Auburn winning again but faces huge challenges ahead
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) The Auburn Tigers are hoping a couple of wins herald the start of a season turnaround.
The hard reality, though, is the Tigers’ remaining schedule could make even a winning record a challenge without substantial improvement. Auburn is an underdog for Saturday’s road game against Arkansas and still has four Southeastern Conference games against teams who are or have been ranked in the top 10, where the Tigers started the season.
Auburn (4-2, 1-2) did hold on for a 30-27 win at Kentucky last Thursday after withstanding a fourth-quarter challenge from San Jose State.
”It was a great confidence booster for our team, especially after the first two SEC games,” Tigers guard Alex Kozan said Tuesday of the Kentucky victory. ”To go out there and get a win was really important for our guys. To battle through some adversity in the third quarter and be able to pull out a win was great to see for our team.”
The performance didn’t exactly resolve question marks about the team’s weak spots, especially defensively. The defense gave up 359 passing yards and surrendered 113 rushing yards to Boom Williams.
Quarterback Sean White will start for the fourth straight game against the Razorbacks (2-4, 1-2) having mostly avoided costly mistakes while still seeking his first passing touchdown.
Coach Gus Malzahn said the big thing in White’s play has been his ability to protect the ball.
”He also stood in the pocket very well with guys around him and delivered the football,” Malzahn said. ”He has improved and just needs to keep doing that.”
Sustained drives and success on third downs helped Auburn play more frequently at a fast tempo than they have much of the season. The Tigers’ 75 plays was a season high.
”This last game was really the first time it really looked like an Auburn offense with rhythm and everything that goes with that,” Malzahn said. ”The challenge is to take the next step and each week play better.”
They’ll presumably have to in order to keep winning. The Tigers are 5-1/2-point underdogs against the Razorbacks, whose strong running game and run defense both present tough matchups for Auburn.
The competition appears to only get tougher.
Auburn still has games with No. 24 Mississippi, Georgia and No. 8 Alabama with a road trip to No. 15 Texas A&M. Auburn is likely only assured of being favored once, against Idaho on Nov. 21.
The Tigers at least have an SEC win to build on after getting routed by No. 5 LSU and failing to score a touchdown against Mississippi State, White’s first start.
”Road games in the SEC are hard to come by,” Malzahn said. ”Any time you get a road win, it will definitely give you confidence the next time you are on the road. We are going to try and take all of that to help us moving forward.”