The No. 8 Auburn Tigers open the season with a potentially tricky matchup against the No. 23 Kentucky Wildcats. Here are the three keys to avoiding an SEC upset on opening day:
By Steve Wright
Control the tempo
Kentucky is going to want to come out fast here. They have the more veteran side and they know that if they can get up on the Tigers early it will put pressure on Bo Nix and the wide receiving corps to bail out Auburn. The offensive line is a worry. Four new starters that haven’t been able to practice together much is not a recipe for a particularly solid opening day game. They will have to find their chemistry quickly to enable the Auburn offense to be effective.
Defensively it will be about pressuring Kentucky QB Terry Wilson, Auburn has the athletes to bring about a good pass rush, but there are some questions without Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson in the side.
Win on special teams
Kentucky has the best punter in the country in Max Duffy, but Auburn needs to find a way to control field position and not let the Wildcats dictate where the game is played. This means that the return game needs to be good, while the coverage game on kicks and punts needs to be excellent in order to make the Wildcat’s ground-based attack have to go long distances to score the football. This isn’t a quick-strike attack and making Kentucky have to consistently convert first downs gives the advantage to Auburn.
Stop the run
There is no Lynn Bowden in the lineup but Kentucky is still going to be a run-first team under Mark Stoops. Running backs AJ Rose, Kavosiey Smoke and Christopher Rodriguez combined for almost 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns last year despite the success of Bowden. For Auburn to win, this three-headed monster of a backfield will have to be shut down. Forcing Kentucky into third and long situations – something their offense isn’t built for – will put the game in Auburn’s favor.
Saturday‘s game kicks off at 11:00 AM CT (12:00 PM ET). Watch on the SEC Network.