Sit Tank Bigsby? Why Auburn should give the star running back a week off vs. Alabama State
If I’m Bryan Harsin, I’m not letting Tank Bigsby even suit up Saturday against Alabama State.
No, that’s not a disciplinary issue. The star Auburn tailback didn’t do anything to earn a spot in his new coach’s doghouse. It’s the opposite.
Bigsby is too good and too impactful to see a single snap against an FCS foe that had to grind out a 14-13 overtime win against Miles College in Week 1.
Does that sound soft? I don’t care.
Any other position, I say those reps are important. But Bigsby isn’t just another position player. He’s not just one of the nation’s best running backs. He’s the heart and soul of that Auburn offense. If the Tigers are going to keep their heads above water in the SEC West, it’ll be because Bigsby took that Year 2 step and broke tackle after tackle.
There are 2 obvious reasons Bigsby shouldn’t play Saturday.
One is that a gauntlet awaits Auburn in the next month. After Saturday, the Tigers will face Penn State (in Happy Valley), Georgia (at home) and LSU (in Death Valley) in 3 of the following 4 weeks.
Ya think Auburn might want/need Bigsby to score a touchdown or 2 to win those games?
I’m not sure if you saw the beef that Georgia and Penn State have up front in Week 1. It’s, um, just a touch different from Akron, which probably could’ve had 22 defensive players and still not stopped Bigsby.
Georgia was the No. 1 run defense in college football last year, and all Jordan Davis and Co. did was hold Clemson to 2 rushing yards. For the entire game. Penn State, meanwhile, held Wisconsin to 3 yards per carry in Camp Randall, which I didn’t think was physically possible. And say what you want about LSU’s defensive woes, but even at its worst, a trip to Death Valley is still always an uphill battle for an Auburn team that hasn’t won in Baton Rouge since the Bill Clinton administration.
You know what would be nice? Making sure Bigsby is at 100% for that stretch.
We saw Saturday that Auburn can dominate weak competition without Bigsby getting 20 touches. Between Jarquez Hunter and Shaun Shivers, the ground game is more than capable of moving the chains without unnecessarily having Bigsby take 10-plus hits.
— Justin Hokanson (@_JHokanson) September 5, 2021
Even if Bigsby often delivers the blow on his carries, he’s still absorbing contact. You only get so many hits as a tailback, especially if you take on hits like Bigsby does.
The bonus would be seeing how Bo Nix functions when the defense isn’t entirely locked in on Bigsby. Nix looked comfortable in his first game in Mike Bobo’s offense. Would he look as comfortable without Bigsby? Against Alabama State, I’d hope he’d be comfortable stepping into throws in the pocket.
Encouraging performance aside, there are things Nix still needs to figure out in the passing game. This would expedite that process a touch.
Will Harsin ever make such an unconventional move? Probably not. Harsin spits out coaching clichés like sunflower seeds. He’s not exactly someone you’d expect to consider the non-football guy approach. The football guy approach is Alabama State is a capable opponent, even though as far as I can tell via the program’s official media guide, it hasn’t ever beaten an FBS opponent. This isn’t Dan Mullen sitting a mostly healthy Kyle Pitts against LSU and then watching the Tigers stun the Gators in The Swamp.
Still, though. Maybe Harsin would consider it disrespectful to Alabama State to rest Bigsby. Or perhaps he did briefly consider it, but then thought about how the last thing he’d want is his team in a close game late against an FCS team with his star player on the bench.
For what it’s worth, Harsin still had Bigsby listed as RB1 on Monday’s depth chart. I fully expect Bigsby to play, and if I’m betting on an outcome, it’s that he makes it through Saturday’s game just fine. If he went untouched for a 70-yard touchdown run, that wouldn’t be surprising.
But think about this. If you’re an Auburn fan, do you want to see Bigsby on the field on Saturday? Like, for anything other than your own entertainment value? And if you’re a fan of Penn State, Georgia or LSU, wouldn’t you prefer to see Bigsby on the field on Saturday?
That’s the argument that carries more weight than any. Bigsby doesn’t need reps in this offense, and if there’s any push to pad his stats so that he can earn some season-end accolades, that’s a pretty flimsy justification, too.
If you’re mapping out the scenarios for the wheels to fall off in Year 1 of the Harsin era, basically all of them include Bigsby getting hurt, right? So then if that’s the case, why risk it against Alabama State? And for anyone saying it’s extremely unlikely because of just how inferior the opponent is, do non-contact injuries mean anything to you?
It certainly did for Minnesota’s Mohamed Ibrahim, who was expected to be one of the best running backs in college football until he went down with a non-contact, season-ending leg injury in Week 1:
— SportSource Analytics (@SportSourceA) September 3, 2021
That happened while Minnesota was in a dog fight against No. 4 Ohio State. Imagine if that happened to Bigsby in a game against Alabama State with the schedule that awaits. Harsin would get blasted for that. Hindsight would say Bigsby shouldn’t have been out there in the first place, but shouldn’t foresight also say that?
There’s nothing wrong with being a little extra conservative with Bigsby, given the nature of the task ahead. Maybe it’ll cause a stir if Bigsby suits up and doesn’t play, but if Harsin simply says in the postgame press conference “we ask a lot of Tank, and I wanted to make sure his body is ready to handle this long season,” then there’s nothing to figure out.
I want to see plenty of Bigsby in 2021. I’d just rather see him in sweat pants on Saturday.