The 2020 football season is rapidly approaching. It promises to be unlike any other before. With under four weeks until Auburn’s first game, the Tigers are fully invested into fall camp. Defensive end Big Kat Bryant recently said he is “taking it day-by-day.” That may be a good strategy for the players, but the coaching staff must prepare the team for this unique season with worthy endgame results in mind. Tigers! Assemble! With questions surrounding the offensive and defensive line, linebacker depth, running backs, etc., here are three goals that Gus Malzahn and his coaching staff can begin to focus on for the upcoming season.
1. Balance on offense:
First, at quarterback, Bo Nix. He needs to make good decisions – with his arm and his legs – and the second year quarterback will be poised for a breakout season. At running back, a crowded group has the versatility and potential to dominate opposing defenses. Next, the wide receivers that are delectably domineering; Seth Williams, Anthony Schwartz and Eli Stove leading the way. Additionally, Anders Carlson’s evolution into the best kicker – with the most swag – in the SEC. Lastly, I’ve returned FROMM the future to tell you that Chad Morris will use his tight ends a great DEAL (Tyler Fromm and Luke Deal are two redshirt freshmen tight ends). That’s what I mean by balanced. But it’s easier said than done. If the Tigers can get the most out of an unproven offensive line, and utilize an overstocked arsenal of weapons at wide receiver and running back, they could easily be the SEC’s most complete offense in 2020.
2. Finish with a top-15 defense:
In 2019, Auburn finished No. 28 in total defense and No. 17 in scoring defense. After losing six starters on defense, including SEC Defensive Player of the Year Derrick Brown, pundits would expect the Tigers to regress in 2020. However, I am no pundit, and like I said before, I have been to the future. But one doesn’t have to risk altering the space-time continuum to know that Kevin Steele is the best defensive coordinator in college football. The Tigers are retooled with junior college transfers and reloaded with talented underclassmen. The linebacker group is one of the best in the country, even with Chandler Wooten sitting out the season and before half the conferences decided not to play this fall. The defensive line could be an issue, but the guys behind them should be more than capable of performing their fiduciary duties to assist front line. Lastly, the secondary. On paper, it looks like a heavily weakened unit, with four starters from last year’s team gone. However, most of these guys slated to start in 2020 are like a Christopher Nolan film – once you see the trailer, you know it’s going to be good. Christian Tutt is the lone returning starter at nickel corner but this may be the deepest unit on the team. Roger McCreary, Jordyn Peters and Smoke Monday all showed the ability to make big plays in limited action in 2019 and junior college transfer Marco Domio is turning heads at camp.
Last season, Auburn’s defense was forced to save games instead of end them. The offensive struggles forced the defensive numbers to take a hit. Therefore this year, even with such a magnitude of lost production, when the offense improves, the defense will too.
3. Dominate weaker SEC opponents:
Auburn has a history of playing down to their opponents. The narrow win in 2017 against Mercer, and the staggering loss in 2018 versus Tennessee stick out to me. Now, with a shortened 10-game SEC-only schedule, it is more imperative than ever to avoid dropping games. Arkansas, South Carolina, Ole Miss and Tennessee are must wins. But first, the Tigers take on Kentucky in week one. Whether or not former Auburn quarterback Joey Gatewood will suit up for the Wildcats remains unsure. One thing that is for sure, the Tigers could use a convincing win to boost the team’s confidence heading into a potentially season defining week two matchup against Georgia. If they struggle, or even lose against the Wildcats, the Tigers could begin the season 0-2 and a domino effect of poor performances could follow.
“Your TALENT determines what you can do. Your MOTIVATION determines how much you are willing to do. Your ATTITUDE determines how well you do it,” said College Football Hall of Fame head coach Lou Holtz. The Tigers have one of the most talented rosters in recent memory. They should be plenty motivated after a rather disappointing 2019. If the Tigers maintain the correct attitude throughout the season, then 2020, regardless of circumstances, could be one of Gus Malzahn and Auburn’s best years yet.