Kentucky vs Auburn Preview
The 2020 SEC season finally gets started this week and to start it all off will be the Kentucky Wildcats vs the Auburn Tigers. The game will be an 11:00 a.m. CT kick-off on the SEC Network. These are two programs that do not play each other often. The last time these two matched up was in 2015 when Auburn was victorious 30-27. Before that, the last meeting was in 2010 that also saw Auburn come out the winner. Overall, in the series, the Tigers lead 26-6-1. To continue that trend though, Auburn will have to beat an exceptionally good Kentucky squad.
This is not your daddy or granddaddy’s Kentucky football team. Kentucky for most of its athletic history has been looked on as just a basketball school. Head coach Mark Stoops has adjusted that narrative to turn Kentucky into a football school as well. Under Stoops, the Wildcats have gone 44-44 and have been to four consecutive bowl games. That includes a 10-win season in 2018. Auburn will have to be wide awake for this late morning kickoff.
When Auburn Has the Ball
There are a lot of points of interest when Auburn is in possession of the ball on Saturday. A lot of eyes will be on the offensive line. Auburn lost four starters from the 2019 unit and finding quick continuity will be key. If that group gels early, then it will open things up for sophomore quarterback Bo Nix and the run game. Another question will be who is running the ball behind that revamped offensive line?
In the released depth chart earlier in the week it showed Shaun Shivers as the starter with D.J. Williams and Tank Bigsby listed next. If history is any indicator, expect Auburn to rotate backs early to find the player who gets the hot hand (or feet) and ride with him.
Kentucky does return seven starters from last season’s defense that ranked 21st in the country and was second against the pass. The secondary group allowed just 167.8 yards per game through the air. That is a part of the Auburn offense that the faithful are hoping is a huge step forward with new offensive coordinator Chad Morris. The opener will be a good test for Nix, Seth Williams, and the rest of the Auburn passing attack.
When Kentucky Has the Ball
The Wildcats were forced to run a completely different offense last season than they had planned when both Terry Wilson and Sawyer Smith went down with an injury. They inserted wide receiver, Lynn Bowden, as the quarterback and only had a record-breaking season rushing. While Bowden is gone, the Wildcats do possess a loaded backfield of running backs consisting of A.J. Rose, Christopher Rodriguez, and Kavosiey Smoke. The three combined for 1,975 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.
Tasked with stopping those talented backs will be a rebuilt defensive front that lost both Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson to the NFL. It is not without talent though. Returning to the front is Big Kat Bryant at defensive end and Tyrone Truesdell at defensive tackle. Truesdell played well next to Brown last season and looks to show he picks up where Brown left off. The Auburn linebackers led by K.J. Britt should be able to cover up any holes that are not covered by the defensive line. The linebackers should be the strength of the Auburn defense for this season.
While Wilson does return as quarterback for the Wildcats, the receiver position may be the weak link for the Kentucky offense. It is not due to a lack of talent. More of a lack of reps for the group last season and of course during the spring with the lack of practice time. That is a positive for Auburn due to the team losing most of its starting secondary from last season. Fortunately for Auburn, the players stepping in mostly have experience. Especially at safety with Jamien Sherwood and Smoke Monday.
Kentucky vs Auburn Prediction
In a normal year Auburn would have a huge home-field advantage, but due to much smaller allowed attendance that advantage will be minimal. The Tigers will need to come into the game with the right mindset and respect for this Kentucky team. A team that is fully capable of finishing third in the SEC East and giving trouble to both Florida and Georgia.
With that said, the Auburn defense should be up to the challenge to slow down the rushing attack and Nix could look to have a huge day to kick off his sophomore campaign. The Auburn Tigers win the opener 27-17.