Auburn Special Teams Outlook.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Auburn Special Teams Outlook.

A strong group is expected in 2019.
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! This week, we’ll take a bit of a look at Auburn’s special teams prospects for next season. Also, I’ll take a very early look at the schedule for next fall. In 2018, Auburn improved dramatically on special teams, with the exception of being able to hit long field goals. Most of the major players are back in 2019, and here’s hoping that the team can build further.

     Punting got a sizeable boost last season when Austrialian-rules punter Arryn Siposs took over a starting role. This past decade, Auburn has struggled to punt the ball more than about 40 yards. Last season, Siposs averaged 44.2 yards per punt, on 56 punts. In addition, his placement was excellent. Auburn opponents were only able to return 11 of those punts, for 37 yards. The coverage team locked down return men to a paltry 3.4 yards per return. This combination produced one of the best net-punting performances in the SEC. Virtually every major player in this effort returns for 2019. Imagine what Siposs might be able to do after a year in the Auburn strength program…

     Auburn will miss departed senior Ryan Davis as the punt return man. However, the Tigers were wise enough to get sophomore Christian Tutt some experience in that spot. Tutt averaged 13 yards per return on 5 returns, in 2018. I always worry about new punt return men dropping the ball or fielding it too close to the goal line. We’ll have to see about those concerns going forward, but Tutt has been very promising in a limited role.

     Auburn’s return team in 2018 was dangerous enough that teams stopped kicking it to Noah Igbinoghene and JaTarvious Whitlow, and tried a lot of squibb kicks. Both of those players return, for 2019. Igbinoghene averaged 28.3 yards per return on 11 returns, and Whitlow averaged 26.7 on 3 returns.

     Kicking teams were a mixed bag in 2018. Auburn broke in freshman Anders Carlson. Carlson hit an astounding 51 touchbacks on 70 kickoffs, and a lot of the ones that he did not kick to the end zone were deliberate, well-executed coffin-corner kicks. Auburn’s coverage unit held opponents to 19.44 yards per return. Place-kicking was a different story. Carlson hit 15 of 25 field goal attempts, missing 9 of 14 times from 40 yards or longer. I am encouraged that Carlson was 10 of 11 from inside that range. I’m hoping this year that Auburn doesn’t pin their offensive hopes on long-range field goals.

A look at the schedule, after the jump!

     Auburn opens in Arlington, Texas, next season on August 31st. The opponent is Oregon. The Ducks finished 9-4 last season, 5-4 in the PAC-12. This is a formidable challenge for Auburn, and the Tigers will do it with a new starting quarterback in a venue the Tigers have never played in before.

     Auburn hosts Tulane in week 2. The Green Wave was a middle of the pack team nationally, but was first in the American Athletic Conference Western Division. They finished 7-6 after a big win over the Raging Cajuns in the Autonation Cure Bowl. Auburn should handle this game.

     The Tigers get a MAC-snack in week 3. Kent State comes calling. The Golden Flashes were 2-10 last season, and gave up an astounding 36.7 points per game.

     Auburn visits Texas A&M in week 4. This will be a tough one. Texas A&M finished the season strong with a blowout win over NC State in the Gator Bowl, and should be pretty good in 2019. If Auburn hasn’t figured out the quarterback situation by this time, this one could get ugly.

     The Tigers host Mississippi State in week 5. I expect the Bullies to take a step back, in 2019. Auburn should win, but there are still a lot of decent Mullen players in Starkville.

     The first weekend in October, Auburn travels to Gainesville Florida, for the first Tiger matchup there since Wes Byrum’s “gator chomp!” Florida finished the season pretty strongly, and I expect that they will be mighty dangerous in 2019.

     Auburn gets a bye week after the Swamp excursion, then travels to Arkansas. This was by far the worst team in the SEC last season, and they’ve been hemmoraging players right and left via the “transfer portal.” Auburn had better win this one.

     Auburn then road-trips to LSU, where Auburn has not won since 1999. LSU is loaded with talent, but they have to find a quarterback, once again. Here’s hoping they haven’t, in mid-October.

     November begins with Auburn hosting Ole Miss. This team is but a shell of the Sugar-Bowl winners of a few years ago, thanks to probation. Ole Miss does have a few remaining offensive weapons, but I like the Tigers at home, in this one.

     Auburn hosts Georgia on November 16th, after a second bye week. Auburn will need the rest, to face a tough Bulldog team. Auburn is just 3 and 11 against Georgia, since 2005.

     Auburn then hosts the Samford Bulldogs. This game is often closer than it should be, but I don’t think Auburn has much trouble, this time.

     On November 30th, Auburn hosts Alabama. Alabama has lost a ton of players to graduation, transfer, and early entrance to the NFL draft. Do they have enough depth to weather it? Alabama is also really going through the assistant coaches with transition every year. I feel like at some point that must take a toll. The real question is whether various Auburn improvements vs. Bama hemorrhaging can make up a 31 point gulf in this game from last season.

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