College Football Preview: Auburn vs. Kentucky

The disappointing loss to Ole Miss last Saturday let a lot of air out of the balloon. Instead of a possible seven or eight win season, many fans are now looking at the schedule and seeing just two more wins, in Vandy and Louisiana-Monroe. Needless to say, few are expecting a win over the undefeated Auburn Tigers on Saturday.

But, you have to remember that Kentucky beat Auburn at their place last year. You have also to remember that Auburn struggled defending Kentucky’s skill guys on offense. They struggled defending UK without any threat of a pass, whatsoever. All of the skill guys that gave Auburn fits are back and this time Kentucky will have Hartline under center.

If you are looking for a beacon of hope, that is it. Auburn couldn’t stop UK last year, so what makes you think they can do it at Commonwealth on Saturday?

The Tigers enter Saturday’s contest with an undefeated 5-0 record. Last year they started the season 5-0 as well, but lost five of their last seven games before downing Northwestern in the Outback Bowl. So, just because they’re 5-0, doesn’t mean they’re world beaters.

They started off the season by crushing Arkansas State at home and then squeaked out a 17-14 victory over Mississippi State in Starkville. The Bulldogs were driving into Auburn territory with under a minute to go but turned the ball over on downs at the Auburn 40 with 22 seconds remaining. Their last three wins have all been at home, a 27-24 overtime win versus Clemson, a 35-27 victory over South Carolina and last week they cruised past Louisiana-Monroe, 52-3.

None of their three big wins have come easy. They trailed Clemson 17-3 at half, before reeling off 21 points in the third quarter to get them back in the game, and against the Gamecocks they were down 27-21 entering the fourth quarter and scored 14 unanswered points to win it.

The biggest reason that they have been able to come from behind and also the biggest difference between this year’s squad and last year’s, is quarterback Cameron Newton. And when I say “big”, I mean “big”. Cameron Newton is strait beast. At 6-6, 250-pounds, Newton’s physique fits the prototypical tight end much more than a scrambling quarterback.

Newton, a junior, transferred to Auburn from the University of Florida after being suspended for buying a stolen laptop because he had a strong urge to dominate some Oregon Trail. In two seasons at Florida, playing behind Tim Tebow, he completed 6-of-12 passes for 54 yards while rushing for just over 100 yards. Now a Tiger, and out of Tebow’s so-called Superman shadow, Newton is making a name for himself.

In five games this season, he has completed 57-of-87 passes for 928 yards, 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. He is also leading the team in rushing with 474 yards on 76 attempts and has five rushing touchdowns.

He is their offense. On the season the Tigers have passed for 1,032 yards and rushed for 1,345, good for a total of 2,377 yards. Newton has accounted for 1,402 of those yards, which is 59-percent of their total offense.

Newton has the ability to cause all kinds of problems for a UK defense that has struggled. If you load up the box in an attempt to slow him down in the run game, he can beat you with the throw. If you don’t load up the box, he’ll kill you with the run. Prior to their game with Louisiana-Monroe, where Gene Chizik pretty much decided to rest Newton, he led the SEC in rushing yards.

This a 6-6, 250-pound monster quarterback that led the SEC in rushing four weeks into the season and will probably do so again before the season’s over. Other than the offensive and defensive lineman, Newton is the biggest player on the field. Because of that size, he is not scared to take, or even deliver hits. Every step he takes is like three yards and he is incredibly tough to bring down. Once he gets into the open field he somehow has breakaway speed.

In their first five games the Tigers have not been forced to pass the ball too much. But, when they have passed the ball, they have been efficient at doing it. If there is one flaw in Newton’s line, it is his four picks in five games. The majority of those picks have come in the end zone as he has shown a propensity to force passes a bit when they are in scoring range.

Sophomore Onterio McCalebb (5-10, 171) and freshman Michael Dyer (5-9, 215) will also get carries in an attempt to rest Newton. McCalebb doesn’t get too many carries, but when he does it seems as if the Auburn coaching staff knows when to hand him the rock. He has carried the ball just 42 times this season, but has accounted for 336 yards and two touchdowns. That is right at eight yards per carry. They like to take advantage of his speed and get him outside the box. Look for McCalebb to operate on tosses and sweeps in an attempt to get him on the edge for some open field.

Dyer is their bruiser back and spends his time running between the tackles. On the season he has carried the ball for 334 yards on 69 attempts, good for a 4.8 average. He has two touchdowns.

On the other side of the football, the Tigers are coming off of a season where they gave up the most points in school history. There defense is a little better this season, but they are still allowing opposing offenses to rack up yardage. Arkansas State scored 26 points and passed the ball for 323 yards. Clemson put up 414 yards and South Carolina gained 384 yards, 305 of which were through the air.

The yardage has been there for opposing teams, but the Tigers are giving up just 18.8 points-per-game, which ranks 37th in the country. Through the first five games they have really stiffened up when teams get the ball inside the 30. I guess you can say they have a bit of a bend but don’t break mentality.

The best overall defensive unit is their defensive line and they are led by junior Nick Farley (6-5, 298). Farley leads the Tigers in sacks with five and in tackles for loss with 11.5. He is a constant threat to get the quarterback and has the ability to get into the backfield and disrupt plays.

Through five games, Auburn’s secondary has really struggled. They give up a lot of catches. Arkansas State, Clemson and South Carolina all passed for more than 300 yards against the Tigers.

Because of their strong defensive line, their defense matches up well with teams that have power running games. Fast offenses have given them problems and that is evident by Kentucky’s performance against them last year. Although they haven’t seen much of the Wildcat Formation this season, it is something they struggled with mightily last year, so expect Randy Sanders to dial it up more than they have previously.

Kentucky should find ways to score against the Tigers. They just need to take advantage of those opportunities when they get into the red zone. You have to get six and you can’t turn the ball over.

Auburn struggled defending Kentucky last year without any threat of a passing game. The mere fact that Hartline is under center provides UK with that option, which should make it even more difficult for the Tigers to defend Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb.

On defense, I just don’t see how UK limits Newton completely. It’s not going to happen. The best way to limit his production is to do whatever necessary to force him into a passer. He has been effective with his passes so far this season, but no one has found a way to force Auburn to rely on the pass more than the run.

Another way to force Auburn to pass more than they want is by establishing an early lead. Last week that was one of the keys to victory and it appeared that the Wildcats were well on their way to doing so. Up 14-7 and driving, the Cats were on the verge of taking a two-score lead, but a Hartline pick led to another short field score for the Rebels and before you knew it Ole Miss had a 42-20 lead.

That Hartline pick was just one of three critical turnovers that cost Kentucky the game last week. I know it goes without saying, but those things can’t happen if they want to have a chance at an upset on Saturday. Kentucky must play a clean, mistake-free football game.

I know a lot of fans are calling it a season after the Wildcats disappointing loss to Ole Miss. But, I don’t see any reason why you go into this game thinking the Cats have absolutely zero chance. This isn’t an undefeated Auburn team that is running away from everyone. The War Eagles have played three losable games this season and all three came down to clutch time.

I think the Cats enter this game with a lot more confidence than the fans do, simply because they went into Auburn last year and won. Rumor has it there has been completely different attitude in practice this week. The Ole Miss loss pissed off the players. They are sick of losing. Let’s see if that attitude adjustment translates to better play on Saturday.

Still, I think it’s going to be tough to come away with a victory. Cats keep it close, but they fail to make it two straight against Auburn.

Auburn 38, Kentucky 31


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