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Growing Pains – Week 2: Wildcat Tarnation


If you were one of the ones penning sonnets to the genius of new Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn at the beginning of the season, it might be time to start singing a different tune.

If you were one of the ones marveling at the transformation of Auburn quarterback Chris Todd, further examination is now due.

Don’t feel alone, nearly every observer of Auburn football got caught up to a degree in the blistering offensive pace of the 5-0 start. Glaring defensive deficiencies were overlooked, the relative level of competition was ignored.

It was just too easy to pick up stones and hurl them at former head coach Tommy Tuberville for his 2008 failures while basking in the faux glow of a quick start to 2009.

Others may not be ready or willing to take this step just yet, but it’s time to wonder if the 2009 Tigers are any better off than the 2008 version that crashed and burned to a 5-7 record.

Short answer? No. They’re not. In some ways, this team may be worse.

Despite a five-win start, aided by six West Virginia turnovers, the Tigers are staring at the very real possibility of a 6-6 finish, particularly when you consider that the four toughest opponents on the schedule (LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama) remain.

Yes, with Furman looming for Homecoming chances are that this team will at least make bowl eligibility, but is that really so much better than last season’s abomination?


This Tiger defense is markedly worse. Over the past two games, the offense hasn’t been much better than the abysmal sludge that stunk up the 2008 campaign.

Auburn’s defense played well in patches in Saturday’s loss to Kentucky.  It still missed far too many assignments and failed to make routine plays with the game on the line.

Kentucky started a freshman at quarterback who had never taken a collegiate snap. The Wildcats relied on a career backup in the second half.  Still, Kentucky was able to smack the Auburn defense in the mouth.

There’s no excuse for that.

Kentucky wasn’t doing anything fancy. Auburn helped make the ‘Cats look like beasts with shoddy fundamentals, dreadful tackling and repeated mental lapses.

It’s nothing new.

The Tiger defense has a habit of doing that. The doomed no-pressure defensive scheme employed by defensive coordinator Ted Roof has given every team on the schedule, including Ball State, highlight reel material.

Through five games, Auburn’s offense was able to hide those deficiencies by scoring points in bunches.

Points are no longer coming.

After authoring a comeback story that had begun to draw national attention, Chris Todd’s performance against Kentucky was reminiscent of some of his worst efforts a year ago.

Todd missed open receivers, continually fired into double coverage, underthrew receivers, overthrew receivers and played with all the finesse of Pinocchio — before he was turned into a real boy.

But the offensive suicide was en masse.

Twice, Auburn drives in Kentucky territory were bogged down by asinine penalties, the kind of repetitive mistakes you’d expect from a pee-wee team.

The offensive line dragged around like it had somewhere better to be.

Mario Fannin, a legitimate offensive threat, was misused.

The reason behind the regression is a mystery. The results are not.

Malzahn’s stock has crashed harder than Wachovia’s.  That wizard hat he was wearing after an offense-fueled 5-0 start has looked an awful lot like a dunce cap the last two weeks.

With the exception of some hard-nosed running by senior tailback Ben Tate, Auburn’s offense was at least as ineffective as a year ago.  It wasn’t clever, it wasn’t cute, it wasn’t innovative.

It was predictable, plodding and pedestrian.

The play-calling, particularly in critical situations, would have made even Tony Franklin sputter in disbelief.

It looked, quite frankly, like that of a high school offensive coordinator suddenly realizing he was in over his head.

Is it possible that former Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt was actually right when he wrested control of the Hog offense from Malzahn midway through Malzahn’s one-season tenure with the Razorbacks?

Auburn’s wunderkind coordinator Malzahn has been outmaneuvered by two middle of the pack SEC lambs in Arkansas and Kentucky.  Both the ‘Hogs and ‘Cats were winless in the league before facing Auburn.

It’s gruesome to think what feast the lions remaining on Auburn’s schedule will have at the Tiger’s expense if Malzahn isn’t able to conjure up something more effective than the gory mishmash he’s gagged out the past two weeks.

What happened Saturday night was simply an epic failure. A slight improvement by the defense — but again remember that Kentucky was playing without its starting quarterback — was completely squandered by a dreadful offense.

Auburn is not a good football team by SEC standards.

There are some legitimate excuses regarding talent and depth, but much of what happened on Saturday can be directly attributed to poor coaching. No offense to Kentucky fans, but Auburn should not lose to Kentucky at home. period.

The Arkansas loss was supposed to be a learning situation.  What Auburn learned is that it just isn’t as good as the fast start indicated.

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