AUBURN, Ala. (AP) ��� The Auburn Tigers face a different type of test this week.
Fresh from a big win and with No. 1 Alabama looming, the sixth-ranked Tigers want to avoid a morale-sapping letdown when Louisiana-Monroe visits on Saturday.
Auburn (8-2, No. 6 CFP) is coming off a 40-17 win over No. 7 Georgia, which came in as the top team in the playoff rankings. The Tigers can ensure a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game if they win that game.
Then they’d face Georgia again with a playoff berth on the line – providing they don’t stumble badly against the 36-point underdog Warhawks (4-5) and have their playoff stock fall.
“A lot of teams after a big win you’ve seen this year around the country, have a falloff,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “We can’t have a falloff. That’s our challenge to our team: to keep our momentum going into the last game of the year and just keeping that championship urgency this week.
“That’s my message to our team and I expect us to do that.”
The Tigers have rolled to three straight SEC wins by an average of 23.3 points.
Now they face a ULM team that’s coming off an open date following its biggest victory of the season, 52-45 over Sun Belt Conference power Appalachian State.
The Warhawks’ offense is leading the Sun Belt in total and rushing yards, but the team ranks last in total and passing defense.
Coach Matt Viator figures the biggest challenge comes against Auburn’s front lines, which had strong performances against Georgia.
“It starts with their offensive and defensive lines,” Viator said. “They’re fabulous. Really top-notch players on their offensive line, and their defensive line has been dominant all year long.”
Here are some other things to watch when Auburn hosts Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday:
NOT LOOKNG AHEAD: Excessive celebration of the Georgia win isn’t the only potential distraction for Auburn. The Tigers also are trying to avoid thinking about the Iron Bowl. “You have to be mentally focused … because everybody’s talking Iron Bowl, Iron Bowl,” Tigers receiver Ryan Davis said. “Really, the Iron Bowl doesn’t matter if you don’t win this game. We have to win this game, and the Iron Bowl will take care of itself next week.”
KERRYON’S CARRIES: Auburn tailback Kerryon Johnson could probably use a light day of work, if circumstances allow it. Johnson has averaged 27 carries over the last six games, including a 32-run, 167-yard performance against Georgia. With Kamryn Pettway sidelined by a shoulder injury, that could leave more carries for Kam Martin, Malik Miller and freshman Devan Barrett.
NUMBERS GAME: Auburn ranks among the SEC’s top four teams in scoring, total, rushing and passing offense. ULM’s defense has struggled, giving up a Sun Belt-worst 505.3 yards per game and ranking 10th in allowing 37.9 points on average.
ALL-PURPOSE THREAT: Warhawks freshman Marcus Green leads the Sun Belt in all-purpose yards, averaging 155.9 yards per game. He has returned three kicks for touchdowns and kickoff coverage has been an issue for Auburn. Green also has returned punts and has 517 receiving yards.
AUBURN’S BLOCKERS: Guard Mike Horton (left ankle) and tackle Darius James (leg) have been nursing injuries lately. Marquel Harrell started two of the past three games at left guard. Malzahn said Auburn coaches will “see where that goes later in the week” on whether Horton and/or James will play.
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