Auburn halts SEC action to take on Samford

Auburn, AL (SportsNetwork.com) – The 16th-ranked Auburn Tigers will take a
much-needed break from SEC competition on Saturday night when they welcome the
Samford Bulldogs to Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Samford is in the midst of a strong season in the FCS’ Southern Conference, as
it has gone 7-3 overall and has closed out league play at 5-2. The Bulldogs
are winners of four straight, most recently edging out the Citadel on the road
last Saturday, 20-17.

Auburn was right in the thick of the SEC Western Division race earlier in the
month. After a 35-31 road win over Ole Miss, it was 7-1 overall and the No. 3
team in the nation, but its title hopes have been dashed following back-to-
back losses. The Tigers fell flat in a road matchup with Georgia last weekend
with a 34-7 defeat.

“Anytime you get beat convincingly, as a coach, you have to try and solve the
issues that you think you need to moving forward,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn
said. “We got it handed to us (at Georgia). That’s uncharacteristic of this
team and we have to bounce back.”

The Tigers have never lost to Samford, going 26-0-1 in a series that dates
back to 1903. Auburn most recently downing Samford in 2011, 34-16.

Samford’s offense was held to under 34 points for the first time in four games
its last time out. It was simply a blip on the radar, however, as the unit
averages 34.8 ppg and 415.4 ypg.

Michael Eubank is having a stellar season under center, as he’s completing
just shy of 65 percent of his throws for 2,011 yards, 11 touchdowns and just
six interceptions while bringing an added dynamic with his rushing ability
(235 yards, five TDs).

Denzel Williams is the Bulldogs’ workhorse tailback, having turned 176 carries
into 877 yards while displaying an outstanding nose for the end zone with 16
touchdowns. He’s also a valuable asset as a receiver, ranking second on the
team with 23 catches.

Eubank has developed a great report with Karel Hamilton, who’s hauled in 50
passes for 810 yards and six touchdowns. No one else has more than 231
receiving yards.

The Bulldogs boast a defense strong enough to support an impressive scoring
attack, as they yield only 18.6 ppg and 305.4 ypg.

Justin Cooper is the defensive leader with 87 tackles, 5.5 TFL, two forced
fumbles and an interception. Josh Kimberlin (three INTs) and Michael Pierce
(two INTs, forced fumble) are both active in the turnover battle.

Generating offense typically isn’t a problem for Auburn, which ranks among the
SEC’s best in both points (35.5) and yards (485.4) per game, but it had by far
its worst performance of the year against Georgia last week in totaling less
than 300 yards.

“We didn’t get it done offensively, which I think is obvious,” Malzahn said
after the loss. “If we got first downs, we had holding penalties that brought
them back. At the start of the third quarter, we had two drops back-to-
back…(Georgia has) a good defense but at the same time we have high
expectations that we can get it done.”

Putting aside Nick Marshall’s forgettable showing last week (11-of-23, 112
yards, INT), he has played very well this season. He’s most dangerous as a
rusher, tallying 739 yards and 11 touchdowns, but he’s also a competent passer
with 1,688 yards and 14 scores paired with only five picks.

Cameron Artis-Payne has emerged as one of the nation’s best tailbacks, as he
ranks seventh in the FBS in carries (228) and 12th in yards (1,276) and has
scored 10 touchdowns. He was the lone bright spot last week with 86 yards and
a score.

The Tigers really felt the absence of D’haquille Williams (38 receptions, 609
yards, five TDs), who missed the Georgia game with a knee injury and is
questionable for this contest. In the event he can’t suit up, Marshall will
need to rely on Quan Bray (26 receptions, 278 yards, three TDs) and Sammie
Coates (23 receptions, 447 yards, two TDs) as the top options.

After a strong start to the season, the Auburn defense (25.1 ppg, 388.9 ypg)
has taken several steps backward of late by allowing 31 points or more in
five straight.

Cassanova McKinzy (73 tackles, 9.5 TFL, INT) and Johnathan Ford (71 tackles,
two INTs) are neck-and-neck for the team’s tackle lead. Other defensive
standouts include Kris Frost (57 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, three FF),
Jonathan Jones (five INTs), Jermaine Whitehead (three INTs) and Montravius
Adams (6.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, INT).