AUBURN, ALABAMA (EETV)- Morale within the Auburn fan base this week is as low as it has been to this point in 2021. The Tigers are fresh off a head-scratching loss at the hands of the Mississippi State Bulldogs in which quarterback Bo Nix suffered a broken ankle, kicker Anders Carlson went down with a torn ACL and Bryan Harsin’s squad gave up 40 unanswered points to blow a 28-3 lead in the contest.
For many fans, it’s difficult to even find a silver lining going into this week’s contest with the University of South Carolina Gamecocks.
As most figured, TJ Finley will be at the helm of the Auburn offense; senior Grant Loy is listed as the team’s backup despite the eligibility of 5-star redshirt freshman Demitrius Davis. There are seven-year-old Auburn fans who have never seen a kicker whose last name is not Carlson play for their team in their lifetime. This weekend is going to be an unusual experience for fans of the orange and blue.
That being said, the Tigers are currently 6-4 and still have plenty to play for in 2021. The opportunity for Finley to get at least three games of meaningful full-contest experience will only bolster the quarterback room going into 2022, there will still be a bowl game where Harsin can begin to differentiate himself from his predecessor and — most importantly — Auburn still has the opportunity to play spoiler to the University of Alabama.
Harsin and company can still end 2021 on a positive note. The first step in that direction awaits them at Williams-Brice Stadium this Saturday at 6:00 p.m. CST.
Here’s how the Tigers get the ball rolling against the Gamecocks:
Tailor the offense to help TJ Finley.
As previously mentioned, the biggest story this week has centered around the forced change at the quarterback position. Finley has SEC experience, he even made his first start at LSU against the Gamecocks. The responsibility of setting him up to succeed falls on both Harsin and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. Call high-percentage plays, commit to the run game, don’t get yourself behind the sticks and let Finley play his brand of football. It is imperative to remember that Auburn is replacing Nix, not attempting to replicate his skillset.
Bring pressure from the defensive front.
Auburn fans have been highly critical of the Tigers’ defensive scheme in the contest against Mississippi State and rightly so. While it is important to respect an opponent’s offensive scheme — especially the air raid — it is equally important to put pressure on the quarterback. Bulldog quarterback Will Rogers had himself a historic day for MSU last week and received seemingly no pressure prior to the fourth quarter of the contest. Putting just three defenders on the line virtually every down is likely not the solution to preventing SEC offenses from reaching the end zone.
Get creative in the run game.
The Tiger run game has been about as confusing as it possibly could be in 2021. Sophomore Tank Bigsby has yet to look like himself to this point, senior Shaun Shivers has been used sparingly in check-down situations and true freshman Jarquez Hunter has been tasked with carrying the load for the running back room. For Auburn to have its way with South Carolina, it will need to find ways to create room for Bigsby and company to establish a rhythm in the ground game.
Set the receiving group up for success.
Bobo’s receiving core has been remarkably forgettable this year. The Tigers have been plagued with dropped passes, route miscommunication and overall poor execution. Shedrick Jackson has had his moments, John Samuel Shanker continues to be a reliable set of hands and Kobe Hudson was on a warpath in the week 11 clash with the maroon and white; however, aside from the win in Fayetteville, the group has yet to have a complete-team effort. With a new quarterback at the helm, it will be even more important to call plays that they are comfortable with this week than in weeks past.
Don’t outcoach yourself.
Harsin and company made a handful of mind-boggling decisions last week, namingly a fake punt in which sophomore Oscar Chapman was asked to complete a dump-off jump-pass well short of the yard to gain. While that specific play was not detrimental to the contest overall, Auburn cannot afford to get “too cute” as it rounds out the 2021 season. Although it likely seems redundant, there is no such thing as placing too much emphasis upon rolling with high-percentage play calls.