Louisiana-Monroe (1-2) at Auburn (2-2)
Series Record: Auburn 9-0-0
Last Meeting: (2012) Auburn 31-28 in overtime
About the teams:
*Coach Matt Viator of Louisiana-Monroe is 79-35 all time and 1-2 at Louisiana-Monroe. Gus Malzahn is 38-18 all-time and 29-15 at Auburn.
*The last time out Auburn defeated No. 18 LSU 18-13 and Louisiana-Monroe lost 23-21 to Georgia Southern.
*ULM is 4-45-1 all-time against teams from the Southeastern Conference.
*ULM sophomore quarterback Garrett Smith has completed 58 percent of his passes for 247 yards per game.
*Smith is also ULM’s leading rusher with 177 yards on 34 carries. The Warhawks’ second-leading rusher is Ben Luckett with 157 yards.
*R.J. Turner leads ULM with 12 receptions for 239 yards.
*Linebacker David Griffith leads the Warhawks in tackles with 23 stops on the season. He also leads the team with six tackles for loss.
*Auburn’s Sean White has completed 66 percent of his passes on the season for an average of 186 yards per game. His primary target has been senior Tony Stevens, who has hauled in 17 passes for 235 yards this season.
*The combination of Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway has tallied 707 yards rushing and five touchdowns for the Tigers. Both are currently on pace to rush for more than 1,000 yards.
Kerryon Johnson is a sophomore running back for the Tigers.
*Auburn has produced 21 plays of 20 yards or more and will face a ULM defense that has surrendered 17 such plays in three games.
*The ULM defense is allowing 290 yards rushing per game, No. 126 in the country.
*The Warhawks are No. 125 in run offense vs. FBS competition, averaging only 72.5 yards per game.
*During the nine meetings between the two programs, Auburn has averaged 458 yards and 43 points per game. ULM has averaged 277 yards and 11 points.
*Auburn is 23-0 against teams from the Sunbelt Conference with an average score of 42-13.
How they match up...
The Warhawks’ run defense has been horrible, allowing more 290 yards per game. ULM’s struggles bode well for the Tigers, who will likely have 50-plus rush attempts this Saturday.
As well as the Auburn defense has performed this season, there are issues in run defense allowing big plays, lack of turnovers forced and quarterback containment. ULM’s starting quarterback will have an opportunity to expose these concerns.
Auburn is No. 75 nationally in producing tackles for loss, facing a ULM offense ranked No. 60 in allowing them. The Warhawk defense is No. 26 in producing tackles for loss and will face an Auburn offense ranked No. 120 in allowing tackles for loss.
Of the 94 players signed by the Tigers during their last four recruiting classes, 92 were rated as 3-stars or better. Of the 77 players signed by Louisiana-Monroe during the same period, only one was rated as 3-stars or better.
Malzahn’s offense has faced 60 opponents from non-major conferences and is averaging 523 yards and 44 points per game in those matchups.
Keys to Victory...
As long as Auburn takes care of the football this game should not be competitive for more than one half.
After an emotional victory over LSU, Auburn must avoid looking ahead to Mississippi State. The coaches have done a splendid job in maintaining the mental focus of the players this season.
Auburn had too many execution errors against LSU, which will likely be a focus this week in preparation for Louisiana-Monroe. A poor performance could make this game more competitive than it should be.
Malzahn’s offense has rushed for at least 275 yards on 45 occasions. His teams are 42-3 in those games, averaging 45.2 PPG.
A quick start by the offense should nullify any chance of an upset. Under Malzahn, Auburn is 32-3 in games the Tigers score at least 20 points by halftime. The three losses came to ranked power-5 opponents. Auburn’s average score during those 35 games is 46 points.
What to Watch...
*Can Auburn limit the number of big plays allowed on defense the past three games? The Tigers have given up 11 plays of 30 yards or more in those games.
*Smith is a very athletic quarterback, who could pose some issues for an Auburn defense gashed by quarterback runs this season. He has averaged 306 yards per game and has accounted for eight of ULM’s ten offensive touchdowns.
*Auburn is currently allowing 167 yards rushing against FBS competition, No. 69 in the country. Can the Warhawks expose Auburn’s run fits?
*This game should allow the Tigers to work towards establishing more depth before they begin their first road trip of the season.
*ULM is No. 43 nationally in producing plays of 30 yards or more and the Auburn defense is No. 107 in allowing them.
Louisiana-Monroe has losses to Oklahoma (59-17) and Georgia Southern (23-21). Its lone victory came during the season opener against Southern University (38-21). ULM returned 12 starters from 2015 with eight on offense and only four on defense. Through three games the Warhawks have averaged 411 yards and 25 points per game while allowing 477 yards and 34 points per game.
During their last ten meetings against a Power-5 opponent, ULM is 2-8 with two victories over Wake Forest. Five of their last ten Power-5 opponents came from the Southeastern Conference where the Warhawks lost by an average score of 37-9. Louisiana-Monroe gave Auburn a good scare during their last meeting, which took place during the 2012 season. The Tigers were fortunate to avoid the upset with a 31-28 victory.
The Warhawks don’t possess the talent or depth to be a serious threat against Auburn if the Tigers are playing well, but they could be catching Auburn at the right time to make it a competitive game for a half. With Auburn coming off an emotional victory over LSU and having to face Mississippi State on the road next week the Tigers might not be entirely focused on ULM this Saturday.
The last time these two teams faced off against one another Auburn took a 28-14 lead into the final quarter. The Warhawks scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to send the game into overtime. Cody Parkey kicked a 35-yard game-winning field goal in overtime to prevent the upset. ULM finished 8-4 during the 2012 regular season with a win over Arkansas and a near victory over Baylor. This year’s team doesn't appear to be as strong and the likelihood of a close game is not high.
Malzahn and his coaching staff have done a splendid job of motivating a team that counts on young players to play competitive football this season. Of the 1,755 yards gained on offense 84 percent has come from underclassmen. It is this youth movement which should be beneficial in a game like this. There are freshmen and sophomores on offense and defense attempting to challenge for additional playing time. This competitive spirit should damper concerns of remaining focused, regardless of the level of competition.
The coaching staff continues to push the players regarding the objective of improving their overall execution. Despite Auburn's issues on offense, no one has questioned the effort put forth by the Tigers. Auburn’s players and coaches seem to realize their team is still a work in progress and each game is an opportunity to improve as a combined unit. Look for Auburn to deliver a similar performance to the Arkansas State game, but look for a late score by the Warhawks to make the point difference a little closer. Auburn 52, Louisiana-Monroe 20
Around the Southeastern Conference:
Arkansas over Alcorn State
Florida over Vanderbilt
Tennessee over Georgia
Texas A&M over South Carolina
Alabama over Kentucky
Ole Miss over Memphis
LSU over Missouri
Season Record: 34-10