Bryan Harsin explains why Tank Bigsby got so few touches in loss to Penn State

Auburn’s loss to Penn Sate on Saturday afternoon seemed like déjà vu.

For the second straight year, the Tigers lost their marquee nonconference matchup with the Nittany Lions. And just like last season’s setback in State College, Penn., Auburn failed to get its best playmaker adequately involved in the offense early on.

Tank Bigsby had just 11 total touches in Auburns 41-12 loss to Penn State, finishing the game with nine carries for 39 yards and two receptions for 38 yards. It was his fewest combined touches in a game since last year’s win at LSU, when he had nine carries for 27 yards and one 6-yard catch in Death Valley.

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“I think the obvious is that we got behind and we had to throw the football,” Auburn coach Bryan Harsin said. “I mean, that’s really what it came down to.”

Harsin was pressed after the game about Bigsby’s limited involvement, particularly in the first half of the program’s worst home loss in a decade. The preseason first-team All-SEC running back had just eight touches in the first half of a game that was still competitive at the break, when Penn State led 14-6.

After getting five carries in the first quarter, Bigsby did not receive a carry in the second quarter. His only touch in the second quarter came on the second-to-last play of the half, when he turned a short pass from T.J. Finley into a 37-yard gain that moved Auburn out near midfield.

“I don’t know all the reasons,” Harsin said when asked why Bigsby only had one touch in the second quarter. “But yeah, we want to get Tank the ball. We want to get Jarquez the ball. We want to run the football.”

Bigsby’s first-half involvement somewhat mirrored that of last season’s game in Penn State, when he had nine total touches (with a touchdown) at halftime of a 14-10 game. In that matchup, he had eight carries for 41 yards and one reception for 1 yard at the break.

Of course, Auburn corrected course in the second half last season and leaned on Bigsby. He finished that game with 23 carries for 102 yards and two scores, recording 15 touches in the second half of the 28-20 loss.

That wasn’t the case Saturday, when Bigsby had just four second-half carries totaling 18 yards. His final touch came with 7:09 remaining in the third quarter and Auburn trailing, 24-6. The Tigers went away from him after falling behind, 31-6, with 1:07 to go in the third quarter. Auburn ran the ball eight times after that juncture, with all of them coming from quarterback Robby Ashford, who also attempted 12 passes during the final 16 minutes of action.

“I think the big thing was the score and trying to do some things to get him the ball,” Harsin said. “And the pass game is included in that too, so there was opportunities for him there as well. So, it’s not all just the touches in the run game. It’s the touches in the pass game. And other opportunities. But we do want to get the ball in his hands and those tailbacks.”

The Tigers spent all offseason talking about how Bigsby was going to be the foundation for the offense, and that they wanted a build the system around him with a run-first approach. If Auburn hopes to correct course in SEC play next week after getting routed by Penn State, it will have to put its money where its mouth is.

“We’ll look at that again and figure out how we get the ball in our playmakers’ hands, and sometimes the game changes,” Harsin said. “Sometimes the plan of the team you’re playing, they know that too. And what they’re trying to take away, so you’ve got to make some adjustments in the game as well.”

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.

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