Auburn, AL: It’s game week once again for the Auburn Tigers, and while they are only three games into the season, there is a sense of intense doubt and concern about the Auburn football program. After dropping a game 41-12 to the Penn State Nittany Lions, you can’t blame people for being concerned. The concern then can lead to doubts about leadership and doubts can lead to changes being made.
For Auburn head football coach Bryan Harsin, after all he endured in the offseason and the expectations placed on him in his second year on the Plains, people have begun to question if he is the right person to lead Auburn in the seasons to come. After the worst non-conference home loss since 1982 when Auburn lost 41-7 to Nebraska in Pat Dye’s second season, people are not optimistic about the rest of the Auburn football season.
For Harsin, even though he called “every Saturday a must-win,” at his Monday press-conference, this Saturday feels particularly significant to determine if he makes it through the season as coach or if a mid-season change is made by the athletic department. To avoid this change, the team has to step up to be a team who is able to compete in the SEC.
While Harsin gets most of the heat from fans, the team has yet to live up to the pre-season expectations most people had, mainly the running game and defensive line. Pre-season all-SEC first team running back Tank Bigsby, a player who was one of the few bright spots on this Auburn team before the season started, has had few chances to fully shine.
Only having 38 carries and 237 yards and three touchdowns so far has been seen as really underwhelming for a player being touted as one of the best running backs in the nation. There is no excuse where you give your best offensive player the ball only nine times in a game against an opponent like Penn State, especially when you do not give him the ball at all in a one-score game in the second quarter.
Yes, the offensive line is not good, but with a passing offense that only has thrown two touchdowns, you need to give Tank the ball more. Especially when Bigsby is averaging 6.2 yards per carryon the season with only 38 carries. Auburn has to find a way to effectively run the ball this Saturday against a Missouri defense that has done a decent job of stopping the run through three games.
Coming into this season, the Auburn defense was seen as the strong side of the ball for the Tigers. Led by linebackers Owen Pappoe and Derrick Hall, it seemed like this team could cause offenses problems. This has not been the case through three games.
The Tigers have yet to force a single turnover this season, including against the FCS Mercer Bears. While Auburn has forced five fumbles they have yet to recover a single one.
Getting to the quarterback has also proven to be a problem for the Tigers. For a team that was touted as having one of the best defensive lines in the SEC, Auburn has done very little so far to prove that assumption. Auburn has only recorded four sacks so far this season.
To go along with that stat, the Tigers have only 12 tackles for a loss for a total of 46 yards. Auburn needs to make it a priority to get pressure in the backfield as they enter SEC play. Finally, to go along with that, another big concern for the Tigers has been the ability to limit offense through the air. So far Auburn has given up 704 passing yards, allowing 7.11 yards a catch. For an SEC defense, this should be unacceptable. If Auburn does not improve in this aspect before the heart of SEC play, the Tigers will win very few SEC football games.
Through 16 games on the plains, Bryan Harsin is sitting at a 8-8 record. At some programs that would be seen as a decent record, but this is Auburn. A team who has a storied past with two national championships and three Heisman trophy winners. Harsin and the team have to be able to bounce back from the under collapse they suffered on Saturday.
While the team's performance shouldn’t all be on Harsin, he has to perform in the aspects of the game he can control. Harsin has to be able to make halftime adjustments if the Tigers are struggling, which is something so far at Auburn he rarely has been able to accomplish.
Throughout my time at Auburn, I have been a “Harsin-optimist”. The situation that he walked into his first season at Auburn and the attacks on his character this offseason made me believe in him coming into this season. However, after watching the Penn State game last Saturday in Jordan-Hare and being at Harsin’s Monday press conference, I am beginning to sense that the end is near, and with a loss on Saturday, it almost seems inevitable Auburn will begin their second head coaching search in the last 21 months.