Austin Golson (above) is a member of the offensive line that is looking to improve in game two.
Auburn, Ala.--Following an unusual football game on opening night the Auburn Tigers are looking to start a winning streak as they head into Saturday’s non-conference home contest vs. Arkansas State.
Despite a strong defensive performance vs. No. 2 ranked Clemson, Auburn dropped a 19-13 decision because of an offense that couldn’t move the football in the first half and couldn’t cash in on all of the scoring opportunities in the second half.
Coach Gus Malzahn has publically declared his revolving quarterback plan that Auburn fans watched in game one will be replaced with a more traditional approach featuring first-stringer Sean White as the featured QB. The offense was more productive under White’s direction in game one than it was when John Franklin and Jeremy Johnson were at the position, but by no means was the play of the offense up to Malzahn’s standards.
The first chance to show that repairs have been successfully made is at 6:30 p.m. CDT at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday vs. the defending Sun Belt Conference champions. Like Auburn the Red Wolves dropped their opener at home as they fell 31-10 to Toledo despite being favored in that contest.
Auburn leads the series 3-0 with the last matchup a 38-9 decision in 2013, Malzahn’s first season as head coach of the Tigers after holding the same position for the 2012 season at Arkansas State.
For game two here is what to watch:
*Auburn’s offense was the anchor in week one that prevented the Tigers from sailing into the Top 25 with what could have been an impressive victory over Clemson. One of the reasons for the setback was that Clemson’s defense was able to contain AU’s running attack and in the first half the visitors gambled and won time after time by loading the box with nine-man fronts to stop the run.
Considering that Arkansas State struggled defending Toledo’s passing game, it seems logical that the Tigers will try to take advantage of that by throwing the football more, especially on first downs.
*When the Tigers do throw the football it is important that they hit on what Malzahn calls “explosive plays,” the kind that spark touchdown drives. Auburn was good at that in previous seasons with Malzahn on the staff as head coach or offensive coordinator, but 2015 was an exception and 2016 started off like 2015.
*In addition to the question about whether or not White will be successful throwing the ball deep to challenge opposing secondaries, how much his backup plays will be something to watch. Although John Franklin saw action in game one the speedy quarterback never ran the football to take advantage of his serious speed.
*Auburn’s rebuilt offensive line had issues blocking Clemson’s athletic defensive front. Checking for signs of improvement from the group in week two will also be something to watch on Saturday night.
*Defensively, the Tigers pressured quarterback Deshaun Watson in game one and finished with nine hurries, but the group needs to have even more of impact. After not being credited with a sack vs. Clemson, it will be worth watching to see if that changes this week.
*With a need for more depth in the secondary, look for Stephen Roberts to bolster the group after missing game one due to a suspension. A returning starter at safety, the junior can play cornerback if needed.
*If new secondary coach Wesley McGriff determines that Marshall Taylor is ready to contribute, the former starter at Miami of Ohio could provide experienced depth at cornerback. Taylor, a graduate transfer who missed all of the camp portion of preseason, has been practicing with the team for just a couple of weeks and did not participate in the opener.
*Last, but not least, will the rebuilt linebacker corps follow a strong opening night performance with another one in game two? The linebackers played physical football and tackled well with junior Tre Williams plus sophomores Deshaun Davis and Darrell Williams leading the way.