COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Auburn football has neither scored a touchdown nor allowed an offensive touchdown in its last six quarters. That's the new plot twist in the first year under coach Bryan Harsin, who is searching for answers after a 20-3 loss at Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2 SEC).
It's one that Auburn fans would rather forget, but let's explore what went wrong, the lessons learned and the bright spots.
"Bo (Nix) was 100% not the problem in this game." — @DuFepsilon
I think everyone involved with offense was the problem in this game. If Auburn (6-3, 3-2) wants to point fingers, every individual should probably point one at himself.
That said, this is correct in regard to Harsin being asked if he considered replacing Nix with T.J. Finley under center. This was one of those games where it felt as though Nix was perpetually on the run, and as we've seen this year no backup is better than Nix at escaping pressure. Sometimes it just gets to be too much.
Auburn's pass protection had been really steady the last two games, but it struggled more against A&M's talented front. (Let's not forget: The Aggies were projected to be one of the best teams in the country this preseason for a reason.) Tyree Johnson has been one of the SEC's best pass rushers during conference play with seven sacks in A&M's last four games. The Aggies gave Auburn a wake-up call in the trenches, while Zach Calzada had better protection on the other side.
Auburn's receiver corps, already a weak spot, also hadn't seen a secondary as physical and in-your-face as A&M's. Shedrick Jackson bore the brunt of that with just two receptions on eight targets. The Tigers' true receivers combined for five catches, 32 yards. Shaun Shivers' six-catch, 40-yard day was a result of Nix going through his progressions, then being forced to throw check-downs. It wasn't that he was missing open receivers. They weren't getting any separation.
Those elements obviously contributed to Nix's 20-for-41, 153-yard day, but he's not entirely exonerated either. Harsin talked after the game about how A&M made all of the big, decisive, winning plays. Auburn had an opportunity to do that, but Nix overthrew Ja'Varrius Johnson for a would-be long touchdown. His accuracy when he had a clean pocket was not as consistent as it has been, and Auburn only had one completion of 15 yards. His minus-18 rushing yards were a career low. His fumble effectively iced the game. After the first quarter, he was 14-for-33 (42%).
That's not at all to say he should've been benched, but Nix would agree himself that this was a loss where everyone needs to look in the mirror, not just one position group.
"See (A&M coach) Jimbo Fisher's postgame press conference for an explanation of what was happening during that sequence of plays with the consecutive illegal procedures." — @samguthrie3
Fisher said Auburn's defense was shouting fake snap counts to cause consecutive A&M penalties in the red zone. If he's telling the truth, the referees should have caught it, so Auburn caught a break. I didn't see this until after media had met with Harsin and players, though, so I wasn't able to ask about it. Fisher said he planned to call the league office about it.
Key question going forward
Should there be any concern about the defense? How long can it keep up its propensity for suddenly shutting down opponents when backed into a corner? Limiting A&M to four field goals on 12 possessions was impressive on the heels of four red-zone stops vs. Ole Miss, but the Isaiah Spiller-Devon Achane backfield duo ran rampant with a combined 210 yards.
The Aggies are the first Power Five team this year to run for more yards per carry vs. Auburn (6.4) than they were averaging entering the game (5.3). The only other team to accomplish that was Georgia State, besting a previous 4.2-yard average with 5.7 yards per carry at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Even Georgia was held to 4.1, below its 4.9 average.
Player and play of the game
Auburn's play of the game was Colby Wooden getting pressure in another big spot: third-and-goal at the 4-yard line to force Texas A&M's impressive opening drive to end in a field goal. Again, Auburn's defense had its issues, but that play was emblematic of the recent ben-don't-break theme.
Collective player of the game: Hard hitters in the secondary stepped up. Smoke Monday had a pass breakup and a team-leading nine tackles (six solo, one for loss), and Ladarius Tennison wasn't far behind with eight (six solo, one for loss). Tennison's increased playing time was a result of safety Zion Puckett being out with an injury. Jaylin Simpson continued to look good at cornerback with a PBU and a TFL. Roger McCreary remains great. Auburn was aided by drops and bad throws, but it held Calzada to 192 yards on 15-of-29 passing.
This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Auburn football's offense should look in mirror after Texas A&M loss