War Eagle, everybody. Another football weekend is almost here, and our Tigers come home to play Louisiana Monroe. What seemed a certain easy win over Louisiana Monroe has become a looming threat, as the ULM Warhawks beat a highly regarded Arkansas team last weekend. Despite the Warhawks’ undefeated record, and Auburn’s poor start, Vegas oddsmakers have Auburn as a 17-point favorite in this one. Can the Tigers live up to expectations this week?
Before the season started, I had penciled in the first three games of this year as a chance for the Auburn defensive line to dominate, as Clemson, Mississippi State, and Louisiana Monroe all had young offensive lines, especially at tackle. Said domination has not happened. Yes, Auburn has had more sacks, and a bit better pass rush, but other times the line really gets pushed around. That has to change, if the Tigers are to have much chance of really slowing down SEC offenses. Against ULM, Auburn must put effective pressure on junior quarterback Kolton Browning, and keep him in the pocket. Browning won the game against Arkansas on a 16 yard scramble.
The Auburn linebackers and secondary, plagued by communication problems and missed tackles last week, face a tall task this week. ULM returns four of their top six receivers from a year ago, headlined by the dangerous junior Tavarese Maye. ULM also has two respectable running backs, juniors Jyruss Edwards and Donald Centarius. The Warhawks run a lot of swing passes, or little dumpoffs over the middle to those backs, to give them room to operate in space. It’s going to be tough to limit those guys.
Auburn has played very well on special teams this season, and that must continue if Tigers are going to be successful. Louisiana Monroe presents a great chance for Onterio McCalebb and Quan Bray to break some big returns. The Warhawks don’t kick it, or cover like the first two teams Auburn has played.
Last week against Mississippi State, Auburn seemed to have called a nearly 50-50 game between run and pass plays. This week, I think Auburn must call at least 2/3rds running plays, if not more. The reason is that Auburn outweighs the ULM defensive line up front by about 40-50 pounds per man. There’s no excuse this week for not creating a push up front. With an 0-2 start, the Tigers need to be focused on getting the win here, not protecting running backs. Auburn should be able to run inside on ULM, and they need to work on it this week. Last week, giving Tre Mason only 8 carries against Mississippi State was borderline criminal.
Look for ULM’s Vincent Eddie to be matched up on Emory Blake all day, with safety help over the top. We were led to believe that this season, the coaches would move Blake around, and make it problematic for the defense to find him in the formation. Instead, the defense locks onto Blake the instant he steps off the sideline, and stays on him like glue. What is depressing for the rest of the Auburn receiving corps is that defenses are giving only token coverage to other receivers. Auburn has to make teams pay for this. Travante Stallworth and Trovon Reed should be able to get open against this secondary, and Auburn must throw the ball over there a few times. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, where mis-reads are problem. If the defense is giving a ten yard cushion, and looking to crash up on the run, you call a 5-yard hitch. Make ‘em play honest coverage.
What I’d like to see is the Tigers get out to a big lead early, and then work on problem areas. Make no mistake, though. Auburn needs to win this game, badly. If we have to run the ball 70 times to do it, then the coaching staff needs to be prepared to do that. I think a loss to ULM would make the natives very restless on the Plains.
We’ll have our usual open thread up early Saturday morning, but I’ll be unavailable for play-by-play due to an earlier social engagement. I should be back in the saddle for the LSU game. War Eagle, folks! Let’s beat those Warhawks, and get the Auburn football team headed back in the right direction!