AUBURN — It has been a long season for the Auburn Tigers, with a five-game losing streak and a midseason coaching change, but now the senior leaders on this team will have the chance to say goodbye to their program on Saturday.
“Those guys have been through a lot,” said interim head coach Carnell Williams. “But one thing I can tell those guys is they're going to be better because not one time have they flinched. They stayed steady. They've kept the faith. They continue to believe, and I just thank those young men.”
The senior class has been through two coaching changes, one losing season and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic which nearly cost the class an entire season. Marquis Burks came to the Plains during the turbulent 2020 season and has since become a crucial part of the defensive line for the Tigers.
“Honestly, I try not to think about it too much. The feeling of having my last game in Jordan-Hare, it brings me to tears,” said Burks, a senior defensive lineman. “My very first game when we played Kentucky that COVID season, I ran out on that field and cried. Auburn is everything to me.”
The seniors will try to win their last home game against a tough opponent in the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (7-4, 5-2 C-USA). The Hilltoppers have one of the top offenses in not just the Group of 5 but college football overall.
Tyson Helton’s squad is No. 15 in scoring, No. 14 in total offense and No. 4 in passing offense, an area that Auburn’s defense has struggled in during most of the season. While the Tiger defense has been better through the last two weeks, it has been against a one-dimensional Mississippi State offense and a Texas A&M team that was without its starting running back or any identity.
Western Kentucky is pass heavy, led by senior quarterback Austin Reed with 31 touchdowns and over 3,500 yards, but the Hilltoppers have a solid running game to back it up. Led by Kye Robichaux, the offense does not run often, they are No. 122 in the country, but they average over 148 yards per game and five yards per carry, which is No. 27 in the nation.
With such a balanced attack, Auburn will need a stronger offensive output, something Williams is looking for behind an improved passing game.
“We've got to put those guys in better positions,” Williams said. “But we also have got to make those throws whenever they're there.”
After the showing from the fans in the stands against Texas A&M, Williams is calling for the support of the Auburn fans once again.
“We are going to have to bring our 'A' game, so once again I'm calling on the Auburn Family,” Williams said. “Come pack the house out, and let's have fun and try to go get a victory.”
The Tigers will be looking for that victory when the final home game of the year kicks off Saturday at 3 p.m. CST.
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