Updated: Jul 26, 2019
We have reached the dog days of summer, where there are no meaningful sports events going on. While some baseball teams are jockeying for a playoff spot, there is no big event after the All Star Game during this time of year to bring everyone on their couch. This is where the excitement starts however, because we are officially one month until college football starts and for the Auburn Tigers, they're hoping 2019 is not a repeat of last season.
The 2018 season was supposed to be a promising one, to say the least, for Auburn fans across the country. A year removed from being a game away from playing in the College Football Playoff and beating both No. 1 Georgia and Alabama in a three-week span, the sour taste of losing to UCF in the Peach Bowl never really seemed to escape the mouths of those in the program.
Following a hard-fought defensive battle in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game against No. 6 Washington, the wheels sputtered for the rest of the season under sixth-year head coach Gus Malzahn. The lowest point of the season coming on October 13th.
Following a tough loss in Starkville, against Mississippi State the week prior, the Tigers came home to face the 2-3 Tennessee Volunteers led by one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the SEC in Jarrett Guarantano. Guarantano was 21-32 for 328 yards and two TD’s, turning the Auburn secondary into a high school defense. Tennessee came into Jordan-Hare Stadium and stunned the crowd of 84,600 and sending Auburn to rock bottom in 2018.
The rest of the season went about as scheduled, with a good comeback win against Texas A&M at home two weeks later, then losses to both Georgia and Alabama on the road before dismantling the Purdue football program in the first half of the Music City Bowl.
In 2019, the Tigers have a projected win total 8 which seems very reasonable being that in the entire month of October, they are away from Jordan-Hare Stadium playing Florida, Arkansas, and LSU respectively. For me, with the team that is presented, and what we have been able to see from last year if you’re a betting man I’m more inclined to take the under than the over.
Let's start with their defense. The defensive line, with guys like projected top 5 pick Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson, Nick Coe, Big Kat Bryant (yes his name is Big Kat) and Tyrone Truesdell, Auburn has a possibly the best defensive line the country. Other than the big boys up front, the concerns start to creep in when we get to the back end and especially in the secondary. The Tigers were 58th in passing yards per game last year and with their entire secondary returning this year, it doesn’t add much confidence knowing their track record as a group. Seniors Jeremiah Dinson, Javarius Davis, and Daniel Thomas are going to be carrying the work load in the secondary. The trio had 6 interceptions last year, split up evenly 2 a piece, but the only way this group can be successful, they have to limit the big play. In losses last season it was clear where the issues laid. When teams realized they couldn't run the ball, they took deep shots and succeeded in doing so.
One guy in that secondary I do expect to have a big year is junior Noah Igbinoghene. The first-year starter last year recorded 50 total tackles to go along with a pick, 12 pass deflections, and a forced fumble. The 6-foot speedster also returns kicks and did a great job a season ago, returning one for a 96-yard touchdown and averaged 28.3 yards per return. With Igbinoghene’s speed and a year under his belt, he could seriously help that Tigers secondary who is the weakest link of that defense to this point.
Offensively, Auburn lost, in my personal opinion, the best all-around quarterback in Jarrett Stidham the school has had since Cam Newton. While his numbers may not have reflected those of a Nick Marshall, it seemed like head coach Gus Malzahn never used Stidham to his full potential.
Malzahn’s offense has the chance to be very good this year. They’re bringing back a sophomore core that accounted for 63% of all the teams scoring from a season ago. To put some of these numbers in perspective 1,589 of the teams 2,177 rushing yards came from freshman last year, as well as 1,156 of the teams 2,892 passing yards.
JaTarvious (Boobee) Whitlow and Kam Martin are a dangerous one-two combo in the backfield who can punch you in the mouth and break your ankles at the same time. Whitlow is the more power back that will be used for third down and goal-line situations, and Martin will be used to stretch the defense out.
Eli Stove is a guy who I will be keeping my eye on all season. He suffered a season-ending ACL tear in March of 2018 that kept him out all of last season. The dynamic that he can bring back to the lineup really shakes up Malzahn’s options. Stove was used a lot in 2017 on end arounds and little pop passes that he would use his speed to make work. With the addition of Anthony Schwartz last season, it’s going to be really interesting how those two speedsters can work in tandem this season.
There is no doubt for me that guys like Anthony Schwartz, Seth Williams, Shedrick Jackson, Eli Stove and Matthew Hill could all have huge seasons as a receiver core. My biggest concern for this offense is; Who’s gonna get them the ball?
While Joey Gatewood looks to be the favorite to win the starting job for opening night against Oregon, it has not been officially announced. Even though Gatewood is unproven, scouting reports on the 6-foot-5-inch suggest he fits like Cinderellas glass slipper in Gus’s offensive scheme. A QB who can sling the ball around the field as well as run the read-option to perfection. There have already been some comparisons to Cam Newton, and I can see where they come from. The big frame mobile quarterback has worked out for the Tigers in the past, however, I think it's a little to early to be giving Gatewood that comparison. This is a kid who has all the potential in the world and could be a very good quarterback for Auburn, but he will not get my full confidence until he preforms in game. With Joey Gatewood playing well at QB1, Auburn does have a chance to break 8+ wins, but anything else could be tough sledding in 2019.
It seems like every year Gus Malzahn’s job is on the hot seat. With last season in the front of Auburn fans memories, another subpar season in 2019 could spell the end of the Malzahn era on the Plains. The tools are there for the Tigers to compete in SEC West. While they may not be able to stand toe to toe with in-state rival Alabama, Auburn has a chance to end up 2nd in the West or 6th. The journey starts Saturday, August 31st in Arlington Texas against the Oregon Ducks.