Heading into November with the Tigers knocking on the door of college football’s Top 10 following back-to-back wins over ranked opponents, it sure looked like Auburn would have a chance to make it three straight wins in Iron Bowl games played at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Now that Iron Bowl week is here, a win for the Tigers vs. their in-state rival looks to be a longshot. It’s not that Alabama is playing a lot better football than it was a month ago. The Tide has clinched the SEC West title, but hasn’t always looked great doing it and had a close call at home last Saturday at home against an Arkansas team the Tigers handled in Fayetteville.
The issue for the Tigers is their inconsistency on offense, defense and special teams as well as questionable coaching decisions, something that starts at the top.
A veteran sportswriter, who has covered the Tigers since Shug Jordan was roaming the sidelines, told me in his opinion Bryan Harsin’s decision to try to convert a fourth down on the Auburn 35-yard line last Saturday night just before halftime was the biggest in-game blunder he has seen by a head coach of the Tigers.
Considering that set up the Gamecocks for the game-tying touchdown, changed the momentum and was the biggest play of the night in a 21-17 loss to a team with inferior talent, he probably has a good point.
What made the risky decision even harder to understand was leaving Tank Bigsby on the sidelines for the fourth and one play. That made no sense, particularly since it was obvious he was playing his best game of the season and the offensive line was giving him running room.
Instead, the Tigers tried to fool the Gamecocks, but they were waiting on a pass and had wide receiver Demetris Robertson double-covered. That was the game’s turning point in a third straight loss for the Tigers, the longest losing streak for Auburn since Gene Chizik’s last season as head coach in 2012.
Offense, defense and kicking game inconsistencies have contributed to the losing streak and explain why the Tigers are a big underdog for Saturday’s game.
One of the good stories this fall for Auburn athletics is that the women’s basketball team was finally able to end the longest losing streak in program history that had reached 19 games. Even though new head coach Johnnie Harris inherited a talent-thin roster, it wasn’t a surprise when the Tigers ended the streak against Alabama State, which plays in a league that doesn’t have the type of players who should be able to beat an SEC team.
However, win two of the season had plenty of wow factor as the Tigers traveled to Atlanta and stunned 4-0 and 18th-ranked Georgia Tech. I doubt many people saw that coming, including former Auburn head coach Nell Fortner, who has built a strong program as head coach of the Yellow Jackets.
When Harris was hired last spring she did not promise Auburn fans immediate success, but she did say the Tigers would play with intensity and be serious about defending. Auburn used that formula to earn its first win vs. a ranked team since 2019 and first road win vs. a ranked team since 2012, which is a step forward on the road towards rebuilding a once strong program.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter.