AUBURN, Ala. — The Tigers put together one of the most complete games in Auburn football history against Arkansas. Now coach Gus Malzahn’s team will travel back to Oxford, Miss., to take on a struggling Hugh Freeze team.
Auburn’s improvement and growth on the offensive side of the ball has been striking, while the defensive effort has been steady.
Freshman Eli Stove will continue to be an important playmaker, while Kerryon Johnson will have to needle his way back into a dynamic group of running backs. Defensively, Andrew Williams could continue to give Auburn’s second defensive group a spark they’ll need against the Rebels.
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Here’s why you should pay attention to this trio when Auburn faces Ole Miss on Saturday.
Freshman WR Eli Stove
Before the beginning of the season, there was a lot of hype surrounding Auburn’s freshmen wide receivers. When coach Kodi Burns was asked about Kyle Davis and Nate Craig-Myers, he was quick to mention Stove.
Up until the Arkansas game, Stove had made brief appearances and shown flashes of his capabilities, but last Saturday changed everything. In his first career start, he set the tone. His 78-yard touchdown run was the first time Auburn football had scored on their first offensive play of the game since 2003. The play also was the third-longest by a freshman.
To defeat the Rebels on the road, Auburn will need explosive plays and offensive intensity. Stove can bring both of those into Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Sophomore RB Kerryon Johnson
It’s been a while since Auburn fans have been able to watch Johnson toy with defenders. Coach Gus Malzahn and his coaching staff have been easing back Johnson since he suffered an ankle injury against Mississippi State.
Durability was a huge concern for Johnson before the year. He left the game against the Bulldogs as the team’s leading rusher and solidified starter, but that may not be the case now. The Tigers put together one of the best rushing games in school history and did so without Johnson.
Kamryn Pettway has excelled, converted wide receiver Stanton Truitt scored the first three touchdowns of his career against Arkansas and freshman Kam Martin found the end zone, too.
There’s no doubt that Johnson will return (he probably could have played against the Razorbacks if he was needed) and he brings a special piece to the offense. But when Johnson is healthy, he’ll have to find his fit in Auburn’s talented backfield.
The game in Oxford could be the perfect opportunity to make his mark, especially after the thrashing Ole Miss’ defense received last weekend against LSU — Mississippi gave up 284 yards to Leonard Fournette alone.
Sophomore DL Andrew Williams
Auburn’s second defensive line group has made a significant impact in the Tigers’ last two games and will have to continue the trend against Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly.
The 6-foot-4, 289-pound Williams has started to emerge as a force up front. The sophomore had one of Auburn’s 4 sacks against the Razorbacks (also the fourth of his career).
Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has been pleased with Williams’ technique and effort over the last few outings. Steele also has been impressed by the depth which his unit has continued to develop. Williams will be a big part of the defense’s growth moving forward.