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The anticipation and excitement surrounding last Saturday’s game resembled that of an Iron Bowl. Fans were scrambling to find tickets, and the chatter of potential orange jerseys dominated the message boards and social media throughout the week. Jordan-Hare Stadium was the host to some of the country’s top players and was supposed to be an opportunity to show them and remind the rest of the college-football world why Auburn is a top-tier program.
Early in the first quarter, Tiger linebacker Owen Pappoe delivered a tackle on Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford that will be a contender for the hit of the year. This sent Auburn fans into a frenzy and provided hope that Clifford and the Nittany Lions would be in for a long day. That hope would be short-lived.
Auburn found itself on the receiving end of a 41-12 drumming; its worst loss in Jordan-Hare since a 38-0 shutout to Georgia in 2012. We all remember how that season ended for the team and the head coach. The Tigers were outclassed in all facets of the ballgame. Like the first two games, Auburn was plagued by turnovers, but this time they played an opponent that was talented enough to make them pay for their mistakes.
At times, T.J. Finley looked like an SEC-caliber quarterback during the first half but ultimately reverted to what we’ve seen from him since joining the team - inconsistency. Robby Ashford did not fair any better, which led to postgame questions surrounding Texas A&M transfer Zach Calzada. “Yeah, we talked about it," Bryan Harsin said. "But we wanted to keep Robby in there and let him keep playing."
After receiving a head-scratching 13 carries against San Jose State, preseason All-SEC running back Tank Bigsby inexplicably only carried the ball nine times Saturday. For someone labeled as an offensive guru and quarterback whisperer, Harsin has yet to display what earned him those titles.
When Harsin was hired, many within the fanbase thought he was what Auburn needed to turn the corner and remove itself from the cycle of mediocrity it experienced under former head coach Gus Malzahn. Those thoughts seemed to be validated with a hot start of 6-2 in 2021. However, Harsin's job security appears shaky at best after losing five straight games to close out the season and a lackluster beginning to 2022.
With games versus Missouri, LSU, and Georgia on tap, if we have the same performances we’ve seen through the first three weeks, Harsin won’t make it to the team’s bye week. That is unfortunate because he seems like a great guy but is clearly in over his head. His inability to recruit is his most glaring flaw and one that will have an impact on the program for years to come.
Reports surfaced over the weekend that he is a candidate to fill the Arizona State vacancy left behind by Herm Edwards. Honestly, that job seems like a better fit for Harsin. Regardless, the conversation amongst Auburn faithful has transitioned to who Auburn should go after next when Harsin's inevitable dismissal/resignation takes place.
The familiar names of Hugh Freeze and Lane Kiffin are sure to be at the top of the list, but we think there are two coaches that would make for interesting hires, Mark Stoops and Deion Sanders. Stoops has the Kentucky Wildcats in the top ten and most recently broke Bear Bryant’s record for most wins in school history. He’s a proven winner and understands the battlegrounds of the SEC. He’s been linked to the Nebraska opening, but their state of the program may be worse than here at Auburn. Sanders is a bit of a wild card but is someone that would bring immediate excitement and national attention to the program. He’s turned HBCU Jackson State into a household name. What makes Sanders so appealing is his recruiting ability. If he can put together a quality staff, he could find immediate success on the Plains.
The next few weeks will be filled with questions about Harsin’s job status, who an eventual replacement will be, and what that means for the program's stability. Stay tuned and buckle up because we’re in for a bumpy ride.
Until next time, War Eagle.