Auburn—much like Oklahoma—is a team that, at full strength, is quite dangerous. Even at partial strength, the Tigers were a formidable enough opponent to land themselves in the Sugar Bowl.
But that’s just it: by circumstance, the Tigers have been hamstrung by various injuries all season long, most notably in their 30-12 beatdown at the hands of Alabama.
Would you have much confidence in Oklahoma’s offense if Baker Mayfield, Joe Mixon, and Samaje Perine were sidelined?
It’s not quite that drastic for Auburn (they are a defensively-based team, after all), but missing starting quarterback Sean White and feature back Kamryn Pettway has diminished the strength of their offense. It’s made them one-dimensional when the strength of coach Guz Malzahn’s offense is unpredictability.
As Auburn’s own website points out, White led the SEC in passing efficiency before he was forced to the sidelines in early November with a shoulder injury. The AC joint sprain was first aggravated on October 29th against Ole Miss. By all accounts, his shoulder is healed, and Malzahn said he plans to give White his normal volume. He appears to be slinging the ball around just fine:
Two of Auburn’s four losses (to Georgia and Alabama) came late in the season when a leg injury ailed Pettway. He missed games against Georgia and Alabama A&M entirely, and a combination of his injury and Alabama’s dominant defense limited him to just 17 yards on 12 carries against the Tide. Although Auburn has a talented stable of backs, Pettway is a cut above.
The Tigers won six straight games by an average of 25 points when White and Pettway played earlier this season. It makes sense—combining one of the SEC’s most efficient passers with the SEC’s 7th ranked rusher makes for a great offense. On the flip side, when the Auburn offense is moving the chains and winning the time of possession battle, their defense stays rested and off the field. That’s good for the Tigers, bad for the Sooners.
Auburn’s offense has an extra dimension to it that the Sooners haven’t quite faced this season, and having White and Pettway healthy is an integral part of that. Bob Stoops is well aware of the challenges they present:
“Every team that you play is a little bit different in different ways. You know, this team and the way they try and run the football with the quarterback as well as all of the different motions and the number of running backs they get in the backfield at one time, you're going to see three of them back there or motioning a receiver back there a lot. They just have different methods of doing it. In the end, you practice it and it still gets down to blocking, tackling, and executing, regardless of the style that you play."
Auburn’s offense is quite unlike anything Oklahoma has seen this season, and it’s difficult to game plan for a team whose starters have rotated throughout the course of the season. When Sean White and Kamryn Pettway are active, Malzahn’s offense has absolutely hummed. White is a talented quarterback who who likely be supplanted by JUCO transfer and ex-Baylor Bear Jarrett Stidham next season, so he’ll certainly be looking to end the season on a high note—not that motivation will be an issue on a stage like the Sugar Bowl.
When White and Pettway are active, the Tigers’ offense has an added dimension to it. If they can win the time of possession battle and keep OU’s offense off of the field, it might be a long night for Oklahoma in New Orleans.