After an interesting initial road trip of the Bryan Harsin Era, the Auburn Tigers will play an earlier in the season than normal Homecoming game this Saturday when one of the younger programs in college football, Georgia State, makes its first appearance at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The Panthers began playing intercollegiate football in 2010 and didn’t move up to the Division I level until three years later. The last time Georgia State played an SEC team it was a bad Saturday for the 2019 Tennessee Vols, who suffered the embarrassment of a home loss to the visitors from the Sun Belt Conference.
Auburn is heavily favored to win this Homecoming like it usually does in those games. The Tigers improved to 82-8-4 all-time in those match-ups with a victory over Tennessee in the Covid-plagued fall that was devoid of the normal activities that have made the Homecoming weeks so popular on the Plains.
Georgia State was expected to be a factor in its league race this year, but got off to a slow start with losses to Army and North Carolina before winning last week at home vs. Charlotte while Auburn was suffering its first loss.
Auburn certainly had opportunities to bring home a victory from a hard-fought SEC vs. Big Ten matchup at Penn State, a 28-20 decision in which Auburn’s pass defense was exposed in a major way. There were plenty of hints that could be an issue with the secondary allowing too many passes to be completed in first two games, even though the Tigers outscored their opponents by an average of 56 points in those contests.
Through three games the Tigers are allowing opponents to connect on a very unusual 78.7 percent of their pass plays, the worst average of any of the 130 teams playing football at the FBS level.
After studying video of the loss to the Nittany Lions, Harsin confirmed what I suspected while watching the action from the press box on Saturday night. The coach said that while Penn State is a good team, Auburn’s lack of discipline in getting properly aligned and carrying out assignments was a major problem for his team.
Those problems weren’t a factor against lightweights Akron and Alabama State, but were a major issue against the Nittany Lions, who feature the type of players who are good enough to make an opponent pay for its substandard execution.
I believe much of the focus for Saturday’s game will be on cleaning up mistakes the coaches saw on both defense and offense when grading their players on their performances in the Penn State game. The video review doesn’t lie and I think Harsin and his staff were pleased with the effort from the Tigers, but perturbed with some of the sloppiness regarding the execution of individual players.
Harsin and his assistants are still working on coaching up their guys to be the type of players who win games by not beating themselves. There are certainly plenty of Tigers who are performing at that way, but considering the head coach keeps harping on the need for “discipline” it is obvious the team is not where he wants it to be with SEC play just around the corner.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter.