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Auburn tries to regroup vs Liberty in between rivalry games

November 16, 2018

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn reacts after an Auburn penalty during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Georgia, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Just when Auburn’s offense needed a pick-me-up, here comes Liberty.

The Tigers (6-4) continued to sputter offensively in a loss at No. 5 Georgia. Now, they face Liberty (4-5), which is allowing 39 points and 508.8 yards per game. So it at least shapes up to be a more promising matchup.

Auburn could need a good offensive day to avoid an upset or scare against a team averaging 35 points a game. The Tigers haven’t managed 300 total yards in either of their past two games and couldn’t generate needed big plays in a 27-10 loss to the Bulldogs .

“We need to play well,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “We need to be better on third downs. You look at the last game, and it all goes to third down. We weren’t very good on defense on third down. We weren’t very good on offense on third down.

“I think that’s probably the biggest deal. We need to score points.”

The Flames have allowed 107 points in back-to-back losses to Virginia and Massachusetts. They’ve also struggled against the run, where Auburn has been among the least productive offenses in the Southeastern Conference.

The Tigers haven’t topped 34 points in any game against an FBS opponent this season. It led to Malzahn already facing questions from reporters about his offense next season, when he vowed it would be better.

Now, it needs to deliver to avoid a potential upset — or at least a closer-than-expected game — against Liberty, a four-touchdown underdog. After that, the Tigers visit No. 1 Alabama.

Liberty has already knocked off another Alabama team, Troy. Flames coach Turner Gill says the big question is, “Can we match that speed?”

And can they avoid mistakes?

“We cannot have any turnovers,” Gill said. “We need to have zero turnovers and we probably need to get about three-plus turnovers to give us a chance to be successful in this ball game.”

Auburn will be without top pass rusher Nick Coe, who has a wrist injury.

Here are some other things to know about the Liberty-Auburn game:

AUBURN SENIORS

Auburn’s 16 seniors will be honored before the game. The group includes H-back Chandler Cox, linebacker Deshaun Davis, wide receiver Ryan Davis and defensive tackle Dontavius Russell.

“When I think of this group, there’s a lot of real classy young men with high character,” Malzahn said. “They’ve done a good job with their leadership this year. Everything hasn’t gone as well as planned, as you know, but they’ve really done a super job from the leadership standpoint. I really feel strong that we need to come out and play good football for those guys in their last home game being Senior Day.”

FIRST-TIMERS

Liberty marks the third team Auburn has faced for the first time this season, including Washington and Alabama State. Liberty is the 83rd team among the 129 FBS members that Auburn has played. The Flames have never played an SEC team.

RED ZONE D

Auburn’s defense has allowed a touchdown on just 29 percent (9 of 31) of opponents’ trips inside the 20, which leads the nation.

LIBERTY’S OFFENSE

Liberty is averaging 35.4 points per game while topping 40 five times this season. Tennessee is the only team to score 30 against the Tigers, who are allowing 18.3 points on average.

PROLIFIC RECEIVERS

Liberty receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden has four 100-yard games this season and needs 118 receiving yards to reach 1,000 for the second straight season. Auburn’s Ryan Davis hasn’t had a big season but became the program’s career leader with 165 receptions after collecting 13 catches for 72 yards against Georgia.

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