BY Harrison Tarr
For the Opelika Observer
This time last week, fans of the Auburn Tigers were hopeful about their team’s chances of achieving greatness in 2021. Bryan Harsin’s squad was fresh off back-to-back victories over top-15 opponents, Bo Nix seemed to be trending upward and the Tigers had a clear path to reaching the SEC championship.
The tables have turned on Auburn since then. For the first time in program history, the Tigers left College Station with a loss; one that many could depict as demoralizing.
There is good news for fans of the orange and blue, however: three games remain on Auburn’s schedule. One of the remaining contests is bitter rival Alabama, meaning there is still a clear path for the first year of the Harsin era to be an even bigger success than initially anticipated.
Auburn’s first step in the direction of course-correction begins on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium when the Tigers play host to Mississippi State.
Here’s how the orange and blue rebuild the faith that has been prominent within their fanbase thus far in 2021:
BUILD UPON LAST WEEK’S DEFENSIVE PERFORMANCE.
When the Tigers took on the Aggies in week nine, Derek Mason’s defense put together its first complete-game effort of the 2021 season. The unit did not allow a single offensive touchdown, giving up just four field goals and manufacturing a handful of impressive stands. The development of this squad has been nothing short of impressive as the year has progressed and — should Auburn wish to win out — they need to continue their current trajectory.
LET BO NIX PLAY HIS GAME.
Nix is coming off what could be considered the worst effort of his career. The junior completed fewer than 50% of his passes, tossed an interception and gave up what proved to be the fate-determining fumble in the fourth quarter. For the third-year starter to reestablish his rhythm, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo must allow Nix to play his own brand of the game.
COMMIT TO THE RUN.
For the second time in as many weeks, Auburn faces the task of negotiating a top-tier defense in Mississippi State. Listed at No. 20 in the FBS, this Bulldog defensive unit is significantly better than that of recent memory; yards will be difficult to come by and establishing an efficient run game will be crucial after the forgettable display at Kyle Field. A commitment to feeding Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter will open up a world of opportunities in a down-field passing game which was seemingly non-existent against the A&M.
MIX UP OFFENSIVE PLAY CALLING.
With the exception of the Georgia game, Bobo has done an adequate job of tailoring his play calling to the advantage of his skill players. Week nine was an anomaly. On several occasions, the Tigers opted for conservative play calls in second-and-short situations, leaving little room to surprise the Aggie defense and seemingly forfeiting downfield opportunities. This is not a trend Auburn can afford to continue down the stretch.
REMEMBER THAT YOU’RE PLAYING MISSISSIPPI STATE.
After dropping its third game of the year and all but eliminating itself from SEC Championship contention, it is imperative that Harsin’s squad continues to buy in to his “1-0” mentality. The Tigers have had a large amount of success over Mississippi State since the departure of Dan Mullen from Starkville; however, looking past this weekend’s assignment will likely prove detrimental as the Bulldogs have been nearly as unpredictable as their head coach Mike Leach’s press conference answers.