Auburn football: 5 statistical trends the Tigers must reverse in 2022
It’s just Year 2 under Bryan Harsin, and already the Auburn head coach is on the hot seat. It seems almost unfathomable that Harsin could already be in a make-or-break season, but that’s the nature of the business in 2022 SEC West.
Things must turn around in a hurry for Auburn, and there are some particular trends that have to be reversed if the Tigers are to find their way back to respectability. Here’s a look at 5 of those.
1. Stop the skid
First and foremost, the Tigers must stop their current 5-game losing streak. That’s a trend that must end and must end abruptly. The Tigers dropped a disheartening game at College Station last year after a huge win over Ole Miss, and then the 2nd-half debacle at home against Mississippi State, and the injury to starting QB Bo Nix, sent the Tigers spiraling for the rest of the season. Consecutive losses, though close and competitive, to South Carolina, Alabama and Houston in the Birmingham Bowl completed the skid.
But Auburn opens the 2022 season with home games against Mercer and San Jose State. Those are games the Tigers should be able to win comfortably and build some momentum, while instilling a degree of confidence for the bigger challenges ahead.
2. Finley has to be better; or someone else does
Quarterback play down the stretch definitely took a step backward with the injury to Nix. T.J. Finley performed about as well as one would expect from a backup QB. The offense struggled, averaging just more than 17 points over the final 3 games.
Finley has had a full year to improve and now has competition for the starting spot in 2022. Texas A&M transfer Zach Calzada is vying for the job, as is redshirt freshman transfer Robby Ashford from Oregon. One of those 3 must step up and take over as a leader on this year’s squad if Auburn is to reverse the trend and starting stacking up the “W’s.”
3. Score some points
Again, this goes back to quarterback play, especially after the injury to Nix. But it wasn’t like the Tigers were lighting it up before that. Take away the 60- and 62-point barrages the Tigers put on Akron and Alabama State, respectively, to start the season and Auburn averaged a little more than 24 points per game over the next 8 contests with Nix at the helm.
The bottom line is that Auburn’s offense has taken a nosedive since 2019, when it ranked 3rd in the SEC in scoring (33.2). It fell to 9th in 2020 and continued the slide down to 11th last season, averaging just 28.3 points per game. That just won’t cut it in today’s game.
Harsin and the Tigers simply have to find ways to get to the end zone in 2022.
4. Kicking game
The kicking game must be better in 2022, whether it’s Anders Carlson recovering from his knee injury or perhaps freshman Alex McPherson. Carlson, who ranked 2nd in the SEC in 2020 with a field goal percentage of 90.9 (20-for-22), tumbled to 12th last season, hitting just 66.7 percent (14-for-21) of his field goal tries.
They say that McPherson has a howitzer for a leg. We may get to see for ourselves if Carlson isn’t fully recovered. A reliable kicker could make a huge difference, especially considering the Tigers lost their last 3 games of the 2021 season by 4, 2 and 4 points.
5. Picks, picks and more picks
The Tigers’ secondary has been trending the wrong way for the last 4 years, at least when it comes to interceptions. In 2018, Auburn tied for 2nd in the SEC with 14 interceptions. But since then, the Tigers have steadily sunk toward the bottom of the league in that category. In 2019 they were 6th (10), and in 2020 they placed 7th (9). Last year, the Tigers pilfered 9 opposing passes. Only LSU had fewer (8).
It doesn’t help that their top interception leaders, Roger McCreary and Bydarrius Knighten, have moved on.
So Harsin went to the transfer portal for assistance. He plucked safety Craig McDonald from Iowa State and corner D.J. James from Oregon. They’ll need to hit the ground running if Auburn hopes to reverse this key trend.