It’s almost gameday, and the Tigers are coming up against an offense similar to one it has seen before.
The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers like to throw the football, and the Tigers will be on guard after facing a similar style of offense in its close loss to Mississippi State two weeks ago. Auburn is sure to have learned, however, and interim head coach Cadillac Williams will likely hope to avoid the fate he suffered at the hands of Mike Leach’s Bulldogs this time around.
Here are four defensive keys the Tigers should look out for when playing WKU on Saturday:
Focus on the passing game
(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
In the photo above, you’ll see the Hilltoppers handing off a football — don’t expect them to do it too often on Saturday.
The Hilltoppers are an air raid team (or air-raid adjacent, anyway) like Mississippi State. That means that the offense is entirely centered around throwing the football, and the run game won’t be a point of emphasis. Western Kentucky has only ran the football 326 times this year (and that is accounting for quarterback sacks as well) and has passed the football much more (454 times). Focus the gameplan against the pass and drop your linebackers into coverage to stifle the Hilltoppers’ offense.
Put pressure on Austin Reed
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Quarterbacks are the heart of the air raid. Disrupt the quarterback, and the offense slows all the way down.
Guys like Derick Hall are going to want to get to the quarterback because it will help the entire team. If quarterback Austin Reed is pressured, then that makes it easier for the secondary to protect against the pass. Once that happens, Western Kentucky have to rely on the run game a little more than it would like — that would make Auburn’s job a whole lot easier on Saturday.
Don't focus on just one wideout
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Normally, a team has a star wideout that draws a lot of attention from defensive backs. This isn’t the case for the Hilltoppers.
Receiver Malachi Nelson has the most yards on the team with 953, but he’s caught seven touchdowns on the year — same as wideout Daewood Davis, and just two more touchdowns than tight end Joshua Simon. Western Kentucky spreads the football around, so the Tigers shouldn’t focus on a specific wide receiver to cover or put an extra safety on. Instead, get the coverage schemes tight and watch out for the Hilltoppers’ multitude of talented receivers.
Don't underestimate Western Kentucky
(Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)
Some may look at this matchup as a “gimme game.” Those people would be sorely mistaken.
Western Kentucky isn’t a Power 5 squad, but it is still a good football team. The Tigers are only projected to have a 53% chance to beat the 7-4 Hilltoppers on [autotag]ESPN’s FPI[/autotag], and the high-flying offense will likely be the best non-conference game Auburn plays without counting the Penn State matchup earlier in the year. Stick to the gameplan, but don’t overlook the Hilltoppers — if the Tigers respect the opponent, they should be fine.