College Football Game of the Week: Kentucky vs. Auburn
The SEC is back in action in Week 4, and it kicks off with a ranked conference matchup as the No. 23 Kentucky Wildcats visit the No. 8 Auburn Tigers at 12 p.m. on Sept. 26.
Auburn struggled last season to beat ranked teams on the road with losses to the LSU Tigers and the Georgia Bulldogs. The Tigers concluded their 2019 season with a 9-4 record and a loss to No. 18 Minnesota in the Outback Bowl.
Auburn’s biggest problem was the excess of mistakes made on the offensive end in order to outscore opponents on the road. The Tigers were the No. 89 ranked offense in passing efficiency.
The Tigers added a new offensive coordinator Chad Morris to help guide sophomore quarterback Bo Nix. Morris commanded the Clemson offense for four years and led them to three team record scoring seasons.
Nix had a solid freshman season throwing for 2,542 yards and 16 touchdowns. He’s already chasing down Auburn greats in the record books after one year. Although he failed to make throws when it really counted, something Nix needs to improve at if the Tigers want to be competitive in their division.
Auburn’s defense is what made them a contender in the tough SEC West in 2019. They had the No. 17 ranked defense in the nation. The Tigers allowed an average of 19.54 points per game and gave up only 254 points all season.
However, the Auburn defense suffered losses of crucial pieces to the NFL. The Tigers lost defensive linemen Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson, who were the heart of the Auburn front. Senior defensive tackle Daquan Newkirk has dealt with injuries during his career at Auburn but look for him to bring the physicality back to the line.
The No. 23 Kentucky Wildcats could be contenders in the SEC for the first time in a while.
The Wildcats finished off last season’s campaign at 8-5 and a win in the Belk Bowl against Virginia Tech.
Kentucky’s best unit is their offensive line. In fact, it is one of the best offensive lines in the entire country. The Wildcats allowed only 17 sacks all season in 2019.
Largely due to the offensive line, Kentucky had one of the best running games in the SEC. The Wildcats had three running backs with over 500 yards last season. Asim Rose led the way for the running backs in 2019 with 826 yards and six touchdowns. The running game is an important piece for the Wildcats to be successful.
Unlike Auburn, Kentucky has veteran quarterback Sawyer Smith returning for his senior season. Smith threw for 690 yards and four touchdowns in 2019.
However, after Lynn Bowden Jr.’s departure to the NFL, Smith will not have his best player to give the ball to. Bowden Jr. led the Wildcats in receiving yards and rushing yards last season. He racked up the most touchdowns on the team with 14.
Receivers Josh Ali, Allen Dailey Jr., and Clevan Thomas Jr. will have to replace Kentucky’s do it all guy in Bowden Jr.
Kentucky had one of the best years rebuilding a young defensive line. Freshman defensive tackle Justin Rogers and Josaih Hayes joined the Wildcats this year.
They also added fast pass rusher Samuel Anaele to make up for the defensive losses. Kentucky’s defensive lineman Joshua Paschal will be returning to the line as well.
The noon game on Saturday should be a battle of the established offensive line of Kentucky versus the new look defense of Auburn recovering from big time losses.
The Wildcats have the advantage in the offensive running game but lack the threat of a passing game. Auburn’s defense will have to look to contain Kentucky’s rushing attack.
Auburn can expose the weak Kentucky secondary with big plays created by a now experienced Bo Nix. When the Auburn offense gets rolling, it could be tough for Kentucky to keep up.
This is both Kentucky and Auburn’s first games of the season, so expect missed tackles and not a lot of defense. Therefore, the better offense should win the game.
Auburn is allowing about 17,500 fans for the Sept. 26 game against Kentucky. Even without all 80,000 plus fans in attendance, Kentucky will have a tough game on the road at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Prediction: Auburn 27, Kentucky 20
Spencer Ripchik is a freshman majoring in journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.