Aubserver Mailbag 135: Where will the Tigers improve the most from last year?
This week: Team Talent Composite, predicting play calls, the position to watch in Week 1, advanced stats and Buffalo Wild Wings sauces
(Austin Perryman/Auburn Athletics)
You know how people will talk about how a cool breeze comes just in time for football season?
Well, Auburn isn’t quite experiencing that ahead of the football program’s 2023 opener — but at least the forecasted high isn’t firmly inside the 90s like it has been for the last few months.
It’s finally game weekend again on the Plains. Even though Auburn’s projected win total this season is still at 6.5 and the roster doesn’t look quite ready to compete for a championship, there’s still an excitement level to this opener that hasn’t been seen in quite some time.
That has a lot to do with how Cadillac Williams rallied the troops last November, when Jordan-Hare Stadium was absolutely electric for a team with a losing record. Hugh Freeze and his new staff were able to ride that momentum wave into a quickfire recruiting turnaround, a huge transfer portal haul and a blitz into the 2024 class that has already netted two 5-stars and a dozen more 4-stars. This program is hitting a lot of the right buttons toward the start of a much-needed build.
Auburn is going to have its issues this season. It’s a brand-new team on both sides of the ball, and getting all of that working together will most likely take some time. There are quite a number of expected key players who are unproven at the SEC level. The second quarter of the 2023 schedule is downright brutal.
But it feels like Auburn is heading in the right direction, and just that forward momentum is enough to get a passionate fan base dreaming big. It should make for a fantastic atmosphere Saturday afternoon, even if a peskier-than-expected UMass team hangs around for a while in the late-summer heat.
This week’s mailbag takes one more big-picture look at the 2023 season, from expected improvements to overall roster strength and a fun way to diagnose the schedule. We’ve also got plenty of questions on a new-look offense, a refresher on Nerd Stats and a ranking of the four SEC road trips this season.
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This is shaping up to be an exciting and unpredictable Auburn football season, and we’ll be there every step of the way with Observations, Film Rooms, podcasts and a whole lot more. Our $4/month or $40/year sale ends today, so this is your best chance to hop on board. Let’s go.
Coming out of the first three games, what are the biggest improvements from last year that you expect to see reflected in the stats?
2021 Auburn had more receiving yards from TEs than (maybe) every season of Gus combined. Is there something extremely simple like this that Auburn fans can look for in the 2023 season?
I’ll try to smash these two questions here to kick off (football term) this mailbag, because I think I can come up with similar answers for both.
It’s funny: Even with all the recent concerns about Auburn’s run defense — which I wrote about last week — I think the Tigers should be able to come out of the first three games with a much better mark in average yards per carry allowed.
Last season, Auburn allowed 4.64 yards per carry. Last season, UMass was No. 107 nationally in yards per carry, and Cal was No. 99. Samford was No. 81 in rushing offense among FCS teams. While I think UMass and Cal could be better than expected this season, I’m not expecting them to run all over Auburn early.
I also think actually rotating the front six on defense will go a long way in helping those numbers. To Joshdub’s question, we’ll see if Auburn can show improvement in run defense all season long — I’ve got my doubts — but the short-term outlook is good for a stronger start in that department.
Secondly, I think you’re going to naturally see Auburn take a step forward in passing from where it was last season. The completion percentage and yards per attempt marks in an offense led by a banged-up Robby Ashford weren’t good, and Thorne should be able to show sizable improvement in those areas.
Here’s something simple to monitor: The midpoint of Payton Thorne’s two seasons at Michigan State was around 3,000 passing yards. Philip Montgomery has had a 3,000-yard passer in four of his last eight seasons. Freeze had that twice in four years at Liberty and very nearly a third time with the run-heavy Malik Willis. (He also was six yards and a Chad Kelly injury from hitting it every year at Ole Miss.)
Auburn hasn’t had a 3,000-yard passer since Jarrett Stidham in 2017. That could change this season if Thorne stays healthy.
I’ll give you one more: Last season, Auburn ranked No. 112 in defensive takeaways with 13 in 12 games. The secondary was strong, but it wasn’t as disruptive as it could have been.
Under Ron Roberts, Baylor had 19 in 2022, 27 in 2021 and 17 in just nine games in 2020. His defenses are all about being aggressive and creating havoc, and the Tigers could use that kind of upgrade in 2023.
I saw Auburn's ranked 18th overall in Team Talent Composite, but all the offseason talk made it sound like Auburn would be starting a roster half made up of those kids who sell programs outside the stadium on gameday. What's going on here?
This is a great question, because the answer has quite a few layers to it.