Coming off of a 28-20 loss against Penn State, the Tigers will face off against Georgia State at home in their final non-conference game of the season before starting conference play against LSU.
The Panthers won last week against Charlotte, 20-9, to gain their first win of the season. Georgia State’s record doesn’t look good at 1-2, but its losses have come against quality opponents in North Carolina and Army. Here are some players to watch out for and keys to victory for both teams.
With this game being Auburn’s last before Southeastern Conference play, and considering what was seen from Auburn’s receivers in Happy Valley, there is a strong chance that head coach Bryan Harsin has a bit of a tryout for his receivers in this game. Despite the fumble, Kobe Hudson was Auburn’s leading receiver as he totaled four catches for 66 yards, but outside of him, the receivers were not impressive against Penn State.
Auburn does overmatch Georgia State by quite a bit, so there’s a chance Harsin decides to have a lot of receivers rotate in and out at the start of the game. Auburn is still trying to find out who its main guys are, and this game will help them find that out.
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Auburn came out of the Penn State game in rough condition at the linebacker position, as Zakoby McClain was ejected for targeting and Owen Pappoe hurt his ankle. We know for sure that McClain won’t play, while Pappoe has been limited in practice, and his status for Saturday’s game is up in the air.
With the status of those two in mind, Chandler Wooten, who had one of the better games of his career against Penn State, will have to fill in for their production. This is a Georgia State team that loves to run the ball, so he might be in line for another game with lots of tackles.
Auburn’s defensive line was lacking against Penn State, and that gave quarterback Sean Clifford a ton of time in the pocket to make throws. That is something that has to be improved upon heading into SEC play. Look for defensive line coach Nick Eason to rotate a lot of guys up on that line early in the game so he can see what he has with his line.
The senior running back has missed the last two games, and while he has missed those games, freshman back Jarquez Hunter has taken off. Shivers plays and runs hard, so watch for him to try and knock some rust off by running over a defender or two. With Tank Bigsby being questionable, the staff may want to play it safe with him, so look for Shivers to get a solid amount of carries to help make up for Bigsby’s production.
The QB situation:
Last season, Cornelious “Quad” Brown started every game for the Panthers, but he was replaced by Darren Grainger against North Carolina. Grainger went on to start, and win, the next game against Charlotte.
Grainger will get the start on Saturday, but it would not be surprising if we saw Brown come in if Grainger isn’t able to move the ball down the field or if Auburn gets a large lead late in the game. With Grainger at the helm, Georgia State will try to ground and pound, like last week against Charlotte where it ran the ball 50 times while only passing the ball 17 times.
Georgia State running attack:
As mentioned earlier, the Panthers ran the ball 50 times against Charlotte. Despite that, they did not have a back go over 83 yards, however, they still ran for 284 yards as a team. The quarterback run will be a big part of the Panthers’ game plan, as Grainger ran 17 times last week.
Running back Tucker Gregg was given 22 carries last week and he is the workhorse for the offense. In addition to those two, there is also Destin Coates, who was named preseason First-Team All Sun Belt and was the Panthers’ leading rusher last season.
When the Panthers aren’t running the ball, they will try and take deep shots, and Pinckney is one of the best, deep threats in the Sun Belt. Last season Pinckney had 47 catches for 815 yards, which averaged out to 17.3 yards per catch. He will likely be defended by Roger McCreary, which will be a fun match-up to watch for.
Georgia State runs a lot of soft zone, as they do not want to get beat by big plays, and a big part of this defense is sophomore Antavious Lane. Lane had four interceptions last season in the eight games he played in. Georgia State reporter Ben Moore compared Lane to Tyrann Mathieu, as Lane always seems to be around the ball whether the play be a pass or a run.
Keys to victory:
Do not turn the ball over and get bad penalties. The way to keep an inferior team in a game is to turn the ball over and get behind the sticks. If the Tigers play a clean game offensively, then they should be able to run away with this one.
Defensively, Auburn needs to make State's Grainger a thrower. Georgia State wants to run the ball, so Auburn will likely load the box to stop the run. If Auburn is able to stop the run and make Grainger pass more often, then it should be in good shape.
Auburn will likely attempt to shut down the run, so Grainger is going to have to hit some throws to his receivers. Pinckney is talented enough to win some match-ups, but if the Panthers be able to throw the ball with any consistency, only time will tell.
Georgia State will need to force turnovers on defense. When the Panthers upset Tennessee in 2019, they forced the Vols to turn the ball over three times that game, and they will likely need a performance like that to have a shot at the upset.
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