Pregame analysis of Auburn's home opener against Alabama State:
What: Alabama State Hornets (1-0) at Auburn Tigers (1-0)
Rankings: Auburn is seventh in both The Associated Press and coaches polls. Alabama State is unranked.
When: Saturday, 6:30 p.m. Central
Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn
TV/Radio: TV: SEC Network Alternate; Radio: WTDR-FM, 92.7 (Oxford), WMSP-AM 740 (Montgomery), Sirius 145, XM 190
1. Scouting the Hornets: Alabama State enters Saturday’s in-state meeting on the heels of a win, having scored 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and overtime to defeat Tuskegee 26-20. The Hornets are coached by interim turned full-time head coach Donald Hill-Eley, who is now 6-1 since being promoted to the job after Week 5 of last season. They’re led on the field by quarterback Darryl Pearson, who completed 15 of 24 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown against Tuskegee; running back Ezra Gray, who turned 11 carries into 60 yards and a score; and a defense that totaled 12 tackles for loss last week. Alabama State will obviously face a much, much stiffer test on the road against Auburn, though.
2. Clean up the mistakes: One of Auburn’s biggest focuses in a tune-up for next week’s SEC opener against LSU will be fixing what it feels like are correctable issues that popped up during last week’s win over Washington. The Tigers committed 12 penalties for 111 yards, which is the most they have committed in a game since the 2014 season. Four of those penalties were defensive offsides, three were pass interference, and two were personal fouls. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele feels some of those pass interference calls — as well as some of Washington quarterback Jake Browning’s completed throws downfield — could have been prevented with better defense of those pass-catchers in the first three steps of their route. There is also the matter of the touchdown the Huskies scored in just four plays and 40 seconds before halftime, which is one of Steele’s biggest pet peeves as a coordinator. Getting those things cleaned up will be a priority this week.
3. One-man wrecking crew: Nick Coe made the first start of his career at Buck against Washington, and he quickly proved that he’s going to be a problem for opposing offenses. Steele said the SEC co-Defensive Lineman of the Week graded out as the most productive defender the Tigers put on the field Saturday, just ahead of linebacker Darrell Williams and safety Daniel Thomas. The 6-foot-5, 282-pound sophomore recorded two tackles, both for loss, with one of those being a sack. He also forced a Browning fumble with a diving stop on third-and-goal on the 3-yard line, ending a Huskies drive without points midway through the third quarter. Auburn finished the game with five sacks and nine tackles for loss, and Coe was at the center of the effort.
4. Security blanket: There weren’t many surprises on Auburn’s offense against Washington on Saturday, but perhaps the biggest was that Chandler Cox tied Ryan Davis for the team lead in receiving yards. The senior H-back caught four passes for 52 yards and rushed one time for 1 yard, which gave him new single-game career-highs in both offensive touches and yards. He also attempted a pass on a two-point conversion late in the game, which head coach Gus Malzahn said, “worked real good against our defense, and it didn't work real good against them.” But if Game 1 is any indication, Cox could be more involved in the offense this season than he has in year’s past when he was mostly just a lead blocker — Auburn often had him on the field in passing situations, and a number of his catches came when he slipped out of the backfield for big gains.
Auburn offensive line vs. Alabama State front seven: The Hornets recorded 12 tackles for loss in their win over Tuskegee, which has been a problem for Auburn early in previous seasons. Two years ago, the Tigers allowed 19 tackles for loss through the first two weeks of the season. Last year, it was 22. This year, though, Auburn is off to a much better start. Washington recorded only three tackles for loss in Atlanta on Saturday, with two of those being sacks and the other being a stuffed run play. Malzahn is looking for improvement from that unit both in terms of pass blocking and creating holes in the run game, and Saturday’s game against Alabama State should give it a good chance.
Player of the week
Anthony Schwartz, wide receiver, freshman, 6-0, 180: Schwartz didn’t touch the ball in his collegiate debut. The Huskies have an elite secondary capable of keeping the top on the coverage, and their tendency to play their defensive ends wide didn’t made it advantageous for the Tigers to run the jet sweep. But Schwartz should this week. Schwartz is the junior world record holder with a time of 10.15 seconds in the 100-meter dash, and it’s unlikely Alabama State has anyone on defense capable of keeping up with him.
By the numbers
3: Saturday’s win over Washington marked the third time since the start of the 2015 season that Auburn has recorded at least five sacks in a game. Before the start of the 2017 season, the Tigers had just three such games over the previous 11 years.
5: Number of catches Kam Martin had out of the backfield against Washington (for 32 yards). Kerryon Johnson caught five passes in a game just once in his career (for 29 yards).
49: Number of games Alabama State has played since its last meeting with a Power 5 opponent — a 48-14 loss at Kentucky on Nov. 2, 2013.
54: The campuses of Auburn and Alabama State are located just 54 miles apart, but they have never met each other on the football field.
69: This is Gus Malzahn’s 69th game as Auburn’s head coach. Mike Donahue, Pat Dye, Tommy Tuberville and Ralph “Shug” Jordan all won their 69th game.
Alabama State comes into Saturday’s game 1-0 (and 6-1 overall under Hill-Eley) after defeating Tuskegee in Montgomery last week, but Auburn is a whole different animal. The two in-state foes have never met on the football field, but they did share a common opponent two years ago in Alabama A&M — the Hornets lost to the Bulldogs 42-41, and the Tigers beat the brakes off them 55-0 with Jeremy Johnson at quarterback. This team is even better, with Stidham and company coming off a confidence-boosting win over then-No. 6 Washington. After struggling against Mercer around this same time last season, look for Auburn to take care of business in its home opener.
Auburn 52, Alabama State 0