The Auburn Tigers travel to Starkville on Saturday in their first game following the firing of former head coach Bryan Harsin this week.
By Steve Wright
Here are the three keys to a positive start to a new era for the Auburn Tigers:
Ignore the Noise
There is obviously a lot going on within the Auburn football program right now. Bryan Harsin is out – to be fair, this had been coming for over half the season – and Carnell Williams is the interim head coach. As if that wasn’t enough upheaval, news broke this week that John Cohen has been announced as the new Director of Athletics at the school, ironically moving across from this week’s opponent. The coaching change has much more of a tangible impact immediately. It will be interesting to see if Williams’ history as a running back has him lean even more heavily on the ground game. Either way, the change was needed, and the players should react.
The Bulldogs’ offense is weird. They have five games where they scored 39 points or more, yet the offense has been predictable and ineffective when playing top-level defenses. Part of the problem is the lack of a running game, while the other is the lack of a deep threat. This means they win games with mid-range passes from accurate passer Will Rogers, but those passes need the receivers to elude/break tackles to be successful. Alabama shut the MSU offense down by swarming and not missing tackles. Auburn needs to do the same on Saturday, as any missed tackle is a recipe for disaster against a Mike Leach-coached team.
Find an Identity
The identity of this team should be running the ball. The Tigers average under 23 points per game, but they have run the ball for 171.9 yards per game, which is No. 50 in the country. Given the issues at quarterback with injuries and lack of production, it needs to be down to Tank Bigsby and the other backs to give this team a platform, at least in the short term. The Bulldogs run defense is good – they only allow 137 yards per game on the ground – but if Auburn can move the ball, they will have a shot against a team coming off of two straight losses, which is suddenly low on confidence.