AUBURN, Ala. — Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz has studied Auburn’s game film from both this season and last, and comes away far more impressed with the 2014 version of the Tigers.
“We have watched a lot of film from 2013, and I do not think it is close how much better they are this year than what they were a year ago,” Holtz said. “It is scary to think that a year ago they competed for the national championship and yet they are a lot better than they were a year ago.”
That’s high praise indeed, considering the fifth-ranked Tigers (3-0) are defending Southeastern Conference champions.
Holtz’s Bulldogs (2-2) enter Saturday’s game with Auburn as 32.5-point underdogs.
A challenge for the Tigers will be avoiding looking ahead to the six consecutive ranked SEC opponents lined up after this game. Coach Gus Malzahn has tried to keep his player’s attention on the present.
“Coach says to never overlook any opponent,” Auburn cornerback Jonathan Jones said. “You get ready for them the same way you get ready for LSU or Georgia.”
The Bulldogs become the first team to play two opponents ranked in the Top 5 this season. They opened with a 48-16 loss to No. 4 Oklahoma.
Malzahn wasn’t pleased with Auburn’s offensive execution against Kansas State, when the Tigers produced the fewest yards of his first 17 games (359). “We’re not too far away, so I don’t want you to think that we’re trying to reinvent the wheel,” the coach said. “It’s just a matter of us getting better at what we do and being perfect.” Holtz said missing basic reads meant quarterback Cody Sokol had his worst game of the season in a loss to Northwestern State. Sokol was intercepted three times.
Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne and Tech’s Kenneth Dixon are both averaging 100-plus rushing yards per game. Artis-Payne has run for 352 yards and four touchdowns in three games. Dixon has gained 404 yards with five TDs in four games but faces a defense ranked 11th against the run.
Tech defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has had some success against Malzahn’s offense. Diaz’s Mississippi State defense held Auburn to 17 points and 348 total yards during the Tigers’ 2010 national championship season while containing eventual Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton. “They made it very tough on us,” Malzahn said. “We had to earn it, and we were fortunate to win that night.”
The Bulldogs are trying to regroup after losing to Northwestern State on a 47-yard, last-play field goal. Tech had five turnovers. “You do not have long to wallow in self-pity,” Holtz said. “You have 24 hours to enjoy a win and 24 hours to mourn a loss. That one is over, and you have to get ready for Auburn.”