By now you’ve read all the think pieces, heard all the radio and podcast segments, and probably argued with friends and enemies alike over the quarterback situation on the Plains. Bo Nix this. TJ Finley that. So I’ll keep this short and sweet.
Bo Nix was not going to lead this team to a win against Georgia State. We’ve seen plenty of evidence by now that on days when he doesn’t have, he just doesn’t have it. A shoulder injury and lack of help from anyone else on the offense contributed, sure, but the offense was completely stagnant with him in the game. Nix went 13/27 for 156 yards in just under three quarters of work, and against Georgia State that’s just not good enough.
Now, Finley wasn’t perfect either. His stat line of 9/16 for 97 yards and 1 TD is certainly an improvement over Nix’s. But, Finley missed multiple open touchdowns even when he wasn’t being pressured, most notably to Kobe Hudson on 3rd down before the game-winner. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in this one due to coming in off the bench cold, but those mistakes can’t happen against SEC opponents.
Running Backs: C-
This was by far the worst rushing performance for the Tigers this year, and probably the worst since the trip to Athens last year. However, I don’t want to fully pin it on the backs. The offensive line was horrid in this one, gaining absolutely no push against a Georgia State defense that it should be able to maul. Over half of Auburn’s 35 carries went for less than two yards, meaning that Bigsby and Hunter were getting hit at the line of scrimmage more often than not.
Bigsby also suffered a huge fumble on the second to last offensive drive that almost cost Auburn the game. Granted, the fumble occurred in the middle of a gang tackle of about 5 Panther defenders, who had been ripping at the ball all day. He was noticeably absent on the Tigers’ final drive in favor of Jarquez Hunter.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: F
When your position coach gets fired mid-season, there’s no other grade to give but F. The receivers once again had drop issues, such as a ball off the hands in the endzone that would’ve given Auburn a second quarter touchdown. Demetris Robertson, perhaps the most reliable receiver going into the game, dressed but did not see the field (perhaps an injury, but no reason was given). Multiple times throughout the game, Auburn receivers were misaligned or straight up not on the field in key moments. It was an abject failure of an afternoon.
I suspect we’ll see a different rotation of receivers now with Eric Kiseau in charge of the group. My hope is that means we see the emergence of Kobe Hudson, who has really been the sole consistent bright spot in the group this year (fumble be damned).
Offensive Line: F
As mentioned, there was no push against a bad G5 team to allow two of the best running backs in the SEC room to work. They technically only allowed two sacks, but that’s still more than the Panther defense was averaging through the first three weeks. And I say “technically” because both quarterbacks had to scramble for their lives on numerous plays, including the wild 4th down game-winner from Finley.
There was nothing positive about this game for the offensive line, which I thought had been playing better than expected this season up until this game. Let’s hope we don’t see a repeat performance.
Defensive Line: C-
The defensive front got gashed in the first half of this game, and there’s no excuse for that. However, it seemed to be more of an issue with run fits by the linebackers than what the defensive line was doing. There weren’t many big plays made by this group until later in the game, and that’s concerning against Georgia State. However, the lined buckled down and really stuffed the Georgia State offense after the half, so there’s credit to be given there. Shoutout to Eku Leota for nabbing a sack and another big time tackle for loss off the edge.
Linebackers: B+ (curved)
I know, I just got finished saying the run issues by the linebackers were awful. Our third stringers should be able to stop a former walk-on in the Sun Belt from posting 142 yards on 6 first half carries. Regardless, Auburn was missing Zakoby McClain and Owen Pappoe for the first half and whole game, respectively, and it showed.
Luckily, pairing McClain and Wooten in the second half seemed to solve the defense’s problems. Zakoby came out of the half with a whole Golden Flake family size bag of chips on his shoulder after the targeting call last week, and made several big hits and helping bring the energy to Jordan-Hare as soon as he stepped on the field.
Defensive Backs: C
Once again, we saw this group have alignment and responsibility issues, letting receivers run free on several occasions (even though Grainger couldn’t always find them). Still, the final passing stat line for the Panther QB was 12/24 for 117 yards, 2 TD, and an interception. Smoke Monday’s game-sealing pick six keeps this from being a worse grade than it otherwise would’ve been.
It was fine. Not good, just fine.
Special Teams: A
Really the only true bright spot of the day. Anders Carlson scored all the first half points, starting 4/4 before missing his first field goal of the year to start the 4th quarter. Nehemiah Pritchett was dangerous on kick return duties, nearly housing one in the first half and getting several good looks throughout. Caylin Newton made the play of the day when he blocked a second half punt to get Auburn its first touchdown.
Special teams scored 20 of Auburn’s 34 points, and is the sole reason Auburn was able to mount the comeback when they did.