Written By: Ryan Lipper|@Lippert42
With the SEC getting started this weekend and everyone being in play besides the Big 10, it’s time to get started on a new segment where I will be highlighting the best matchup in college football for the weekend. This weekend features a very intriguing game between an SEC powerhouse and a program that has been on the rise for the past few seasons. The Auburn Tigers have high expectations this season as they are ranked 8th in the country to start the year. They will be hosting the 23rd ranked Kentucky Wildcats who will be looking to continue to prove that they are more than just a basketball school. With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at this week’s College Football Game of the Week.
Can Bo Nix Build Off an Impressive Freshman Year?
While the Tigers probably finished with a worse record than they had hoped for in 2019 at 9-4, they seem to have found their next star quarterback. Bo Nix burst onto the college football scene and was very impressive as a true freshman. He finished the season with 2,542 passing yards for 16 touchdowns and six interceptions. Nix should be able to continue to have success this season as the Tigers return an impressive trio of receivers in senior Eli Stove and juniors Anthony Schwartz and Seth Williams. Williams was their leading receiver last year with 59 receptions for 830 yards and eight touchdowns.
They will be facing a very deep and talented Kentucky secondary. Kentucky returns key pieces to the 2019 secondary in starting corner Brandin Echols along with Tyrell Ajian at strong safety and Yusuf Corker at free safety. Cedrick Dort Jr. is also a key returner that will rotate in at corner. To go along with those pieces, Davonte Robinson returns from injury to play the nickel, and LSU transfer Kelvin Joseph will start alongside Echols at the other corner spot. True freshman Vito Tisdale has also received a ton of praise from the coaching staff and should find himself playing some meaningful snaps.
Although the passing game is definitely the strength of this Tigers offense, Nix will hope to get some help on the ground. Junior running back Shaun Shivers is listed as the starter but it should be a split backfield. D.J. Williams is the leading returning rusher as he ran for 400 yards and two touchdowns in 2019. Auburn also has a talented true freshman in Tank Bigsby that should see some carries.
Things could be difficult on the ground as they are facing a Kentucky front seven that is loaded with experience. This ground is led by senior outside linebacker Jamar “Boogie” Watson who will be looking to improve his draft stock. He will be joined in the linebacker core by DeAndre Square and Jamin Davis, who is replacing Chris Oats after his tragic medical emergency that is leading to him missing the season. Jordan Wright will be coming off the other edge as an outside linebacker/defensive end. Jared Casey, J.J. Weaver, and K.D. McDaniel will also see time in the linebacker rotation. The defensive line will consist of two seniors in Quinton Bohanna at the nose and Phil Hoskins at defensive tackle, along with junior Josh Paschal at defensive end.
New Look Kentucky Offense Gets Their First Test
Throughout the 2019 season, anyone who watched the Kentucky Wildcats knows their offense revolved around one person in athlete/quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr. With Bowden now moved on to the NFL, they will go back to a truly balanced offense with Terry Wilson returning to quarterback after missing most of the 2019 season with a knee injury. Wilson is a true dual-threat quarterback that is a terrific game manager as he is 12-3 as a starter.
Wilson will be looking for a strong season from a group of receivers looking to prove themselves after not having any type of passing game last season. This group is led by senior Josh Ali who will be joined in the starting lineup by juniors Allen Dailey Jr. and Clevan Thomas Jr., along with sophomore Bryce Oliver. Isaiah Epps and Akeem Hayes should also see some time in the rotation. The Wildcats also have a senior tight end in Justin Rigg who had high expectations last season before Wilson’s injury and will be looking to establish that connection early in 2020.
They will be facing an Auburn defense whose weakness was against the pass last season. The Tigers’ secondary allowed 213.85 yards per game and 21 total touchdowns through the air last season. Their starting secondary will consist of juniors Jamien Sherwood and Smoke Monday at the safeties, along with junior Roger McCreary and redshirt freshman Jaylin Simpson at the corners. Junior Christian Tuitt will be the starter at the nickel/star position.
While their passing game is more of an unknown, the Wildcats look to have a very dangerous rushing attack this season. Their leading returning rusher is junior Asim “A.J.” Rose, who ran for 826 yards and six touchdowns last season. Rose will continue to be their lead back but make no mistake about it, the Wildcats have three very talented backs that will share carries. Sophomores Christopher Rodriguez Jr. and Kavosiey Smoke will both be key pieces of this offense. Each of them had six rushing touchdowns last season as Smoke rushed for 616 yards and Rodriguez finished with 533.
This rushing attack will be facing an Auburn front seven that lost two key pieces to the NFL in defensive linemen Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson. However, they still have a nice amount of talent coming back. Senior defensive end Big Kat Bryant will be this year’s star on the defensive end while middle linebacker K.J. Britt looks to be a solid NFL prospect himself. Bryant will be joined on the defensive line by redshirt freshman Colby Wooden and senior Tyrone Truesdell at the defensive tackle spots. In the linebacking core, Britt will be accompanied by sophomores Derrick Hall and Owen Pappoe. Senior T.D. Moultry and junior Zakoby McClain will also see time in the linebacker rotation.
As a Kentucky fan, I would be a little more nervous about Saturday’s game if they were playing at a packed Jordan-Hare Stadium. However, that isn’t the case due to the coronavirus pandemic and I think that makes a huge difference. This game will be very close down to the very end as I see Bo Nix making some plays in the passing game for Auburn and the run game for the Wildcats having success on the other end. Down the stretch, I see Terry Wilson getting back to doing what he does best, making plays when they matter the most. Along with that, I think the veterans on Kentucky’s defense step up. I have the Wildcats holding on for the upset on the road in a 24-21 victory.