Last look: Auburn/Western Carolina

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 12, 2013 

ROBIN TRIMARCHI rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Auburn running back Cameron Artis-Payne and the rest of the Tigers look to avoid a letdown factor following a win over Ole Miss last week, as they host Western Carolina in their annual homecoming game on Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

ROBIN TRIMARCHI — rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

Who: Western Carolina (1-5) at Auburn (4-1, 1-1)

When: Saturday, 2 p.m. ET

Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451) | Auburn, Ala.

TV: Auburn PPV

Radio: Auburn IMG Sports Network (WVRK-102.9 FM in Columbus; WGZZ-94.3 FM in Auburn/Opelika)

All-time series: Auburn leads 2-0

Quick game notes: Nick Marshall's 140-yard rushing performance last week made him the fourth different Auburn player this season to break the triple-digit mark on the ground, joining running backs Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant. Air Force and Arkansas State are the only other teams in Division I to accomplish the feat this season. This is also the first time in program history the Tigers have had a quartet of players notch a 100-yard rushing effort in the same year. ... In his second season at the helm of the Catamounts, head coach Mark Speir has a 2-15 record overall. Both of those wins have come against Mars Hills University, a Division II school located in Mars Hill, N.C. Against Division I (both FBS and FCS) opponents, however, the Catamounts are riding a 31-game losing streak. The last time Western Carolina topped a fellow Division I school came on Oct. 2, 2010, when it beat The Citadel 24-13. ... The Tigers have proven to be a more disciplined than last year in the penalty department. Last year, Auburn averaged 50.1 penalty yards per game. The Tigers have shaved more than 10 yards off that total in 2013, averaging just 38.6 per contest, fourth-fewest in the SEC and 23rd in the country. ... Heading into Saturday's game, Western Carolina lists 14 true freshman on its two-deep depth chart, with eight on offense and six on defense. When it's expanded further, only 12 players (four on offense, eight on defense) on the two-deep are not freshmen or sophomores. No unit is more raw than the receiving corps, where not a single junior or senior can be found among the eight players the Catamounts cited on their depth chart. ... This will be Auburn's 100th observance of homecoming and the 87th time the Tigers have had a game to coincide with it. Auburn holds a 74-8-4 record all-time in homecoming contests. The Tigers' last homecoming loss came to Mississippi State in 1991, when the Bulldogs pulled out a 24-17 victory. ... Western Carolina has been outscored in the first quarter 63-10 this season.

KEY MATCHUPS

Auburn vs. Injuries

Knowing the challenge that awaits them when they head on the road to play against Texas A&M next week, the Tigers' foremost goal in this game (with winning a formality at this point) will be avoiding injuries, which has been a problem all season. Senior defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker is officially out for the remainder of the year while junior linebacker Justin Garrett won't play in this contest. Neither will Marshall, which means Jeremy Johnson will get the starting nod at quarterback for the first time in his Auburn career on Saturday.

SLIGHT EDGE: Injuries. Missing the three players above might not be a huge loss this week, but if Garrett and Marshall are out long-term, it could have much larger ramifications for the rest of the Tigers' season.

Auburn vs. Itself, Part I

The Tigers should win convincingly Saturday. Despite jumping out to double-digit leads versus Mississippi State and Ole Miss, Auburn saw itself narrowly escaping with victories in both games. This week should provide the Tigers an opportunity to keep an opponent down and not let up until it feels ready to do so.

EDGE: Even. If Auburn doesn't win by more than the 29 points it did against Arkansas State (38-9), that's not a good sign.

Auburn vs. Itself, Part II

Auburn's players and coaches have said all week that they're not looking ahead to next week's matchup against Texas A&M. How they start out the game should be fairly telling. If the Tigers come out firing on all cylinders and have a few touchdowns by the end of the first quarter, they'll prove their point. If they're missing open receivers and actually letting the Catamounts find some semblance of consistency on offense, it will be apparent Auburn is sleepwalking through the contest against its hapless foe and is simply waiting for the clock to expire on Saturday's affair.

EDGE: Auburn. I'm willing to give the Tigers the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.

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