No. 5 Auburn plays host to Louisiana Tech

Auburn, AL (SportsNetwork.com) – The fifth-ranked Auburn Tigers will begin a
two-game homestand at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday afternoon when they
tangle with the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs in a non-conference clash.

Louisiana Tech opened the season on a three-game road swing, and after losing
to nationally-ranked Oklahoma in the opener (48-16), it collected back-to-back
wins over Louisiana (48-20) and in its Conference USA opener at North Texas
(42-21). The Bulldogs had a great opportunity to move to 3-1 in last weekend’s
home opener but lost to Northwestern State, 30-27, on a last-second field
goal.

Auburn faced a difficult non-conference test last Thursday in traveling to
Manhattan, Kansas, to take on nationally-ranked Kansas State, but it overcame
an early deficit to capture a 20-14 victory.

“Our guys found a way to win,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “I told them after the
game that this was a game that will help us in the future. We faced some major
adversity (at Kansas State) and our guys responded well.”

The triumph allowed Auburn to improve to 3-0 after defeating Arkansas (45-21)
and San Jose State (59-13) earlier in the year, and now they return home
attempting to extend their winning streak at Jordan-Hare Stadium to 12 games.

The Bulldogs have a strong offensive attack, posting 33.2 ppg and 387.2 ypg,
but they have been inconsistent, scoring 90 total points in their two wins and
just 43 in two losses. They were plagued by five turnovers in last weekend’s
setback.

“Offensively I thought we stubbed our toe a number of times,” coach Skip Holtz
said. “It was a close football game and we went out there and turned the ball
over.”

Kenneth Dixon acts as the focal point of the offense, turning 69 carries into
404 yards (5.9 ypc) and five touchdowns. He’s also active in the passing game
with eight receptions for 63 yards and two scores.

Cody Sokol has done plenty of good things under center, completing 62.7
percent of his passes for 1,009 yards and 10 touchdowns, but he’s also tossed
five interceptions, including three in the Northwestern State loss.

Sterling Griffin is Sokol’s top target in the passing game with 19 receptions
for 280 yards and a touchdown. Trent Taylor (207 yards, two TDs), Hunter Lee
(169 yards, two TDs) and Paul Turner (150 yards, two TDs) round out a deep
receiving corps with 14 catches apiece.

Louisiana Tech’s total defense (359.2 ypg) has been solid, but the team’s
turnover problems have often put the unit in vulnerable field position. It has
allowed opponents to score touchdowns on 14-of-17 red zone possession,
resulting in a disappointing scoring defense (29.8 ppg).

Kentrell Brice has logged a team-high 26 tackles and has also been active in
the takeaway battle with an interception and a forced fumble. Xavier Woods (17
tackles) has two interceptions, a forced fumble and a sack, and C.J. Cleveland
(23 tackles) brings stability to the linebacking corps.

Auburn has been an incredibly efficient offensive squad this season. It scores
41.3 ppg, displays impressive balance between the rushing (262.7 ypg) and
passing (219.7 ypg) game and converts on third down 63 percent of the time.

Nick Marshall orchestrates the read-option offense under center and is off to
a strong dual-threat start to the campaign. In addition to rushing for 168
yards and two scores, he’s thrown for 382 yards and three touchdowns, and his
passing stats in last week’s win (231 yards, two TDs, INT) could have been
even better had it not been for a few crucial drops.

Cameron Artis-Payne earns most of the backfield work and has been great with
352 yards and four touchdowns. Corey Grant is also mixed in, picking up 203
yards (on 7.8 ypc) and a score.

Marshall is locked in on D’haquille Williams out wide. He has 21 receptions,
more than three times as many as anyone else on the squad, for 324 yards and
two touchdowns.

The Tigers are able to pair an outstanding defense with their strong offense.
The unit surrenders a mere 16.0 ppg and 310.7 ypg and has picked off six
passes.

Jermaine Whitehead and Trovon Reed both have a pair of interceptions, although
Whitehead was suspended for the K-State game and his status is up in the air
for this contest. Johnathan Ford has 21 tackles to go with a pick, and Kris
Frost and DaVonte Lambert have two sacks apiece.

Josh logged a career-high 11 tackles in the win over K-State to earn SEC
Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Auburn has one of the nation’s toughest schedules, one that ticks up
considerably starting next week with seven of its last eight contests coming
against teams currently ranked in the Top 25, but Malzahn has to make sure his
team doesn’t look past Louisiana Tech.

“We understand we have an unbelievably challenging schedule,” he said. “We’ve
got to deal with it, (but) Louisiana Tech is on our mind, nobody else.”