Tigers need to fix their offensive woes if they want to avoid an upset at the hands of the Eagles
The Auburn Tigers (3-1) are hoping for a much better offensive showing this Saturday when they take on the Southern Miss Golden Eagles (2-1) at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Against a struggling SEC foe in Arkansas last week, the Tigers managed just 225 yards of total offense despite the 34-3 blowout. Head coach Gus Malzahn mentioned a number of factors this week contributing to the lack of sustained success, but the offense will needs to get sorted out quickly as No. 23 Mississippi State is on the horizon next week.
As for Southern Miss, the offense has been just fine, averaging 38.3 points per game through three contests. Former junior college transfer Jack Abraham is currently sixth in the country with 349 passing yards per game. He has 10 touchdown passes while completing 72 percent of his passes, numbers that either lead or are tied for the lead among Conference USA quarterbacks. His best performance yet will be needed, though, if the Golden Eagles are to pull off the upset on Saturday.
Southern Miss at Auburn
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 29 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Auburn -26.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Offensive offense
The offense was a hot topic of conversation this week for Gus Malzahn after the poor showing a week ago against a bad Arkansas defense. In total, the Tigers gained just 225 total yards of offense on the day with just 91 coming on the ground — well below the standard we have come to expect from an Auburn rushing attack. In fact, those 91 yards were the lowest output in an Auburn victory since the 2011 season opener against Utah State. Redshirt freshman JaTarvious Whitlow got his first start of the season against the Razorbacks and while he did finish with two rushing TDs, he managed fewer than four yards (3.8) per carry. Southern Miss isn’t necessarily a juggernaut when it comes to stopping the run, but the Eagles are giving up just 132 rushing yards per game, good for 46th in the country.
2. In need of balance
Southern Miss can really chuck it around the yard with offensive stars like quarterback Jack Abraham and wide receiver Quez Watkins, who already has 24 catches and five touchdowns in just three games. But similar to Auburn, the Eagles also are struggling to run the football with any consistency this season and are clearly feeling the loss of the school’s sixth all-time leading rusher in Ito Smith. Through four weeks, Southern Miss is currently 101st in rushing offense, averaging 132 yards per game and just 3.62 yards per carry. Senior Tez Parks has been the starter through three games, but has not been effective, averaging fewer than three yards per carry. Look for freshman Trivensky Mosley and Steven Anderson to start getting more opportunities this week against Auburn and moving forward.
3. Prepping for two QBs
Malzahn heaped praise this week on the Southern Miss passing attack with the aforementioned Abraham, but the Auburn defense should be prepared to see two quarterbacks this week. Eagles head coach Jay Hopson said after the win over Rice that he definitely plans to utilize backup QB Kwadra Griggs against Auburn. Griggs was the team’s starter for the majority of the 2017 season but was sidelined for much of the offseason due to a number of injuries, and then was suspended by the team for the first month. How will Griggs be utilized if he does see the field? Well, the senior QB is a dual-threat option that could aid the struggling ground game. Or maybe Hopson’s comments were just a ploy to give the Auburn defense an added dimension to concern themselves with? Abraham will see the first snap under center once the game starts, but the likelihood is that two quarterbacks hit the field at some point on Saturday.
We have already seen plenty of upsets this year, especially of late with BYU defeating Wisconsin on the road two weeks ago, and then the stunner last weekend with previously-winless Old Dominion knocking off Virginia Tech. Can Southern Miss continue that trend this week by beating Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium? Balance will certainly be required on offense if that is to happen — something the Eagles have yet to accomplish this season consistently. Southern Miss also must win the “big play” battle by getting chunk plays on offense and limiting them on defense as you know the Tigers will be looking to work out the kinks after the struggles from last week. Expect this to be relatively close at halftime before the home team pulls away in the second half.
Prediction: Auburn 34, Southern Miss 14
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.