1 when the Tigers trail by seven or more points after the first quarter.

*On the theme of playing well early, Auburn needs to be successful on first downs. Since 1992 Auburn is 74-11-2 when averaging more yards per play on first down and taking more snaps on first down than its opponent.

What to watch for...

•Will Louisville be able to establish the run against Auburn?

•Will Auburn be able to limit the big plays and turnovers that plagued the Tigers last season during their five losses?

•Look for Auburn to have the edge up front, which should increase its chances for victory.

•Both teams will lack experience at the quarterback position, which could surface during the course of the game.

•Look for Louisville to utilize its running backs in the short passing game to slow the Auburn pass rush. Also, expect draw plays in the running game to slow Auburn's pass-rush off the edge.

•Look for Louisville to concentrate on taking away Auburn’s run offense and for Malzahn to open up the offense early to counter the Cardinal's aggressiveness against the run.

•Louisville was No. 119 in sacks allowed ratio during 2014, which could continue to be a major issue for a rebuilding Cardinal offensive line.

Final Word...

Because it is the season opener for both teams it could take several possessions for each offense to adjust to the flow of the game. Both have more experience on defense than offense, which could result in a lower scoring game than most expect.

Auburn must avoid early mistakes to prevent Louisville from gathering momentum as the game wears on. Because the game is being played on an artificial surface it could favor Auburn, the team with better overall team speed. During Auburn's last three trips to Atlanta with Malzahn, the offense has averaged 573 yards and 53 points per game.

Jeremy Johnson has a 2-0 record as a college starter at quarterback.

Malzahn commented on the need to be able to adjust the team’s game plan, especially during a season opener. Both teams have had all the time they need to add new wrinkles, which will force the opposing coaches to adjust their schemes as the game unfolds. The “chess” match between Petrino and Muschamp will overshadow the battle between Malzahn/Rhett Lashlee and Louisville defensive coordinator Grantham, but the combination of all those coaches going head-to-head makes it worth the price of admission. Turnovers, penalties and miscues will only magnify the intensity of this showdown.

Three factors that have Auburn an 11-point favorite are talent, team speed and what will essentially be a home field advantage. Game plans and adjustments will factor in, but the contest will eventually come down to player execution. If Louisville executes well, it could go down to the final minutes. Should Auburn execute consistently, the Tigers could win this game by multiple scores.

In the end I like how Auburn’s defense will match up against the Cardinals’ offense more so than Auburn's offense vs. the Louisville defense. Auburn should be the more physical team, allowing the Tigers to win the rushing battle. Auburn 34, Louisville 23

Around the Southeastern Conference:

South Carolina over North Carolina
Vanderbilt over Western Kentucky
Georgia over UL Monroe
Ole Miss over UT Martin
Arkansas over UTEP
Missouri over SE Missouri
Tennessee over Bowling Green
Arizona State over Texas A&M
Kentucky over LA-Lafayette
LSU over McNeese State
Florida over New Mexico
Alabama over Wisconsin
Miss State over Southern Miss

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