Auburn football: 3 biggest concerns Tigers have about Florida
Another big test awaits Auburn, Gus Malzahn and quarterback Bo Nix on Saturday when the Tigers travel to Gainesville to take on Florida in a top 10 matchup that will start to sort out the pretenders and contenders in the SEC.
The Gators’ offense has found some footing with Kyle Trask under center, taking over for the injured Feleipe Franks, and the defense is allowing just 281.2 total yards per game through 5 games, good for 17th in the FBS. That defense will get a boost from the return of standouts CB CJ Henderson and DE Jabari Zuniga. Add in the intimidating home atmosphere and this could be the toughest game to date for the Tigers.
What should Malzahn and Co. worry about before kickoff at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday? Here are the 3 biggest concerns.
1. Gators shutting down rush
Strength will go against strength when Auburn tries to run the ball. The Tigers have racked up 251 yards per game on the ground, helping take pressure off Nix and keeping defenses honest. On just 10 rushes against Mississippi State, Boobie Whitlow rushed for 55 yards and 3 touchdowns. Nix added 56 and a TD as the Tigers put up 217 rushing yards.
Doing that against the Gators will be much tougher. Although they haven’t faced an offense as good as Auburn’s, Florida has held opponents to 86.80 rushing yards per game. If Malzahn’s offense can’t get the run going, it will make everything more difficult for the Tigers to move the ball, especially considering the crowd noise that will be prevalent.
Auburn’s veteran offensive line has received its share of accolades thus far. Saturday, they need to play like one of the best groups in the country.
2. Conditioning of team
Auburn has already played 2 ranked teams and faced a hard-hitting Mississippi State defense. As bodies tend to do after 5 physical games, the wear and tear might be starting to mount up. It will likely be hot again in The Swamp and, with the anticipation and hype of the game, the Tigers could wear themselves out early.
The one thing helping the team’s conditioning is the fact that the starters didn’t have to play all that much in the second half of the 56-23 rout of the Bulldogs. Still, Auburn has had some hard battles already this season while Florida, with the exception of a late win at Kentucky in Week 3, hasn’t been challenged as much.
Auburn’s secondary has the most at stake. If the Tigers’ pass rush can’t get to new starter Kyle Trask, the Tigers could find themselves in a track meet trying to contend with an elite group of Florida receivers.
Trask hasn’t shown he’s a threat to stretch the field vertically and doesn’t have the knockout arm strength of Feleipe Franks, but he’s extremely accurate and the Gators are capable of making plays in space.
3. Malzahn goes conservative in tough environment
It is much easier to call plays for a true freshman quarterback when you are in the friendly confines of your home stadium. It is another thing when you have 90,000 fans screaming when your offense is on the field. While Malzahn has shown that he isn’t afraid to unleash Nix — especially in Saturday’s game against Mississippi State — there were signs of him becoming conservative again in the win at Texas A&M.
Auburn had the chance to put the Aggies away early, but the play-calling was iffy. Granted, it was the first true road game and the Tigers’ defense didn’t look like they would give up the lead, but the coach must trust all of his offense Saturday for Auburn to truly reach its potential. Open it up, and the Tigers win.