AUBURN – It’s homecoming on the Plains.
Like every year, students and alumni alike will surely enjoy the festivities surrounding Jordan-Hare Stadium as the football team tunes up against Kent State.
Auburn will have its chance to celebrate — all but the coaches and players.
After all, more pressingly, SEC play is just one week away.
Auburn takes on struggling Kent State at 6 p.m., with a trip back to Texas and the league opener at Texas A&M looming large on Sept. 21.
As the old cliché goes, Auburn will be playing for keeps soon enough, and until then, coaches and players would agree, the Tigers have plenty to correct.
On the docket: Auburn aims to kick-start its running game right from kickoff, after mustering just 20 yards on the ground in the first half of last week’s game against Tulane. Auburn also ranks dead last in the FBS in punt coverage after giving up big punt returns to both Oregon and Tulane in two games, and hopes to implement adjustments to stop Kent State from having one of those in this game.
And, remember, for freshman quarterback Bo Nix, this is only his third college game ever.
“We’re glad to be home for our second week,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said on Wednesday on the SEC coaches’ teleconference. “Our guys have had good practices so far this week — good attention to detail.
“We’re really working on trying to improve and get all the pieces to the puzzle set by the time we get into conference play.”
Next week’s trip to Texas A&M starts a pivotal three-week stretch of three straight SEC games for Auburn, with two of them on the road. After facing the Aggies, the Tigers will return home to host Mississippi State before turning around to play at Florida in ‘The Swamp’ in Gainesville.
Texas A&M is ranked No. 16 in the latest AP poll, and Florida is ranked No. 9.
Auburn is favored heavily by analysts entering the homecoming game against Kent State. After Auburn played a rising non-Power Five team in Tulane last week, Kent State is still in the midst of its rebuild. Tulane entered last week’s game having won six of its last seven dating back to last season, and after winning a bowl last year.
Kent State is in its second season under 33-year-old coach Sean Lewis. Kent State went 2-10 last year, and this year lost to Arizona State 30-7 in the opener before struggling to beat Division I FCS Kennesaw State 26-23 in overtime at home.
As for Nix, the freshman who threw two interceptions against Oregon eliminated those turnovers in Game 2 against Tulane — and the Tigers hope to see more growth out of him in Game 3 against Kent State.
“I think you’ll see him getting more comfortable each game,” Malzahn said. “He’s learning on the go against some really good opponents. I think more than anything, mentally, the way he’s handled himself — the moment hasn’t been too big. He sees the field well. When we come to the sidelines, he’ll be able to tell you exactly what he saw, and you look at the film and he’s correct.
“I really feel like he’s growing and he’ll improve each game.”