Photo by Jason Caldwell

Stat Tiger Column: Previewing Alabama A&M at Auburn Football Game

Stuart Carter does his pre-game analysis on the Auburn football Tigers as they head into their Senior night contest vs. Alabama A&M.

Rudy Ford (above) could see action at running back this week.

Alabama A&M (4-6) at No. 18 Auburn (7-3)

Series Record: Auburn leads 1-0-0

Last Meeting: (2012) Auburn, 51-7

About the Teams:

•James Spady of Alabama A&M is 9-21 as head coach. Gus Malzahn is 43-19 all-time and 34-16 at Auburn. 

•The last time out Auburn lost 13-7 at Georgia and Alabama A&M defeated Jackson State 27-20 in a road game.

The Bulldogs are 4-6 on the season, but have won three of their last four games.

•Senior Deangelo Ballard leads the Bulldogs in passing with a QB rating of 105.3. He has averaged 189.4 yards passing per game with 10 touchdown passes and seven interceptions on the season. He is a true dual-threat quarterback with 634 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on the ground.

•Freshman running back Jordan Bentley leads the Bulldogs with 848 yards rushing at 5.5 yards per carry. He has rushed for nine touchdowns on the season.

•Tevin McKenzie leads the Bulldogs in receiving with 45 catches for 492 yards through 10 games.

•Linebacker Kenneth Davis is a tackling machine with 90 stops on the season. He also leads the Bulldogs in tackles for loss with six.

•Sean White has passed for 1,644 yards and has an efficiency rating of 146.9, but he is expected to sit out this week with a shoulder injury. Former starter Jeremy Johnson has been named Auburn’s starter for Saturday night despite not taking a snap since the season opener against Clemson. The senior could provide the deep arm experience to jump-start the pass offense from the past two weeks.

Photo by Jason Caldwell

Jeremy Johnson is scheduled to start in his final home game.

•Kamryn Pettway should not be expected to play as he continues to nurse a strained quadriceps injury. Kerryon Johnson is expected to be the starter. He has 715 rushing yards for the season at 4.9 yards per attempt. The offensive game plan should result in more reps directed towards freshman Kam Martin with Stanton Truitt not expected to play with an ankle injury.

•Safety Tray Matthews leads Auburn with in tackles with 65 followed by Johnathan Ford with 54. Carl Lawson leads the Tigers in tackles for lost yardage with 13 and Montravius Montravius Adams has eights stops behind the line.

•The only time these two teams have met was in 2012. Auburn finished with 512 yards in total offense to the Bulldogs’ 208 yards. The Tigers rushed for 341 yards against an outmanned defense.

How They Match Up...

Alabama A&M has played two opponents from a Power-5 conference during its school history, losing by an average score of 58-7. The Bulldogs are No. 44 in total offense at the FCS level and No. 105 in total defense. A&M is No. 108 in run defense at the FCS level, allowing 218.3 yards per game. The Bulldogs have scored 26.2 points per game while allowing 37.1 points to FCS competition.

Despite Auburn suffering through a slew of injuries, the Tigers should not have any issues moving the ball and scoring on the Bulldog defense.

Depending on how much Coordinator Kevin Steele substitutes on defense, the Bulldog offense could be spirited at times because of its style of play. The goal of the Auburn coaches will likely be to empty the bench as soon as possible. At this juncture of the season, the physical grind of the schedule has caught up with the players, especially those nursing injuries.

Keys to Victory...

This game is a glorified scrimmage for the Auburn Tigers and a grand opportunity to rest starters and give valuable playing time to the younger players with the Iron Bowl on the schedule next week.

With this game sandwiched between the disappointing loss to Georgia and a road trip to Alabama, Auburn could come out uninspired. Player substitution could offset this possibility by allowing backups to see more playing time. Those guys should be excited with their opportunity to perform in front of a home crowd.

As long as Auburn avoids turnovers, this game should be over with by halftime. During Auburn’s only other meeting against Alabama A&M, the Tigers took a 35-0 lead into halftime.

What to Watch...

With the injuries at the running back position, look for Kerryon Johnson to see limited action if possible. There is no reason to play Pettway even if he could physically go this Saturday night. Resting the significant contributors in the running game should open the doors for Martin to receive plenty of reps against Alabama A&M.

We could see the return of Rudy Ford at running back to provide much needed depth at the position. The combination of their speed along with John Franklin, should he play, could result in several long runs from scrimmage. The interesting aspect will be how the coaches elect to handle the quarterback position. With Jeremy Johnson drawing the start, will Franklin play in a reserve capacity or as a role player? 

Final Word...

After winning six games in a row, Auburn’s hopes of making it to the college football playoffs or Southeastern Conference Championship were squashed with a 13-7 loss to the Georgia Bulldogs. Auburn’s injuries and the inability to adjust its offense to the circumstances of the game placed a damper on the team’s recent success. Fans are quick to forget about the success achieved during the winning streak because of Auburn's 2-11 record against the Georgia Bulldogs during the last 13 meetings. If Auburn had been healthy, the Tigers would likely be 8-2 and very close to being in the top four of the college football playoff format.

The challenge now facing the Auburn coaches is keeping this team focused and inspired to play and to work through their current injuries. Once the primary goals of a season become out of reach, the season becomes a building block for the following year. Auburn can compete for a 10-win season, but a 9-4 finish is more realistic.

Fortunately for Auburn, the Tigers have the Alabama A&M game before playing Alabama. Auburn is not mentally or physically prepared to face the best team in college football this year immediately following a heart-breaking loss to Georgia. This game will give the Tigers an opportunity to work through their injuries while providing valuable playing time to inexperienced players.

If Franklin plays this week he needs to be allowed to throw the football and not be an extra glorified runner. Auburn could line up and run to a convincing victory, but benefit little from an ill-advised plan. The role of Auburn’s young group of wide receivers has diminished during the last few games. Auburn was fortunate to bring them into the program and should take advantage of their athletic abilities, building confidence for the future. 

Auburn has played a lot of young players this season, making this another obstacle on the road to becoming a good football team. It is often difficult to play for pride and improvement when the trophies and championships are no longer in the equation. The coaching staff will be tested as well, having to overcome the mistakes made along the way. The hope and expectations are for the players and coaches to rally around one another and to move onto the next challenge. There should not be a physical barrier to overcome this week against Alabama A&M, but the Tigers could be running on fumes when it comes to the emotional gas tank. The night game atmosphere should provide more excitement than an afternoon kickoff, hopefully avoiding a pedestrian effort. Auburn 49, Alabama A&M 10.

Around the Southeastern Conference:

Texas A&M over UTSA

Georgia over La-Lafayette

LSU over Florida

Tennessee over Missouri

South Carolina over Western Carolina

Kentucky over Austin Peay

Alabama over Chattanooga

Arkansas over Mississippi State

Ole Miss over Vanderbilt

Season Record: 66-25 (.725)

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