Georgia State came to Jordan-Hare stadium unafraid, with a great game plan and should have come away with a win based on the first 58 minutes of the game. A team that would struggle to find a single player that would start at an SEC school absolutely dominated Auburn in the first half.
In the end, Auburn quarterback TJ Finley found receiver Shedrick Johnson for a touchdown on fourth down with only 45 seconds remaining in the game to give the home team a 25-24 lead. After a successful two-point conversion and a defensive touchdown by Auburn’s Smoke Monday on the following Georgia State possession, the Tigers emerged with a 34-24 win.
The final score of 34-24 is in no way indicative of what took place this afternoon in Auburn.
An Auburn Tigers’ defense that had yet to allow 100 yards rushing in a game conceded 219 yards on the ground to Georgia State in the first half. An Auburn offense that struggled in the red zone last week at Penn State was unable to score a touchdown on any of its four red zone chances in the first two quarters.
Those factors put together led to Auburn trailing Georgia State 24-12 at halftime.
The Auburn defense shut down the visitors completely in the second half, allowing no points and less than 100 total yards.
Auburn’s special teams made the play that changed the game in the second half when Caylin Newton blocked a punt that Barton Lester recovered in the endzone giving the Tigers their first touchdown of the night and making it a one-score game.
However, the story of the night is Auburn’s offense. The Tigers were unable to run or pass the ball consistently, much less actually score a touchdown.
Auburn’s offensive line struggled to move Georgia State in the run game and allowed quick pressure on pass attempts far too often. The Tigers’ receivers were unable to get open with great frequency and had a number of dropped passes when they did escape Georgia State defenders.
Even the dynamic duo of Auburn running backs, Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter, was not able to create the big plays that we have become used to seeing. In addition to having difficulty breaking away for big runs, Bigsby had a critical fumble in the fourth quarter that almost cost the Tigers dearly.
All of this is necessary to state because none of that will be discussed this week. None of the above will be a topic of conversation because after two fruitless drives in the third quarter, Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin made the decision to pull quarterback Bo Nix and put TJ Finley in the game.
Nix never looked comfortable on Saturday and was ineffective at trying to throw the ball down the field. As detailed earlier, he did not have a lot of help, but Nix was unable to lead a touchdown drive in eight attempts.
Auburn made the switch to TJ Finley hoping for a spark and the ability to complete a pass more than 10 yards down the field. Finley was not able to lead the offense to much success his first two drives but helped orchestrate a possession that had Auburn deep in Georgia State territory with a chance to take the lead when Tank Bigsby fumbled.
After the defense forced a punt, Georgia State’s Michael Hayes executed an outstanding punt that went out of bounds at the two yard line. That left an Auburn offense that had yet to score a touchdown 98 yards away with only 3:13 left in the game.
The Tigers, led by TJ Finley, answered the call and drove the field for what would prove to be the game-winning score with 45 seconds left.
Finley was not perfect on the drive, but he did have a 16-yard scramble and completed five passes for 62 yards, including the touchdown pass on fourth down. The Tigers’ offense deserves great credit for delivering in absolutely critical moments to secure the win.
The decision to go with TJ Finley in the third quarter, and his clutch playmaking in the final minutes of the game, enabled Auburn to avoid a devastating loss to Georgia State.
However, it has now brought about every fan’s favorite topic — quarterback controversy. Undoubtedly, this will be the big takeaway from today’s game.
Who will take the field first at quarterback when Auburn travels to LSU next week? If the defense from today’s first half lines up and Auburn’s other offensive starters play as uninspired football as they did today, then it won’t matter who takes the snaps.
Auburn has a lot to figure out if it hopes to compete against SEC opponents, much less win in Baton Rouge for the first time this century.
Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers.