The 2021 Auburn Tigers at midseason has a familiar look from past seasons. Which is very inconsistent. The Tigers started the season 2-0 with dominating victories over inferior opponents in Akron and Alabama State. Even after the the28-20 loss at Penn State, there were many positives about the start of the Bryan Harsin era on the Plains. Then the near loss to Georgia State that saw both Bo Nix and Tank Bigsby see the finish on the bench. The following two weeks against LSU and Georgia continued the chaotic play.
At 4-2 where is this program at in year one under the regime as they gear up for the second half of the season?
Auburn Tigers at Midseason
Where is Tank?
The offense opened the first two games averaging 61 points per game and 575.5 yards per game. The run game was finding its rhythm as well putting up rushing totals of 316 and 364. Even in the loss in the third game at Penn State, the run game showed its physicality with Tank Bigsby leading the way. Bigsby averaged 114.3 yards per game and 7.3 yards per carry with four touchdowns.
In the last three against Georgia State, LSU, and Georgia the sophomore has rushed for a total of 115 yards and one touchdown with a 3.1 average per attempt. Against Georgia, it was going to be tough running the ball, but the lack of success against Georgia State and LSU is concerning. LSU has given up on average 154.2 yards per game on the ground but in that contest, Auburn totaled 163 yards. 74 of those yards were by quarterback Bo Nix.
The Bo Nix Experience
Speaking of the third-year quarterback, it seems Nix has reverted back to the quarterback he was under Gus Malzahn, and not what was seen in the first three games. Nix has gone back to throwing on the run again and not settling in the pocket as he should. Not saying that he has not made plays with that style of play, but it does not lend itself to consistency. On the season Nix has completed 58% of his passes for 1,196 yards and six touchdowns. He has done better about interceptions with only throwing one so far this season. Nix has not been helped though by his receivers. Unfortunately, they have dropped catchable passes. Meanwhile, the offensive line has not played well at times. Players like Kobe Hudson, Demetris Robertson, and Shedrick Jackson need to step up and give Nix some help.
A New Star
Notably, a bright spot for the Auburn offense has been the emergence of freshman running back Jarquez Hunter. Going into the season the rotation was built around Bigsby and Shaun Shivers but due to Shivers being injured early the Tigers needed a third back to step up. Hunter has done that in a very big way. Hunter is leading the team with 465 yards and is seventh in the SEC. He has scored three touchdowns and most importantly has gained the trust of his head coach. Against Georgia State and LSU in crunch time it was Hunter getting the bulk of the carries and not Bigsby.
How about the Defense?
Ultimately, the Auburn defense has not been bad under defensive coordinator Derek Mason. It has not been great either. Especially in the secondary. At times this season the defensive backs have given up many big chunk plays that have set up opposing offenses for points. Auburn is ninth in the SEC with giving up 216 yards passing. Roger McCreary has been good and so has Smoke Monday (when on the field). McCreary on the season has a team-leading two interceptions.
Overall, the group is fifth in the SEC giving up just 19.2 points per game, and is sixth in the conference in total defense. The defense has been hurt by not having their two-star linebackers on the field together this season with Zakoby McClain and Owen Pappoe. McClain missed two halves due to a controversial targeting call against Penn State and Pappoe has not been on the field due to injury. Chandler Wooten has picked up the slack though, leading the team with 43 tackles.
Traveling to Arkansas
The second half of the season starts off with a trip to play 17th ranked Arkansas. The game will be an 11 a.m. central time kickoff and will be televised on CBS. The early kickoff has not been kind to Tigers over the years. This perhaps can be an opportunity to change that trend. The Razorbacks are coming off losses to Georgia and Ole Miss after starting the season 4-0.
Head coach Sam Pittman has instilled a physical style of play for the Razorbacks. They will look to run the ball to set up their passing game with quarterback K.J. Jefferson and receiver Treylon Burks. Arkansas comes into the game fourth in the SEC in rushing with 244.8 yards per game. Auburn on the other hand is third against run giving up on average 105 yards a game. That will be where this game is won on Saturday. The Auburn Tigers at midseason questions could be answered with a win over the Razorbacks.