With a massive non-conference battle set to occur next weekend in State College, Pennsylvania, the Tigers have a date this Saturday with the visiting Alabama State Hornets. While Auburn certainly isn't overlooking the Hornets, the team knows it has areas to work on in Saturday's game that will be crucial for a hostile, primetime matchup at Penn State on September 18th.
Let's look at the most important areas for Auburn to improve in this weekend.
Auburn's rush defense was suffocating from start to finish in the season opener against Akron, holding the Zips to a putrid -3 yards on the ground. The defense also forced Akron to fumble the ball three separate times, but the Zips were able to recover the ball each time they coughed it up. And while Auburn certainly didn't need turnovers to swing any sort of momentum during the game, that may not be the case against more formidable opponents like Penn State and the rest of the Southeastern Conference. Recovering a fumble or intercepting a pass or two will look great on the stat sheet and build confidence on the defense.
Keep the consistency in the passing game
Bo Nix had himself a career game against Akron, competing 20 of his 22 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns. It was the best output of Nix's career, with his 90.9% completion mark setting an Auburn record. Alabama State is a similar caliber of opponent to Akron, so Nix needs to continue to improve in another tune-up game.
Asking him to complete more than 90% of his attempts again feels like a little much, but a second strong output will leave fans feeling confident in his ability going into Penn State. In his first two seasons as a Tiger, Nix has thrown 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in games played away from Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Continue to pressure the quarterback
Auburn's stellar play on the defensive line wasn't limited to shutting down the ground game against Akron. The Tigers' defenders were in the backfield often on pass plays, racking up six sacks for a total loss of 28 yards.
In Penn State's debut game against then-No. 12 Wisconsin, Sean Clifford was regularly running for his life, seeing pressure on almost a third of his 33 dropbacks and getting sacked twice. Clifford was sacked 22 times in his shortened 2020 season, and it would seem that his offensive line hasn't made leaps and bounds in pass protection in 2021.
If Auburn's rotation of defensive linemen can continue to tear through the opposing offensive line Saturday against the Hornets, they'll be that much more prepared to go toe-to-toe with Penn State's.