The Missouri Tigers (2-1) take on the Auburn Tigers (2-1) in the SEC opener at Jordan-Hare Stadium. While both of these teams have identical over. 500 records, they are certainly reeling with the way they are playing right now — making it pretty much a must-win game for both programs. Kick-off is set for 11:00 a.m. CST on ESPN with Mark Jones (play-by-play), Robert Griffin III (analyst), and Quint Kessenich (sideline reporter) on the call.
Bryan Harsin is most definitely on the hot seat, and Auburn’s starting quarterback T.J. Finley has been ruled out due to a shoulder injury.
To get an Auburn perspective, Jack Condon of Auburn’s SB Nation College And Magnolia chatted with us to discuss the upcoming match up — and Jack’s final score prediction might be surprising to some. Here’s the Q&A:
Sammy Stava: After a 2-1 start to the season with a close win over San Jose State and a blowout loss at home to Penn State, just how hot would you say is Bryan Harsin’s seat right now?
Jack Condon: Well, we’re glad you asked. Every beat writer, along with our selves, are expecting to have Harsin’s last game coming at some point over the next few weeks. If he loses to Missouri, then it might be this Saturday. At best, we’re expecting him to make it to the bye week after we go to Ole Miss (October 8th), and then our interim AD will make a decision. We’ll definitely get smashed in Athens to start October, and then Lane Kiffin may be auditioning for the Auburn job by beating the pants off of us the next week. All in all, none of us expect Harsin to have to worry about the new 2023 SEC schedule that was just released. There’s been no growth at any of position, we’ve gotten worse in almost every aspect, and we’ve gotten sloppier as a team. Just undisciplined. This was a tough fit to see when he was hired in 2020, and his chance to convince the Auburn family that he’s the right man for the job fell through with basically every decision he’s made along the way.
SS: Through three games, what is the biggest weaknesses for this Auburn team? If there are any, what are some of the strengths this team has?
JC: Quarterback is the most glaring, because that position will touch the ball every play, but I think that T.J. Finley would be a successful quarterback at a fair few SEC teams. He’s struggling because our offensive line cannot move anyone, from San Jose State to Penn State. It’s been something that the College and Mag staff has harped on basically since I took over the site in 2017. Starting with Gus Malzahn’s last couple of seasons and continuing through the Harsin tenure we’ve seen a total whiff in offensive line recruiting. The best class we’ve had over the past several seasons was the 2020 class, of which we have some starters on the current line. They weren’t highly regarded, however, and we struck out on basically every single top target we wanted. That’s evidenced by the fact that we just couldn’t push Mercer, SJSU, and then Penn State off the line of scrimmage to create room for one of the best backs in the country in Tank Bigsby. As far as strengths go, Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter provide a pretty solid combo at tailback, and the obvious top unit on the team is probably the pass rushers — Derick Hall and Eku Leota, who both played very well even in the loss on Saturday.
SS: Both teams come in with a 2-1 record, making it almost a must-win for both for any hope of bowl eligibility. For Auburn, it’s their easiest SEC game on the schedule. But for Mizzou, this is one of their very few “winnable” games on paper. Having said that, who needs the win more here?
JC: If you asked, there would probably be a fair few Auburn fans who don’t want to win this game so that there’s more evidence against Harsin. Personally, I never want to lose a game. However, if Auburn did lose, they’d likely get better by way of hiring a new coach. For Missouri, I haven’t heard the rumblings of wanting to endure self-sabotage to get rid of a struggling coach, so I would imagine that getting to bowl eligibility is more important for you guys. We all want to win, but we won’t be crushed when a loss puts things in motion even quicker.
SS: Not exactly a game question, but Missouri makes their first trip at Auburn since joining the SEC. For Mizzou fans making the road trip, what are the spots they need to hit up around the Auburn campus?
JC: Well! Depending on when you’re heading into town for the game, there are plenty of things that you should see. With this being an 11 AM kickoff, you can get some good breakfast on Saturday and get a quick walk of the campus in before heading to the stadium. Afterward, an early dinner before hitting the town is a solid plan. Let’s say you get in on Friday:
Friday/Saturday Dinner (nicer options): Acre, Amsterdam Cafe, and Hamilton’s are all downtown and within walking distance of campus
Friday/Saturday Dinner (causal options): Bow and Arrow BBQ, Niffer’s (Burgers), Little Italy Pizzeria for a pie and a pitcher
Saturday/Sunday Breakfast: The Hound (get the Bacon Flight — might be tough to eat and get to the game, could save for Sunday brunch); Waffle House (why not), Big Blue Bagel
Bars: Sky Bar is huge and wild, 17-16 is a bit more chill, Southeastern (great place to watch games); all of those are on Magnolia right near Toomer’s Corner. And make sure you go get a big Toomer’s lemonade!
SS: Auburn currently comes in as a seven-point favorite. How do you see this game playing out on Saturday? Have a final score prediction?
JC: This is going to be a game where T.J. Finley isn’t playing because of an injury sustained during the Penn State game, and I’m sure that Robby Ashford will get the start. We may end up seeing Zach Calzada for the first time, although nobody really knows what’s going on since Harsin said that everyone was healthy literally yesterday. Ashford will probably be tasked with throwing more than he’s comfortable with doing, and we’ll see how he handles that. He’s been more prone to letting mistakes fester and affect his attitude, so one turnover may turn into another. I don’t know how Missouri’s defense compares to San Jose State and Penn State, but we probably won’t be able to run on them extremely well either. I see this as a low-scoring game on Auburn’s part, and if I had to pick the game right now, I’m taking Missouri to win 28-21.
There you have it, folks. Mizzou is going to win this game — according to Jack. His comments on Auburn’s situation are certainly something. Be sure to follow College And Magnolia for their Auburn coverage this week.