Photo by Lindsay Caudle, TexAgs
Texas A&M Football

Auburn Tigers to lean on experienced defensive line, secondary in 2019

June 3, 2019

Over the last several football seasons, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has slid on and off the proverbial hot seat as if playing a game of musical chairs.

The Tigers have managed eight victories or less in four of their past five seasons. In his six seasons as head coach, Malzahn is 53-27. For perspective, consider that Kevin Sumlin was 51-27.

That hints that if Malzahn cannot guide Auburn to more than eight victories this year the hot seat could go up in flames, and even a $26 million buyout may not be able to save his job.

Frankly, based on the production and experience of the Tigers current roster, it’s extremely difficult to project what to expect in 2019. There are reasons to believe Auburn could equal the 10-win total of 2017 or even reach the 12-win total of 2013.

Most of those reasons are on defense, which could be as good — or better — than last year’s unit that allowed an average of 19.2 points to rank fourth in the Southeastern Conference.

Defensive tackle Derrick Brown and “Buck” defensive end Nick Coe are projected as likely first round selections in next year’s NFL draft.

Also, four starters are back in the secondary, if including nickelback Javaris Davis.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
With the loss of Jarrett Stidham to the NFL, Auburn has questions to answer at the quarterback position.

The offensive line, led by highly-regarded tackle Prince Tega Wanogho, returns intact.

However, there are several reasons to be apprehensive about Auburn, too.

The primary reason for concern is at quarterback. Last year’s starter Jarrett Stidham, who is now in the NFL, wasn’t great in the Auburn offense, but at least he was effective and experienced. He’ll be replaced by either redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood or five-star rated true freshman prospect Bo Nix.

Obviously, neither has collegiate playing experience. They don’t seem to have exceptional support either.

The running game is sound with JaTarvious Whitlow and Kam Martin operating behind that experienced line. Yet Auburn averaged just 167.4 yards last season to rank just 10th in the SEC in rushing offense.

There is some question of what to expect from the receiving corps, too. The Tigers have interesting talent — Anthony Schwartz is a speedster and Sal Cannella is a big, physical target. The fact remains, however, that sophomore Seth Williams (who managed a respectable 26 catches and five touchdowns as a freshman) is the most productive returning receiver.

Further, Auburn must replace all its linebackers. That includes All-SEC selection Deshaun Davis, who had 116 tackles with 15 for losses.

Those issues could become very problematic against a challenging schedule that features home games with Alabama and Georgia and road trips to Texas A&M, LSU and Florida as well as a non-conference clash with Oregon.

The Tigers will need to get off to a fast start. Or else the heat on Malzahn will be turned up even faster.

Auburn Tigers

  • Coach: Gus Malzahn
  • 2018 record: 8-5, 3-5
  • Postseason result: Defeated Purdue 63-14 in the Music City Bowl

Returning starters

  • Offense (7): T Jack Driscoll, G Marquel Harrell, G Mike Horton, C Kaleb Kim, T Prince Tega Wanogho, RB JaTarvious Whitlow, WR Seth Williams
  • Defense (7): DT Derrick Brown, DE Nick Coe, DE Marlon Davidson, DB Javaris Davis, S Jeremiah Dinson, CB Noah Igbinoghene, S Daniel Thomas
  • Special teams (3): K Anders Carlson, KR Noah Igbinoghene, P Arryn Siposs
Three starters are back from last year’s front four which helped Auburn rank 32nd nationally in run defense and 16th in sacks.

Area of strength: The Tigers defensive line projects as one of the best in the country. Three starters are back from last year’s front four which helped Auburn rank 32nd nationally in run defense and 16th in sacks. Defensive tackle Derrick Brown and defensive ends Nick Coe and Marlon Davidson all could be high draft picks. There is solid depth up front, too.

Area of concern: The early departure of quarterback Jarrett Stidham, a fourth round draft choice of the New England Patriots, leaves the offense is the hands of either true freshman Bo Nix or redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood. Both have potential. Neither have played collegiately. Unproven receivers only add to concern with the passing game.

Top three players:

  • Derrick Brown, DT: The 6-foot-5, 318-pounder earned All-SEC honors a year ago after posting 48 tackles, including 10.5 for loss.
  • Nick Coe, DE: He’s thrived in the “Buck” role, but will shift inside at times, too. Coe posted seven sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore. He figures to wreak even more havoc as a junior.
  • Prince Tego Wanogho, OT: Big, strong and athletic, the 6-foot-7, 305-pound Wanogho has all the attributes for a star tackle. 

Biggest loss: Stidham wasn’t great, but he wasn’t bad, either, as his draft status indicated. He was a two year starter who last seasons passed for 2,794 yards and 18 touchdowns. His successors — Nix or Gatewood — may eventually be better quarterbacks. But it’s unlikely as freshmen they will be better than Stidham.

Impact newcomer: Though Joey Gatewood is projected by some to win the starting job to begin the season, many Auburn followers expect Bo Nix to take over the job at some point. The son of former Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix, Bo is a five-star prospect who set several Alabama high school records while leading his team to consecutive 6A state championships.

2019 schedule:

  • Aug. 31 vs. Oregon at Arlington
  • Sept. 7 vs Tulane
  • Sept. 14 vs. Kent State
  • Sept. 21 at Texas A&M
  • Sept. 28 at Mississippi State
  • Oct. 5 at Florida
  • Oct. 12 OPEN
  • Oct. 19 at Arkansas
  • Oct. 26 at LSU
  • Nov. 2 vs. Ole Miss
  • Nov. 9 OPEN
  • Nov. 16 vs. Georgia
  • Nov. 23 vs. Samford
  • Nov. 30 vs. Alabama
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