It was already going to be tough playing in a hostile environment at the home of longtime nemesis and No. 2 team in Georgia. Combined with injuries plauging both lines of scrimmage, that adversity proved too difficult to overcome in Saturday’s 42-10 loss to the Bulldogs in Athens, Ga.
“Well you got some guys and there were guys on the offensive line, they didn't really get many reps this week but they're in tune with what we're doing,” said head coach Bryan Harsin. “That's where your depth really shows up, and so as a backup player you’ve got to be able to come in there against a really good football team.”
The impact of those injuries was never more apparent after offensive linemen Alec Jackson and Austin Troxell were forced from the starting lineup. Jackson and Troxell were replaced by Keiondre Jones and Brenden Coffey, respectively, in the third quarter.
CBS first reported that Jackson suffered a lower body injury and that Troxell was questionable to return after X-rays came back negative.
Facing a raucous crowd of 92,746, communication issues along the revamped offensive line proved costly. Three false starts and two holding calls stalled the Tigers in several crucial situations. The two most damaging of those came in the first quarter on separate drives with Auburn on its own side of the 50-yard-line.
On the ground, things were not much better with the exception of quarterback Robby Ashford’s dazzling open-field rushing display. Running backs Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter finished the day with a combined 39 yards on 15 carries, good for 2.6 yards per carry.
As for the opposite side of the ball, the absence of edge defender Eku Leota was also felt, particularly in the second half. After Auburn held Georgia to just 143 total yards in the first half, the Bulldogs subsequently tacked on 357 yards following the break.
“On the defensive line, guys were banged up and coming out,” Harsin said. “So that's been a little bit of an issue this season, and some of the injuries and having some of our key players out.”
While edge defender Derick Hall could not assess everything that went wrong in yet another second half that slipped away from the Tigers, his explanation was indicative of the attrition caused by injuries.
“I missed most of the fourth quarter, so I mean I really can't speak on the ins and outs because I really don't know yet,” Hall said. “They just had a chance to get some downhill runs, strength, counter, a little bit of duos, things that we've struggled against in the past a little bit.”
Virtually all production outside the tackles came from Hall and Colby Wooden, who combined for 10 total tackles, a sack, tackle for loss, a forced fumble and fumble recovery. Outside of the tandem, only Marcus Bragg ended up on the stat sheet with a single solo tackle.
With Leota expected to miss the remainder of the season with a pectoral tear against LSU last Saturday and the status of Jackson and Troxell unknown moving forward, injuries on both sides are starting to mount.
Moving forward, the schedule also does not get much more forgiving for Auburn. After facing Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss., next Saturday at 11 a.m., the Tigers play Arkansas, at Mississippi State and return home for Texas A&M in consecutive weeks following a bye on Oct. 22.
It remains to be seen how Harsin and his coaching staff will replace these key pieces and build depth, especially amid a run of lackluster second half performances.
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Daniel Schmidt, senior in journalism, is the assistant news editor for the Auburn Plainsman.