AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — The Auburn Tigers have their Southeastern Conference opener against another potential Western Division contender looming on the horizon.
But that’s next week. First things first.
The eighth-ranked Tigers, who have climbed up the rankings with a 2-0 start, are five-touchdown favorites going into Saturday night’s game against Kent State.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn believes his players have the maturity to avoid looking ahead to that road game against No. 16 Texas A&M.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing this week,” Malzahn said. “They know we need to improve. Really, that’s our message. If we’re a mature team like I think we are, we’ll go out and play football and not look ahead.
“I’ve not heard one of our players say anything about our next opponent. I haven’t heard one of our coaches say anything.”
Auburn has beaten No. 15 Oregon on a late touchdown pass from freshman Bo Nix to Seth Williams and topped Tulane 24-6.
Kent State is coming off an overtime win over Kennesaw State. Golden Flashes coach Sean Lewis said the goal doesn’t change from this game to any other.
“To fight and to go down there and win,” said the 33-year-old Lewis, the youngest head coach in FBS. “We do all this training all year round to go down and win. That’s the goal and always will be the goal and we’re going to go down there and compete.
Here are some other things to know about the Kent State-Auburn game:
FACING BARRETT — MAYBE
Kent State quarterback Woody Barrett is a former Auburn signee who headed to junior college after one season. He started all of last season for the Golden Flashes but was benched in favor of Dustin Crum last week. Auburn is preparing for either quarterback, but Malzahn has fond memories of Barrett. He called him “one of my favorites.”
“Just a fine young man, a joy to coach and recruit,” Malzahn said. “We root for him all but this one. He’s a quality person and quality player.”
Ball security is a big priority in Auburn’s running game this week in particular. Tailback JaTarvious Whitlow fumbled three times against Tulane, losing two of them.
Kent State’s Lewis said Auburn’s defensive line is as good as he has faced, saying it compares favorably to the 2017 group at North Carolina State and the Clemson front lines he coached against as a Syracuse assistant. The four starters are Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson, Big Kat Bryant and Tyrone Truesdell.
“I keep waking up in the middle of the night and my wife has got to calm me down because I’m yelling out ‘Derrick Brown’ and I’m yelling out ‘Big Kat’,” Lewis said.
Seth Williams, Auburn’s top receiver, is expected to miss the game with a left shoulder injury sustained against Tulane. Fellow deep threat Anthony Schwartz has been recovering from a preseason hand injury and doesn’t yet have a catch. It has created a shortage of playmakers at a position that has the potential to be one of the Tigers’ strengths.
Both teams have strong kicking games with Kent State’s All-Mid-American Conference placekicker Matthew Trickett and Auburn’s Anders Carlson. But Auburn has struggled in punt coverage, with opponents averaging 35.8 yards on five returns.