Struggling Auburn Faces First Road Test Against No. 2 Georgia

Missouri Auburn Football

Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin reacts during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Missouri, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022 in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

By CHARLES ODUM AP Sports Writer

Don’t expect Auburn players to empathize with concerns expressed this week about No. 2 Georgia’s sudden dip from championship form.

The Bulldogs, who play Auburn on Saturday, fell from the top spot in The Associated Press Top 25 this week after having to rally for a 26-22 win at Missouri last week. Georgia (5-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) trailed 13-0 early and 22-12 in the fourth quarter before finishing strong.

The major scare at Missouri followed a similarly uninspiring 39-22 win over Kent State. The back-to-back shaky outings have at least temporarily ended talk that Georgia might be better than last season’s national championship team.

Auburn (3-2, 1-1) experienced the other side of a big comeback last week, leaving more pressure on embattled coach Bryan Harsin. The Tigers led LSU 17-0 before losing 21-17 at home.

Harsin would receive a much-needed boost if Auburn can end a streak of five straight losses in the series with Georgia. Even with Georgia’s recent inability to maintain the form it showed in outscoring its first three opponents 130-10, Auburn’s challenge is daunting. The Bulldogs are favored by 29 1/2 points.

“Defending national champions. Overall, just as a football team, they’re well-coached,” Harsin said. “They’ve had a lot of success with their program, and certainly you see that right now.”

It will be the first road start for Auburn quarterback Robby Ashford. T.J. Finley opened the season as the starter before suffering a shoulder injury.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart shrugged off concerns the team hasn’t matched the production of its strong start to the season.

“I don’t look at it as a hitting slump or some kind of funk or anything like that,” Smart said.

Auburn’s offense has been a flop coming out in the second half against tougher competition under Harsin. The Tigers have scored just six points in the second half against their three Power 5 opponents. Auburn didn’t score in the second half of its last two games against Missouri and LSU.

In fact, the Tigers have been outscored 104-21 in the second half of their last eight games against Power 5 teams.

“We’ve got to be able to find ways to continue to put points on the board,” Harsin said. “It’s not just the half of football, you’ve got to play all four quarters.”

Auburn lost one of its top pass rushers, Eku Leota, to a potential season-ending pectoral injury against LSU. The Tigers have since listed a 4-2-5 defensive scheme on the depth chart with the lone edge rusher Derick Hall.

A 6-foot-4, 257-pound graduate transfer, Leota has 17 tackles, including five tackles for loss and two sacks. He had seven sacks last season after transferring from Northwestern.

Anders Carlson has had one of Auburn’s best kicking careers, trailing only brother Daniel on the program’s all-time scoring chart. But Carlson has missed attempts of 45 and 40 yards in the past two games, leading to questions about whether freshman Alex McPherson could get a shot.

McPherson was the nation’s top-rated kicker and set an Alabama high school record with a 61-yarder.

“Alex is ready, but Anders still has our full support, and this week is going to be a great week to get back on track and be consistent in the Georgia game,” Harsin said.

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