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AUBURN — The fourth quarter of Auburn football's 43-34 collapse against Mississippi State featured no shortage of controversial calls and coaching decisions.
The moments that haunted Auburn fans included coach Bryan Harsin's decision to attempt a fake punt while trailing 36-28 in the fourth quarter and the choice to go for a 2-point conversion after Auburn's final touchdown.
The fake punt failed and led to Mississippi State's final touchdown. The 2-point attempt resulted in an interception that kept the Tigers (6-4, 3-3 SEC) trailing by two scores.
When asked about the fake punt decision, Harsin said, "We're trying to create some momentum. We did have the look, and any time you're going to run a fake punt, there's chances where they can defend that. So we were close on it, but we felt like ... the offense wasn't providing that. We needed to create something, and that was my call on that right there to go fake punt. That didn't work."
Harsin was not asked about the decision to go for 2. Auburn was going to need to attempt a 2-point conversion at some point if it hoped to rally, but its failure while trailing by two touchdowns effectively ended the game a few minutes early.
There was also the controversial targeting call against edge rusher T.D. Moultry, negating a sack and leaving him disqualified through the first half of Auburn's game next week at South Carolina.
Harsin had a long answer when asked about his vantage point as replay review determined the penalty:
"I didn't see it," he said. "That's the one thing: They made a decision from upstairs that that was targeting. What I saw on the replay was him going up because the quarterback's in a passing position to try to block the pass. The quarterback freezes. He's coming down, and then he sacks the quarterback in that situation right there. So ... targeting, you've got to define who's defenseless, the crown of the helmet — there's all these other things that come into play. And I didn't see that on that play, but they called it from the booth, because it wasn't called on the field.
"And the officials that were out there, I think saw the same thing I saw. What they saw in the booth, they felt like it was targeting. That was the explanation to me, and we'll go back and look at it. I don't have a replay of it right now in front of me, but we'll go back and look at it. But I think that's a tough call when you have a momentum-changing play right there. One of our better players that's going to be out (against South Carolina) because (the penalty was in) the second half. And it wasn't called on the field. ... I'll have to look at it before I really have a better opinion on it. But it was called, and it changed the field position and gave them a first down, and we were getting some momentum in that moment right there, which was good. But that sort of just took that away."
This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Bryan Harsin on fake punt, targeting call in loss to Mississippi State