Proving Your Worth

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How Auburn Takes Care of Business in Happy Valley

BY HARRISON TARR
FOR THE OPELIKA OBSERVER

After back-to-back blowout victories, the time is now upon Bryan Harsin and the No. 22 Auburn Tigers. This week, the stakes are high. This week, the true skill of the orange and blue will be put to the test. This week, Harsin proves his worth in the midst of a white-out in Happy Valley.

With a third consecutive week of posting a wide margin of victory off the table, here are five things Tiger fans should expect of their team when Auburn travels to State College, Pennsylvania, to take on the No. 10 ranked Nittany Lions of Penn state:

1. ESTABLISH THE RUN GAME EARLY.

Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has a trio of weapons in his running back room. Tank Bigsby has looked as-advertised in his first two appearances; true freshman Jarquez Hunter has established himself as a weapon when his counterpart needs relief minutes; and veteran Shaun Shivers looks prepared to carry out his job as a situational back. Use the trio early and often. Forcing Penn State to respect the running game will open up endless possibilities in the passing game.

2. SET BO NIX UP TO PROVE “THIS IS THE YEAR.”

Internet memes aside, protecting Nix must remain high on Harsin’s list of priorities. Despite early struggles against Alabama State in week two, the junior quarterback has shown an improved ability to step up in the pocket and use his ability to scramble strategically. The game plan heading into Happy Valley must incorporate an emphasis on setting the third-year starter up for success.

3. CLEAN UP THE DEFENSE.

After an impressive display against Akron in week one, Derek Mason’s squad was seemingly lost in the first two periods in week two. Pulling themselves together in the second half was sufficient to maintain the shutout against an FCS opponent but will not go over well when relied upon against a top-10 program. The manufacturing of turnovers against the Hornets was a sight for sore eyes and something that will make the orange and blue tough to beat if recreated on Saturday.

4. DON’T CHANGE ANYTHING ON SPECIAL TEAMS.

It’s not every day that fans can walk away from a game raving about their team’s play on special teams; following last week’s display, Auburn fans became the exception to that rule. After a blocked punt and field goal resulting in a scoop-and-score, Harsin’s commitment to putting together the best squad available for special teams has already proven noteworthy. Aggressive moves like this can prove game-changing against opponents like the Nittany Lions.

5. MAKE AGGRESSIVE DECISIONS ON OFFENSE.

To this point in the season, fans have had few grievances about offensive decision making; there has seldom been an instance worth getting flustered over. This week will be significantly different. The Tigers are taking on a Penn State team who loves to run the football just as much as they do and who is content to chew as much clock as possible. Possessions hold an exponentially higher amount of value than in the first two contests, placing decisions on third-and-manageable and fourth-and-short under a microscope. Game plan to keep possession of the ball and beat PSU at its own game.

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