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Why Auburn will annihilate Ball State

"Give me your Top 10 Reasons why Auburn will beat your alma mater, Mr. Letterman, and I will condense them to six."
"Give me your Top 10 Reasons why Auburn will beat your alma mater, Mr. Letterman, and I will condense them to six. And please don't make fun of my splotchy tan."

Due to the potential for excessive violence and simulated sacrificial slaughter, network censors mandated a 6 p.m. CDT kickoff for Saturday’s showdown between the Auburn and Ball State. Despite the late start, the game will likely carry a parental warning. Cover your eyes, kids. What the Tigers do to the Cardinals won’t be for the squeamish.

Predicting the outcome of an upcoming game normally takes a bit of research, particularly early in the season. For that reason, predictions normally come Thursdays, giving a few days to digest the weekend.

This week no such research is required.

The Auburn Tigers (3-0) will annihilate the Ball State Cardinals (0-3).

Little known fact: Joyce DeWitt, who played Janet on the ’70s sitcom “Three’s Company” is a Ball State alumnus. Even if she and TV co-star Suzanne Somers (in their prime) were prancing the sidelines as Cardinal cheerleaders it wouldn’t help Ball State avoid a Saturday thrashing.

Auburn comes into the game with buoyed confidence after surviving both a monsoon and early roundhouse kicks from West Virginia University last Saturday night with a 41-30 win.

After the Mountaineers connected on a 58-yard pass on the opening series and a 71-yard run on their second possession en route to a 14-0 first quarter lead, the Auburn defense changed tactics and denied the big play.

West Virginia managed four plays of 20-plus yards over the remaining three-and-a-half quarters. One of those came on the last snap of the game.

The Mountaineers were intent on making Auburn quarterback Chris Todd beat them with his arm. He did, throwing for 300 yards and four touchdowns.

While the Tigers are cresting, Ball State limps into this Saturday’s meeting with more negative momentum than a Scott Baio TV pilot.

The Cardinals are reeling after three losses, one to an abysmal North Texas squad.

Ball State made it to a bowl game a year ago, but head coach Brady Hoke fled to San Diego State where he is now, coincidentally, the boss of former Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges.

The Cardinal team that made the GMAC Bowl a year ago is also without record-setting quarterback Nate Davis, who jumped to the NFL and was drafted in the fifth round by the San Francisco 49ers. A handful of other significant skill players for the Cardinals entered the draft as well.

Little known fact: Jim Davis, cartoonist and creator of the Garfield comic strip is a graduate of Ball State. Not even Davis could draw up a scenario where the Cardinals have a chance.

North Texas beat Ball State 20-10 in the opener. The Mean Green followed that with a loss to Ohio (not State) and a 53-7 thrashing at the hands of the Alabama Crimson Tide last Saturday.

The University of New Hampshire shocked the Cardinals in week two, 23-16. The Wildcats are 2-0 with big showdowns against Hofstra, Dartmouth and Towson coming up. That’s right, New Hampshire is 1-AA.

Army punked Ball State 24-17 in the third week of the season. Army lost to Duke, 35-19. In football, not basketball.

Of some consolation to Cardinal fans, at least the offense is improving each week: 10 points, climbing to 16, then 17.

Maybe against an Auburn defense that has struggled at times, Ball State can post 18 or even 19.

The host Tigers will likely match that in the first quarter.

It is true you cannot do the comparative score analysis because it never works. If it did hold true, you could pencil in a pretty convincing win by LSU over USC given the results of their respective efforts at the University of Washington.

Wait, bad example. Who’s to say those Tigers wouldn’t clock the Trojans? Obviously not ESPUSCN, but you have to look past their cam-crush on Pete Carroll and the men from Troy.

Back to Auburn and Ball State.

Little known fact: John Schnatter, founder of the Papa John’s pizza chain, is a graduate of Ball State’s Miller School of Business. Not even Papa John himself can deliver a Cardinal win.

Barring an unforeseen calamity of Biblical proportions, Auburn will win this game.

Since the outcome is all but predetermined, what should Tiger fans hope to get out of the contest?

One, Auburn needs to get backup quarterback Neil Caudle some reps. Caudle fought his way to the No. 2 slot in the signal calling pecking order and desperately needs to take significant snaps to help prepare him should he be needed in this campaign as well as to season him for his final Auburn campaign in 2010.

Two, the Tigers need to establish depth at the linebacker positions. With true freshmen and walk-ons pressed into duty, it is imperative for Auburn to get them accustomed to game speed. It is not a matter of if they will be needed as with Caudle, but when.

Three, Auburn must see how it handles success. The win over West Virginia was emotionally draining, physically demanding and mentally challenging. Can the Tigers psych themselves up for an opponent that really offers little challenge?

Sandwiched between the revenge-motivated battle with West Virginia and a looming visit to Knoxville, Tenn., to face the Tennessee Volunteers, the Ball State game has all the hallmarks of a trap game.

In the past, Auburn has come out flat in similar circumstances. A week after one of the most physical, emotional games in Auburn history, a 7-3 win over LSU in 2006, the Tigers were listless against the University of Buffalo. Auburn eventually prevailed 38-7, but the starters were unable to get the much-needed rest anticipated.

It is imperative for the Tigers to take Ball State by the throat, dominate early and let the second and third line players gain experience.

Four, Auburn must show it can handle looking ahead. Next week’s visit to face the Big Orange of Tennessee is one of four linchpins to Auburn’s season. The Rocky Top showdown grew significantly more interesting after the Volunteers tugged on Superman’s cape in the Swamp and effectively thwarted the Gator offense. Tennessee didn’t have enough offensive firepower to engineer a legitimate threat to the Florida dynasty — let’s face it, a wet firecracker has more pop — but the Vols’ defense sent a message.

The chess match between white-hot Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and wizened Tennessee defensive guru Monte Kiffin will be well worth watching.

On Saturday, none of that anticipation can be in the minds or eyes of the Tigers. Take care of the business at hand first before looking to the next challenge.

Five, Auburn must develop additional weapons. Darvin Adams (three touchdown catches against West Virginia) has established himself as Auburn’s go-to receiver. Ben Tate and Onterrio McCalebb have turned the rushing game on its ear. For the Tigers to have continued success, wide receivers DeAngelo Benton and Emory Blake must integrate themselves into the offense. Electric Mario Fannin needs more touches.

Ball State provides an opportunity to work on bringing more of the game to those potential game breakers.

And six, the Tiger defense must work on fundamentals. Poor tackling allowed West Virginia to gain positive yards when they should have been stopped for a loss.

Auburn cannot seem to get off the field on 3rd down regardless of the distance. A team cannot surrender 3rd and 10-plus yards and be successful on a consistent basis.

Little known fact: David Letterman, longtime host of “Late Night with David Letterman” on CBS is an alumnus of Ball State. Not even Letterman can find the Top Ten reasons Ball State has a chance against the Tigers.

The last time Auburn and Ball State squared off, the result was a 63-3 Tiger win in 2006. That Auburn team, under Borges, averaged 32 points per game — one of only two Auburn offenses to average more than 30 points per game in the last decade.

The conservative approach once favored by the Tigers is out the window under Malzahn.

Auburn’s new offensive coordinator thrives on a fast pace. His goal is to find creative ways to neutralize the defense, to probe for chinks in its armor and then hammer relentlessly at those cracks until the armor crumbles under the pressure. Malzahn believes every offensive possession should result in points.

That is bad news for the Cardinals.

Little known fact: Current Ball State coach Stan Parrish has already led his Cardinals against a Malzahn-coached offense. When Hoke abandoned Muncie, Ind., for sunny California, Parrish stepped in and directed the Ball State effort in the GMAC Bowl against Tulsa, where Malzahn directed the offense. With less talent at Tulsa than he has at his disposal at Auburn, Malzahn’s Golden Hurricane offense rolled up 45 points in a 45-13 win.

On Saturday, 45 would be merciful.

About Kevin Strickland

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