Auburn Tigers (3-2, 0-2 SEC) vs. Kentucky Wildcats (4-1, 2-1 SEC)
This is a critical SEC matchup between two teams hoping for a good result after a bye week.
Auburn has yet to win a conference game, while Kentucky is trying to solidify its position in the SEC East.
Auburn’s last game was a 35-21 win over San Jose State, while Kentucky needed overtime to defeat FCS opponent Eastern Kentucky 27-20.
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 15, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Weather: 65 degrees and clear
Line: Auburn -2 (VegasInsider.com)
By the numbers
Auburn has struggled to get explosive plays through its first five games. The Tigers have just 13 offensive plays of 20 yards or more this season. That ranks them dead last in the SEC.
For comparison, Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles has 22 completions of 20 yards or more by himself.
Auburn should come off the bye week with some new wrinkles in their offense that it did not display in the first five games of the season. The Tigers must rediscover their explosiveness to win on Thursday night in what could be a high-scoring affair.
Kentucky has the second fewest number of offensive red zone opportunities in the SEC, but when the Wildcats reach the red zone they capitalize.
Kentucky is 16-for-16 on red zone opportunities with 12 touchdowns and four field goals. Auburn has allowed opponents to score on 16-of-20 (80 percent) of red zone trips. Auburn’s offense has scored on 13-of-17 red zone appearances.
Whichever team can convert on its red zone opportunities will likely come away victorious.
Auburn put a focus on improving its pass rush during the bye week.
The Tigers have an SEC-worst seven sacks through five games, while Kentucky has allowed an SEC-high 16 sacks.
If Auburn can’t find a way to disrupt Towles, you have to like Kentucky’s chances to win on Thursday.
Storylines to watch
Who will be Auburn’s starting quarterback?
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn did not name a starter for Saturday’s game against Kentucky during the week. It will be a game-time decision, although it’s unlikely that Malzahn does not have a good idea of who the starter will be as of now.
Redshirt freshman Sean White has started the previous two games for the Tigers after he replaced junior Jeremy Johnson.
Malzahn said earlier this week that White has not done anything to lose the job, but that he was still competing against Johnson in practice.
Johnson has entered the game briefly in the past two games for certain offensive packages and there is also the possibility that both quarterbacks will play on Thursday night.
Return of the Boom
Kentucky running back Stanley “Boom” Williams will return on Thursday night after missing the Wildcats’ previous game against Eastern Kentucky for what the team called “personal reasons.”
Williams is averaging 7.3 yards per carry through four games and he will face an Auburn defense that has been poor against the run.
Can Auburn stop the run?
The Tigers’ run defense is last in the SEC (108th in the FBS), giving up 209.6 rushing yards a game.
That doesn’t bode well for a team facing a Kentucky team that is getting back a good running back in Williams.
The Tigers will get back key defensive players who recuperated from minor injuries during the bye week, such as linebacker Tre’ Williams and defensive back Tim Irvin. Junior defensive back T.J. Davis could also play after missing the first five games as he recovered from an ACL injury.
We will see if Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp found a way to correct the team’s weakness against the run during the bye week.
Auburn is fighting for any remaining hopes it has to maintain its relevance in the SEC for the remainder of the season, while Kentucky is trying to create separation between itself and the teams trailing the Wildcats in the SEC East.
Both teams should be able to put up points; this matchup features a lot of offensive talent for both squads. However, the home-field advantage should benefit Kentucky.
Expect Auburn to look better in this game than it has in the first part of the season, but that won’t be enough on the road in a sold out Commonwealth Stadium.
Auburn 27, Kentucky 31