AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn coach Gus Malzahn finally got the win he so desperately needed against LSU on Saturday. It may not have been pretty and there may have been a continued lack of offensive production, but it was still a victory against an SEC rival.
Once again, Kevin Steele’s defense and junior kicker Daniel Carlson saved the day. Carlson nailed six field goals, accounting for all of Auburn’s critical 18 points, while the defensive unit contained RB Leonard Fournette and QB Danny Etling. The win also was significant for a couple of unexpected reasons.
Sophomore Montavious Atkinson replaced linebacker Tre’ Williams after the junior was ejected for targeting in the second quarter. It wasn’t an easy game to be thrown into, but the underclassmen didn’t flinch, adding one more player with valuable game experience to an already deep unit.
The home Tigers still struggled to produce touchdowns. If Auburn’s starters play like they did against Arkansas State in Week 2, this weekend’s game against Louisiana-Monroe should be a good opportunity to work through offensive issues and get more players involved.
Here’s three players who could be key against the Warhawks:
Freshman RB Kam Martin
After the win, Malzahn said Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway had been dealing with some minor injuries. According to Malzahn, the issues aren’t serious, but it’s at least part of the reason the sophomore backs were somewhat limited against LSU. Auburn needs to add a little bit of depth at running back. Before the season, it sounded like Chandler Cox would have a chance to run the ball, but he’s stayed primarily at fullback so far this year.
The game against Louisiana-Monroe is the ideal opportunity for Martin. The freshman earned the reputation as a speedster in fall camp. Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee repeatedly said Auburn fans would see more of Martin. The stakes have been high through the first four games of the year — it wasn’t exactly a time to experiment with younger talent unless it was necessary. If Martin can produce on the ground and gain momentum going into the Oct. 8 game at Mississippi State, he could become more of a regular back for the remainder of Auburn’s SEC schedule.
Sophomore WR Ryan Davis
When Auburn’s first depth chart was released, it was slightly puzzling to see Davis listed as a starter. He didn’t seem to be much of a focus during fall camp and coaches were kind of quiet about him. Through the first four games on Auburn’s schedule, though, Davis has been one of the most targeted receivers. He’s racked up 12 receptions for 84 yards, third behind seniors Tony Stevens and Marcus Davis.
Davis played quarterback in high school and likely benefits from having former Auburn quarterback/wide receiver Kodi Burns as his position coach. He’s said he feels like he’s adjusting well to the wideout position. With Lashlee taking over play-calling duties from Malzahn, it looks like the Tigers are going to take more chances in the air. Davis said after the win over LSU that if Auburn’s offense can just break through and convert in the red zone a couple of times, it will be easier from that point on. Davis could be a huge push to catapult the offense starting against ULM.
Senior DB Johnathan “Rudy” Ford
Ford could be a key player on defense and special teams in this weekend’s game. He’s been a leader for the defensive backs and has come close to grabbing a couple of picks through the first 4 games. Of course, his primary role and impact will continue to be defensively. Steele has stressed the importance of forcing more turnovers and creating opportunities to score. A pick-6 would be a great reward for a unit that has carried the majority of the responsibility so far this season.
Ford also could be productive on kick returns. He has experience at running back — coaches were considering including him in the committee system they discussed during fall camp — and has valuable experience returning the ball. Even if Ford can’t return one for a score, helping the offense get the best field position possible also could be a huge assist. Ford should become the go-to guy considering Kerryon Johnson’s minor bumps and bruises.