Auburn football went from challenging Penn State to getting upset by Georgia State in back-to-back weeks. Here’s where to point fingers.
Though looking at the 34-24 final score might lead you to believe otherwise, the Auburn Tigers were one play away from getting upset by a 1-2 Georgia State Panthers team on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. If not for a quarterback change and then a passing touchdown followed by a pick-six in the final minute, they would’ve taken their second straight loss.
Georgia State is building an unmatched résumé for the 2021 college football season — not the best, but definitely unmatched. Adding to a 33-point loss to Army and a 42-point loss to North Carolina, the Panthers went to Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday and shocked the SEC by almost upsetting No. 23-ranked Auburn.
While the Panthers deserve plenty of credit, the fact of the matter is that Auburn should have never been in that position. The Tigers gave a Penn State team now ranked in the top 10 all they could handle last week only to defecate all over the bed against an opponent that had shown no sign of being able to play with any high-level competition prior to this game.
Auburn paid over $1.2 million to almost lose on their home field to Georgia State, so it’s definitely time to start pointing some fingers. And these are where you can point them and put the blame for the Tigers.
Who’s most to blame for Auburn almost getting upset by Georgia State?
3. Bo Nix, Quarterback
Anytime an SEC starting quarterback gets benched when playing a Sun Belt team that entered the game with a 1-2 record, you can pretty safely say he didn’t help the cause. And such was the case for Bo Nix on Saturday.
Nix has never been perfect but, at least in the Gus Malzahn offense, he was effective against inferior competition. That wasn’t even the case against the Panthers, though. Nix was a detriment to the offense as he went just 13-of-27 for 156 yards and consistently stalling drives and forcing Auburn to settle for field goals. Hence why LSU transfer TJ Finley came in to replace him late.
Especially with a new coaching staff in place, Auburn is going to have to think long and hard about the long-term viability of Nix and whether or not his experience outweighs the obvious shortcomings that are present.
2. Bryan Harsin, Head Coach
Whenever Malzahn was fired and Bryan Harsin made his way to Auburn from Boise State, the promise sold to fans was that these types of letdown games wouldn’t happen anymore. So much for that, right?
On Saturday, even in their home stadium, the Tigers looked as if Harsin had barely been in the building after the Penn State game. They were flat on both sides of the ball and appeared to wholly be taking the Panthers lightly as if they could just show up and both move the ball on Georgia State while simultaneously stopping them.
That comes back to the head coach and his staff. College football isn’t just about winning the marquee games, particularly at a program like Auburn. It’s about showing up every week and delivering. Harsin did not have his group ready to do that on Saturday and he’s lucky to escape without another loss on his early ledger with the program.
1. The entire defensive line
Auburn’s defensive line had drawn rave reviews throughout the 2021 season to this point. They had been a physical and forceful unit that imposed their will, even in the loss to Penn State. Somehow, that didn’t translate to playing Georgia State because that unit was nowhere to be seen as the Panthers ran all over the Tigers.
Not only did Georgia State quarterback Darren Grainger rush 17 times for 61 yards (to greater effectiveness than his sack-affected yardage would indicate) but fullback Tucker Gregg looked like Bo Jackson — a purposeful comparison — as he rushed for 150 yards and a touchdown on only 12 carries.
If the offense is going to have to rely so heavily on Tank Bigsby, the defense has to be a dominant unit, particularly in the trenches. Subsequently, getting pushed around by Georgia State in that department leads to games like this one and, naturally, almost taking an upset.