SEC football is back this Saturday. Auburn opens the season at home against the Kentucky Wildcats. Entering the game Auburn is ranked number 8 while Kentucky is ranked number 23. Following is a breakdown of the game.
Series History: Auburn leads 26-6-1 (Auburn has won the last two matchups. The last time it was played in Jordan-Hare, Kentucky won 21-14 in 2009. That win by Kentucky in 2009 halted a 15 game Auburn win streak.)
Auburn Coach: Gus Malzahn (Auburn record 62-31)
Kentucky Coach: Mark Stoops (Kentucky record 44-44)
Auburn: Bo Nix returns as the starter. Nix had a good year for a true freshman in the SEC last year throwing for 2,542 yards, 16 TDs, and only 6 interceptions. Nix will be expected to take a leap entering year two. He has had the responsibility of learning a new playbook under new offensive coordinator Chad Morris. Graduate transfer Grant Loy will serve as Nix's backup.
Kentucky: After being injured last year Terry Wilson returns to quarterback the Wildcats. Wilson is a true dual-threat quarterback and can easily hurt a team with his legs. True freshman Beau Allen is currently listed as the backup, as former Auburn quarterback Joey Gatewood is still awaiting a decision on his eligibility for the year.
Auburn: The Tigers have a number of backs who could easily end up being major contributors. Entering the first game Shaun Shivers has been named the starter. Shivers is best known for running through Alabama safety Xavier McKinney last year in the Iron Bowl on his way to the winning score. Shivers also runs track for Auburn and is certainly one of the fastest backs in the SEC. Behind Shivers Auburn also has D.J. Williams, Mark Antony-Richards, Tank Bigsby, and Harold Joiner. Williams showed glimpses of star potential last year as a freshman after working his way back from an injury. Antony-Richards and Bigsby are both freshmen. Joiner was utilized in a hybrid role last year serving as more of an H-back in the Auburn offense.
Kentucky: The Wildcats also have a plethora of talent at their disposal in the backfield. Senior A.J. Rose is listed as the starter. His two backups, Kavosiey Smoke and Chris Rodriguez both have experience from last year. The trio combined to rush for close to 2,000 yards a year ago.
Auburn: Seth Williams is poised for a monster year for the Tigers entering year two with Nix as his quarterback. Fellow junior Anthony Schwartz (another member of the Auburn track team) provides Auburn with a speedy option alongside Williams. Eli Stove returns as Auburn's reliable option for most of its bubble screen work on offense. Shedrick Jackson, Caylin Newton (Cam's younger brother) and freshman Ze'Vian Capers also look ready to contribute. This position group could easily be Auburn's best by the end of the season.
Kentucky: Last year Kentucky abandoned the pass game after all their quarterbacks got injured and they converted star receiver Lynn Bowden into an emergency quarterback. With Wilson back expect Kentucky to throw more than last year. The top four receivers for the Wildcats are Josh Ali, Clevan Thomas, Allen Dailey (who was Bo Nix's high school teammate), and Bryce Oliver. Both Ali and Thomas were starters last year.
Auburn: John Samuel Schenker returns as Auburn's starting H-back/tight end. Schenker has primarily served as a blocker for the Tigers but does have ability as a receiver. Reportedly, new offensive coordinator Chad Morris wants to get the tight ends more involved in the passing game. Luke Deal serves as Schenker's primary backup.
Kentucky: Justin Rigg beat out Keaton Upshaw for the starting job during fall camp. The Wildcats are fond of playing two tight end formations so it is likely both will see a number of snaps.
Auburn: The Tigers have had to replace five seniors from last year. Center Nick Brahms is the only Tigers offensive lineman who has started a game in an Auburn uniform. Graduate transfer Brandon Council, who will start at right guard has plenty of experience at Akron. Brodarious Hamm will start at right tackle, Tashawn Manning at left guard, and either Alec Jackson or Austin Troxell at left tackle.
Kentucky: The offensive line is easily Kentucky's best position group on offense. Left tackle Landon Young, center Drake Jackson, and right tackle Darian Kinnard all have the talent to potentially be named All-SEC performers, and perhaps even All-American performers, at the end of the year. Right guard Luke Fortner is also a returning starter meaning the Wildcats return four starters along the O-line. The only new starter is Kenneth Horsey at left guard.
Big Picture: On offense, expect Auburn to try to get Bo Nix, Seth Williams, and rest of the receivers off to a hot start. I would not be shocked to see Auburn utilize a multitude of wide receiver screens and other quick passes early in the game to give the offensive line time to settle into the game. Undoubtedly, at some point in the game Auburn will do their best to establish the line of scrimmage and the run game. Meanwhile, expect Kentucky to come out running the ball behind that vaunted offensive line. Certainly, the passing game will be involved, but if the Wildcats find success early on with the ground game they will continue to go with it.
Auburn: Probably everyone reading this article already knows it, but I will say it again. Auburn has to replace both Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson, who last year served as the anchors for one of the nation's best defensive lines. However, just because those two are gone don't expect the Auburn D-Line to get pushed around. Rodney Garner and Kevin Steele are great at consistently turning out really good defensive lines. Seniors Tyrone Truesdell and Big Kat Bryant return to anchor the defensive line. Look for Derick Hall, T.D. Moultry, Daquan Newkirk, and Kolby Wooden to all become large contributors this year.
Kentucky: The Wildcats play a 3-4 so they only have three down defensive linemen. Quinton Bohanna is an absolute monster in the middle at nose guard. Flanking him on either side are Josh Paschal and Phil Hoskins.
Auburn: K.J. Britt is the starter at middle linebacker and is also Auburn's emotional leader of the defense. Alongside Britt, look for Owen Pappoe and Zakoby McClain to rotate between each other. With Chandler Wooten deciding to sit out this year due to COVID concerns, the Tigers will have to thrust some of their true freshmen into the fire behind Britt, Pappoe, and McClain. Wesley Steiner and Cam Riley seem poised to get most of those minutes.
Kentucky: At the outside linebacker position, Jamar "Boogie" Watson and Jordan Wright are the starters. Jamin Davis and DeAndre Square are the starters inside.
Auburn: Smoke Monday and Jamien Sherwood will take over the two starting safety spots. Both got several minutes last year backing up the departed Daniel Thomas and Jeremiah Dinson. Roger McCreary is Auburn's latest emerging lockdown cornerback. Opposite McCreary Jaylin Simpson emerged from a five-way battle to win the starting job. Nickelback Christian Tutt is Auburn's only returning starter in the secondary.
Kentucky: Kelvin Joseph, Brandin Echols, Davonte Robinson, Tyrell Ajian, and Yusuf Corker are the starting five in the Wildcats secondary. Joseph is a transfer from LSU and has the potential to develop into a lockdown corner for Kentucky.
Big Picture: Since hiring Kevin Steele as defensive coordinator, Auburn has yearly been one of the top defensive teams in the nation. Expect this defense to be no different. Bryant, Truesdell, Britt, Pappoe, McCreary, Monday, and Sherwood will anchor this defense. The two biggest question marks are the depth at defensive tackle and whether the redshirt freshman Simpson will have any growing pains at cornerback opposite McCreary. Kentucky also likes to hang their hat on the defensive side of the ball. The Wildcats have a strong front seven and will certainly cause many problems.
The Game: Auburn is currently an eight point favorite over Kentucky. If Auburn was allowed to pack Jordan-Hare with fans, there is no way the game would stay that close in my opinion. However, the combination of an eleven o'clock start and limited fan attendance will likely negate most of Auburn's homefield advantage. I still am going with the Tigers in a relatively close game. I believe Kentucky will struggle to contain Seth Williams which in turn will open up the running lanes for the Auburn backs. Kentucky will undoubtedly find ways to run the ball behind their powerful o-line, but Wilson and the receiving corps will struggle to get going. In the end, I predict Auburn wins by ten.