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Good morning, #BBN!!! It’s football time in the Bluegrass! Wow does it feel good to say that. As you read this I just finished eating my breakfast while sitting outside Kroger Field because I just wanted to soak up the feeling of football being BACK. Now, it is off to KSBar for what should be a great day for the C-A-T-S CATS CATS CATS.
After an offseason unlike any other thanks to the Coronavirus, the Wildcats will finally get a chance to compete today as they travel to the Plains to take on the Auburn Tigers. The #8 ranked Tigers went 9-4 last season finishing the year with a 31-24 Outback Bowl loss to the Gophers of Minnesota.
Head Coach Gus Malzahn will lead his team out onto the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium at 11 a.m. local time, noon here in Lexington, to begin the 2020 campaign.
Likewise, head ball coach Mark Stoops has his QB1, Terry Wilson, back this season to play behind one of the best offensive lines in the country.
Kentucky has a veteran group while Auburn may still have the edge in terms of raw talent. I’m sure everyone is just as excited as I am to get this game kicked off so lets go ahead and dive in to the five things you need to know about the Auburn Tigers. Also, you still have time to check out the Scouting Report by Adam Luckett and Freddie Maggard’s plan for How Kentucky Beats Auburn.
1. Bo Nix is Back Under Center
You know how there are those players who seem like they are in college forever? Think Kansas’ Perry Ellis in basketball or former South Carolina Quarterback Stephen Garcia. Well, I am submitting that Bo Nix will be the next guy like that.
A much heralded high school recruit, Nix won the starting job at Auburn as a true Freshman and threw for 2542 yards and 16 touchdowns. Nix’s completions (57.6%) went for under seven yards per throw as the Tigers offense was inconsistent at times as the young quarterback got his feet under him.
This season Gus Malzahn will look to rely more heavily on Nix and he will be expected to deliver on his incredible arm talent. The offense will go as Bo Nix goes and they will look to push the tempo when they pick up chunk yardage on first down. Nix is very good at scrambling outside of the pocket and throwing on the run as well.
For the Wildcat defense to succeed this afternoon they will need to keep Nix at bay in the pocket and force Auburn into second and long and third and long scenarios to slow down their tempo offense.
2. Talented Wide Receiver Corps
The surprise of the 2019 Kentucky Wildcats season was the play of the secondary. After Davonte Robinson went down in camp there was huge question mark surrounding the position group and there was concern as to how the ‘Cats would defend the pass. Fast forward to the end of the season and Kentucky had one of the most successful secondaries in the country.
The secondary, which is a deep group with experience in 2020, will have a difficult assignment in Week 1 going against the talent that Auburn has at Wide Receiver. Seth Williams was the primary option last season catching 59 balls for 830 yards and 8 scores. The 6’3” Junior will go against Kelvin Joseph in one of the key matchups to watch today.
Auburn also returns their second and third leading receivers from a year ago in Anthony Schwartz and Eli Stove. Schwartz has elite speed and will be used in a variety of ways to get the ball in space. In 2019 he hauled in 41 catches for 430 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed the ball about once a game on some sort of gadget play and took it to the house twice.
Eli Stove, a Redshirt Senior, caught 37 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns last year. This group has the ability to beat you all over the field, especially with returning QB1 Bo Nix throwing the passes. Kentucky will need to cut out explosive plays and force Auburn into obvious passing scenarios on third down so the secondary can focus on covering these three veteran pass catchers.
3. Inexperience in the Trenches
This is where Kentucky’s strength will look to take advantage of a potential weakness of Auburn. On the offensive line, Auburn returns just one player who has started a game in Nick Brahms who started at Center in five games in each of the last two seasons. Outside of Brahms, the Tigers will be replacing four spots on the O-Line including two NFL Draft picks.
Flipping over to the defensive side of the football the situation is similar for Auburn. They lost consensus All-American Derrick Brown who was the #7 pick in the Draft and is now playing Defensive Tackle for the Carolina Panthers. Marlon Davidson was also selected as the #47 pick in the Draft to the Atlanta Falcons. There is A LOT of production to replace on the front four with those two gone.
4. Outstanding Linebackers
What the Tigers may have lost on the defensive line they will look to make up for at the next level. Auburn returns All-SEC linebacker K.J. Britt who is the ultimate run stopper. Britt collected 69 tackles included 10 tackles for loss in 2019. At 6’0” 243 pounds he is an absolute load to handle in the second level.
Owen Pappoe started every game at linebacker as a true freshman and had 49 tackles on the season. The Tigers will also call upon Junior Zakoby McClain again this season. In 2019 McClain had 55 tackles including an 11 tackle performance with a 100-yard interception return against Alabama that earned him SEC Defensive Player of the Week.
The Big Blue Wall is expected to handle the front four, but in order for Kentucky to really have success running the ball today they will need to work their way up to this talented group of linebackers to create second and short situations.
5. Discipline Wins
If you have been watching the first couple of weeks of football you have seen a lot of sloppy play. Whether it be penalties, missed coverages, or some insanely bad special teams play things have gone a little sideways at some point in just about every game. The Southeastern Conference itself obviously brings a higher level of play than we have seen yet this season so that alone may clean up some of the play. However, Kentucky is also a veteran group with four returning offensive lineman, an experienced D-line and secondary, and a three-headed monster backfield that returns over 2000 rushing yards.
Auburn is a talented group that has several returning guys of their own, but Kentucky wins the experience battle and their strengths matchup well against the Tigers. This is shaping up to be a tightly contested game between two teams with high expectations for their 2020 season. Kentucky can still have a good season with a loss, but to have a special season they will need to come away with the road “upset.” Auburn definitely needs to protect their home field to have a successful season in the Plains. It may just be Week 1, but this is a huge game between two teams that will have eyeballs from around the country tuning in to the SEC Network for the Noon kickoff.
I’ll sign off by saying this; it is GREAT to have football back! #ComeSeeAboutIt