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What to watch: Auburn vs. Alabama State

Auburn’s second opponent of the 2021 season hails from just a few miles down Interstate 85. Today, the Auburn Tigers face off against the Alabama State Hornets for just the second time in the history of the two programs.

Alabama State, an FCS school that plays in the SWAC, will be significantly overmatched by Auburn in this game. However, it would benefit everyone involved if the Hornets could provide a bit more resistance than Auburn faced against Akron last week. Auburn would like to be tested more before taking on bigger opponents, and Alabama State surely would like to avoid a 50-point loss.

Whether or not Alabama State can challenge Auburn with any real consistency, there are still a few things to watch in Jordan-Hare Stadium today that could point to strengths or weaknesses that the Tigers may have for the remainder of the season.

Offensive Line Shuffles

It is common for many position groups to rotate players during a game to keep the players fresh. On the other hand, it is quite unusual for the offensive line to substitute players regularly because of the need for the group to function as a cohesive unit. This cohesion can only take place when the offensive line gets many repetitions together.

So, it was interesting that Auburn listed co-starters at left guard and right guard last week for the season opener. True to their word, Brandon Council and Alec Jackson both played with the first team at left guard, while Keiondre Jones and Tashawn Manning did the same at right guard.

If that trend continues this week, then it would likely indicate that competition for those spots is still ongoing. But, if those positions are manned by just one of those athletes primarily, then the coaches have settled on the starter as the Tigers get ready to take on a tougher schedule.

Pass coverage

Entering this season, the Auburn secondary was thought by many to be the strength of the defense. Seniors Roger McCreary and Smoke Monday provide talent, leadership and experience, while many underclassmen and newcomers have come alongside them to create a group with great depth and promise.

The defensive backs may yet be the deepest and most talented group on that side of the ball, but they had an interesting first week against Akron. The secondary did not allow many big plays and seemed to avoid major busts, which is always the goal.

But, the Zips did complete over 80% of their pass attempts in total, and the backup quarterback was a perfect 13 of 13 on the night. I am willing to bet that little tidbit was brought up more than once this last week in practice, film study and workouts.

Keep an eye on the Tigers’ defensive backs today, and see if they are able to make life more difficult this week for the Alabama State quarterback than for Akron in week one.

Turnovers

The Auburn offense avoided turnovers against Akron and will want to have another clean performance against Alabama State today. In all honesty, that should be manageable since the Tigers have advantages all over the field.

The Tiger defense played a very good game overall last week and were especially good against the run, holding Akron to -3 yards rushing. Similarly, Auburn recorded six sacks of the Zips quarterback and several more pressures.

But, the Tigers were unable to force any turnovers in week one. That is something that Auburn will try to remedy today against Alabama State. The ability of defenses to generate turnovers is critical against today’s explosive offensive attacks and Auburn needs to get that ball rolling today.

Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers.