AUBURN — Auburn’s woes in the running game continued on Saturday, but head coach Bryan Harsin is committed to that part of the offense, as well as staying balanced.
“We want to be balanced, we want to run the ball, throw the ball,” said Harsin. “We want to be able to get on the perimeter, still be firm, and be able to run downhill inside the tackles.”
Through six games, the Auburn offense has been unable to stay balanced due to issues up front that persisted once again on Saturday. The team as a whole got 93 yards on the ground, 52 of which came from Robby Ashford scrambles.
Starting running back Tank Bigsby managed just 19 yards on 10 carries. He is averaging just over 57 yards a game this year and has struggled behind the offensive line following a 147-yard performance in the season opener.
“We’ve got to be better up front. You don't want to give up penetration,” Harsin said. “It gives your backs a chance when they can get to the line of scrimmage and be able to see and find a window.”
The offensive line has been patchwork since the start of the season when Nick Brahms went down, but the problems worsened when Tate Johnson went down against Missouri.
The injury bug continued to spread in Athens with starting right tackle Austin Troxell and Brandon Council’s replacement at right guard, Alec Jackson, both going down with injuries.
Even without the injuries, the offensive line has been an issue, with Auburn getting over 100 yards on the ground in four of six games this year, mostly relying on the legs of Robby Ashford to be the difference.
“On the o-line, you’ve got to win the one-on-one, is what it comes down to. So we got guys that can do that,” Harsin said. “They're not perfect. We got to help them. And there are some things we can do schematically that can help them.”
Jackson and Troxell were both listed as starters on the depth chart as of today.
As it stands currently, Auburn is averaging 4.1 yards per carry, the lowest total for a team on the Plains since the 2012 season, and before that, 2008. The running game is the key for Auburn, especially with a dynamic running back duo in Tank Bigsby and sophomore Jarquez Hunter.
Establishing the running game can ease the strain on Robby Ashford, who was forced to throw it 38 times against Georgia, compared to just 15 rushes from Bigsby and Hunter.
“You’ve got to be able to run the ball consistently,” Harsin said. “Just being able to get some of those three, four or five-yard gains at times too, and not the negative play.”
Roughly 34.2% of Auburn's first-down plays against Power 5 opponents have gone for zero or negative yards, as reported by Justin Ferguson of the Auburn Observer. That leads to long third downs on most series, and the Tigers have a third-down conversion rate of just 32.93%.
With those issues at the start of each series, Harsin points to the scheme more than anything else as being the root cause, even with the injuries piling up.
“That comes back to us. And just being better in those concepts,” Harsin said. “Giving our guys the best chance to be successful by the schemes that we choose for them to go out there and run so that we can stay ahead of the chains”
Auburn hits the road to face No. 9 Ole Miss (6-0, 3-0 SEC) in Oxford for the 17th time. The game is scheduled to kick off at 11 a.m. CST.
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