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Friday, October 8, 2010

Who has the edge: Auburn or Kentucky?

The blog is hitting the road today, with the plan to make Lexington by nightfall. But not without putting up everyone's favorite Friday blog post: who has the edge?

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No. 8 Auburn at Kentucky
  • Where: Commonwealth Stadium
  • When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
  • TV: ESPN2
  • Records: Kentucky 3-2 0-2 SEC; Auburn 5-0, 2-0 SEC
Auburn passing game vs. Kentucky secondary
Auburn leads the nation in this little stat called passing efficiency (188.84). I'm sure that number doesn't mean much, because the formula is so convoluted, but it basically says the Tigers have had long completions and a high touchdown percentage rate. Cam Newton showed he can be a pocket passer last week (although a lot of QBs could have against ULM), and he's on pace to throw for 2,000 yards, so the one-time concern about his game no longer seems to be the case. You've read correctly that the Wildcats have the SEC's best statistical passing defense (141.8 ypg) but they've allowed five touchdown passes the last two weeks to Florida and Ole Miss. I don't know that I'm buying it. It's not as though Kentucky has a talented guy like Trevard Lindley back there anymore. Edge: Auburn.
Auburn running backs vs. Kentucky linebackers
Mario Fannin is back in the fold after overcoming a shoulder injury. If he can be a pass-catching threat to team up with straight-line runner Mike Dyer and the speedy Onterio McCalebb, this could be as versatile a running back group as there is the SEC. The Wildcats lost All-SEC linebackers Sam Maxwell and Micah Johnson to graduation after last season. Junior Danny Trevathan leads the team with 42 tackles (tied for third in the SEC) and 8 TFLs, but Kentucky will need more than that. It has the second-worst rushing defense in the league (166.2 ypg). Edge: Auburn.
Auburn offensive line vs. Kentucky defensive line
Remember that last stat? Well, Auburn is running for a league-best 269.0 yards per game, mostly because of the group up front. The Tigers' line should be plenty motivated after last year's penalty-filled game against the Wildcats. Defensive end DeQuin Evans led Kentucky in sacks (6) and TFLs (12.5) last year, but he's been nearly invisible this year, with only five tackles to his credit all season. Most of the Wildcats' pressure has come from tackles Luke McDermott and Mark Crawford (8.5 TFLs, 5 sacks combined), so center Ryan Pugh and guards Mike Berry and Byron Isom will be key. Edge: Auburn.
Kentucky passing game vs. Auburn secondary
Mike Hartline didn't play in last year's Auburn game because of a knee injury, and as it turns out, the Wildcats didn't need him. But the 6-foot-6, 210-pound senior is back and throwing the ball well. He's second in the SEC in passing yards (1,224) and third in total offense (251.6 ypg). He's thrown eight touchdowns, five of them going to 6-foot-5 wideout Chris Matthews. And that's not even to mention the kind of damage Randall Cobb can do on underneath routes, a season long problem for Auburn's cornerbacks. The Tigers played pretty basic schemes against ULM and gave up some early yardage, but they've been prone to giving up yards to everyone this season (323 to Arkansas State, 220 to Clemson, 305 to South Carolina). It seems like this group should be better, especially with its experience at safety and T'Sharvan Bell emerging as another option at cornerback, but that hasn't been the case. Edge: Kentucky
Kentucky running backs vs. Auburn linebackers
Auburn defenders need no re-introduction to Derrick Locke, who ran for 126 yards against them last year. Locke, a 5-foot-9, 190-pound senior, is second in the SEC with 543 rushing yards. Kentucky has no qualms about feeding him the ball. And don't forget the WildCobb formation with. That gave Auburn fits last year too. He leads the league in both rushing attempts and touchdowns. Auburn's linebackers are probably their most talented position group, with All-SEC pick Josh Bynes manning the middle and Craig Stevens on the outside. Daren Bates' tackling leaves something to be desired, though, something that can't happen against a back as talented as Locke. That tips the scales in the Wildcats' direction. Edge: Kentucky.
Kentucky offensive line vs. Auburn defensive line
The Wildcats return only one offensive lineman from last season, guard Scott Hines, but the group has done OK for itself. They've allowed only two sacks through five games, an especially impressive stat considering nobody in the conference has attempted more passes than Kentucky this season. But Auburn's defensive front is playing as well as as group on the team. Tackle Nick Fairley leads the SEC in sacks (5) and tackles for a loss (11.5). Zach Clayton and Mike Blanc have formed a solid run/pass stopping combo at the other tackle spot. If Tracy Rocker can get more disruptive play out of his ends Antoine Carter and Nosa Eguae, this can be an outstanding unit. Edge: Auburn.
Auburn return units vs. Kentucky coverage teams
Auburn still hasn't broken a big run yet, although Demond Washington (and I write this every week) seems like he's poised to break a big one soon. Kentucky might be the ideal opponent. The Wildcats are 110th nationally in kick return defense, allowing 25.9 yards per return (including a touchdown to Western Kentucky). They're 118th nationally (third to last) in punt return defense, allowing an incredible 23.2 yards on six returns. Punter Ryan Tydlacka can boot the ball (46.4 avg), so Quindarius Carr should have some room to work with. He'll need to do more than he has in recent weeks for Auburn to capitalize. Edge: Auburn.
Kentucky return units vs. Auburn coverage teams
Kentucky's two primary kickoff return guys are Cobb and Locke. 'Nuff said. Both are capable of breaking a big one on any return. Cobb handles punt returns too and has a 12.2-yard average this year, having taken one to the house against Western Kentucky. Auburn's coverage units have been great this year thanks to contributions from freshmen like Craig Sanders and Demetruce McNeal. It's the kicking that's been so-so. Ryan Shoemaker has averaged 38.9 yards per punt and Auburn's net punting (34.1 yards) is second to last in the SEC. Edge: Kentucky.
Kickers
Wes Byrum seemed to find his form against ULM, making all of his extra points and a 19-yard field goal (it's not much, but after the South Carolina debacle, it's a step in the right direction). He's now 5-for-8 this year. Kentucky has used two kickers this year: Tydlacka and Craig McIntosh. They're 5-for-9 combined with a couple of short misses themselves. Tiebreaker for this category: overall talent, which Byrum probably wins out. Edge: Auburn.
Coaches
Gene Chizik has his team 5-0 for the second straight year, hoping to avoid the midseason swoon that took the shine off the team's fast start last year at this time. He and his staff have the experience to deal with success this time around, so things might be different. Joker Phillips is a rookie head coach, but in name only. He's been a part of the Kentucky program forever and was basically running the offense prior to Rich Brooks' retirement. He knows the players and the Wildcats' schemes as well as anybody. He's yet to win an SEC game yet, though. Edge: Auburn.
Prediction
Points. Lots of them. I know I've said that before (**cough** Mississippi State **cough**), but this time I mean it. I don't think Kentucky has a defense that can slow Auburn down, not after allowing 90 points to Florida and Ole Miss in its first two SEC games. Now that Newton will have the full playbook at his disposal, he should put up huge numbers again. But Kentucky can score with Auburn. Hartline, Cobb, Locke and Matthews are no joke. They can put up points. It'll be a matter of Auburn getting key stops and forcing turnovers. I think the scoreboard operator will be busy, but more so when Auburn has the ball. Prediction: Auburn 42, Kentucky 31.

11 comments:

AUcat21 said...

Prediction....

War Eagle AC-47 said...

Prediction... the suspense is killing me

Andy Bitter said...

Ha! Unintended omission. Auburn 42, Kentucky 31.

Aeronaut said...

Andy, should I book my flight for Atlanta or not? It's getting pricier from Spain.

Thanks for the excellent work. Love reading your blog.

SteveFC said...

Good stuff Andy. I am glad we are playing Kentucky before Arkansas. It should be a good test for our secondary.

Anonymous said...

Im thinking this game will go down to the wire due to a few bad turnovers and the KY passing game keeping them alive.

CHB said...

This game will not be close. It might be in the 1st half of the 1st half.

Tar Heel Tiger said...

excellent analysis, AB.

I think AU will pull this one out, 3-2.

Clint Richardson said...

Just read that Trovon Reed will indeed redshirt this year. What have you heard AB?

Trovon Reed said...

Wait a minute, I'm redshirting?!?! Wtf....

Andy Bitter said...

It wouldn't surprise me if Reed redshirts, but it's not automatic. He's played a few snaps, so he has to apply for his redshirt year with the NCAA.