Yes, Bryan Harsin came up with some bad play calls in important situations in Auburn’s loss to Penn State. Yes, the loss felt like a lot of the losses Gus Malzahn endured on The Plains, creating the familiar frustration among Auburn fans which drove the Gus Bus out of town and into the AAC, where Malzahn is already struggling at UCF.
By Matt Zemek
It’s true that Harsin has to be better, but let’s not get carried away in blaming all of this loss on the head coach. Players fumbled without being touched. Bo Nix still has to make better throws. (Smoking Akron obviously didn’t fix everything – imagine that!) Most of all, Auburn was viewed to be in a transition year to begin with. Harsin needs a few recruiting classes to more fully put his stamp on the Auburn program. This is a get-acquainted season in which far-reaching verdicts on the state of Auburn football simply aren’t warranted. It is fair to render big-picture verdicts on Harsin in Year 2 next season, but Year 1 is a time to sit back and evaluate what Harsin has on his hands, how he reacts to SEC opponents, and what the formula should be for a restoration of Auburn in 2022.
Harsin is just getting started. He doesn’t have a great hand of cards this season. Auburn fans need at least one year of calm before they worry about whether Harsin really is the man for the job. That doomsday mindset just isn’t necessary right now.
1 – Back to basics with Bo
Bo Nix is not a fully polished product. News flash! Of course Akron and Alabama State weren’t going to prove much of anything about Nix’s evolution. A final game against a Group of Five opponent needs to be a game in which Nix’s reactions are sharper, his decisions better, and his throws more decisive. Habits need to improve and development needs to occur after the up-and-down showing at Penn State. Nix had his share of moments, but ran into the limitations posed by a good Penn State defense. Once SEC competition arrives, Nix will work with a small margin for error and will need to be on top of his game. Building toward that level of form is what this game needs to achieve, at least to a reasonable degree.
2 – Ball security
Losing a fumble without being touched – that’s the kind of mistake which can’t be hung on a head coach. That mistake was devastating versus Penn State, and it cannot be tolerated in SEC play. This is definitely a week to create much more accountability in the realm of ball security.
3 – Cornerbacks
Auburn allowed Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson to make 10 catches for 78 yards. It became clear that Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford was going to look for Dotson in important situations, but Auburn’s secondary never fully solved him. The Tigers need to prevent No. 1 receivers from repeatedly burning them. Georgia State doesn’t have threats on par with Dotson, but the Auburn secondary has to use this game as a teaching tool before SEC play begins.