Auburn football vs. Kentucky preview & prediction

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Congratulations! We’ve all made it the start of the SEC season. It feels like forever ago since Auburn football finished the 2019 season with a narrow loss to Minnesota in the Outback Bowl. So much has changed following New Year’s Day 2020 when we were all blissfully unaware of what was to come. Nevertheless, SEC football is back, and the Auburn Tigers are loaded at every position. Some questions are out there, namely along the offensive line.

The eighth-ranked Tigers draw the 23rd-ranked Kentucky Wildcats at home for their opener. Auburn is a touchdown favorite as of Friday. This is certainly a game that Auburn could lose. The consensus seems to be that it will be a close game into the fourth quarter with the potential for Auburn to pull away late. Let’s take a look at the matchups that favor head coach Gus Malzahn’s squad and where it may have trouble.


Auburn quarterback Bo Nix aims to build off an up-and-down freshman season. He threw for 2,542 yards and 16 touchdowns compared to six interceptions. Nix added 313 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. For Kentucky, it will trot out senior Terry Wilson under center. Wilson threw for 360 yards on 52 pass attempts in 2019. He threw for just two touchdowns but completed 63% of his attempts for 6.9 yards per attempt. He led the Wildcats in both categories. Nix gets the nod here because of his experience, and offensive coordinator Chad Morris is expected to revamp the Tiger’s aerial attack.

Big Edge: Auburn

Auburn O-line vs. Kentucky D-line

This is the biggest worry if you’re pulling for the home team. Kentucky returns juniors Josh Paschal at defensive end and Jordan Wright at outside linebacker/defensive end. Paschal had 9.5 tackles behind the line in 2019. Wright had six such tackles including three sacks. Auburn will be breaking in new starters at every position along the line except center Nick Brahms. Most people would say they have confidence in starting right tackle Brodarious Hamm, but other than those two players Auburn’s O-line is unproven. That does NOT automatically mean it will struggle, but for the time being Kentucky has an edge here.

Edge: Kentucky

Kentucky O-line vs. Auburn D-line

Kentucky returns the entire right side of its offensive line that includes senior center Drake Jackson. Those three guys were a big part in paving the way for the leading rushing team in the SEC last season. They return partial starter at left tackle in senior Landon Young. Auburn has plenty of talent along the defensive line. Auburn fans get worried when they think about all the production lost from last season in Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson. The Tigers return ultra-strong defensive tackle Tyrone Truesdell. Big Kat Bryant figures to play an important role. It is foolish to think that D-line coach Rodney Garner would not have his troops ready to play. This is the most interesting matchup for this game. Kentucky’s O-line will be a great test for some new contributors on the Auburn defensive front.

Edge: Kentucky

Auburn backfield vs. Kentucky linebackers

Both units return productive players. Auburn’s backfield returns D.J. Williams and Shaun Shivers. Shivers is listed as the starter. He ran for 286 yards and three scores last season. The Junior averaged an efficient 5.2 yards per carry. Williams ran for 400 yards and two touchdowns for an average of 4.8 yards per carry. Redshirt freshman Mark Anthony-Richards and true freshman Tank Bigsby will likely see some snaps on Saturday as well. Kentucky returns a total of 137 tackles among their starting linebackers. DeAndre Square had 69 stops including four for loss in 2019. Jamar Watson had 36 tackles, and Jamin Davis had 32 stops. Watson had a whopping 11.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. How Morris uses his backs in the passing game and how the Cats’ linebackers match up in the open field will be interesting. Auburn’s depth cancels out Kentucky’s experience.

Edge: None

Kentucky backfield vs. Auburn linebackers

The Wildcats have a lot of rushing yards back at the running back position. Asim Rose will get the start. Rose scampered for 826 yards and six scores last year. He will be backed up by Kavosiey Smoke and Christopher Rodriguez Jr. Smoke ran for 616 yards and found paydirt six times. Rodriguez went for 533 yards and six touchdowns. Auburn returns a lot of production behind its inexperienced D-line. The three returning leading tacklers are all in their linebacker unit. K.J. Britt, Zakoby McClain and Owen Pappoe combined for 172 tackles in 2019. This is best vs. best, with a slight edge given to Auburn’s captain K.J. Britt and Co.

Slight Edge: Auburn

Auburn pass catchers vs. Kentucky secondary

Auburn returns its three leading pass catchers in Seth Williams, Anthony Schwartz and Eli Stove. Williams caught 59 balls for 830 yards and eight scores in 2019. Anthony Schwartz nabbed 41 balls for 440 yards and one touchdown. Eli Stove added 37 catches for 321 yards and three touchdowns. The Tigers will give some younger players a shot here too. Morris will likely use the tight ends more in his scheme. Kentucky’s secondary returns its leading tackler from last year in safety Yusuf Corker. Additionally, Brandin Echols has some experience in the back end. Other than those two, the Wildcats are thin. The rapport between Nix and his receivers gives Auburn a huge advantage.

Big Edge: Auburn

Kentucky pass catchers vs. Auburn secondary

The Wildcats do not return many receptions in 2020. Their top returning receiver is Josh Ali with 23 grabs and 233 yards from last year. Their other three starters caught just 24 passes last year. Auburn’s secondary has some impact players to work with. Roger McCreary, Jamien Sherwood, Christian Tutt and Smoke Monday have extensive experience on the back end for the Tigers. At the cornerback spot, redshirt freshman Jaylin Simpson gets the nod. He might find himself getting picked from time to time, but Simpson is not likely to face a huge challenge this week. Kentucky might try and throw the ball more with Wilson under center and it conceivable that leads to an uptick in production for their wideouts. For now, head coach Bob Stoops will likely lean on his defense and running game.

Big Edge: Auburn

The Wildcats and Tigers kickoff at noon ET on SEC Network. The Tigers have an advantage in four matchups tomorrow, while Kentucky has more proven players on both lines of scrimmage. The biggest storyline will be how Auburn does on the offensive and defensive lines. This game will be close considering the idea that SEC games are won at the line of scrimmage. Auburn’s ability to take some pressure off the offensive line with quick passes and finding advantages in the run game (i.e. getting the ball outside the tackles quickly) will determine their success on offense.

Auburn 35, Kentucky 24

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