2017 Opponents Preview: Auburn

Anthony Dasher, Editor
GA Varsity

2016 RECORD: 8-5 overall, 5-3 in the SEC West

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: RB Kamryn Pettway, RB Kerryon Johnson, WR Darius Slayton, WR Kyle Davis, OL Braden Smith, DT Derrick Brown, DE Marlon Davidson, DB Tray Matthews.

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X6xsfnpihdlwjru0ar5y

USA Today

Although last year was a disappointing one by Auburn's standards, the Tigers still finished second in the SEC West behind eventual conference champion Alabama.

The Tigers' record might have even been better if they had received any semblance of consistent quarterback play, and the hope is that Baylor-transfer Jarrett Stidham will provide that this fall.

To help us break down the Tigers for 2017, we turn to Bryan Matthews of sister site AuburnSports.com.

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Flbipvivjacntcj4qm63

UGASports.com: Although there’s only so much one can learn from spring practices, how should an opponent like Georgia scout Auburn, and then game-plan for the Tigers?

Matthews: "Because of Georgia's recent success against Auburn, I think they'll have a psychological advantage going into Nov. 11, so they should just try to play sound football and let Auburn make the mistakes. I'm not real up to speed on the Bulldogs' defense this year, but if they've got some talented pass rushers, those guys should have an opportunity to disrupt Auburn's offense and create some turnovers and negative plays.

"Auburn's secondary is experienced but every defense is susceptible to play-action, and I know Georgia has a quarterback that can go over the top on any of their opponents."

UGASports.com: What’s your current overall outlook on Auburn for this upcoming season, just based off of what you saw this spring?

Matthews: "I think it's OK for Auburn fans to set their expectations high for this season because of Jarrett Stidham. AU could be a one-loss team heading into November with key home games against Georgia and Alabama remaining. I would probably be somewhat conservative and project Auburn to finish 9-3 in the regular season. But anywhere from 7-5 to 11-1 is a real possibility in my opinion.

"What needs to happen for Auburn to win the SEC West? Stidham needs to be 100 percent for real and stay healthy, a pass rush needs to emerge and the pass protection has to be better than average."

UGASports.com: Which positions do you think Auburn feels best about heading into the 2017 and why? On the flip side, what positions do you see as the team's biggest concerns?

Matthews: "The defense looks pretty stout again, especially at linebacker, which is Auburn's deepest and most talented overall position. The secondary is also talented and deep and the defensive line has the potential to be good even with the losses of Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson. Offensively, Auburn should have one of the SEC's best group of running backs led by Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson, an emerging quarterback in Baylor transfer Stidham and some talented young wide receivers that are ready to take a step forward.

"The biggest concern on defense is the Buck linebacker/rush end, which Lawson played last season. Auburn has some potential pass-rushing talent but nobody is proven, and true freshman Markaviest Bryant is expected to get an early look there in camp. The offensive line is still unsettled and could include two graduate transfers in the starting lineup. Auburn could have five seniors on the o-line but none of them are true tackles. The group should be very good run blockers but a question mark in pass protection."

UGASports.com: "Which position battles were some of the ones to watch this spring?

Matthews: "With so many starters and experienced players returning, there weren't a whole lot of real position battles this spring. Stidham is the starting quarterback coming out of spring and will 'compete' with Sean White this fall, but most expect it to be Stidham's team this season.

"True freshman Malik Willis beat out Woody Barrett for the No. 3 quarterback position and Barrett is transferring. Coming out of spring, Derrick Brown appears to be the starting defensive tackle in place of Adams, and Jeremiah Dinson the starting nickel in place of Rudy Ford."

UGASports.com: After the spring, who do you see as Auburn's top players on each side of the ball and why?

Matthews: "Stidham is my pick for Auburn's best player on offense. He has the potential to be a difference-maker, although a lot of Auburn fans are still gun shy over the Jeremy Johnson debacle. He completed 80 percent of his passes and showed off a strong arm in the spring game. Everything we've heard has been positive about his intangibles including leadership and work ethic.

"Defensively, it's got to be sophomore Marlon Davidson, who started every game at defensive end as a true freshman last fall. He could be one of those dominant SEC d-lineman in year two."

UGASports.com: "Which lesser-known players really turned heads during practices and in the spring game?

Matthews: "Darius Slayton really stepped up at receiver after missing the first third of spring returning from an injury. He could be a key big-play threat for this offense. Nate Craig-Myers also had a good spring at wideout, but it's hard to call him under the radar because he was so highly recruited.

"Paul James III returned from an injury late in spring and had a big A-Day game. He is one of those players that could help Auburn at the Buck/rush end position. Dinson was out for a year and a half after hurting his shoulder and knee against Texas A&M in 2015, so his emergence at nickel was a good surprise."

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Djnlpvnf8vg29rfh3cnj

USA Today

Auburn 2017 Schedule

Date

Opponent

Sept. 2

Georgia Southern

Sept. 9

at Clemson

Sept. 16

Mercer

Sept. 23

at Missouri

Sept. 30

Mississippi State

Oct. 7

Ole Miss

Oct. 14

at LSU

Oct. 21

at Arkansas

Nov. 4

at Texas A&M

Nov. 11

Georgia

Nov. 18

UL-Monroe

Nov. 25

Alabama

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