Why Arkansas is a now-or-never game for Auburn football
Bryan Harsin (and Auburn, since 2013) is 9-1 after off weeks. Auburn has won six straight vs. Arkansas. If there's any late life left, it has to show up this Saturday.
HC Bryan Harsin (Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
The story of Auburn football’s season so far — and the Bryan Harsin era, to an extent — is largely a story of regression.
From 2021 to 2022, Auburn’s passing offense has dropped considerably in completion percentage and quarterback efficiency while throwing twice as many interceptions (10) as touchdowns (5). The rushing attack was mired in a major slump before breaking back out against a vulnerable Ole Miss defense. The offensive line has regressed across the board, in both run-blocking and pass-protection metrics.
Auburn’s greatest strength from last season, run defense, is at the worst spot it’s been in more than a decade. The pass defense, to be completely fair, has taken a step forward from the 2021 season after a notably poor start to 2022. On the recruiting trail, Auburn currently has the nation’s No. 49 class for 2023 and the third-lowest rated group among any SEC team.
Auburn is 3-9 in its last 12 games under Harsin and is in real danger of missing a bowl game for the first time since 2012. The Tigers have already lost to Penn State and Georgia by more points than they did in 2021. They’ve also lost to LSU and Ole Miss, two teams that it beat last year — with Ole Miss being a team the program had won six straight against.
When Auburn went down 21-0 at Ole Miss in its most recent game, there was a clear and obvious chance for the team to pack it in and start approaching 2012 territory. But, even though they still lost by multiple touchdowns, the Tigers fought back to make it a very competitive game.
“When you don't have great effort and when guys quit or give up, that's a problem,” Harsin said Monday. “Because that's bigger than a scheme. That's bigger than a coaching point. That's bigger than a drill you can do and all that. You don't see that. You see guys digging in. They might not get where they need to be, or we didn't put them in the right position to be successful, either way.
“But when you have effort and you have guys out there trying really hard and they practice like they have and they practice like they did yesterday, there's a lot of potential.”
That’s the message from Harsin and his three permanent team captains following an off week: They still believe, even if few outside of the program do, that there’s potential for a stronger finish to the season.
“Our record doesn’t show it, but I feel like we have a way better team than what our record shows,” linebacker Owen Pappoe said. “We’ve just got to go out here for these last five games and show the world that.”
And if Harsin and Pappoe are correct, then the Tigers are going to have to show it this Saturday against Arkansas — or things could get even worse on the Plains.