New Mexico St. vs. Auburn: 5 Things the Tigers Must Accomplish vs. the Aggies
In a matchup between two 1-7 teams, this weekend’s game between Auburn and New Mexico State isn't exactly a clash of the titans.
The biggest storyline is seeing how Jonathan Wallace does in his first start in an Auburn uniform.
Instead of a game that was scheduled to be a warm-up before UGA, this is a game that Auburn is coming into desperate for a shot of confidence.
Auburn is currently as high as a 23-point favorite over New Mexico State.
New Mexico State’s lone win in 2012 came in Week 1 against Sacramento State. It has only stayed within 10 points of a team one time in its losses. That came against Idaho in Week 6.
Last week, the Aggies lost to Louisiana Tech, 28-14, in what may have been their best overall performance of the year other than its win in Week 1.
Yes, Auburn fans, there is a worse team out there than Auburn, believe it or not.
Auburn may still have its tail between its legs after surrendering 63 points to Texas A&M last weekend in front of the home crowd to ensure a losing season in 2012.
Auburn is looking for anything to hang its hat on and build off of before going up against the likes of UGA and Alabama in the month of November.
So, what must Auburn accomplish (other than winning) in this week’s game in preparation for the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry” next week against UGA?
Establish an Offensive Identity
There are four games left in the season and Auburn has yet to establish an offensive identity (besides being bad).
When offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler was hired, and as recently as a couple weeks ago, he said that Auburn would be a running offense that would protect the defense.
"We've tried a lot of different things. We've got to make sure we definitely narrow down to exactly who we are—and who we are is this: We're going to run the football." (via Charles Goldberg, AL.com)
That has not happened at all this year.
Three-and-outs are the norm for this offense. The longest drive in the last three games for Auburn (Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M) has been 6:43 on the first TD drive against Ole Miss. Auburn's drives this season rarely last over four minutes.
Auburn needs to show that it is capable of being a physical, downhill-running team that controls the clock.
Ability to Throw the Ball Down the Field
We saw last week in the second half against Texas A&M that Jonathan Wallace does have the ability to throw the ball down the field.
Even though it was against mostly second-teamers, it was a sight for sore eyes for Auburn fans.
No other receiver has stepped up to be a complement to Emory Blake and become a vertical threat downfield this season.
Young Auburn receivers like Sammie Coates need to prove that they can be the downfield threat that Auburn has missed this season and be the answer to Emory Blake’s absence in 2013.
Expand the Playbook for Jonathan Wallace
On Tuesday, Gene Chizik announced that Jonathan Wallace would be making his first start for Auburn this Saturday.
Scot Loeffler will be able to get a good feel for how much of the playbook he can give the freshman for the remainder of the year. By all accounts, Wallace has a great grasp of the playbook for a youngster.
Auburn OC Scot Loeffler on Jonathan Wallace: "He's been extremely cerebral. You'd be shocked how much he knows."— Aaron Brenner (@wareagleextra) November 1, 2012
If all goes well this week, Loeffler will be able to expand the amount of plays that Wallace can handle before going into next week’s game against UGA.
Consistent Pressure from the Defensive Front Four
What was supposed to be a position of strength in 2012 has turned into a very mediocre group. The defensive line has yet to get a consistent rush from its front four.
More specifically, the interior defensive line has struggled to get a consistent pass rush all season.
"Right now, we're looking for consistent dependability," defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said. "Impact players? They're (the defensive tackles) too far from that." (via Joel Erickson, AL.com)
Because of this, Auburn has had to use a LB to get pressure on the QB. When using a blitzing LB, the secondary is more vulnerable as a result.
Auburn is ranked 70th in the country in sacks and 66th in the country in the tackles for loss category.
Brian VanGorder would be thrilled to see this group get consistent pressure on the QB without the aid of a blitzing LB.
Improve the Morale of the Defense
It is safe to say that no one on the defensive side of the ball for Auburn walked out of his front door on Sunday morning proud to proclaim he was an Auburn defender.
After showing flashes of improvement in previous games, the Auburn defense had a historically awful performance against Texas A&M. The Aggies tallied 671 yards of total offense (352 rushing, 319 passing).
With the defense still licking its wounds from last week, the unit needs a shot of confidence. It does not matter if it’s coming against an offense that is only averaging 13.4 yards per game in its last five games.
Auburn will look to break the trend of allowing opponents to drive down the field with ease on its first drive and play a complete game on defense.
Interesting stat: #Auburn's D forced a punt on 1st series vs. Clemson. Each of past 7 opening series, opponents have driven inside red zone.— Ryan Wood (@AUBlog) October 31, 2012
A little morale booster will go a long way before going up against the 25th best offense in the country in two weeks.