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Breaking down Auburn vs. Louisville: Fireworks in the Georgia Dome?

15h

Saturday’s game will be just the second between Auburn and Louisville. The first, back in 1974, was won by Auburn 16-3 in what was a defensive struggle. With Gus Malzahn and Bobby Petrino now on the sidelines, expect more points Saturday afternoon in the Georgia Dome.

Key to the Auburn offense: Establish the running game. Just because Jeremy Johnson is the new quarterback doesn’t mean that Gus Malzahn will abandon the run for the pass. His offense is predicated on running the football, regardless of who is under center. Sophomore Roc Thomas will get the first crack at toting the rock, but Jovon Robinson, Peyton Barber and even Kerryon Johnson will also get plenty of opportunities. And the more success Auburn has on the ground, the more it will open up the defense for Johnson to make plays through the air. But it won’t be easy against a Louisville defense that was ranked in the top 10 nationally against the run last year. – Ostendorf

Key to the Louisville offense: Solid play on the offensive line. We could have gone with the quarterback (even though we have no idea who is starting) or the young receivers or establishing the run. But the quarterbacks, receivers and backs cannot function with an offensive line that is in shambles. Louisville was in shambles many times last season, but Petrino believes the retooled line is in good shape to play well right out of the gate. The Cards could have up to four new starters and play as many as three freshmen against what is sure to be a reinvigorated Auburn defense with Will Muschamp in charge. Yet another big reason why the offensive line is the key for the Cards. – Adelson

Key to the Auburn defense: Limit the big plays. This plagued the Auburn defense time after time last season. Every time the Tigers would force a third-and-long, it seemed like the opposing offense would connect on a long pass or break a tackle and pick up the first down. That can’t happen Saturday. Auburn paid a lot of money for Muschamp to come in and fix that problem and his presence, plus a healthy Carl Lawson, plus an influx of talent on the back end, should help shore up this defense. Will we see that improvement in Week 1? – Ostendorf

Key to the Louisville defense: Strong front seven. Louisville must get an A-plus effort from his front seven for a variety of reasons. First, it needs to get after Jeremy Johnson and make him feel uncomfortable as he navigates his first season as a starter. Second, it needs to take the pressure of the weak link on defense: a secondary that is breaking in four new starters. Louisville brings back disruptive players up front in Sheldon Rankins and Pio Vatuvei and has potentially its best linebacker group with hard-hitting James Burgess, Keith Kelsey, Keith Brown and former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields. – Adelson

Auburn X factor: Wide receiver Duke Williams. After a suspension during fall camp, we’re not even sure how much Williams is going to play Saturday. Malzahn has indicated that Williams, who moved to the bottom of the depth chart at receiver, has slowly worked his way back up and spent time working with the first team at practice this week. Does that mean he’s back? Is there a chance his punishment includes missing the start? We’ll find out Saturday. But when he’s in the game, he’s the clear No. 1 target for Johnson. The two hooked up on seven passes for 138 touchdowns in the season opener last year. – Ostendorf

Louisville X factor: Safety Josh Harvey-Clemons. The Louisville coaching staff has raved about Clemons for months because he is the most versatile player it has on defense. His versatility is going to be huge in a game that features a physical spread offense like Auburn and a threat to run at quarterback. Plus he has starting experience from his time at Georgia, which should settle down a relatively young secondary. And, well, there is some big-time motivation involved. Harvey-Clemons is the player who tipped the ball away from his teammate and into Ricardo Louis’ hands to give Auburn its miracle win over Georgia in 2013. Harvey-Clemons and Louis are slated to start. – Adelson

Predictions: Johnson has been waiting for this moment. Sure, he started and played the first half of the season opener last year. But this is his team now. Expect him to have a big day and help Auburn outscore Louisville in what could easily turn into a shootout. Auburn 35, Louisville 28. – Ostendorf

Reggie Bonnafon starts at quarterback for Louisville, and his ability to run plus his improved passing help keep the Auburn defense off balance. Meanwhile, the Louisville defense brings an aggressive approach and gets after Johnson, enough to fluster him into enough mistakes to keep the game much closer than the 10-point spread. – Adelson