Saturday marks the season opener for the Auburn Tigers. Let’s take a look at a unit breakdown for the Auburn Tigers and Arkansas State Red Wolves. The offensive schemes are similar but who takes the edge in execution? What defense is set to make plays this Saturday night? Will special teams determine an edge in the game? Many questions, let’s find some answers.
From an experience stand point, Auburn brings some questions to the opener in the offensive backfield. With Cameron Newton making his first start at Auburn fresh off a JUCO national championship season, things are shaping up nicely on the plains. His progression is rumored to be all that was expected and his leadership role has been a seamless transition this offseason. Expect to see Newton getting good quality reps but nothing fancy just yet.
Look for Mario Fannin to find his form early and often with McCalebb and Dyer to provide relief. The receivers have proven leaders in Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery and tons of talent. Trovon Reed has been hampered by a nagging knee injury and a bruised knee cap. If Reed does make the field expect it to be a limited role. One freshman to keep a look out for will be Shaun Kitchens. Coaches have great things to say about his tenacity and talent.
The offensive line is a group that has played together for the past three years and moving into their fourth together. The only question mark was the right tackle position early on but A.J. Greene has really come on strong to take the position on full force. John Sullen rose early in the competition as well but injuries have hampered his success. The offensive line is no doubt a strong point.
The quarterback situation at State is a little shaky heading into the first game against the Tigers. Phillip Butterfield is in position to challenge Ryan Aplin this season in the first game to get the start but you may see both against Auburn depending on how the game flows. Aplin is a guy with experience while Butterfield is a guy that has pushed strong in the offseason. With Butterfield being a redshirt-freshman and Aplin’s game day experience, one would think to see Aplin leading the offense…at least from the start.
The running backs are just as unstable. Trying to replace Reggie Arnold will no doubt be a difficult task. Arnold left his tenure just shy of the all-time rushing record but there are two juniors in the stable that will bring some experience to the backfield. The receivers are a group that lacks depth and experience as well. Taylor Stockemer is the top returnee this season and he brings limited experience to the unit.
The offensive line is a unit that is promising for the Red Wolves with 10 linemen with at least one start there is no doubt depth. The line is led with seniors looking to make a statement as they enter the plains this Saturday. With the most experience of any offensive unit for State the lead has to come from the line.
Verdict: The offensive hat is tipped, actually loaded to the Auburn side in this competition to start the season. Look for the Tigers to have the edge.
The defensive line of the Tigers was a concern last year simply because there was a lack of depth at virtually every position. This year starters in Mike Blanc and Nick Fairley look to anchor the middle with a large contingent of defensive ends to swallow the backfield. The line is no doubt a point of strength this season but look for a lot of backups to get in the game early and often so experience can be built early.
The linebackers last year were another group that suffered greatly from the lack of depth. With two returning starters that played every snap in the season finale and Daren Bates moving closer to the line this season, the linebackers have the experience that was lacking last season. Look for depth to be built early at the linebacker position as well with a large group of incoming freshmen and second year players.
The secondary returns Mike McNeil, Zac Etheridge, and Aaron Savage from injuries this year leading the way at the safety positions. Between the three the experience and leadership factor is there as well as the talent. The cornerbacks are great on the first string with T'Sharvan Bell being the first reserve off the bench. However, the third and fourth guys are true freshmen. Although there is talent at the position, experience is needed and it should be built in this game.
The State defensive line returns one sole incumbent in Bryan Hall. The rest of the line has virtually no experience on the front with two juniors that were former linebackers that will look to contribute. Against Auburn’s offensive line it will be quite a task.
The linebacker corps is quite possibly the deepest and most experienced position for the defense. The linebackers are a little under sized for the competition this with no starter over 200 pounds but game experience is a gem to have and the Red Wolves do have that on their side.
The secondary is another group with some leadership and two returning starters. A group of seniors in the defensive backfield always helps but they will be tested against the receivers that Auburn puts on the field. With the Tigers possibly keeping the reins on Newton however, they may not have much of an opportunity to prove themselves.
Verdict: Again Auburn gets the lean for the defense. I don’t see Arkansas State making a huge offensive statement in this game.
Auburn Special Teams
With a near perfect season Wes Byrum has a chance to walk into the record books as the all-time points leader this year. Look for good things from him but don’t expect many field goals in this game. The punter position is one that is a bit shaky for the Tigers but Shoemaker was an all-SEC pick just a few years ago. If there is a sore spot that would be it. The return game for the Tigers was anything but stellar last season but look for Quindarius Carr to make a statement this game in the punt return department.
Arkansas State Special Teams
The Red Wolves are replacing every special teams player that they have this season. Breaking in a new kicker and punter in the Jordan-Hare environment is no doubt a tall task. Because of the lack of experience there is no telling what to expect from this group.
Verdict: Auburn again with the edge. Experience is the big factor here.
Auburn Coaching and Intangibles
Gene Chizik has built a strong contingent of coaches and support staff in his first two years at Auburn. Returning every one of those coaches was huge for the Tigers. Two years working together and building relationships not only with players but with coaches has helped. The systems remained the same and adding a few wrinkles won’t hurt in this second season opener.
Then intangibles are there for Auburn this year. With two years in the same systems and the large group of seniors that return to the program, Auburn has the promise of a good season. It all starts on the 4th and leadership and development will be key things to watch early and often for the Tigers trying to build depth and trust in this first game.
Arkansas State Coaching and Intangibles
First year Coach Hugh Freeze has his work cut out for him this season. Implementing a spread offense is a large challenge, just ask Auburn. What head coach Steve Roberts is looking for is a change on the offensive side of the ball. The defense will remain much the same and will look to stop the 16th rated offense in the nation from 2009.
Arkansas State is a young team and has a lack of experience at almost every position. On top of that a new offensive scheme will add to the difficult task of picking up the upset this season.
Final Verdict: Auburn is the winner 63-10