AUBURN, Ala. — In two of Auburn’s first three games, the offense has been a glaring problem. Despite valiant efforts by sophomore running backs Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway, the Tigers offense struggled to move the ball against Texas A&M, especially in the second half of the 29-16 loss.
Auburn’s defense should once again match up well with its opponent as Les Miles’ LSU Tigers come to town, but if Auburn’s offense is inconsistent and unproductive again, Gus Malzahn’s team could be in trouble.
Here’s a trio of Tigers we’re interested to watch as Auburn faces No. 18 LSU (6 p.m. ET, ESPN):
Junior QB John Franklin III
Malzahn played Franklin in the second half of Auburn’s game against the Aggies because he felt his team “needed a shot in the arm.” Auburn got a slight boost from the junior college transfer, who came into the game and rushed for 47 yards (he also threw the ball 37 yards). Auburn is definitely more limited in the air with Franklin in the game, but it seems likely that he will be Auburn’s option on offense early against LSU.
Franklin needs to seize his opportunity and get comfortable in the pocket. If he proves he can add some passing yards, it will open up Auburn’s run game, forcing teams to guard both. Auburn is so desperately in need of a spark on offense that a few big plays could provide an invaluable amount of momentum, too.
Auburn’s defense has dictated the pace and energy in every game thus far and has come close to forcing key turnovers. If Franklin can make something happen with the ball in his hands, it could energize not only his unit, but the defense as well.
Sophomore RB Kamryn Pettway
Pettway recorded his first 100-yard rushing game against Arkansas State and scored his first career touchdown the following week against Texas A&M. Though Kerryon Johnson has rushed for 278 total yards (56 attempts) through the Tigers’ first three games, Pettway is a critical piece to Auburn’s offensive puzzle as conference play continues. Pettway did not get a touch in the opener vs. Clemson, but has totaled 276 yards on just 35 carries since.
The 6-foot, 240 pound Pettway is built for success against LSU’s heavy defensive line. Auburn has been far more productive running the football than passing it so far, and that can’t change this week. Pettway needs to establish himself as the Tigers’ feature back starting this week to attract attention away from Johnson. All Johnson needs, as he’s demonstrated so far this year, is a split second to turn on his speed and make a play.
Pettway also needs to focus on ball security. Auburn is doing its best to force turnovers on defense, but with the struggling offense, the inexperienced back can’t give anything up. Every carry matters.
Senior WR Marcus Davis
Davis was proclaimed the unanimous team leader before the season, but in terms of stats, the senior hasn’t done enough for the Tigers so far. After three games, he’s third in receiving yards with a quiet total of just 83. Davis is easily the most experienced receiver when it comes to SEC play. He needs to not only increase his production, but he needs to help his younger teammates acclimate to the intensity of conference play, too.
Davis is extremely well-liked and respected in the locker room, and one big play could emit loads of energy from his teammates. Davis is also a receiver with potential for explosive plays. He caught three passes for 23 yards against the Aggies, but his longest catch was 8 yards. Part of the problem of course, is that Sean White and Franklin have struggled to deliver the ball downfield, but if there’s anything Davis can do to help remedy Auburn’s passing game, this matchup against LSU is where it needs to happen.