Auburn can't afford these 'hidden yardage' losses anymore.
Turnovers and penalties were a problem in the Tigers' first two paycheck games. With Penn State coming to town, the price for these self-inflicted mistakes are even higher.
HC Bryan Harsin (Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
Let’s get this out of the way up front: Nothing in this newsletter should take away from what San Jose State did against Auburn last Saturday night.
The Spartans played hard for all 60 minutes. They had a good game plan to give the Tigers problems on both offense and defense. They executed it well.
But the story of Auburn’s one-score win over San Jose State can’t be told without mentioning the high amount of self-inflicted issues the heavily favored hosts had.
And those stick out to Bryan Harsin as Auburn prepares for its first big game of the season — a CBS showdown with Penn State, which is currently a 3-point road favorite inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.
On Monday, Harsin opened Week 3 by pointing to two major problems, turnovers and penalties, in his very first answer to a question about what he took away from his review of Week 2.
“We've had four turnovers (this season), and we've gotten zero,” Harsin said. “So we've lost the turnover battle in each game. That's not a good formula that's going to be sustainable. Defensively, we've got to be able to create some takeaways, somehow, some way.
“I thought the penalties — and I haven't gotten the officials' report back on what they thought about all those — but that killed our momentum. Every time, it just kind of seemed it went around to each official. They were going to call a penalty some how, some way. And it slowed our momentum down.”
Auburn is -4 in turnover margin through the first two games of the season, which is the worst mark for the program since the infamous 2012 campaign. The Tigers also committed four turnovers through two weeks in the much more successful 2019 season, but they forced a turnover in each of those games.
And it’s unclear just how long it’s been since Auburn has played its first two games without forcing a single turnover. Game-by-game statistics for the team only go back to the 1996 season.
Auburn isn’t alone in this, however. The Tigers are one of eight FBS teams that haven’t forced a single turnover through two games. Two of the other seven, if you’re looking for any strands of optimism? Ohio State and Alabama.
Speaking of Auburn’s in-state rival, Alabama is coming off a game in which it committed the most penalties ever under Nick Saban. On that same day, Auburn committed nine penalties for 85 yards. Through the first two games of the season, the Tigers have given away 105 yards in penalties.
“We had a ton of penalties, which is uncharacteristic of our football team,” Harsin said. “… You chalk it up just some of the stuff that we have to do a better job of fundamentally. Blocking, tackling, some of those things that just happened in the game. And then just being disciplined. I think there was some things in there on some of those penalties — we've got to be more disciplined on what happened to us.
“The turnovers are what hurts.”
Point spreads are for gambling first and foremost, but they can be a decent guide of how a team is expected to do in a game. And Auburn has failed to cover its spread as a large home favorite in each of the first two games this season.
Turnovers and penalties have played significant roles in that, and they could hurt Auburn even more in the future — now that the Tigers play nothing but Power 5 foes between now and mid-November.
“You're gonna have little mistakes here and there,” tight end John Samuel Shenker said Monday. “But now it's the time, with Penn State coming to town, to really hone in on the details and eliminate those mistakes moving forward.”
Turnovers and penalties play significant roles in what is referred to as “hidden yardage” in football. A glance at the total yardage stats can usually tell you how a game went on the scoreboard. But turnovers and penalties can be just as important.
For more on that, let’s turn to a Hall of Fame coach
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