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What to watch: Auburn vs. Georgia State

Auburn finishes its non-conference schedule and the month of September today at home against the Georgia State Panthers. The Tigers will need to move past a disappointing loss last week at Penn State and build some positive momentum as they get ready to enter SEC play.

The visiting Georgia State Panthers come into the game with a 1-2 record, losing 59-17 to North Carolina, the only other Power 5 opponent on their schedule, in week 2. The Panthers will have a talent deficit compared to Auburn, but their program has beaten SEC programs as recently as 2019 when they went to Neyland Stadium and defeated Tennessee.

It is important for Auburn to clean up mistakes from last week and find some new answers in personnel and strategy as conference play approaches. This contest is an opportunity for the Tigers to do that.

Take a look at a few things to watch today as Auburn takes on Georgia State.

Discipline

Last week, Auburn went to Penn State and gave itself a chance to win, but ultimately came up short in a painful defeat. Certainly, Penn State made some great plays, but the Tigers made some critical mental errors that were very costly.

Today, the Tigers will want to avoid turnovers at all costs. Auburn should be able to play a clean game, free of turnovers against a lesser opponent. If the home team can do that, they should win this game comfortably and gain confidence for the coming weeks.

On defense, Auburn really must bounce back from key mistakes last week in Happy Valley. The defensive front was outstanding against the run, but the Tigers’ pass defense got torched.

The biggest issue in coverage was that there were several instances of busted coverage where Auburn players simply allowed Penn State receivers to run downfield completely by themselves.

The Tigers’ communication must be better and assignments must be executed more effectively this week for Auburn’s defense to take steps forward.

Linebackers

Auburn has two experienced linebackers that have been making big plays for years now. However, the Tigers’ defense will be without leading tackler Zakoby McClain for the first half due to his ejection for targeting in the third quarter last week.

Additionally, Owen Pappoe, the other starting linebacker, left last week’s contest with an injury and did not return. It has been reported that Pappoe has practiced very little, if at all, this week. That likely means that he will not be available today.

In this situation, the Tigers will turn to senior captain Chandler Wooten and sophomore linebacker Wesley Steiner for a majority of the snaps. This is an opportunity for those players, but also provides a chance for Georgia State to potentially try and take advantage of Pappoe and McClain missing.

It is important for the linebackers replacing the usual starters to communicate effectively with the rest of the defense, get everyone lined up correctly, and make tackles in the open field.

Pass Catchers

So far in 2021, the Tigers’ most consistent receiver has been tight end John Samuel Shenker. It has been a very impressive start to the year for the senior from Albany, Georgia.

However, the wide receivers for Auburn have left much to be desired early in the season. That isn’t to say that they have been unable to make big plays, but the wideouts simply have not been consistent in their ability to hold on to the ball.

It will be interesting to see if some younger players that have not yet gotten many opportunities will get more playing time today against the last overmatched opponent of the season. Can a receiver or two make an impression against Georgia State that will lead to a bigger role for the remainder of the year?

If so, that would greatly improve Auburn’s chances of competing with the best in the SEC over the next couple of months.

Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers.