AUBURN — It was the result everyone expected, but far from the means of reaching that result.
Auburn's 34-24 win against Georgia State was ugly and demoralizing, and then it was beautiful and — maybe even a little hopeful? A backup quarterback's last-gasp touchdown drive will leave questions about the future for Auburn's offense, but for the time being, it was an encouraging ending to a resilient comeback.
Here are the grades for that offense, as well as Auburn's defense, special teams and coaching. Spoiler: They still aren't pretty.
If T.J. Finley hadn't pulled off a miraculous fourth-and-goal adjustment to win the game, Auburn would have finished without having scored an offensive touchdown against a Sun Belt team. The run-pass balance didn't favor the run enough, and that's clearly Auburn's strength with a quality backfield trio. Bo Nix was 13-for-27 before he was pulled.
Credit to the defense for the dramatic turnaround in the second half. The first half was completely uncharacteristic for how Auburn has stopped the run this season, but it looked like itself again after regrouping. That said, the Tigers had more breakdowns in coverage, which are less forgivable against Georgia State than they were at Penn State. Georgia State's strength is not the pass game, but Darren Grainger came through with clutch throws when needed. This is developing into a top concern for Auburn.
Special teams: A
Even with Anders Carlson's missed 40-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, Auburn doesn't win that game without special teams. The punt unit contributed a touchdown with Caylin Newton on the block and Barton Lester on the recovery. Nehemiah Pritchett had a 72-yard kickoff return through traffic in the first half. And Carlson still finished 4-for-5, keeping Auburn in the game just enough for the final drive to even be relevant.
Was replacing Nix a good decision in the long term? Would Nix have adjusted with more time, and would Auburn have won with him leading the offense? Hard to say just yet, but as bad as Auburn looked for most of the game, and as much as that comes back to leadership, Bryan Harsin and his staff felt like they needed to do something drastic in the second half. They did, and it worked. Bullet dodged, for now.
Auburn gets a plus for coming through in the final moments to get the job done, but it should never come to that against Georgia State. A rollercoaster of emotions for Auburn as a team.