With the Auburn Tigers taking on the Arkansas Razorbacks Saturday, last week’s 27-6 loss to Georgia is still a game that weighs heavy on the minds of the coaching staff and players.
“Obviously [last Saturday’s] loss was a tough loss, they really dominated the game,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said Sunday. “What we talked about with our team today was we’re going to learn from this. We’re an inexperienced team, we’re going to grow each week.”
The loss was Auburn’s worst defeat to Georgia since the 2017 SEC Championship, where the Bulldogs defeated the Tigers by 21 points. Auburn is now 2-8 in its last 10 matchups against Georgia.
“They got after us pretty good,” Malzahn said, “you have to give them credit. They’re probably one of the best teams in the country.”
A blowout loss is hard to look past and get over, especially when that loss comes to a rival. Auburn struggled to move the ball in the game, only racking up 216 yards of total offense versus Georgia’s 442 yards.
“A big part of football is establishing the run,” Auburn center Nick Brahms said, “we’ve got to do it. That starts with [the offensive line], we’ve got to make those holes for those running backs.”
The Tigers having success after an early season loss isn’t unheard of. In Auburn’s 2013 season they lost to LSU by two touchdowns in Week 4 before rallying off nine straight wins to make the national championship. In 2017 the Tigers lost to Clemson, then won nine of their next 10 games to make a run to the SEC Championship.
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“You can always look at past history and experiences especially after a tough loss in a big game like this,” Malzahn said. “We’ve had these games and we’ve referred to them during our team meetings. The championship-type teams, they respond and they improve.”
If the Tigers want to replicate their 2013 and 2017 success the main improvement that needs to happen is fixing offensive line woes.
Auburn’s offensive line has given up four sacks, three of which came against Georgia. In their first two games the Tigers have only put up 130 rushing yards, most came from running back Tank Bigsby and quarterback Bo Nix.
The Tigers currently average 2.5 yards per rush compared to the 4.7 yards per rush that they averaged last year. Before the Tigers could even get a snap off against the Bulldogs there were two false start penalties, signaling miscommunication and a lack of chemistry on the offensive line.
This rough start to the game led to Auburn throwing the ball more, and all but abandoning the running game.
“We’ve talked the last two weeks about being able to settle on five [offensive lineman] and I think we’ll be able to do that,” Malzahn said. “I think the big thing [Saturday] is that we were behind, so we had to be in catchup-mode, just one dimensional.”
Accoriding to Pro Football Focus, Nix was pressured 22 times in Saturday’s loss. When Nix was pressured he went 6-of-19 with an interception and was sacked twice.
“We just have to do a better job of being balanced and running the football and throwing the football,” Malzahn said. “They made us one dimensional and that made it extremely tough.”
Another problem area the Tigers have faced through their first two games is third down defense. Auburn is currently allowing a 62% third down conversion rate, giving opposing offenses the opportunity to extend drives and wear out the defense. If the Tigers hope to make a run, this is another area that will need to be fixed.
“We all know our performance on Saturday wasn’t really Auburn football to the standard that we should have played in,” linebacker Owen Pappoe said. “But we’re looking past that. It’s behind us now. We’re looking at it to just learn from the mistakes that we made and make sure that we don’t have a performance like that again.”
Pappoe said on Tuesday that the team is putting the loss behind them, using this game as a learning experience for the young team.
“[We’re taking it] one game at a time,” Pappoe said. “What happened happened, there’s nothing we can do to go back and fix it, but what we can do is learn from our mistakes and things that we messed up on last game.”
Brahms also spoke about rallying as a team.
“We’re not going to fold,” Brahms said, “I think a lot of guys in our situation would’ve folded. We have some tough guys, we’re going to fight for Auburn, this program, our coaches and each other. We’re not going to let Georgia beat us twice.”
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