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Auburn's offensive line will be a focal point even against a lesser opponent such as Mercer.

SEC Country team prediction: Auburn welcomes Mercer on homecoming weekend

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn gets a chance to catch its breath and reboot against Mercer this weekend on the Plains.

Following a poor offensive showing in a loss at Clemson, the Tigers offense should execute with ease against Mercer, which is a member of the Southern Conference. This week and in the weeks to follow, how Auburn wins is more crucial than any score or stat Auburn records.

Offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey will head up to the coaches box while offensive line coach Herb Hand joins coach Gus Malzahn on the sideline. Auburn needs a big game from quarterback Jarrett Stidham and a flashy showing from its receivers. It’s also an opportunity for Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson, both of whom have been dealing with injuries, to recuperate on the sidelines.

The defense needs to continue to build on its outstanding initial outings and keep Mercer from posting any points.

As an added bonus, the SEC Country staff has selected a VIP (very important playmaker) who needs to have a particularly big game against Mercer.

As always, our SEC Country staff has spent the week speaking with Malzahn and coaches on the Auburn campus. Now it’s time to make a game prediction.

Justin Ferguson: Auburn 55, Mercer 6 

Throughout the Gus Malzahn era, even when his offenses were in slumps, they found a way to put up plenty of points on low-level Group of 5 and FCS teams. (Just look back at the Arkansas State, ULM and Alabama A&M games from last season.) I think Auburn won’t be afraid to make an offensive statement in this game, the first and easiest of what should be four straight wins for the Tigers. Defensively, this should be another dominant performance. Put those together, and the Tigers roll easily.

VIP: Nate Craig-Myers

There’s been so much talk from fans, writers and coaches alike about how the Tigers need to get the ball in NCM’s hands. I could see Auburn making a point of doing that against Mercer, just to build confidence in that connection with Stidham. This could be an A-Day-like performance from the sophomore.

Lauren Shute: Auburn 56, Mercer 0

Score, score, score. That’s what Auburn needs to do against Mercer. Gus Malzahn typically hasn’t been one to run up the score, but if there was ever a weekend to do it, now is the time. While posting a statement score is only going to help matters moving into SEC play, it’s more important that Auburn tightens up things. Mistakes need to be largely nonexistent and the offense needs to be fast and fluent. Jarrett Stidham and Auburn’s wide receivers need to get their confidence back and give the defense a break before traveling to Missouri.

VIP: Devan Barrett

Nate Craig-Myers needs a big game and the Tigers passing attack likely needs the most work, but Auburn also needs a little more confidence in its run game. Kam Martin didn’t record any carries at Clemson, but he’s already had a 100-yard game. That’s why I think 6-foot, 185-pound running back Devan Barrett needs to have a big weekend. Yes, Mercer is an FCS opponent, but the visiting Bears will provide a chance for the freshman to build his confidence so he’ll be ready to go if needed in conference play.

Benjamin Wolk: Auburn 52, Mercer 3 

Auburn’s defense is going to come into this one angry it allowed a touchdown to end the first half and open the second half against Clemson. The offense will be both embarrassed and frustrated with how it played on a national stage. Unfortunately for Mercer, it’s going to have to face the wrath of the unhappy Tigers, which means an unfavorable outcome for the Bears.

VIP: Kam Martin

With Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway hobbled, I expect Kam Martin will receive a heavy dose of carries against Mercer. Martin has the ability to run away from SEC defenses, so you can only imagine what he’ll be able to do against a lesser opponent such as Mercer. Martin had an impressive Week 1 performance, but I anticipate his Week 3 showing will be even better.

Zac Blackerby: Auburn 51, Mercer 3

The Auburn offense needs to focus on using this chunk of the schedule to fine-tune its attack. The Tigers should not let off the gas while focusing on improving their passing attack by gaining reps and increasing the confidence of quarterback Jarrett Stidham.

VIP: Nate Craig-Myers 

He’s made the most of what he could with the targets and opportunities that have been presented to him. He needs to call for the ball and be more available than ever for Stidham and the offensive coaches.