The Auburn Tigers are looking to rebound this Saturday when they host the Missouri Tigers in the SEC opener for both schools. Both teams come into the game at 2-1, losing their only games against power five opponents. Missouri dropped a game against Kansas State 40-12 in week two, and Auburn is coming off an embarrassing 41-12 loss to Penn State at home. The temperature is very hot on the plains when it comes to the job status of head coach Bryan Harsin. He came into the season under a lot of scrutiny and having the biggest home loss for the Tigers since the 2012 season did not help matters. Remember, in 2012 Auburn went 0-8 in the SEC and fired Gene Chizik after the season. Harsin cannot afford a loss here to Missouri. This is the fourth all-time meeting between the two schools, and the third since Missouri joined the SEC in 2012. Auburn holds a 2-1 advantage including at 59-42 victory in the 2013 SEC Championship Game.
Can Auburn Rebound Against Missouri?
T.J. Finley is out
When both Tigers take the field at 11 a.m. Central on ESPN Saturday, Auburn will be starting a new quarterback. AL.com’s Tom Green reported Tuesday that T.J. Finley would not play in the game due to a shoulder injury. On the season Finley has thrown for 431 yards and just one touchdown. He also has thrown four interceptions. It could be assumed that Robby Ashford would get the start, but perhaps Zach Calzada or freshman Holden Geriner could play. Whoever gets the nod will need help from the offensive line. Auburn gave up six sacks against Penn State, and both Finley and Ashford faced constant pressure throughout the game. The good news is that Missouri has not been great at getting to quarterback through the first three games with just five sacks. That currently ranks ninth in the SEC.
All off-season the Auburn coaching staff mentioned how they were going to run the ball and feature junior running back Tank Bigsby more than they did in 2021. In the first half against Penn State, Bigsby only carried the ball five times. He had zero attempts in the second quarter. The reason from Harsin for the lack of touches? He said it was due to being behind early. The halftime score was Penn State 14, Auburn 6. Being down just eight points at halftime is not a reason to abandon the running game. In fact, Finley had just as many carries in the game as Bigsby at nine. Auburn needs to focus heavily on Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter. Especially knowing that the Auburn offensive line has shown it struggles in pass protection. When Kansas State defeated Missouri in week two the Wildcats had 235 yards on the ground led by 145 by Deuce Vaughn. If Auburn will focus on the run game and stay committed to it, they should have success.
Win the line of scrimmage
As stated above Missouri is ninth in the SEC in sacks so far this season. Auburn is tenth in the conference with just four sacks. They have put little to no pressure on opposing quarterbacks and basically gave Penn State signal-caller Sean Clifford a clean pocket on Saturday. They also could not stop the Nittany Lions rush attack and gave up 245 yards on the ground. Penn State blew the Tigers off the ball for the entire four quarters. Auburn should not be outplayed to that degree with talented players like Derick Hall, Owen Pappoe, Eku Leota, and Colby Wooden. Hall got to the quarterback nine times in 2021 but has only managed one sack this season. Auburn needs him to become the game-wrecker that he has the potential to be.
Missouri does not present the challenge in the run game like Penn State with quarterback Brady Cook as the team’s leading rush at 159 yards. He has found some success in the air passing for 626 and four touchdowns, but if Auburn can limit the Missouri rushing attack they should be able to put all their attention on the quarterback. Auburn has not created or caused a single turnover this season, and forcing Cook into some bad throws would be huge. Not just for the defense, but also for the offense.
Auburn vs Missouri Prediction
Will Auburn rebound against Missouri? They had better because it does not get much easier after Saturday. It does not get easy at all. An Auburn loss here and, they may not win a conference at all in 2022. If Auburn comes out and sticks to rush attack and uses the talent it has on defense correctly they should be able to come out with a 24-10 victory. If the Missouri Tigers come out victorious in this one, there could be changes at Auburn.