StatTiger Column: Analyzing ULM at Auburn

Stuart Carter (StatTiger) is back for another season of previewing and predicting Auburn's football games with his in-depth statistical analysis.

Louisiana Monroe Game

Series Record Versus Auburn: 0-6-0

2007 Record: 6-6 Overall, 4-3 Sun Belt Conference

2007 Offensive Numbers

Rushing209.0 yards16th
Passing176.7 yards106th
Total385.7 yards65th
Scoring23.5 points89th

2007 Defensive Numbers

Rushing153.5 yards55th
Passing260.8 yards101st
Total414.3 yards78th
Scoring27.7 points64th

Last season the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks finished with their first non-losing record as a Division I-A program. This included an upset over the Alabama Crimson Tide on the road and a 5-1 finish to their season. The Warhawk offense was powered by the 16th best rushing offense in the nation, but they must replace Calvin Dawson, who posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

This game will mark the seventh meeting between the two programs with Auburn winning the prior six meetings. Louisiana-Monroe gave Auburn all it could handle in 1996 with the Tigers escaping with a 28-24 victory, but the average score in the series is 44-12. Since the close call in 1996, the last three meetings with the Warhawks have been settled by an average score of 52-7.

Last time out...

Auburn finished the 2007 season with a 9-4 record including a Chick-fil-A bowl victory over No. 15 Clemson. The Warhawks completed their season with a 17-11 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette. Auburn won the last meeting with Louisiana-Monroe, 31-0 in 2004 on their way to a perfect 13-0 season.

About Louisiana-Monroe...

Louisiana-Monroe returns 13 starters from last year's team, six on offense and seven on defense. Quarterback, Kinsmon Lancaster will be the focal player on offense with the loss of running back Dawson. Lancaster has been the Warhawks' starting quarterback for the past two seasons with 20 career touchdown passes and more than 3,700 yards passing. His primary target, Darrell McNeal, returns from last season after hauling in a career high 54 receptions.

On defense, linebacker Cardia Jackson was ULM's leading tackler last season with 79 stops. At 6-2, 225 pounds, Jackson is a physical hitter and is expected to have another big season for the Warhawks. Defensive end Alaric Coleman returns this season after leading the defense with tackles behind the line in 2007. Free safety Greg James had five interceptions last season along with 77 tackles, second on the team.

About Auburn...

Auburn replaced their offensive and defensive coordinators from 2007 with the additions of Tony Franklin and Paul Rhoads, and the offense is expected to be completely different from any other offense under coach Tommy Tuberville. With Franklin Auburn will be more pass-oriented in 2008 operating primarily out of a shotgun formation in a no-huddle attack.

The quarterback battle between Chris Todd and Kodi Burns will continue into the regular season with Todd. For the most part the entire starting offensive line returns along with Auburn's two leading rushers from 2007. Brad Lester and Ben Tate combined for 1,433 rushing yards in 2007, giving Auburn a solid one-two punch.

Lester is hoping to have his biggest year as a senior.

Rod Smith came close to the single season school record for receptions with 52 catches in 2007. Not a flashy receiver but highly reliable, Smith has 84 career receptions as an Auburn Tiger, which includes 11 receptions of 30-yards or more. A slimmer version of Tommy Trott is expected to have a big season in Franklin's offense. The change in offensive philosophy will certainly provide more opportunities for the veteran receivers and also make room for the younger ones.

The most questionable area of the 2008 Auburn Tigers will come on defense as Auburn must replace three of the top defensive linemen from last season and three of the top defensive backs. There is talent up front on the line but the tackle position will lack experience. Tackle Sen'Derrick Marks and end Antonio Coleman are the proven commodities up front with All-American potential. Jake Ricks, Zach Clayton, Mike Blanc and Tez Doolittle are talented but lack experience.

The secondary could become a major issue if Auburn's starting corners suffer extensive injuries. The loss of Aairon Savage to a season-ending injury means several freshmen might be called upon for extensive action this season. Auburn is thin at safety, which means Zac Etheridge and Mike McNeil will need to remain as healthy as possible. Jerraud Powers returns as a starting corner and Walter McFadden will start on the opposite side.

Special teams should be strong in 2008 with both kickers returning from 2007 to go along with a possible upgrade in the kick and punt return teams. Ryan Shoemaker is Auburn's returning punter but Clinton Durst could see some action based on his hang time on his kicks. Wes Byrum is coming off a solid freshman season where he connected on 17 of 23 field goal attempts.

Final Thoughts...

Auburn enters the game roughly a 28-point favorite, which is doable. All eyes will be on the individual performance of the Auburn quarterbacks and the overall play of the offense but it should be the defense that should be spotlighted. With so many new faces on the two-deep rotation and the expected increase in snaps defended, Auburn's defense will be tested early on despite playing a Sun Belt Conference opponent.

This game is expected to be a blowout and Auburn could easily win this game based on their advantage in talent and overall depth. In a sense, Auburn will be competing against itself in terms of how the Tigers mentally perform during their season opener. One would expect a few mental blunders during the first game of the year but turnovers can always make any game against an inferior opponent a close one.

Auburn crushed the Warhawks 73-7 in 2003 but was very conservative during their 31-0 victory to open the 2004 season. Tuberville has made massive substitutions to go along with a conservative approach on offense in past blowouts. The substitutions will continue but will Coach Franklin be instructed to pull back the throttle on offense?

Auburn 45, Louisiana-Monroe 13

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