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Can Bryan Harsin win at Auburn?

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Can Bryan Harsin win at Auburn?

By Nubyjas Wilborn | nwilborn@al.com
7-8 minutes

Bryan Harsin enters his second season as the Auburn football coach under much scrutiny.

Fair or unfair, Harsin is working to combat the aftermath of a five-game losing streak last season. He’s also battling a lackluster traditional signing day where the Tigers didn’t sign a single player. If that isn’t enough, don’t forget about that pesky University-led inquiry that could’ve gotten him fired with cause if the evidence was there.

Auburn has a problematic schedule even though the year starts with five consecutive home games. The Tigers open up with Mercer and San Jose State for the first two weeks and, in week three, play Penn State. They’ll play defending National Champion Georgia on the road and runner-up Alabama in the season-ending Iron Bowl in Byrant-Denny Stadium.

Harsin will also play Ole Miss and Miss State on the road and host Arkansas, Missouri, Texas A&M, and an interesting game against Western Kentucky sandwiched between the Aggies and Crimson Tide. If Auburn had a quiet off-season, this schedule would be a crucible. Drama swirling around makes it seem nearly impossible for a positive outcome. However, the beauty of sports, why we watch, is that as NBA Champion and Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett said: Anything is possible.

Let’s explore the possibilities of a path to success for the 2022 season at Auburn.

Rally the base.

Before a problem can get solved, it must be acknowledged as an issue. One of the critiques that landed with Harsin was his need to improve on the social graces required to win in the Southeastern Conference. Coaching the SEC requires getting along with current players, recruits, fans, and boosters. Harsin is making progress, according to players and staffers.

Harsin brought rapper Lah Griddy to a practice, which caught players by surprise in a pleasant way. He danced and laughed with the rapper adding the Griddy dance to his grit and grind approach. He surprised players with breakfast when the team thought they were going to run stadium steps at Jordan-Hare.

“One thing with our guys and I wouldn’t say it’s just me, but our players too: We know each other better,” Harsin said after last Friday’s scrimmage at Jordan-Hare. “I really think our coaches are doing a really good job of connecting with our players, and those guys that now have been in our systems are coming in, and they’re seeing this is how we want to do things; here’s some stuff that we can do to get better. So, I don’t think it’s really one thing in particular. I think it’s everybody. I think we got some good leaders on this team.”

QB battle

The Tigers would likely go with T.J. Finley as the starting quarterback if the season started today. Of course, the season won’t begin until September, and it’s possible Texas A&M transfer Zac Calzada could win the job. Freshman Holden Geriner and Oregon transfer Robby Ashford are also in the mix. It typically isn’t ideal for a team with less than five spring football practices left not to know who the QB will be, but this is deck dealt with Bo Nix leaving for Oregon.

Ground and Pound

An area of strength for the Tigers is at running back. It’s not shocking that the school of Bo Jackson, Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown, and many more have a star-studded tailback room. Tank Bigsby was Auburn’s most consistent offensive player in the last two seasons. Jarquez Hunter provides speed and strength. Damari Alston isn’t on campus yet, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility the freshman will work his way on the field.

Last week, Auburn offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau said he wanted to build his offense off running the ball. Going old school in the era of spread offenses is wise, considering the Tigers are uncertain at QB and don’t have a receiver on the roster that’s emerged as an elite pass-catcher.

“Our approach moving forward is to set the foundation with the run game. I think we got some really talented backs, and we’ll start from there,” Kiesau told reporters Then we’ll kind of grow, see where it goes from there, but that’s going to be the foundation where we start.”

Shed Jackson and Ja’Varrius Johnson are legit talents, and freshman Jay Fair has top-level speed. However, replacing the production of Kobe Hudson and Demetris Robertson won’t be easy. The Tigers could use tight end, Landen King, as a wideout as well, but as of now, there’s no indication that Auburn will air out often.

Will it work?

Auburn’s defense shut down some great offenses last season. The Tigers held Texas A&M without an offensive touchdown, and if not for an all-time comeback, Auburn might’ve ended Bryce Young’s Heisman campaign at Jordan-Hare. Repeating that over an entire season won’t be easy, considering Auburn lost All-American cornerback Roger McCreary to the NFL Draft. Safety Smoke Monday, linebacker Zakoby McClain, and edge rusher T.D. Moultry also leaves gaps for new defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding to fill.

A ground and pound offense can’t work unless the defense keeps the other team off the field. Schmedding wants to help solve the concern by getting the defense to create more turnovers. Auburn needs to get more than last season’s 12 turnovers if they want a chance at winning games.

Having a healthy offensive line will also be invaluable. Center Nick Brahms, offensive tackle Austin Troxell, and tackle Brandon Council are returning starters. They’ve also been limited in spring reps because of injuries. Auburn needs the trio to get healthy and engaged by fall camp. Guys like Alec Jackson, Keiondre Jones, and Kilian Zierer will also have to step up.

Auburn has seven scholarships the school could give to players in the transfer portal. Don’t be shocked if the Tigers look to bolster their offensive and defensive line with more talent. They’ll likely want to add another deep threat at receiver, another safety, and possibly another EDGE rusher to supplement Derick Hall, Eku Leota, and the emerging redshirt freshman Dylan Brooks.

There are a lot of questions that won’t be answered by April 9th for the A-Day game. The Tigers need a quarterback to take the reigns. Offensive and defensive lines must be dominant if the run-first offense will have success. It’s not implausible for all this to happen. However, it’s difficult as of this moment to ascertain how likely the Tigers will contend in the SEC West.

Nubyjas Wilborn covers Auburn for Alabama Media Group.


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Strangely this article said nothing about what it takes to win at Auburn- stellar recruiting and rebuilding a depleted offensive line. That is 99% of what it will take for Harsin to succeed at Auburn

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Yes, he can. I think the roster turnover (except for 2 or 3) was the first step in that process (see below). Now he has his staff in place. He has also learned some things in the process as the PTB better have done too. The NIL and recruiting are the next important steps to climb. It looks like they're hard at it in those areas as well.


The Montgomery Advertiser, 2/22 

It was late January, and Harsin and receivers coach Eric Kiesau were visiting Mars Hill Bible School in Florence. Higgins was impressed. It was as long as any college coach had stayed to chat.

High school coaches who have been visited by Harsin in the last year have appreciated his honesty and his straightforward approach. "I've been around a lot of coaches, and he may be one of the most competitive guys I've talked to as far as what he expects," Keith Etheredge said.

Higgins said Harsin’s message was an eye-opening experience for Mars Hill players about the rigors of college football: “He was very adamant on: "This is going to take some time. We’ve got some guys here that have got to get on board. They’re not practicing the way we want them to practice. They’re not showing up for meetings on time.’ And (Auburn’s coaches) really don’t have any tolerance for that in the program. They’re going to find guys who want to do all those things.”

Several high school coaches said college coaches often don't do a sufficient job preparing players for the grind during recruitment, which leads to athletes being blindsided and more likely to leave. Coaches liked that Harsin didn't hold back in that regard.


Edited by IronMan70
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