Auburn (4-2, 1-2 SEC) has a chance to change the complexion of its season beginning with Saturday’s game against Arkansas. The Tigers did not live up to their high preseason expectations, but they have built some confidence coming off two consecutive wins.
However, Auburn will need better efforts from key players to have success in the second half of the season. Here are five that need to step up:
5. Jovon Robinson, RB, Junior
Robinson enrolled at Auburn in January as the No. 1 JUCO running back prospect in the country, but he has only played in two games. The junior has dealt with a nagging ankle injury through the first half of the season and has just four carries for 20 yards.
Robinson competed for the starting job in fall practice with fellow backs Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber, but Thomas and Barber have taken the majority of the carries.
Freshman Kerryon Johnson has also emerged as a viable option in the backfield.
When Auburn coach Gus Malzahn was asked earlier this week about Robinson’s lack of playing time, he attributed it to the injury, but also to the success of the other backs.
The talented runner was supposed to add another weapon to Auburn’s rushing attack, but so far it has not panned out. Barber, who leads the team with eight touchdowns, has done a good job of carrying the load.
Still, it would be beneficial if Robinson played well in the latter half of the season to reduce some of the burden on Barber.
4. Byron Cowart, DE, Freshman
Cowart was another highly-rated addition to Auburn’s roster this season. However, his impact has been minimal through six games. Cowart was the No. 1 strongside defensive end recruit in the 2015 class, but the 6-foot-3 lineman has recorded just four tackles this season.
Cowart has struggled to adjust to the college game, which is understandable for a freshman, but his lack of production has not helped Auburn’s anemic pass rush. Going into last week’s game against Kentucky, the Tigers had just seven sacks through five games.
Now that Cowart has six games under his belt, it will be interesting to see if he begins to make more plays as the season progresses. It will certainly benefit Auburn’s defense, which is last in the SEC in yards allowed per game.
3. Jason Smith, WR, Sophomore
Smith began to make the transition from quarterback to receiver in spring practice earlier this year. He is still learning the position, which could be a reason for his low receiving totals of five catches for 30 yards through six games.
Smith’s speed and versatility have not been on display much this season, but he has the ability to hurt opposing defenses in certain packages. Smith is a threat from the Wildcat because of his former days as a quarterback, but Kerryon Johnson has been primarily featured in that role so far.
Auburn has been lacking explosive plays for the majority of the season, and Smith could assist in that area. Maybe Malzahn finds a way to get him more involved the rest of the season.
2. Davonte Lambert, DT, Senior
Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp praised Lambert for his performance in Auburn’s previous two wins over Kentucky and San Jose State. The senior has 13 tackles, 1.5 for loss, a sack and three quarterback hurries through six games.
This could be the start of a resurgence for Lambert, who tore his ACL last November. Despite the injury, Lambert tied for the team lead with 3.5 sacks in 2014.
Auburn needs more good performances from Lambert starting on Saturday against Arkansas.
1. Sean White, QB, Freshman
White is not necessarily on this list because he has underperformed, but everything in football starts with the quarterback. The freshman had his best game against Kentucky last Thursday, throwing for a career-high 255 yards, although he is still searching for his first career touchdown pass.
White was thrown into a difficult situation after he replaced junior Jeremy Johnson three games into the season. White has done a good job of running the offense, but more importantly, he has just one turnover in three starts.
The success that Auburn has for the remainder of the season will be largely contingent upon White’s ability to improve from week to week. He will have to throw a touchdown eventually, right?