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Georgia State Panthers at #23 Auburn Tigers: Week Four Preview

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GSU finally got their first win of 2021, but can they carry that momentum against No. 23 Auburn?

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NCAA Football: Army at Georgia St. Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Start time: 4:00 p.m. EST, Sept. 25

Location: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, AL

Records: GSU 1-2, AUB 2-1

Spread: AUB -27.0; O/U 57

TV: SEC Network


Georgia State dealt itself a difficult early-season schedule. #23 Auburn is the second top-25 opponent the Panthers have in their first four games, the other being #21 UNC (the Tar Heels were #24 when they hosted GSU).

Auburn has not shown to be a title contender, especially considering they play in the same conference as the best two teams in the country, but they are still an elite SEC team. There is a definitive gap between the two teams, even when considering that the Panthers have strong momentum and the Tigers have a history of being scared by weaker opponents.

Who is Auburn?

After the Malzahn Era came to a sputtering stop, the Tigers were faced with finding their next head coach. Auburn went with offensive-oriented HC Bryan Harsin. Harsin spent the past seven seasons as the head man at Boise State. During his tenure, the Broncos had just 14 games in which they scored under 21 points and 18 games in which they scored at least 50 points.

In his first three games with Auburn, Harsin has brought that offensive superiority down south. The Tigers scored a combined 122 points in their first two games (albeit against Akron and Alabama State) and then put up 20 against #6 Penn State; the Nittany Lions have a top-20 scoring defense among FBS schools.

Much of the Tigers’ offense has thanks to their pair of scary runners in the backfield.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Penn State
Auburn RB Tank Bigsby
Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Sophomore Tank Bigsby is the feature back— he leads the team with 47 of 111 carries— and through three games looks like the best RB in the SEC, if not the nation. Bigsby gains an average of 7.3 yards per carry and has seen the end zone four times, the most of any Auburn player.

Alongside Bigsby is freshman Jarquez Hunter. Despite having nearly half as many carries as Bigsby, Hunter has run for just 23 less yards. The 12.3 YPC is highly unsustainable and is heavily inflated by a 94-yard rush against Alabama State, but removing that run still provides an incredible stat line: 226 yards on 25 carries, a 9.04 average.

While not nearly as impressive as the dominating run game, QB Bo Nix has taken a step up from last season and has been instrumental in maintaining a strong offensive attack. Nix sits around the NCAA median in terms of yardage and accuracy, but even that is a step up from last season’s sub-60 completion percentage.

Nix has done an incredible job sharing the love in his passing and has not yet chosen a true number-one receiver. Three different players have collected over 100 passing yards with a fourth at 96. This holds true even in the red zone, as five different Auburn receivers— three of which are not in the 100-yard club yet— have scored a touchdown.

The Auburn defense looked like the best in the nation after their first two games. Akron scored 10 and Alabama State was shutout, but it is important to remember that they are monumentally worse teams than Auburn. That said, Auburn still held #6 Penn State to just 28 points and 385 yards.

The front seven has been ridiculously dominant in the ground game. They’ve allowed a whopping 127 total rushing yards and just 1.3 yards per carry, best in the FBS.

The defensive line is an interesting mix of homegrown youth, developed talent, and new toys. Redshirt sophomore Colby Wooden plays defensive end and is tied for second in tackles for loss on the team. Opposite Wooden is Derick Hall, a second-year starter. Hall is also tied for second in TFLs. Between either ends are grad student Tony Fair and redshirt sophomore Marcus Harris; both Harris and Fair transferred to Auburn this season.

While Auburn have rushed for almost seven-times more yards than their opponents, they have recorded just 33 more passing yards. Opposing QBs have completed over 78% of passes and average over 200 yards per game. As a team the Tigers have broken up just three passes, but have picked opponents off twice.

Syndication: York Daily Record
Auburn QB Bo Nix
Dan Rainville via Imagn Content Services, LLC

How does GSU win?

Even though they just put on a very strong performance against Charlotte, walking out of Auburn with a victory is far from expected.

Auburn, like GSU’s season opener opponent Army, does not allow much through the trenches. That does not bode well for the Panthers, who have run the ball four times more often than they complete passes. The Tigers directly counter Georgia State’s offensive identity and will bring the Panthers back to their pre-Charlotte ways in terms of offensive efficiency.

Defensively, the Panthers may be able to slow down Auburn. They will not stop the Tigers, especially not Bigsby, but will slow them down substantially. Against Akron and Alabama State the Tigers put up 680 combined rushing yards but against the competent Penn State defense they put up just 184. 184 is by no means a bad tally, but not the number the Tigers showed they were capable of.

The Panthers need to halt Bigsby and hope to dampen the offense. They need to hold Auburn to no more than a few touchdowns and hope they can score on passing-game mismatches like they did against Charlotte.


Prediction

Like the UNC game, this could get ugly for the Panthers which is unfortunate considering GSU is coming off of a game against Charlotte that they should be very proud of. Auburn, like UNC, just plays on another plane of football compared to Georgia State and its Group of Five opponents. GSU may stick around for a few quarters, but being competitive is all one can hope for.

Score prediction: AUB 36-21 GSU