Is Harsin Unsure of the Tigers?

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Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin watches his team practice on Aug. 14.

BY HARRISON TARR
FOR THE OPELIKA OBSERVER

Game week has arrived on the Plains of Auburn, and there is a sense of excitement among the community that is even more amplified than that of recent memory. It is the simultaneous dawn of a new chapter and return to normalcy.

When the Tigers play host to the Akron Zips on Saturday, the city of Auburn will once again be packed with orange-and-blue-clad fans of all ages who all anxiously await their first glimpse of the new brand of Auburn Tiger football: the Bryan Harsin era.

With just five days before kickoff, the first-year head coach spoke in his weekly press conference about the team’s preparation and the significance of the game at hand. The answers provided by Harsin were quite different from what Auburn fans have grown accustomed to and the backlash in the Twitterverse was significant.

When Harsin was asked what would make him most happy should the Tigers take down the visiting Zips in Jordan-Hare Stadium, his response was quintessential coach talk.

The Tigers warm up before an open practice inside of Jordan-Hare Stadium last weekend. PHOTOS BY TODD VAN EMST / AU ATHLETICS

“The number one is that we had a successful game, we won the game,” Harsin said. “But right now, I mean, it’s just our focus is how do we prepare ourselves to have a good week of practice.”

While the new head coach phrased his response in a completely different way than his predecessor ever did, the message is the same: the team is focusing on practice this week before they begin to shift concentration to the game.

There’s nothing particularly interesting about the quote, but it is very much an acceptable answer.

What came next may be one of the most puzzling responses a fan of the program could ever read and even more of an oddity for journalists to interpret:

“I don’t want to put any predictions on the game only because I have no idea what we’re capable of doing this week,” Harsin said.

This is where Harsin threw the Auburn fan base off the rails. The program named him the head coach in December and he has worked alongside this group of athletes since his arrival on the Plains; one would think that Harsin might have some idea what his program is capable of.

What’s even more interesting is how nonchalant the first-year head coach was about dropping that little tidbit and his ability to move forward with seemingly no change in emotions. Maybe that’s because the next sentence he produced was almost as obscure as the one that came before it.

“Could be our best week of practice,” Harsin said. “I hope that’s the case. I hope that our performance throughout the week of preparation shows up in the game and that we play good football.”

There is no way to break this down without utilizing the word ‘weird.’ As previously mentioned, coach talk is always a factor when analyzing press conference responses; in this instance, however, the message conveyed in the first minute and a half of conversation did not portray Harsin as the fearless leader fans likely want him to be.

Now the questions arise from the Auburn fan base and skeptics surrounding the program: does Harsin have no faith in his team? Is losing to Akron a real possibility? Are the Tigers going 3-9 this year?

Fans, take a deep breath.

Harsin has faith in his guys, he just doesn’t take the Gus Malzahn approach in speaking about them on a weekly basis; he does, however, continue to highlight the team’s hardest workers each week.

The odds of going 3-9 are remarkably low. The absolute floor for the 2021 Auburn program is 5-7. That being said, the ceiling is 8-4.

If losing to Akron was not a possibility, they would not play the game. If the experts and fans already knew who was going to win, playing would be pointless.

With this in mind, I expect Auburn to hang nearly 50 points on the Zips and cover the spread. Harsin wants a big win to start his career. All three quarterbacks need to see game time and the team needs to build a collaborative sense of confidence in a hurry if the program wishes to compete with Penn State and then the rest of the SEC.

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