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GAME PREVIEW: #23 Auburn vs Georgia State

Game 4: Already a third of the way through the regular season, but we’re just getting started!

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 18 Auburn at Penn State Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Here we are, back at home, after a loss. It’s a little like when you’d have a great weekend staying over at your friend’s house and then having to come back on a Sunday afternoon and start your homework. The loss to Penn State was tough to handle, especially because Auburn’s mistakes were so unbelievably glaring, but in the grand scheme of things it might be a blessing in disguise.

Auburn certainly came out and played hard in a rabid road atmosphere, and didn’t shy away from the challenge at all. The mistakes that you can point to — Kobe Hudson’s fumble and the failure at the goal line — resulted in a large point swing and may have ended up being the difference in the game. We saw a team fight and claw and nearly come back despite the odds, and it was refreshing to know that they weren’t giving up.

Whether you want to compare that effort to what a Gus Malzahn team might have given is your prerogative, but Bryan Harsin produced an effort that was impressive even in defeat. Now we get to see how he’s able to turn the swing of negative momentum and bring it around the other direction. Thankfully, we get to test this new dynamic out against Georgia State instead of Georgia, and there shouldn’t be any danger of actually losing this game.

Auburn will be able to control the lines of scrimmage, and shouldn’t have any difficulty running for 300 yards while shutting down the Panther offense, which is heavily run-based itself. Not much mystery in the trajectory of the game, to be honest. What we do want to see is how the Tigers appear to handle themselves both out of the gate and throughout the ballgame. Are they listless and lackluster after the loss? Do they experience the emotional hangover and subsequent blue balls associated with nearly scoring a huge victory?

Whatever the answer there, Auburn doesn’t have to get up for this game to win, but they’ll have to get up to make everyone feel better. Bryan Harsin and company have espoused the 1-0 mentality, and you can’t go 1-0 if you don’t focus fully on the next game on the schedule. Here’s where we can see what kind of a coach he truly is.

WHEN AUBURN HAS THE BALL: Even with the more sluggish offensive effort last week, Auburn seemed to figure something out in the third quarter, and the Tigers still lead the nation in yards per carry (7.9) and are still second in the land in scoring offense (47.3 ppg). You’d think that we’d get a half of Tank Bigsby, where he ran 10-12 times, and then a heavy does of Jarquez Hunter and Sean Jackson afterward. I think we will, and Shaun Shivers returns this week after his COVID quarantine, so he’ll be part of the offense once again.

What will likely work more is improving the confidence of the passing game. Penn State was able to lock down our receivers for the most part, and Bo Nix looked a lot more like the quarterback we saw from the past two seasons. It was good to see him go back to Kobe Hudson after the fumble, and Hudson made a couple of big catches. Unfortunately, Demetris Robertson and Shedrick Jackson barely moved the needle, and Auburn had trouble getting any sort of big play through the air. I’m sure we’ll see a bit more emphasis on getting that passing game right, especially before having to go into Baton Rouge next Saturday night.

WHEN GEORGIA STATE HAS THE BALL: Now, this won’t work out well for the Panthers. GSU averages fewer than 300 yards per game on offense, and the bread and butter of their attack is the running game. However, they only average about 175 yards per game on the ground. There are four runners who’ve amassed over 100 yards on the season, but there’s nobody who’s proven they can carry the load yet. Quarterback Darren Grainger is a dual threat guy, running for 122 yards on 22 carries and throwing for a pair of touchdowns on 8-16 passing, but he’s not prolific by any stretch. The more seasoned thrower is Cornelious Brown, who’s gone 24-46 for only 197 yards and no scores this year.

When they choose to run the ball, Destin Coates is the primary tailback, with 141 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries, and Jamyest Williams has shown a little explosion with a 6.0 ypc average on 17 carries.

There’s not much in the passing game, and I believe that Roger McCreary will draw the primary assignment on Jamari Thrash, who’s the only receiver with double digit catches through the first thee games (11 receptions, 167 yards, 1 TD). Ja’Cyais Credle has shown some flash as well with 5 grabs for 74 yards, but nobody else has snagged more than 3 receptions all year.

This is a team that got shut down offensively by Army (48 yards on 28 carries), and blitzed defensively by North Carolina (607 total yards, 8.5 yards per play), before finally starting to figure it out against Charlotte. Auburn’s not Charlotte. This’ll be over pretty quickly, and we’ll be shooting for a game that lasts close to right at three hours.

SERIES HISTORY: Hey, we’re crossing one off the list!

LAST WEEK: Auburn of course fell at Penn State by a score of 28-20, and Georgia State got its first win of the year in a 20-9 win over Charlotte. The Panthers finally got their run game moving, gashing the 49ers for 296 yards on 49 carries.

KEYS FOR AUBURN:

  1. Terminator mode. Think of this game as if Georgia State is just a little speed bump. Not one of the big ones with reflectors on top, but one of the little ones that makes you chuckle when you thlump over it at full speed. Auburn needs to show that last week was a culmination of mistakes for a team learning new offensive and defensive systems. We’re four weeks in now, and this game needs to be the one showing that all systems are go. We’ve tried it now with live ammo, and somebody got hurt. You learn, you adapt, and you move on. Come out with the same intensity we saw against Akron, and I’ll predict this team to break the streak in Baton Rouge next weekend.
  2. Show us some continued improvement on offense. While we’re sure that the Tank and Jarquez combo works great, we want to see something else to lean on. If not for next weekend, then definitely the following weekend, where Auburn will need to have a few more tricks in the bag for Georgia. Let’s work on the rapport between Bo and the receivers, and get them even more involved in the new wrinkles that Harsin and Bobo have implemented. Open up the passing game and get Bo going more toward what we saw in weeks one and two. This can be a two steps forward, one step back situation for the offense. That’s still overall progress.
  3. Sacks and turnovers. This defensive line didn’t get much pressure on Sean Clifford, and he was able to sit back and complete 28-32 passes on the Tigers last week. That’s completely unacceptable, and it would be hard to believe that Tom Brady could put up a similar stat line if he was thrown in. It starts with hitting the quarterback and making him edgy in the pocket. Auburn didn’t do it last week. Now, you’ve got a young quarterback coming into Jordan-Hare for a non-morning kick. Make him suffer, get him on the ground, and take advantage of his mistakes. Grab a couple turnovers and push this game into blowout territory real quick.

BURNING QUESTIONS:

  1. Which Bo Nix will we see? This turns into a question almost every week from some corner of the Auburn universe, but back at home he should be solid and steady. If there’s ever a time for him to get the road woes eliminated, it’s over the coming week. He can start today by having a short memory after Penn State.
  2. Will Derek Mason show the ability to adapt during the game? Auburn’s plan going into State College might have been good on paper, but Penn State quickly turned into the short passing team that had no trouble being patient as they moved down the field. This might not be the game where we have to learn about this, but you can still be watchful to see if Mason makes an adjustment on the fly if the Panthers are moving the ball. Will he toss out an exotic blitz or two? Some fancy coverage? I’d love to see it.
  3. What kind of a team comes out of the tunnel? Is it a bunch of tail-tuckers? Or is it a team ready to roar and show that last week was an anomaly? We got the jet pushed into a flat spin last Saturday. Can we straighten it out or are we destined to Goose ourselves and eject against the canopy?

Kickoff comes this afternoon for a lovely early fall day! 3 pm CST/4 pm EST, be there and get this team back on track! War Eagle!