The Barber Is In
Even though he won’t get many votes for All-SEC selection it’s hard to argue the importance of Peyton Barber to Auburn so far this season. In six games the redshirt sophomore has carried the ball 135 times for 650 yards and eight touchdowns. Last season through six games Cameron Artis-Payne had 126 carries for 664 yards and five touchdowns.
Artis-Payne had the luxury of having Nick Marshall as another huge running option in Auburn’s offense, something Barber hasn’t had to this point. Roc Thomas is currently second on the team with 151 yards on just 33 carries with Kerryon Johnson third with only 107 yards.
Johnson’s play in the wildcat the last two weeks has been a good start at finding another way to run the football, but teams will continue to focus on Barber down the stretch. That means Auburn needs to continue to throw the ball early and spread the field at times to take defenders out of the box. Barber has shown he can get the job done and if he gets some room to run he could do some big things in the second half of the year.
One of the keys for Auburn’s defense and the chance for rapid improvement in the second half of the season may be senior linebacker Justin Garrett. Now healthy and capable of playing all three linebacker spots for the Tigers, Garrett’s stability this season allows Cassanova McKinzy to move to the buck position in Will Muschamp’s scheme.
That’s a huge thing for the Tigers because of the need for a disruptive force at the buck. Even though McKinzy has been up and down in his two full games at the position, he has given Auburn a player who at least can get in the backfield and force the opposition into making a quicker decision.
With Kris Frost coming off one of his better games at Auburn with 11 total tackles, seven of them solo, and Tre Williams getting healthier, the Tigers have three solid options at linebacker heading into a big weekend against Arkansas. Facing a physical Razorback running game McKinzy is still an option at linebacker this Saturday, but in passing downs he definitely gives the Tigers some options to play with as well.
Phillips Coming Up Big
In the spring junior college transfer Kevin Phillips was solid punting the football, but he’s been performing at an even higher level so far this season for the Tigers. Averaging 43.5 yards per punt on 23 attempts this season Phillips has downed 11 of his kicks inside the 20-yard line with only three touchbacks.
It’s not just distance that has been a strength of Phillips, but also his hang time. This year Auburn’s opponents have returned three punts for a total of 27 yards. That’s a big deal for a defense that is struggling at the moment. With a net punting average of 39.7 compared to 33.4 for the opposition, Auburn is gaining over six yards every time teams swap punts.
All of the sudden Auburn’s second half doesn’t look as daunting with Arkansas very beatable this weekend on the road as is Ole Miss a week later. With both Texas A&M and Georgia having their problems as well the Tigers could get right back into the mix for a very good bowl game this year, but there is still a lot of improving that needs to be done for that to happen.
With the offense coming on under Sean White’s direction it’s now time for the defense to follow suit. While Arkansas isn’t a big-play offense the Razorbacks have got enough firepower to do damage to the Tigers this weekend and both Ole Miss and Texas A&M have playmakers all over the field in the passing game, something that isn’t good news for Auburn right now.
The good news is that DaVonte Lambert looked better than he has all season in the win over Kentucky on Thursday night, something that is huge moving forward for the Auburn defensive line. Getting him back to full strength and able to play both outside and inside gives the Tigers some options and right now Will Muschamp will take all of the options he can get.
Going The Juco Route
Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee was on hand to check out junior college quarterback Jerod Evans during his record-setting performance on Saturday for Trinity Valley Community College. Throwing for 475 yards and eight touchdowns, Evans broke his own school record for touchdown passes in a game and along the way became the conference all-time leader in touchdown passes with 52.
For the season Evans is having a monster year with 3,164 yards and 39 touchdowns with just three interceptions. He has also added 414 rushing yards and four scores on the ground on 77 carries.
The question that remains is just how interested is Auburn in signing a junior college quarterback in this year’s class. Already with Woody Barrett committed, a prospect who should be a great fit for the Tigers, Auburn’s decision may very well hinge on how well White plays the rest of this season. If he continues his improvement then the Tigers may stick with him and the guys they have got headed into the 2016 season, but struggles down the stretch could make a player like Evans a priority. Stay tuned.