Auburn Embarrassed by Penn State

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PHOTO BY ROBERT NOLES / THE OBSERVER

What it means for the program going forward

BY WIL CREWS

SPORTSCREWS@OPELIKAOBSERVER.COM

AUBURN —

The Auburn Tigers were trounced, 41-12, inside of Jordan-Hare Stadium last Saturday.

The visiting Penn State Nittany Lions entered hostile SEC country to complete the sweep of a home-and-home series with the Tigers (Auburn lost at Penn State, 20-28, last season).

The score line of Saturday’s game was ugly, and the product on the field was no better. Things are going backwards on the Plains — quickly — and the stats back it up.

FOR REFERENCE

Auburn’s four turnovers were the most it has had against a Power 5 opponent since its 3-9 season in 2012. Auburn now has the second worst turnover difference in the FBS (-8), and the only worse team is New Mexico State, which has played four games to Auburn’s three. Additionally, the Tigers are one of four teams in all of the FBS to yet force a single takeaway.

Furthermore, according to PFF, quarterback T.J. Finley was pressured on 15 of his 28 dropbacks against Penn State, and quarterback Robby Ashford (who has split time with Finley early this season) was pressured on 12 of his 27 dropbacks. In total, that’s a 61.8% pressure rate against Auburn’s quarterbacks. Moreover, Auburn running backs were held to 3.3 yards per carry, and the Nittany Lions averaged 6.3 yards per carry with their backs. It’s clear the Tigers are not getting enough from their most experienced position groups: the offensive and defensive line.

It’s not just the single-game performance that is so worrisome for fans of the orange-and-blue, however. The Tigers, under head coach Bryan Harsin, have committed a turnover in 13 of 16 games, including five multi-turnover games.

Put simply, you cannot preach about having a tough, disciplined, grind-it-out team and then commit massive amounts of mistakes and fail to show up in the margins game after game.

Going forward, there is a greater sense of uncertainty at Auburn’s quarterback position, and even more doubt surrounding the man in charge of the Tigers. Harsin is clearly feeling the pressure, as evident in his press conference Monday.

When asked about the rushing performance against Penn State — star running back Tank Bigsby received just nine carries — Harsin responded by critiquing his critics, saying “You guys don’t sit in the meetings and look at the game plan and what they’re trying to do.”

When asked plainly about what the Tigers aren’t getting done on the field on gamedays, Harsin deflected and touted his team’s preparation in practice.

“All the prep and all the things that we’ve been doing, I think there’s some really good things that we’ve done,” Harsin said. “We’re still just not there yet to raise that standard where we need to be, and we need to put in the work each and every day until Saturday so that we don’t have the mistakes that we make.”

Lastly, when asked if Saturday’s game against Missouri is a “must-win,” Harsin said, “Anytime you ask me that from this point on, yes. It is a must-win. That is why we do what we do. I don’t think there’s a game I’ve ever told anybody, ‘Hey guys, we lose this one, we’ll be all right. We’ll be on to the next one.’”

Two things can be true: Harsin inherited a mess of a situation and has never had the true backing from higher-ups at the school; and Harsin is in way over his head at the moment.

Harsin hasn’t shown the charisma and ambition it takes to recruit well in the SEC, and his poor in-game adaptability and stern coaching style has left the fan base with little faith in the scheme and coaching staff.

But give credit where credit is due: Harsin seems to have now aligned the Auburn fan base, boosters, media and students for the first time in a long time. The unfortunate truth is, however, that everyone is united against him. It may already be too far gone, but the head ball coach and the Tigers can begin to try and turn the season around this Saturday against Missouri in what is a must-win matchup.

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