Heading Down the Back Stretch and Turning Home
Auburn safety Tray Matthews and a depleted Auburn secondary hopes to be at full strength for the last third of the season. (photo: USA TODAY Sports )
Auburn got a well-deserved break this past week after dismantling Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks for the second year in a row. And boy was it needed. The walking wounded on the roster read like a who’s who of Auburn players. The O-line has been shifted around all season, and the secondary has been a patch-work.
After eight games without an off week, the Tigers (6–2, 4–1 SEC) were pretty beat up on both sides of the ball. In Fayetteville offensive lineman Darrius James had to be carted off the field for the second time this year. The good news is James and most of the injured may be back this week for the Tigers’ game against Texas A&M (5–3, 3–2).
Although the two losses on the schedule maybe, coulda, shoulda been wins, the Tigers are fortunate to be 6-–2 heading into the last third of the season, considering they’ve had to start five different lineups on the offensive line.
Center Casey Dunn was injured at LSU and has been out for most of the last two games, and left guard Mike Horton has been in and out of the lineup, including missing all of the Arkansas game. Both are hopeful for Saturday. Reports out of Auburn say the three linemen returned to the practice field in limited action Sunday.
The best news for the offense is the Tigers may have both running backs (Kerryon Johnson and Kam Pettway) almost healthy and available together for the first time since early last season. K.J. is getting closer to 100 per cent, but it remains to be seen how much Pettway can be used. His plantar fasciitis needs rest ,and if Offensive Coordinator Chip Lindsey calls his number a lot, it could seriously hinder his ability to play against Georgia the next weekend.
On the other side of the ball, defensive end Marlon Davidson has been slowed by a nagging knee injury this fall, and the two-week rest should put him at his best since the start of the season. Linebacker Tré Williams has been dealing with a shoulder injury that kept him out of three games. He returned to play in Fayetteville.
However, the biggest concern has been with a razor-thin secondary. Injured players include Tray Matthews, Jeremiah Dinson, Javaris Davis, and Carlton Davis. Matthews, the leader on defense, has sat out most of the last two games with a hamstring injury.
Although Davis looked okay against Arkansas, he played injured, which is something a lot of Tigers have had to do. Defensive Coordinator Steele said, “Dinson is probably the one that has played the most with the most pain.”
The depleted secondary has forced Steele to be creative the last few games, moving players around like Safety Stephen Roberts to shore up the corner position. Like Lindsey, Steele feels good about getting most of his guys back.
A nearly healthy team and the Arkansas win should give the Tigers momentum as they head down the back stretch to face a dangerous Aggie team in College Station before turning for home and a tough Amen Corner.