The Auburn Tigers were ranked in the preseason as the No. 6 team in the country with a Heisman hopeful at quarterback.
After a strong showing against the Louisville Cardinals, Auburn followed that up by being pushed to overtime by Jacksonville State. They then lost their next two games in a row, both to SEC West teams, and the Tigers didn't really look competitive in either contest.
Their last game against San Jose State was a 35-21 win with quarterback Sean White starting over Jeremy Johnson. But there still is a QB controversy brewing along with the recent dismissal of Duke Williams, their best wide receiver.
So far coach Gus Malzahn has refused to name a starter and there has even been talk of starting the third string quarterback. So Kentucky will have to prepare for multiple guys.
All of this leads Auburn towards a game against the Kentucky Wildcats that isn't quite a must-win for them, but it is much more important than they thought it would be when the schedule came out months ago.
For the Wildcats, this has been a game that fans, coaches, and players alike have had circled on their calendar. A showcase Thursday Night game on ESPN is quite a big event in college football, and there is no doubt Mark Stoops will have something special planned.
Let's get to know the Tigers:
School: Auburn University
Location: Auburn, Alabama
Mascot: Either an Eagle or a Tiger. We are all confused as to which is really the mascot. War Eagle/Roar Tiger.
Head Coach: Gus Malzahn (23-9)
2015 Record: (3-2,0-2)
Current Rankings: #45 according to Real Time RPI (Kentucky is #25)
Vegas Says: Kentucky +2
Tiger Offense: Junior quarterback Jeremy Johnson was supposed to be a Heisman candidate. His style is that of a drop back quarterback with a big gun for an arm, which is quite a departure from the Nick Marshall spread option run we saw from Auburn in the previous two seasons.
So far Johnson has struggled to get anything going. He's thrown for 473 yards, five touchdowns, six interceptions, and has been sacked five times. He was relieved of his duties against Mississippi State for freshman QB Sean White. He started against both the Bulldogs and San Jose State, with combined stats of 26/38, for 296 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception. Clearly White is looked to manage the game, not win it.
When the Tigers have had an offense, it was due to their running game. Peyton Barber is the top runner for the Tigers. He has 558 yards and six touchdowns on the season. The bulk of those touchdowns came against San Jose State as he ran into the end-zone five times that day.
As far as receiving goes, Duke Williams accounted for 147 yards and one touchdown and was considered the team's best option at wide receiver. He's been dismissed from the team for fighting along with a number of incidences. The primary receiving duties will now fall to Melvin Ray (84 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Ricardo Louis (193 yards, 1 touchdowns). Both players are reliable seniors. Talented freshman Kerryon Johnson (71 yards) will also have a bigger role to play in the offense.
The Auburn offensive line has allowed nine sacks so far this season, but the rushing game is going for 190 yards per contest, good enough for 48th in the nation and fourth in the SEC. Clearly the passing game for the Tigers has been ineffective this season and the bread and butter has been the running attack.
The Tigers are only scoring 24 points a game which ranks as 182nd in the country. This isn't a big play offense and scoring is strictly limited to their success on the ground.
The Kentucky defense will be tested primarily on the ground on Thursday. They are allowing 170 yards per game They allowed Eastern Kentucky to rush for 180 yards and two touchdowns in an overtime squeaker.
The good news is that Cory Johnson has been playing fantastic football lately. The bad news is that he has an ankle injury that has been limiting him at practice. More good news is that defensive tackle Reggie Meant will return from a shoulder injury to add more depth to that defensive line. They need all the bodies they can muster because they are going to be tested heavily.
Tiger Defense: Let's just say this about the Tiger defense that is being run by Will Muschamp: it's not good. They were bad last season and they might be worse this season. They are allowing 412 yards per game, which ranks as third worst in the SEC behind only Tennessee and South Carolina.
Their rush defense is dead last in the conference, allowing 209.6 yards per game, and the passing defense is ninth with 202.9 yards per game.
With the return of Boom Wiliams, the Kentucky ground attack should take a big step forward but its ranked next to last in the SEC with 135 yards per game. Against Eastern Kentucky, they were able to rush for only 55 yards, which is awful. Is the Colonel rush defense better than Auburn's? I don't think it is, so the Wildcats are going to have to do some major work to exploit a major weakness.
The Tigers are also susceptible to the big play and that is one thing that Kentucky has on its side. Garrett Johnson, Dorian Baker, and Jeff Badet are all big play threats, but it comes down to giving Patrick Towles time to actually get the ball to his receivers. Jordan Swindle is back in the starting line-up at left tackle for what its worth. The Kentucky offensive line has been a roller-coaster this season, looking great against Missouri but getting destroyed by EKU.
Likely Outcome: This is going to be a very close game and I'm glad it's at CWS. Auburn is not as bad as the perception and they will have as much talent on the field as Kentucky has seen all season. The return of Boom WIlliams is a huge factor in this game due to the poor rushing defense of the Tigers and his play making ability. If he comes in with an attitude and something to prove to his players and coaches, then I feel very confident in Kentucky's ability to win the game.
Garrett Johnson had his bell rung going across the middle against EKU but will likely play which bodes well for Kentucky's chances. Like I mentioned earlier, big plays down field will be key, and Patrick Towles has developed quite the chemistry with Juice.
Place Kicker Austin MacGinnis missed the EKU game and is questionable for the Auburn game. A made field goal could be the difference maker in this one, and MacGinnis is one of the best in the SEC at what he does. His availability could hold the key for a Wildcat victory or defeat.
I think it's going to be a special night, but Auburn is coming to prove a point.
Kentucky Wildcats 20, Auburn Tigers 17