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What to Watch: Auburn vs. Mississippi State

Last Monday, Auburn University President Chris Roberts published a press release announcing a change in leadership for the football program.

That proclamation officially ended Bryan Harsin’s tumultuous tenure as head football coach for the Tigers.

The decision was not terribly surprising to most observers of the Auburn football program, but the press release itself did have one fascinating feature.

Actually, the most distinctive aspect of the announcement is something that was missing – Harsin’s name.

Auburn’s official press release did not mention the former head coach at all.

Unfortunately for Harsin, his name is one that most Auburn fans will want to forget and apparently many recruits never learned.

On the other hand, the man who has now been charged with leading the Auburn football program as the interim head coach needs no introduction.

Auburn football’s all-time rushing touchdowns leader, Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, will also serve as the head coach of the football team for the remainder of the 2022 season.

Williams undoubtedly has the support of Auburn fandom, but a very tall task remains ahead of him that starts tonight on the road at Mississippi State.

Take a look at three things that will play key roles in the outcome of Auburn vs. Mississippi State.

Auburn’s Defense

Entering the season, it was widely expected that the Auburn offense would struggle, but the hope of the team was in the Tigers’ strong defense.

Unfortunately, that defense has really struggled as the 2022 season has worn on.

A unit that does have talented players has been ground down physically and mentally by injuries and the knowledge that they needed to essentially shut out the opponent to have a chance to win.

Even though that is case, there is plenty of blame for the Auburn defense itself.

The Tigers have been unable to stop opponents from running the ball and that has led to conceding more than 40 points in four games already.

Although Mississippi State is far from known for running the ball under head coach Mike Leach, the Bulldogs do score a lot of points their own way.

The Tigers will be tasked with defending passes sprayed all over the field from the very first snap.

Auburn must be able to limit the Bulldogs’ big plays, force at least one turnover, and make Mississippi State kick field goals in order to stay in this game.

Ashford must avoid turnovers

Auburn quarterback Robby Ashford is a dynamic athlete.

The explosive running ability that he brings is the single most concerning aspect of the Auburn offense for opposing defenses.

Conversely, the most concerning aspect of Ashford’s game for Auburn is the freshman’s inclination to turn the ball over.

Earlier in the season, one could pencil the young quarterback in for at least two turnovers a game.

However, Ashford has improved in this area recently and that must continue against the Bulldogs if Auburn is going to score enough points to have a chance in Starkville.

The Auburn offense is not good enough to overcome the critical mistake of giving the ball away, but it might be just good enough to win if the Tigers can eliminate turnovers.

Can the Tigers handle adversity?

Auburn just fired its head coach during the season for the first time in the modern era (depending on how one feels about Terry Bowden’s “resignation”).

And several assistant coaches were let go along with the former head coach.

Naturally, that is going to create a sense of instability and disappointment for many of the players.

As if that wasn’t enough by itself, Auburn is traveling to a place where the cowbells are loud and the quarterback can really throw.

The Tigers, who have lost four straight SEC games, are  double-digit underdogs, according to the oddsmakers in the desert.

Does Auburn have the ability or, probably more importantly, the will to persevere and fight to win games in a season that is not going to remembered fondly?

That is what Williams will try and coax out of this version of the Tigers.

Whether or not Auburn shows up with the intention to fight tooth and nail for every yard on the field is the single biggest factor in the outcome of the matchup with Mississippi State.

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

 

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