Auburn football is growing 'fine with losing' and running out of time to change it

Jacob Shames
Montgomery Advertiser

AUBURN — To hear Bryan Harsin tell it, John Samuel Shenker delivered a message.

Auburn football, according to its captain and senior tight end, is growing accustomed to defeat.

"To win football games takes a lot of effort throughout a week and sacrifice," Shenker said after the Tigers lost 41-27 to Arkansas on Saturday. "Coach said it: We're probably as a team not making it our own time. ... You just got to want to win that bad, and if you're fine with losing that's not what we need here. I think that's become a problem within the team to some extent. Guys are becoming OK with it."

The loss to the Razorbacks was the fourth straight for Auburn (3-5, 1-4 SEC); the third straight in which it's given up more than 40 points and 500 yards. Even an idle week couldn't give the Tigers any added boost. Fans began leaving Jordan-Hare Stadium before the third quarter was over.

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"It's demoralizing, at least for me, being here and loving Auburn, seeing the fans leave," Shenker said. "That's awful to see. ... That's definitely an issue, but we just have to win football games. That comes with winning."

The Tigers' previous two losses, to Georgia and Ole Miss, were demoralizing in their own ways. But they took place away from home against undefeated teams. Auburn's offensive performance against the Rebels was particularly encouraging. An off week gave it extra time to prepare for an Arkansas team that had been inconsistent in its own right.

If the Tigers were to turn their season around — and beyond that, save their coach's job — Saturday could have been a fresh start; a prime opportunity to make a stand. "This is a game we knew we could have won," Shenker said.

Instead, same old story.

"We're getting accustomed to doing things that will not allow us to win," Shenker said. "Our mentality, I think, is depleting. That's something we've got to work on this week, not allowing guys to settle for mediocrity. ... I don't think we played as fast as we should have. I don't think we had an edge today. I think we just went out and played."

Added junior defensive end Colby Wooden: "It's different because we lost at home. They walked in here and put 40 on us and walked out with a victory. I've never had that happen in my time here. It's a difficult thing to digest, but you got to look in the mirror."

On Monday, defensive end Zykeivous Walker announced he was entering the transfer portal. Wide receivers Landen King and Tar'varish Dawson did the same later in the week, as did defensive back AD Diamond. Half of Harsin's first signing class at Auburn is no longer with the program.

The players who spoke postgame said the departures didn't have a major effect on team morale. It's a symptom, not a cause.

"No winning team has that in the middle of the season, players entering the portal," Wooden said. "We just got to get better. From the ground up, just get better."

In Harsin's words, "losing is contagious." Misery compounds misery. Right now, the Tigers are stuck in a downward spiral, looking for shortcuts that don't exist.

Shenker is in his sixth year with the program. He's experienced a 10-win season, a New Year's Six bowl, two wins over Alabama. He feels it's his duty, along with other upperclassmen, to connect that era of Auburn football to the team's younger players; teach them what winning football looks like. He has four games — and maybe, just maybe a fifth — left to pass on that knowledge.

Otherwise, that downward spiral will only continue.

"Complacency gets you beat, period," Harsin said. " ... You got to put in the time, that's really what it comes down to. There's no other way. There's no getting around hard work, period. There's no way around that whatsoever. Otherwise you're trying to get lucky or just hoping."

Jacob Shames can be reached by email at, by phone at 334-201-9117 and on Twitter @Jacob_Shames.