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Playing Nice: Auburn

TJ Finley comes home looking to give Auburn its first win in Baton Rouge since 1999

Akron v Auburn Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

Big thanks to our friends over at College and Magnolia for playing along.

1. Auburn’s stock seems to be tanking. The Tigers lost a tough game at Penn State and nearly lost to Georgia Southern at home last Saturday. And for the month of October they have @ LSU, Georgia, @ Arkansas, and Ole Miss. How does Brian Harsin keep this from spiraling?

What you’re not counting on, my friend, is dumb Auburn luck. We’ll figure out a way to manage ourselves out of it. Until then, we can still bank on the unknowns of this team and this staff. Did we actually prepare at all for Georgia State or did we put everything into LSU and Georgia over the past week? How do we know? We don’t.

It’s no secret that Auburn probably has the toughest remaining schedule left in the country with Bama (#1), Georgia (#2), Arkansas (#8), Ole Miss (#12), and Texas A&M (#15) still on the docket. Add in LSU in a stadium where our losing streak is on track to graduate college this year, and it’s no easy slate. The good news is that we get Bama, Georgia, and Ole Miss at home, and we’ve never lost at Kyle Field. For Auburn to be successful and compete against any of these teams, though, we’ll need to figure out a way to get a little more out of the passing game to support our rushing attack. Even Georgia State packed the box and we couldn’t do much because Bo Nix couldn’t hit receivers/they couldn’t catch the good passes. We ran fairly well against Penn State, and that gives me confidence, but teams are just going to start bringing 9 and making us hit passes. Have to figure something out there.

2. LSU-Auburn is always a fascinating game and this year the intrigue is amplified with TJ Finley switching sides. Is Finley starting Saturday or does the coaching staff stand by Bo Nix another week?

Your guess is as good as ours. It’s fairly complicated, to be honest. If you start Bo Nix, you go with experience and maybe get a little bit better edge at the beginning of the game when it will surely be loud and wild. I don’t think that Finley has really dealt with that especially since most of his experience came with COVID crowds last year. I think Nix has the higher ceiling, but he has such a propensity to melt down and let mistakes compound. If you go with Finley, I think you give the team a little energy boost going with the guy that brought them back and tossed the game-winning score. I’m positive that Bo doesn’t score a touchdown there if he’s plopped into the same situation. Plus, there are some rumors that Bo got a little nagging injury in the Penn State game, so that may have explained why he was sailing passes and having trouble against GSU. In the end, I don’t think it matters who you go with, because you’ll probably be seeing both quarterbacks alternating whenever one has trouble. If it was my decision, I start Finley and reward him for saving the game last week. The team seemed to really perk up when he came in, so let’s see if that carries over.

3. Auburn’s struggled at wide receiver this year and now they’ve fired their position coach. Will that actually change anything?

I think it will. What we learned after watching the GSU film back was that Auburn’s receivers had a ton of trouble getting even the most basic stuff correct on Saturday. There were about four plays where Auburn only had 10 players on the field, and even on our game-winning drive we needed Caylin Newton to run on to be that 11th man. It’s apparently been an issue where they just haven’t gotten the offense yet, and much of that falls on their coach. Now, the guy standing in was Bryan Harsin’s OC at Boise last year, so he should have a much better idea of how to get guys in the right position and have them doing the correct things. I don’t think it’ll turn our guys into a bunch of Kayshon Bouttes, but literally any improvement will help.

4. Do you like Auburn’s offensive line’s chances going up against a pretty dang good LSU defensive front?

Honestly, if we’re talking about the offensive line against LSU’s defensive line, then I do. It’s when they’re going up against the defensive line, linebackers, and a safety that I have my doubts. It really depends on how often Auburn’s line gets a chance to battle one on one against the defensive line/linebackers in the run game. If we hit a few passes, then maybe things ease up a bit, but if whoever starts at quarterback is off target once again, then it’s going to be tough for Auburn’s line to hold up against the pressure.

5. Auburn’s the ranked team in this game but LSU’s a slight betting favorite. Which way are you leaning?

Looking at the line, it’s down to 3.5 points at the moment, meaning that they’re essentially giving LSU the home field advantage and putting these teams as equals. With the weight of history against Auburn, and the evidence that whenever we bring a team that’s probably the better side down to Baton Rouge, we pretty much fall flat on our faces. Quite honestly, I have to choose to barn hard in this moment and believe that Auburn has actually been planning on this game for two weeks and will have a much better strategy than we saw against Georgia State and Penn State.

When it comes to Baton Rouge, Auburn has lost every single type of contest down there — ones where he had no shot and ones where we blew our shot — and I think it’s finally time that we figure it out. Gus Malzahn always seemed to place importance on the Iron Bowl. He had more tricks up his sleeve for Alabama than any other game, and he was more successful against the Tide than any other coach in the SEC during his tenure. This is Bryan Harsin’s opportunity to carve out his niche and break the Baton Rouge streak. I think it was something he identified early on after being hired, and placed importance on this one in particular. With that said, I think TJ Finley gets the start, throws for a couple touchdowns, Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter each have one more, and the Auburn defense is able to keep the LSU offense just frustrated enough. Auburn gets the win 28-24.

6. Auburn hasn’t won in Baton Rouge since 1999. What were *you* doing the last time Auburn won in Tiger Stadium?

I polled the rest of the College and Magnolia writing staff, and here’s our rundown.

Me (Jack Condon) - I was 10 and spent the night before the game at a friend’s house on Mobile Bay, then missed the game while we drove back to Montgomery the next day.

James Jones - Watched from our apartment in Lewisville, NC. Mom made hot dogs. She made them again for the UGA game a few weeks later. As a result we ate hot dogs for a lot of TV games for a few years

AU Chief - I was in a Corn Field probably somewhere around Piedmont, listening to Jim Fyfe make the call while hunting doves

Thomas Northcutt - Still living off the high of the Vols National Championship at the age of 3

Drew Mac - In Valdosta, Ga as a sophomore in High School, I was at our computer desk streaming the so I could listen to Jim and dad and I watched the game slack jawed at the kitchen table while Jim screamed with joy

Ryan Sterritt - My brothers would’ve been playing football on separate teams too so I might’ve been there. But it was all the same place so I’ll say that. Put me down for Collins Hill park playing tball

Josh Black - Watching the game from home as it was a day game and my brother had a football game the night before. Was in the 7th grade.