The Eagles Visit Auburn – (first in a series of opponent previews)
Quarterback Shai Werts is a dual threat guy
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for the first Auburn opponent preview of the year! On September 2nd, the Georgia Southern Eagles visit Auburn for the season-opening football game for both teams. For the Tigers, this will be the time to tune up for a tough visit to Clemson the following week. For Georgia Southern, this will be a very tough introduction to the 2017 season.
Last season was the first year of head coach Tyson Summers, and let’s just say that the 5–7 inaugural season did not make anyone happy. The normally powerful Georgia Southern ground game struggled, and the defense was porous at times. Summers ended up firing most of his offensive staff and brought in Bryan Cook to install a triple-option offense.
There isn’t really a huge amount of information out there on this team. I was able to find some spring game footage. This wasn’t really a game. It was more like a 100-play situational scrimmage. The offensive players wore blue jerseys, and the defense wore white. In 100 plays, the offense scored 5 times, 4 of which were on the ground. The team rushed for 371 yards, and passed for 98.
There is concern along the defensive line as a unit that was pushed around last season was still not settled on its starting rotation at the end of spring. The team would like to improve on last year’s record of allowing 4.5 yards per rush, and 167 yards per game. The team also gave up 7.76 yards per pass and 16 passing touchdowns against only 9 interceptions.
Special teams will miss kicker Younghoe Koo, who connected on 19 of 20 field goals last season. Punter Matt Flynn returns, and the Eagles have some dangerous options in the return game. The Eagles were fairly average in coverage.
Unit matchups, after the jump!
Auburn defensive line vs. Georgia Southern offensive line: Auburn brings a big, athletic defensive line back this season. Likely starters at tackle are junior Dontavius Russell and sophomore Derrick Brown. Sophomore strong-side end Marlon Davidson was a beast on A-Day. The buck side will likely be manned by a combination of junior Jeffery Holland and senior transfer Paul James III. Auburn has a good bit of depth behind the starters, as well. The Eagle line features senior center Andy Kwon and a whole lot of youth beyond him. Guards will likely be sophomores Ryan Northrup and Curtis Rainey. Penciled in at tackles are sophomore Jeremiah Culbreth and freshman Drew Wilson. I think Auburn will man-handle this bunch. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn linebackers vs. Georgia Southern backs: The Tigers have a good cross-trained quartet of upper echelon SEC-caliber linebackers. Junior Deshaun Davis, senior Tré Williams, junior Darrell Williams and junior Montravious Atkinson can play all three positions, and we might see any combination of these players out on the field at a given time. The Eagles have a talented crew of backs, including senior Matt Breida, juniors Alfred Ramsby and Chaz Thornton and sophomore Wesley Fields. Breida is the leading returning rusher from last season, having tallied 646 yards. Also, the Auburn backers will have to look out for quarterback Shai Werts, who is a big threat to keep the ball. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn corners vs. Georgia Southern receivers: Auburn has a fairly good combination of starting corners, in junior Carlton Davis and sophomore Javaris Davis. The Tigers are hoping that Jamel Dean will be healthy this fall as he is one of the fastest players on the team. Sophomore Jeremiah Dinson could move over from nickelback if needed. Any discussion of the Eagle receiving corps has to start with senior B. J. Johnson III. He had 42 catches for 600 yards last season and can make the big catch downfield. On the other side, sophomore Malik Henry appears to be the starter, and redshirt freshman Obe Fortune looks to be the future at the outside receiver positions. Auburn’s duo last season was noted for making plays on the ball, and for great tackling downfield. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn safeties vs. Georgia Southern secondary receivers and quarterback: Auburn’s starting unit features seniors Tray Matthews and Stephen Roberts at safety, and sophomore Jeremiah Dinson at nickel back. There’s not much depth here beyond senior Nick Ruffin, who’ll probably see as much playing time as the starters. The Tigers are solid here as long as no one gets hurt. In the slot for Georgia Southern, keep an eye on junior Myles Campbell, who had 31 catches last season. When the Eagles go 4-wide, they are expecting big things from sophomore Hampton McConnell. Stealing the show this spring was quarterback Shai Werts. Werts led all rushers in the spring game with 98 yards, and he’s got a big arm. However, Werts might well have a pretty tough time, starting his first game at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Advantage: Auburn.
Punting: Sophomore Ian Shannon will likely get the nod as Auburn’s starting punter after a couple of years of waiting in the wings. Shannon looked good on A-Day a year ago in warmups. The Tigers gave up only 19 punt return yards last season on 6 punts for a stifling 3.2 yards per return. The Tigers are still auditioning for the punt returner job. It’s thought that senior Stephen Roberts has the inside track after returning 6 punts last season for 100 yards. At punter Georgia Southern returns Matt Flynn, who averaged 39.1 yards per punt last season. Flynn had just 1 touchback against 11 balls downed inside the 20. Based on the numbers, I suspect that Shannon has the stronger leg, but this will be his first game as the starter. Advantage: Even.
Kickoffs: Daniel Carlson was very good kicking off last season, notching 57 touchbacks on 72 kickoffs. When Auburn did allow returns, opponents averaged only 18.0 yards per return. Junior Kerryon Johnson is Auburn’s most experienced return man returning, and he averaged 22.2 yards per return last season. Tyler Bass will handle kickoffs this year for the Eagles, after hitting 45 touchbacks on 66 kickoffs last season. Bass will also handle the place kicking this year, after the departure of senior Younghoe Koo. Georgia Southern gave up 21.6 yards per return last season. Malik Henry led the Eagle return men with a 21.5 yard average. Advantage: Auburn.
Place kicking: Auburn sophomore Daniel Carlson is the man for Auburn. Carlson was 28 of 32 on field goals and perfect on extra points. One of Carlson’s misses was a block by Vanderbilt. Tyler Bass will likely kick for the Eagles this season. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn offensive line vs. Georgia Southern defensive line: It’s still not settled who’ll start for Auburn on the line, although the starters looked pretty good on A-Day. It seems the tackle spots are set, with seniors Darius James and Braden Smith. Senior Austin Golson will likely start at center, although Auburn is bringing in senior transfer center Casey Dunn from Jax State. If Dunn starts, Golson could move to guard. Also transferring in this fall is former Florida State starting guard Wilson Bell. Bell is expected to start at one of the guard spots. If Dunn does not beat Golson out, the other likely starting guard would be sophomore Mike Horton. Georgia Southern’s line begins with the tackles, junior Darrius Sapp and senior Jay Ellison. Penciled in at ends are sophomore Logan Hunt and junior Ryan George. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn backs vs. Georgia Southern linebackers: Auburn features junior H-back Chandler Cox blowing open holes. Running behind the big H-back will be massive junior Kamryn Pettway with the shifty junior Kerryon Johnson in reserve. This will be a tough act for anyone to stop, much less a depth-challenged Sun Belt team. Georgia Southern’s linebackers are senior Ironhead Gallon, senior Ukeme Eligwe, and junior Chris DeLaRosa. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn receivers vs. Georgia Southern corners: At the end of spring, it looked like Auburn’s two starting outside guys were sophomore Nate Craig-Myers and sophomore Darius Slayton. Both guys can fly, have good height, and great hands. Redshirt freshman Marquis McClain had a great A-Day and is someone to watch out for on the outside as well. Georgia Southern had redshirt freshmen Jessie Liptrot and Christian Matthew starting in the spring game. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn secondary receivers and quarterback vs. Georgia Southern safeties: Auburn has potential threats here, starting with wickedly fast junior slot receiver Will Hastings. Sophomore Eli Stove can also fly. Tight ends Jalen Harris and Sal Cannella are expected to be a big part of the passing game as well. Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham is likely the starter in the opener. In 6 games as a freshman at Baylor, Stidham was electric. That trend continued during A-Day this spring as Stidham was deadly accurate and showed great mobility. The Eagle secondary lists sophomore Joshua Moon and redshirt freshman Jay Boudry as starters, with depth coming from sophomore Sean Freeman. Advantage: Auburn.
Last season, the Auburn defense was better than most at coming up to the line and stringing out option runs for nothing. If Auburn can take away the option, the Eagle offense is in a whole lot of trouble as I suspect that they’ll have a lot of trouble keeping Auburn’s linemen out of the backfield. I look for the Eagles to have a long day, at least till Auburn goes deep into the bench.
I think Auburn will be able to score at will on this defense as well. Barring a flurry of turnovers, this game will be over before halftime.
Prediction: Auburn appears a bit sluggish early but has things well in hand by halftime. Auburn 62, Georgia Southern 13.
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