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Texas A&M Football

Auburn leaning on new additions to help manage 'mood shifts'

July 4, 2024

The abrupt high-to-low shifts in Auburn’s 2023 football season were so dramatic a bipolar diagnosis seemed in order.

The Tigers romped over Arkansas to extend a three-game Southeastern Conference winning streak.

Then they lost to New Mexico State.

The next week, the Tigers were on the brink of upsetting archrival Alabama, only to lose on a last-minute 31-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal.

Such extraordinary swings resulted in a 6-7 finish in Auburn’s first season under coach Hugh Freeze.

This season, the Tigers aim to stay on a more even keel.

That may start with upgrading a struggling passing game, which last season was ranked 124th in the nation.

The arrival of five-star recruit Cam Coleman and Penn State transfer KeAndre Lambert-Smith, along with the return of tight end Rivaldo Fairweather, figure to upgrade the passing offense.

Payton Thorne, who passed for just 1,755 yards in 2023, returns at quarterback. His numbers figure to rise with an improved receiving corps.

The arrival of five-star recruit Cam Coleman and Penn State transfer KeAndre Lambert-Smith, along with the return of tight end Rivaldo Fairweather, figure to upgrade the passing offense.

Running back Jarquez Hunter provides a big-play threat in the running game, but there are questions in the offensive line.

There may be even more questions on defense, which must replace five players who were selected in the NFL Draft.

With those five drafted players, the Tigers’ defense was merely mediocre. Last season, Auburn was ranked seventh in the SEC in scoring defense and eighth in total defense.

Fingers are crossed the acquisition of defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin and additions of linebacker Keyron Crawford and defensive linemen Isaiah Raikes and Philip Blidi through the transfer portal will make a significant difference.

If not, the Tigers’ dramatic mood shifts may continue.

Auburn Tigers

2023 record: 6-7; 3-5 in the SEC

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
Jarquez Hunter has compiled 2,172 career rushing yards and 17 touchdowns in three seasons with the Tigers.

Primary area of strength: The Tigers have a history of producing high-level running backs. That trend appears to be continuing with Jarquez Hunter. The senior has averaged 6.1 yards over his career. That includes rushing for 909 yards on 159 carries last season. The Tigers also have solid depth with Damari Alston and Jeremiah Cobb. The depth would have been even better, but Brian Battie was injured in a senseless shooting in May.

Primary area of concern: Four of five starters from the secondary in 2023 must be replaced. Three of those — Nehemiah Pritchett, D.J. James and Jaylin Simpson — were selected in the NFL Draft. Cornerback Keionte Scott is proven, but the remainder of the secondary isn’t.

Top three players

  • DE Keldric Faulk: The Tigers’ top seed in the 2023 recruiting class looks to build on an impressive debut season in which he posted 35 tackles, a sack and was credited with two quarterback pressures.
  • LB Eugene Asante: Last season, the senior led the team with 86 tackles. He also had five sacks and was credited with five quarterback pressures.
  • CB Keionte Scott: The two-year starter at corner is switching to nickel. Last season, he posted 44 tackles and broke up five passes.

Top three additions

  • WR Cam Coleman: Five-star recruit figures to be an immediate starter.
  • WR KeAndre Lambert-Smith: Transfer from Penn State caught 53 passes for 673 yards and four TDs in 2023.
  • LB Keyron Crawford: Edge rusher transferred from Arkansas State, where he had 44 tackles, 10.5 tackles-for-loss, 5.5 sacks and seven quarterback pressures last season.

Top three departures

  • CB Nehemiah Pritchett: Three-year starter was selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft.
  • S Jaylin Simpson: Also a fifth-round draft pick, he led Auburn with four interceptions last year.
  • DT Marcus Harris: Seventh-round pick of the Houston Texans led Auburn with seven sacks last season.

2024 Auburn schedule

  • Aug. 31 vs. Alabama A&M
  • Sept. 7 vs. Cal
  • Sept. 14 vs. New Mexico
  • Sept. 21 vs. Arkansas
  • Sept. 28 vs. Oklahoma
  • Oct. 5 at Georgia
  • Oct. 19 at Missouri
  • Oct. 26 at Kentucky
  • Nov. 2 vs. Vanderbilt
  • Nov. 16 vs. ULM
  • Nov. 23 vs. Texas A&M
  • Nov. 30 at Alabama
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Auburn leaning on new additions to help manage 'mood shifts'

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