Saturday’s matchup in Davis-Wade stadium pits two struggling offenses against two smothering defenses. If I told you about a team whose defense has kept them in the game until the end for their only loss, was plagued by penalties (both deserved and not-so-deserved) in their first loss, whose once-prolific rushing attack has fallen off as of late, and whose coaches and players were under harsh criticism from their school’s fan base for their lack of offensive production, you’d know that Mississippi State was the school in question…except this perfectly describes the University of Auburn football team. Auburn hasn’t been rush for 100 yards against Arkansas or Southern Mississippi in back-to-back home games. The ground-and-pound game with efficient QB play of year’s past (maybe just last year in regard to efficient quarterbacking) is gone, replaced with an offense that is trying to find its rushing identity and whose quarterback Jarret Stidham is asked to do too much. Stidham has an adjusted QBR of 60.0 and a raw QBR of 52.2, which is less than expected for the Tiger signal caller. Injuries at receiver and the aforementioned lack of expected rushing prowess has put Stidham in situations in which it is difficult to flourish. His two most-used backs are JaTarvious Whitlow and Kam Martin; with 61 and 63 carries respectively, the two have about an equal role in the offense. Whitlow has been more efficient at 5.3 YPR, compared to Martin’s 4.0. These stats include big games for both vs Alabama State, during which Auburn rushed for 429 yards on 59 carries and only attempted 11 passes with their starting quarterback and 14 passes total. The depleted receiving corps still has some play makers, the first of which I will highlight being Darius Slayton. Not to be confused with former Bulldog Darius Slay, who does his best to stop receivers in Detroit for the Lions, Darius Slayton ran wild vs the Bulldogs last season. Although not the most productive receiver, he is perhaps the most talented amongst the Tiger ranks. Two freshmen for Auburn, Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz, have almost identical stat lines and have been prolific for Auburn. Williams is averaging 20.3 yards per catch on 7 catches, while Schwartz boasts 8 catches and an average of 20.4 yards per. The most productive in the group is senior Ryan Davis, who leads the team with 21 catches at 7.7 yards per snag.
As a team, Auburn is averaging 4.23 yards per rush, but only 2.47 YPR outside of the Alabama State game. They’ve given up 10 sacks in 5 games, including 4 to Arkansas and 3 to Southern Miss. Their passing game isn’t what we thought it would be without the ground attack to compliment it and receivers that have been getting hurt. Also, dissension amongst the AU ranks is the rumor floating around the SEC this week, and although there’s no telling if there is any truth in that or not, it will be interesting to see how cohesive this unit is on Saturday. Overall, this is an offense who, much like Mississippi State’s, has regressed instead of progressed. Their recent competition is not what ours has been, but their win against Washington is a huge resume booster. I know this is a top ten team coming into Starkville this weekend, but they’ve had their struggles. MSU has also not been themselves lately, and I think this game goes to the team that makes the adjustments this week in practice and re-learns what it takes to execute an offense and move the ball. Even so, great defense will keep this a low-scoring game. I, your biased but somewhat informed analyst, predict MSU in a close one Saturday, by a score of 13-9. I think if we win this game, we can piece together a season to be proud of…a loss Saturday, however, kind of has a last-straw kind of vibe with fans’ patience for this year’s squad.