Any first game of the year always comes with so many unknowns, but 2020 has just amplified those and thrown wrenches in normal practice routines and regiments. Guys who normally would have had a Spring to gel and get comfortable playing with one another are trying to make up for that missed time at warp speed in Fall camp. Only time will tell if they were able to achieve that goal and time is almost up.
Playing Kentucky in game one will be no easy chore. This will be a physical game from start to finish and I am interested to see Auburn’s approach. Kentucky led the SEC in rushing last year, yes, but without a passing attack that was the only option, the Wildcats had to move the ball, even living out of the “Wildcat” formation at times. Lynn Bowden is a 1,500-yard rusher that garnered a majority of the carries and was the best player on the Wildcat offense, now he is playing on Sunday as a rookie. Kentucky also has an experienced and talented offensive line returning, but they lost their best offensive linemen Logan Stenberg. They leaned on Stenberg in a majority of critical short-yardage situations in that they would run directly behind him, who will fill that void?
Their quarterback Terry Wilson is coming off an ACL injury and the jury is still out on whether he will be as effective scrambling or being part of the run game. Wilson is not a guy that is going to beat you from the pocket. I don’t foresee Kentucky throwing the ball a ton more than they have because that is not head coach Mark Stoops mentality, and doesn’t fit the ability they have at the quarterback position. Here are some keys to the game Saturday for both teams:
- Will Auburn be aggressive early offensively? I believe you have to approach Kentucky like you are playing a triple-option team in they try to limit your possessions and dominate the time of possession by running the ball consistently. In that same vein, since they take that approach offensively they are not built to come back due to their inept passing game. If Auburn hits on some home runs early (if they take them) Kentucky will be put on DEFCON 4.
- Will Auburn load the box and play man? One would think if a team could only run the ball then you stack the box and play man and it is game over, but if Kentucky comes out in 11 personnel (1 RB and 1 TE) and Auburn is playing man to the two receiver side, if the running back breaks a run to that side there is one less guy in the run fit because both the safety and corner or nickel and corner will have their back turned.
- SPECIAL TEAMS MATTER!!! Auburn wasn’t very good in coverage last year and it showed up in some big-time moments, but especially against a team that isn’t explosive in the passing game, making them drive 70-80 yards consistently is paramount. If Auburn can win the field position game for most of the game, it will show itself on the scoreboard.
MY PREDICTION: AUBURN 31 KENTUCKY 20