The Auburn Tigers need a win. Bad.
Last week Auburn lost by 29 points at home to a Penn State team that is talented, but not expected to contend for conference or national championships.
The embarrassing loss reignited flames of discontent that had been dampened by many due to hopes of an improved season.
It is still possible for a successful 2022 campaign. However, that is difficult to imagine right now based on the end of last year and the Tigers’ matchup against a Power 5 team this season.
If Auburn were to drop today’s contest against the visiting Missouri Tigers, the aforementioned flames in Auburn would turn into an absolute inferno on the Plains.
Auburn can beat this Missouri team, and must do so in order to have any chance of a competitive season going forward.
Below are three things that will play key roles in the outcome of Auburn vs. Missouri in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Line of Scrimmage
There are endless examples of last week’s game against Penn State that illustrate Auburn’s struggles on the line of scrimmage.
One could talk about the discrepancy in sacks allowed by Auburn versus the absence of even one sack by the Tigers.
Maybe someone considers the stark difference in rushing yards between the Tigers and the Nittany Lions as the most reliable marker of that game’s sizeable mismatch up front.
However, the single biggest thing that was dismal against Penn State that must improve against Missouri is rushing in the redzone.
Auburn allowed Penn State four rushing touchdowns in the redzone last week and was unable to come close to getting one of their own.
Both issues must change today against Missouri for Auburn to be successful.
The home team Tigers must capitalize with touchdowns on redzone opportunities and force Missouri to attempt field goals when they make it inside the 20 yard-line.
Auburn and Missouri have struggled with turnovers through the first three games of the season.
Auburn has committed eight turnovers, while Missouri has given the ball away seven times.
That is telling about both teams, and is a huge reason why both offenses have struggled.
On the other hand, Auburn and Missouri defenses have zero and six takeaways, respectively.
It sounds like a broken record, but Auburn must cut down its own giveaways while finally generating turnovers from the opponent this weekend.
If Auburn can improve on its turnover margin, it will greatly increase their odds of earning a victory in the first SEC contest of 2022.
Help the quarterback
There has been a lot of news this week on the Auburn quarterback front. It appears that TJ Finley will not be available for at least this week and Texas A&M transfer QB Zach Calzada will be taking a redshirt season for shoulder surgery.
That means that redshirt freshman quarterback Robby Ashford is the starter for today’s game against Missouri.
Ashford has shown flashes of athletic brilliance in moments this season, but has also been prone to turnovers and inaccurate throws.
It is critical that Auburn Offensive Coordinator Eric Kiesau design concepts and schemes that maximize Ashford’s athleticism and cover for his lack of experience in order to help the young quarterback improve quickly.
The simplest way to assist Ashford’s progression is likely to get the ball into the hands of running backs Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter early and often.
Asking Ashford to shoulder most of the offensive burden in a game that is his first college start and also a must-win contest would be a mistake.
Auburn needs to scheme Ashford some easy throws and some of his favorite runs early and allow him to settle into the game, so his confidence can grow and the offense can succeed.
Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers.