Record: 5-3-0 overall, 3-1 Sun Belt
Total Offense: 89th in the nation, 309.5 YPG
Scoring Offense: 105th in the nation, 15.7 PPG
Total Defense: 20th in the nation, 280.2 YPG
Scoring Defense: 54th in the nation, 21.2 PPG
Last time out…
The Arkansas State Indians are coming off a 29-0 loss to Florida Atlantic, which held the Indians to 104 yards in total offense and only six yards rushing. The unexpected loss drops Arkansas State into second place in the Sun Belt Conference behind 4-0 Middle Tennessee State.
The Auburn Tigers are coming off a conference road victory over the Ole Miss Rebels, which keeps them within striking distance of the Arkansas Razorbacks. The 23-17 victory over the Rebels extends Auburn's overall record to 8-1 and 5-1 in conference play.
About the Arkansas State Indians…
The Indians are primarily a run-oriented offense averaging 162 yards per game on the ground. Arkansas State's running attack is led by redshirt freshman Reggie Arnold, who has 678 yards and four touchdowns on the season. The Indians also rely on a second freshman running back, Cedric Wilkerson, who has accumulated 267 yards on the ground.
Quarterback Travis Hewitt started the season but was later relieved by freshman quarterback, Corey Leonard, who has sparked the Indian offense. Leonard has proven to be the more mobile quarterback and accurate passer. Leonard has 794 yards passing on 114 pass attempts and 319 yards rushing excluding yards lost from sacks.
Wide receiver Levi Dejohnette leads the Indians with 14 receptions for 190 yards. Patrick Higgins, 6-2, 183, has been the big play threat at wide receiver, averaging more than 30 yards per reception, scoring three touchdowns on just seven receptions. Arkansas State is currently averaging only 147 yards passing per game.
The Indians have six players with more 30 tackles on the season, led by junior linebacker Koby McKinnon's 41 tackles. Senior linebacker Deverett Wade is second on the team with 38 tackles, including 5.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Arkansas State has allowed 133.7 yards rushing and 146.5 yards passing per game.
About the Auburn Tigers…
Kenny Irons returned to action this past Saturday against the Rebels, recording his third 100-yard rushing game of the season and the 11th of his career. Irons has 687 yards rushing despite missing two games. Brad Lester and Ben Tate have combined for an additional 625 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns.
Brandon Cox attempted a season high 34 pass attempts against the Rebels, giving him 1664 yards and nine touchdown passes. Cox continues to improve as he becomes healthier as the season progresses. Courtney Taylor is currently on pace to break the season and career school records in receptions. He enters the game with 43 catches 508 yards this season.
The Auburn passing game is hitting stride down the stretch of the season.
Linebacker Will Herring continues to lead the Tigers in tackles with 45 stops. Quentin Groves leads Auburn in tackles behind the line, recording nine of Auburn's 56 plays behind the line of scrimmage. During the first six games of the season, the Auburn defense allowed only 276 yards per game but is currently allowing 308 yards in the last three.
Despite the increase in yardage allowed, the defense has forced a turnover every 19.5 plays in the last three games compared to the one every 61 plays in the first six games of the season. Because the number of three-and-outs has decreased in the last five games from 36 percent to 22 percent, it's vital the defense continues to force turnovers.
Keys to victory…
Auburn should be 9-1 after this Saturday, but how they get there remains to be seen. The defense continues to struggle in terms of getting the opponent off the field, but the offense is improving. In the last three games, Auburn's offense has averaged 391 yards per game compared to the 331 gained in the first six games of the season. This also includes an increase in the passing game from 177 yards to 216 per game.
Once again, the opponent this week is not Arkansas State, but Auburn itself. Auburn is slowly returning to full strength on offense as key players become healthy. Last week against Ole Miss Auburn gained 230 yards on 36 plays in its first three offensive possessions of the game. Getting an early start against Arkansas State would take the Indians out of their offense, forcing them to throw more than they want to.
Playing keep away has been the recent strategy of offensive coaches this season because of the rule changes in the game clock. In the last three games, Auburn has flipped the number of plays executed and allowed. Auburn has run an average of 67 plays to 52 allowed, compared to the 59 to 61 ratio in the previous six games.
Should Auburn defeat Arkansas State, it will mark the 12th time in school historynan Auburn team started the season with a 9-1 record or better. The 2006 Auburn Tigers might not win a league or national championship, but winning games should never be taken lightly. From 1951 through 2003, Auburn compiled a win percentage of .668. Auburn is currently .886 from 2004 through 2006, which surpasses the win percentage posted from 1986 through 1989 (.833).
Winning championships should be a team goal, but not the only means by which a team is judged. With Auburn's recent success on the field, the expectation level has risen. The mere fact the expectation level has risen is a clear indicator of Auburn's success on the field. Bottom line, as long as Auburn continues to win consistently, the championships will eventually fall into place.
It's natural for one to compare the 2006 Auburn Tigers to other teams from the past, but is it fair? How far would the 1983, 1993 and 2004 teams have gone with the identical injuries the 2006 Auburn Tigers have been forced to work through? How well would they have adjusted to the current clock rule changes? In fairness, this team should be compared to other current programs around the nation. After nine weeks Auburn is a Top 10 team and one of the best in the conference despite having issues at certain positions on the team.
Center Joe Cope makes his return this week and tight end Cole Bennett could be back for the Georgia game. With the offense playing more efficiently, the addition of previous starters could set up a good run to finish the season out strongly. Look for continuing improvement on the offensive side of the ball against Arkansas State.
Cope hasn't seen action since since Sept. 28, but is expected to get the start against the Indians.
Overall scoring margins for both teams would indicate a 24-point victory for the Tigers. Looking at the scoring margins for the past three games would drop the margin of victory to as low as 13 points. Should Auburn struggle on offense in the red zone and the defense continue to allow big plays, this game could be a 27-14 type of game.
In the last three games, Auburn's offense has moved the ball at least 33 yards in 17 of 29 possessions, gaining 1,023 yards on 151 plays and scoring 60 points. Coach Al Borges has added new formations and plays to prevent the offense from being too predictable, obtaining a good mix of 175 yards rushing and 216 passing. The offensive line has not allowed a sack in two straight games and Cox is completing 70 percent of his passes for a four to one touchdown to interception ratio.
Auburn 34 Arkansas State 10