Auburn and LSU are utterly mysterious teams right now. Gone are the days when SEC fans and analysts could count on these teams both being in the top four of the SEC West with a chance to contend for the division against Alabama.
By Matt Zemek
It’s no longer a world in which LSU and Auburn took shots at the Tide and occasionally won. Texas A&M was the second-best team in the SEC West last year. Arkansas or Ole Miss might be the second-best team in the SEC West this year. It’s a brand new world, and the stability of both Tigers in the SEC West can no longer be taken for granted.
LSU did get a crucial win at Mississippi State, but it certainly wasn’t that convincing. Auburn is out here struggling to beat Georgia State and needing late-game heroics to survive against a Group of Five team. Is Bryan Harsin the man Auburn needs right now? It’s too early to say. However, Auburn fans have clearly become very concerned by what they are seeing. Many AU partisans see too much of Gus Malzahn in Harsin, being cute with his play calls instead of having a bread-and-butter reliance on what works. However, it’s only Year 1, and far-reaching judgments simply can’t be made with a roster which is, first of all, not comprised of Harsin’s recruits. This roster also has one very big problem which this past weekend might have changed. Let’s see what needs to happen versus LSU.
1 – The Finley Factor
T.J. Finley, former LSU quarterback, gets to play his former team in a very spicy plot twist. Finley led the comeback against Georgia State and has taken the starting job from Bo Nix. Isn’t this something Auburn needed to happen? Who thought Bo Nix was the answer? Maybe his dad, but not anyone outside the Nix family. Expecting Auburn to win big with Bo Nix under center was never a realistic expectation, to the extent that Nix never proved worthy of such hope or optimism. Let’s see what Finley can do. Given that he knows a thing or two about the LSU program, let’s see if Auburn shows that it has self-scouted for LSU and can study the Bayou Bengals in ways which prove effective.
2 – Receive a boost
Say this much for Bryan Harsin: He’s not going to sit around and take losing – or underperforming – lightly. He means business. Now we need to see whether his adjustments and decisions will actually bear fruit. Harsin not only benched Bo Nix (a legacy quarterback, given his family connection to Auburn), he fired his wide receiver coach and insisted on something better.
One of the things I always point out when a staff or roster shakeup occurs is that while the move itself might contain value (this guy is better than that guy), the other reason for a shakeup is that it gets the attention of the players and everyone in the locker room: Losing is not tolerated. There’s urgency here. Getting the attention of everyone in the room is often the bigger reason – and the bigger benefit – of a shakeup. Let’s see if these shakeups jolt Auburn into a better, more alert frame of mind and create a strong performance versus LSU.
3 – Make Max Johnson win this game
Is Max Johnson really the answer at LSU? Many people have their doubts. Take away the running game and force Max Johnson to throw the ball vertically to win this game. He couldn’t score 30 points against Mississippi State. That should tell you something about where Johnson and the LSU offense are.