Auburn vs. Florida Atlantic: The Complete Preview
Victories are going to be much harder to come by from here on out for the 11th-ranked Auburn Tigers.
With homecoming already in the rear-view mirror, and with most of their home games already behind them, the Tigers (6-1) will play their last out-of-conference game of the season as they host FAU (2-5) this Saturday in Jordan-Hare.
The matchup should prove to be an opportunity for Auburn to regroup and refocus after its landmark win over Texas A&M last week, while it will also mark a chance for the Tigers to boost their bowl resume for the season's end.
After Saturday evening's tussle with the Owls, the Tigers will close the season with four straight SEC games—including road matchups against Arkansas and resurgent Tennessee, and an "Amen Corner" homestand against Georgia and No. 1 Alabama.
If Auburn can win two or three of those games, 2013 will prove to be a dream season that no one expected back in August.
First, Gus Malzahn and his team will have to get past the Owls.
Here are the basics:
Time: 6:30 p.m. CT
Place: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.
Radio: Auburn IMG Sports Network
Spread: Auburn -24, via VegasInsider.com consensus.
Auburn Keys to Victory
Keep it Simple
Auburn doesn't have to do anything fancy to come out with a win Saturday. The Tigers have proven that they have one of the most explosive offenses around, and one of the nation's best rushing attacks—rushing for 300.14 yards per game, good for seventh best in the country.
As long as the Tigers go with what they know, they should be able to overpower the Owls through four quarters of football—even if FAU does prove to be a surprise in the early going.
Business is about to pick up for Auburn in SEC play, and the Tigers can ill-afford to have one of their main pieces out over the next few weeks—especially if they plan on making that push to a New Year's Day bowl or beyond.
If Auburn can't stay healthy and loses a key component in what should be an easy win, consider the night a "loss" for the Tigers, regardless of what the scoreboard says.
Florida Atlantic Keys to Victory
Play Perfect Football
Believe it or not, FAU is a much better team than its 2-5 record indicates. After expected pummelings at the hands of Miami and East Carolina to start the season, none of the Owls' last three losses have come by more than a single score.
FAU lost to Middle Tennessee in overtime, 42-35, on Sept. 21; Rice, 18-14, on Sept. 28; and Marshall, 24-23, on Oct. 12.
Each of those contests could have easily gone the other way—and if they had, FAU would be a bowl-bound team.
The Owls are even coming off a bye week to rest and prepare for Auburn.
Still, FAU will have to play the perfect game of football and hope Auburn slips up along the way to have a chance at pulling out a victory.
Cash the Check
No matter what the final score is Saturday, the Owls will be taking home $1 million courtesy of Auburn, via Brandon Marcello of AL.com, and that's a victory in and of itself.
There's no doubt the Owls will be playing to win when they take the field at Jordan-Hare on Saturday, but even if it doesn't go their way, they're ensured a pretty nice consolation prize to help build their program for the future.
Auburn Players to Watch
Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant
Junior Tre Mason proved he was one of the SEC's best backs last week with a stellar 178-yard performance at Texas A&M—which is why you can expect him to take slightly fewer snaps Saturday as the Tigers hope to keep his bumps to a minimum going into their tough SEC run down the stretch.
Unfortunately for FAU, the Auburn backfield doesn't see that much of a drop-off from Mason to the next man, as juniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant have each proven to be able backs at the SEC level.
Aside from Mason, who carried the ball 27 times last week in College Station, Auburn fans will likely see much fewer designed carries from quarterback Nick Marshall, who ran the ball 20 times last week. Instead, Marshall will be either slinging the ball around through the air or handing the ball off.
It's an incredible luxury for a team like Auburn to have guys like Artis-Payne and Grant who can step in and take the load off of the other pieces when necessary—and they should be able to do just that Saturday.
Florida Atlantic Players to Watch
Wallace has amassed 508 yards this season on 102 carries, numbers good enough for a 4.98-yard average per attempt. Wallace is the Owls' feature back; the next running back behind him is a freshman, Jay Warren, with just 158 yards on the year.
The senior will be looking to prove himself against a vaunted "SEC defense"—and he could be a solid challenge for an Auburn front seven that hasn't been tested much by a running back since LSU's stable of backs gashed it in Baton Rouge.
What They Are Saying
The last time FAU was playing football, Auburn wasn't even ranked.
That's how quickly Auburn has risen in the nation's eyes over the last 14 days, as the Owls sat idle with a bye last week.
Now the Tigers are up to No. 11 in the AP poll. But Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said this week that the Tigers aren't satisfied with where they are just yet, via Alex Byington of the Opelika-Auburn News:
We're happy that people think that highly of us. But we're onto next week. That's our only focus.
Across the way, the FAU Owls and head coach Carl Pelini have been preparing to give Auburn their best shot off their bye, in hopes of walking away from Jordan-Hare with a $1 million victory.
Here's Pelini, via the Sun Sentinel:
The extra week helps against Auburn, they give you a lot offensively. A lot of formations a lot of sets. They use their personnel in many unique ways. To have the extra week probably helped us in a big way in terms of our defensive staff getting ready.
They've been watching tape on it for a week. All the meetings, all the film work [during the bye] was all Auburn. But last week was more fundamentals — playing fast, scrimmage-type stuff.
Auburn 38, Florida Atlantic 20
It might not be the prettiest, most convincing win for Auburn Saturday, but the Tigers should be able to get it done.
Auburn is coming off the high of a landmark victory over Texas A&M, while FAU has had two weeks to prepare for the Tigers—and with a bowl game in serious doubt for the Owls, Saturday night might as well be their Super Bowl.
But Auburn will pull out a victory, even if there are some stressful moments for the faithful at Jordan-Hare.
The big tests for Auburn will come down the line, and the fate of these Tigers is yet to be decided.
For now, Auburn will notch its seventh victory, but don't be surprised if the Owls cover that 24-point spread—for entertainment purposes only, of course.