Saturday at 11 a.m. CST cannot come soon enough. It marks the start of a historic, all-SEC season for Auburn football, which returns to the field after a longer-than-normal offseason.
The No. 8 Tigers welcome in the No. 23 Kentucky Wildcats, who hope to spoil Auburn’s season opener.
Several Auburn players are amped up about finally being able to play another team, including 2020 captain K.J. Britt.
“I can’t wait,” Britt said on Tuesday. “I’m getting butterflies ... it’s good butterflies. I just can’t wait. It’s like a kid going to a fair.”
Britt and the defense will face a challenge in Week 1. Kentucky’s rushing offense was ranked fifth in the nation last season with 3,624 total rushing yards. One of the reasons Kentucky was so efficient last season in the run game was its offensive line.
“Last year they were one of the best rushing teams in all of college football,” said Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. “To be able to do that in this league says a lot. They have four returning starters up front that I think are very talented.”
The only starter from last year’s offensive line that is gone is Logan Stenberg, who was drafted in the fourth round by the Detroit Lions in the 2020 NFL Draft. This year, the Wildcats have two first team All-SEC players up front in center Drake Jackson and tackle Darian Kinnard.
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“Well, they’re talented, they’re big, strong guys,” Malzahn said. “Both their offense and defensive lines, that’s where some of their strengths are. They got most of their guys back as we lost most of our guys on the offensive front and defensive front, so that’s going to be a challenge and our guys are aware of that.”
Under fifth-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, Britt feels as if the defense is “in a really good spot.”
“We have to make sure our Auburn defensive foundation is laid down,” Britt said. “It’s built on that no matter what [Kentucky] does, no matter what happens in the game, we have to have relentless effort. We have to tackle, we have to be mentally and physically tough.”
Kentucky is returning three running backs who each individually rushed for over 500 yards a season ago.
The Auburn defensive line is returning two starters from last season after losing Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson, who currently play on Sundays.
Auburn will have to rely on not only veteran starters like Britt, but on a few redshirt freshmen to step up right away. Redshirt freshmen Colby Wooden and Jaylin Simpson both found their names at the top of the depth chart when it was released on Tuesday.
“Those guys are really eager to get better,” Britt said. “They come to work everyday with a positive mindset. They’re just trying to contribute in some kind of way.”
The wait is almost over for Auburn fans. Saturday is just a few days away and the entire Auburn team knows it. The entire student body knows it. Auburn football is back.
“During this quarantine,” Britt said. “There’s probably been a lot of dark days in students’ lives, a lot of dark days in athletes’ lives. But now we all have something to look forward to.”
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