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Auburn vs. Liberty: Game outlook, where to watch, listen

November 17, 2018

Pregame analysis of Auburn’s game against Liberty:

The game

What: Liberty Flames (4-5) at Auburn Tigers (6-4)

Rankings: Auburn is not ranked, and neither is Liberty.

When: Saturday, 3 p.m. Central

Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn

Line: Auburn by 28½

TV/Radio: TV: SEC Network Alternate; Radio: WTDR-FM, 92.7 (Oxford), WMSP-AM 740 (Montgomery), SiriusXM 190 (Streaming 961)

Four-down territory

1. One last dance: Saturday will mark the final home game at Jordan-Hare Stadium for 16 Auburn seniors, who will be honored on the field during a pregame ceremony: Quarterback Devin Adams; running back C.J. Tolbert; H-backs Chandler Cox and Chase Cramer; wide receivers Ryan Davis and Griffin King; tight ends Tucker Brown and Robert Muschamp; offensive lineman Ryan Meneely; defensive linemen Jaunta’vius Johnson, Dontavius Russell and Andrew Williams; linebackers Montavious Atkinson, Deshaun Davis and Darrell Williams; and kicker Ian Shannon.

2. Scouting the Flames: Liberty can score and be scored against. Its offense ranks 22nd nationally averaging 463.7 and 28th in scoring with 35.4 points a game, while its defense ranks 127th allowing 508.8 yards and 123rd surrendering 39 points a game. The offense is led by quarterback Stephen Buckshot Calvert — yes, that’s his legal middle name — who has completed 55.9 percent of his passes for an average of 297.4 yards per game and has only slightly more touchdowns (18) as he does interceptions (14). The Flames have played only one Power 5 team this season, losing 45-24 at Virginia last week.

3. Familiar names: Liberty’s head coach is Turner Gill, which is a name you might remember from the time he interviewed to replace Tommy Tuberville (and got an endorsement from Charles Barkley) before Auburn eventually hired Gene Chizik to be the head coach. He has a 45-34 record in seven seasons with the Flames and is 4-5 this year, which is the program’s first in the FBS. Liberty’s top pass-rusher is Jessie Lemonier, who is the younger brother of former Auburn defensive lineman Corey Lemonier. He has 12½ tackles for loss and nine sacks this season.

4. Futures prospects: It will take building a big lead first, but if Auburn can do what it did in a 63-9 rout of Alabama State way back in Week 2, Saturday could provide an opportunity for the coaching staff give some of the team’s young players more seasoning in preparation for next season. That could potentially mean more opportunities on offense for players such as reserve quarterbacks Malik Willis, Cord Sandberg and Joey Gatewood; running backs Shaun Shivers, Asa Martin and Harold Joiner; and wide receivers Shedrick Jackson (who caught his first pass last week) and Matthew Hill; and offensive lineman Austin Troxell, Tashwan Manning and Brodarious Hamm, among others.

Key matchup

Auburn running back JaTarvious Whitlow vs. Liberty’s run defense: Only nine teams in the FBS surrender more than Liberty’s 236.1 rushing yards per game, and only 12 give up surrender more than its 5.3 yards per carry. That’s where Whitlow comes in. Auburn’s rush offense has been abysmal by the program’s standards this season — the 3.6 yards a carry ranks 107th nationally — but the Tigers did hammer Alabama State for 429 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 59 carries way back in Week 2. If the Tigers want to have even a prayer at continuing a nine-season streak of having a 1,000-yard rusher, they will need a huge day from Whitlow, who is sitting at 668 yards with three games to play.

By the numbers

71.2: Auburn’s winning percentage in its home finale at Jordan-Hare Stadium. It is 84-28-6 in those games all time.

95: Number of tackles senior linebacker Deshaun Davis has through 10 games, which is 13 more than he had last season.

135: Number of different opponents Auburn will have faced all-time after its first meeting with Liberty on Saturday.

141: Auburn’s record for career connections by a quarterback-wide receiver tandem set by quarterback Jarrett Stidham and wide receiver Ryan Davis set last week, passing Pat Sullivan to Terry Beasley (140).

Player of the week

Big Kat Bryant, Buck defensive end, sophomore, 6-foot-5, 253 pounds: A backup at Auburn’s primary pass-rush position, Bryant was disqualified early in last week’s loss at Georgia for targeting, but he should get a chance to redeem himself Saturday. Malzahn announced Tuesday that starter Nick Coe (who leads the team with 13½ tackles for loss and seven sacks) will not play against Liberty after suffering a right wrist injury against the Bulldogs. Liberty has allowed only 16 sacks this season, but watching Big Kat chase down Buckshot would make for a fun television viewing experience for the fans at home.

Prediction

The Flames will put up some points in this game. They’re averaging nearly 34 a game against FBS opponents, and Auburn’s defense hasn’t played up to its standards lately and will likely look to rest some starters with the Iron Bowl coming next week. But Liberty has one of the worst defenses in the FBS this season and has given up 38 or points to seven of nine opponents, including 62 to Massachusetts two weeks ago and 45 to Virginia last week.

Auburn 52, Liberty 21

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