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Auburn beats the odds, averts football disaster


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Auburn beats the odds, averts football disaster

ByPhillip Marshall
5-6 minutes

    10620112.jpg?fit=bounds&crop=620:320,offset-y0.50&width=620&height=320 (Photo: Adam Sparks, 247Sports

When Michael Hayes’ 52-yard punt bounced out of bounds at the 2-yard line with 3:23 left in the game, it appeared Auburn’s football team had run out of chances. With Georgia State leading 24-19 at Jordan-Hare Stadium, could Auburn drive 98 yards to win the game? Even head coach Bryan Harsin had his doubts.

“For Georgia State, that’s as good as you could’ve gotten from your punt team, to pin the offense back like that and to make an offense that hadn’t been really explosive in the game go the entire length of the field to find an opportunity for them to score. The odds were against us, based off what I’d seen in the game and probably what Georgia State felt like.”


In the huddle, backup quarterback T.J. Finley told his teammates they were going to do it. And do it they did. Thirteen plays later, Finley scrambled and found Shedrick Jackson for a 10-yard touchdown pass with 45 seconds left in the game. When it was done, when Finley had hit Kobe Hudson for a two-point conversion and Smoke Monday had returned an interception 36 yards for a touchdown, Auburn had won 34-24.

10619395.jpg?fit=bounds&crop=620:320,offset-y0.50&width=620&height=320 Shedrick Jackson caught Auburn's game-winning touchdown pass. (Photo: Auburn University)

How did Auburn find itself in such a dire situation against a 27-point underdog? It took some doing.

In the first half, Auburn’s defense could not stop Georgia State. The Panthers scored had 299 yards of offense. Even more surprising: They had 219 yards rushing.

Linebacker Chandler Wooten said most of Georgia State’s offensive success came because of defensive mistakes.

"Yeah, a couple guys out of their gaps,” Wooten said. We just have to communicate. Everybody's got to be where they're supposed to be when they're supposed to be there and doing their job. We made adjustments at halftime. Once we get 11 cleats in the ground and everybody doing their job, we're pretty tough to beat.

“I think we came out in the second half and made adjustments to what we did in the first half -- well, what we didn't do well in the first half -- corrected it and got the win."

 Meanwhile, four first-half offensive drives resulted in field goals. Passes sailed over receivers’ heads. The running game sputtered in the red zone. Georgia State had a shocking 24-12 halftime lead.

For Auburn to have a chance to come back, the defense had to be better om the second half. It was much better, shutting out the Panthers over the final two quarters. The Tigers got starting linebacker Zakoby McClain, who sat out the first half after a bogus targeting call at Penn State, back. Coordinator Derek Mason appeared to call more man-to-man pass defense and some blitzes. The Panthers managed just 86 total yards in the second half.

As the third quarter wound down, Auburn’s special teams made a play that probably had to be made if they were to win. Caylin Newton blocked a Georgia State punt and Barton Lester recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.

Auburn coach Bryan Harsin replaced starter Bo Nix with Finley late in the third quarter. It did not pay immediate dividends. Four drives came up empty – one because of a Tank Bigsby fumble at the Georgia State 24 – before Finley led the drive that saved the day.

There were plenty of questions when it was over. How did Auburn’s give up so much in the first half?

Why did both Auburn quarterbacks overthrow wide-open receivers?

Why did the defense play so poorly in the first half?

Why did the running game come short of expectations?

Those are questions Harsin and his coaching staff will address as preparation begins for LSU. Auburn found a way to win one that could have gotten away Saturday. And thus began the debate about who should be the starting quarterback.

Finley was having none of that. He said Nix was his biggest supporter.


“We talk every series,” Finley said. “He comes to the sideline, and I have some things that I see that he could’ve hit and things like that. I calm him down sometimes, and the same, vice versa. When I came off the sideline, he calmed me down sometimes and things like that.

“We both give each other positive feedback and even negative feedback, because if a person is always giving you positive feedback, they’re not really keeping it real with you. I kept it real with him in the first half; he kept it real with me in the second half, and that’s just the level of relationship we have with each other to be able to do that. He trusts my word, and I trust his.”

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