BY WIL CREWS
Despite nearly losing the game on multiple occasions, the Auburn Tigers hung around long enough to defeat Missouri in overtime Saturday, as head coach Bryan Harsin survived another week on the hot seat.
The Tigers prevailed in Saturday’s SEC opener by nothing short of Jordan-Hare Stadium magic.
The opposing Tigers had all but won the game near the end of regulation as junior placekicker Harrison Mevis lined up to attempt a potential game-winning field goal from 26 yards out. Amazingly, the career 79% kicker — who had also never missed from within 30 yards — swung the kick wide right, and the two teams headed to overtime.
Auburn opened the extra period by going -2 yards on three plays before Anders Carlson drilled a 39-yard field goal to give his team the advantage. On the second play of Missouri’s ensuing drive, running back Nathaniel Peat broke a run down the left sideline and looked poised to rush in the game-winning touchdown. Miraculously, Peat dropped the ball — as if he was spooked by the lore of previous Auburn comebacks — just before crossing the goal line, allowing Auburn players to fall on the pigskin in the end zone, ending the game.
It wasn’t pretty; but history remembers the scoreboard, not what got you there. Overall, however, it was another subpar performance from Auburn.
After scoring on their opening two possessions, the Tigers from the Plains went scoreless for the remainder of regulation. Anders Carlson missed a field goal just before the half, and the Tigers ended the game with six punts and one turnover on downs where running back Tank Bigsby was stuffed at the line on a fourth-and-one.
In total. Auburn managed just 97 yards of offense in the second half against Mizzou. The offensive line was again manhandled at the point of attack, restricting running lanes for Auburn’s backs and allowing pressure to get to the quarterback almost immediately. Due to that, much of Auburn’s offense — with starting quarterback T.J. Finley inactive with a shoulder injury — was predicated on quarterback Robby Ashford using his elite speed to make something out of nothing on broken plays.
The silver linings of the game can be found in the fact that no Auburn quarterback — true freshman Holden Geriner got snaps after Ashford missed time in the game due to a wrist injury — threw an interception. Through three games, turnovers were one of the biggest, correctible mistakes plaguing the Tigers. That wasn’t not the case Saturday.
On the flip side, another issue Auburn has had in the early part of the season has been the inability of the defense to generate sacks and turnovers. Well, Auburn’s defense stepped up Saturday to the tune of four sacks, seven tackles for loss and one interception — courtesy of defensive end Derrick Hall in the first quarter.
Besides Bigsby garnering a season-high 19 carries, that is about it when it comes to looking for the positives in Auburn’s performance.
After the game, Harsin’s press conference carried the same uninspired, defensive tone as many of his recent media sessions. Harsin was “happy” with his team’s effort but wants his team to “execute” better.
It’s the same script he has said after each contest this season, win or loss. Harsin continued to say that if his team is repeatedly getting behind the down-and-distance, he and his staff begin to consider what they are doing schematically. Unfortunately, his team has often been behind the down-and-distance in games this year, yet the offense has remained the same — even through an opportunity to make adjustments at halftime.
Ultimately, Saturday provided an opportunity for Harsin, his staff and the players to turn a corner on the 2022 season against what was, on paper, an inferior team. The result: the same poor play and disjointed feeling that has loomed over the program since the opener against Mercer. Auburn looks stuck. The fans, boosters and media are continuously getting pushed toward one solution: moving on from Harsin and his staff. The head coach will have at least one more opportunity to win over supporters into his camp when LSU comes to town this Saturday. It could be a season-defining matchup for both teams — and a career (at least at Auburn) definer for Harsin.