In the aftermath of another abysmal, soul-wrecking performance, the now 5-3 Auburn Tigers are searching for silver linings in some very dark clouds.
Lets get this out of the way. There is almost nothing positive to take from the 31-10 thrashing delivered by LSU Saturday night. Search if you will, but there are no silver linings. There are no bronze linings. There are no linings of any color, only clouds. Menacing clouds.
If there’s any solace at all to be wrung from the shockingly bad display, it would be that career backup quarterback Neil Caudle came off the bench when the outcome was decided, played with enthusiasm and reckless abandon and made plays that neither starter Chris Todd or designated “wildcat” Kodi Burns have shown any recent capability of making.
If you’re looking for some small glimmer of hope, tailback Ben Tate still runs the ball like he’s on a mission. He picked up 76 yards on 18 carries — not nearly enough.
If you’re trying to find that needle of encouragement in a haystack of despair, Mario Fannin acts like it means something to him. Unfortunately, Fannin doesn’t get enough touches to make a major impact.
[Ed. note – I’ll add Eltoro’s energy and goring to the list.]
There’s no getting around the simple fact that Auburn is a bad football team. What’s worse is that the Tigers have steadily gotten worse as the season progressed.
The Bayou beat down may have been the single worst effort by an Auburn football team in years. It’s definitely in the conversation.
Another writer recently chastised those who characterized Auburn’s 5-0 start as a mirage, noting that a mirage, by definition, indicates seeing something that isn’t there.
After the collapse in the last three weeks, mirage may be the most fitting term. Caught up in the relief of a 5-0 start, it was easy for hopeful Tiger fans to see things that weren’t really there while looking past the things that were staring them directly in the face.
Yes, Auburn is a bad football team. The Tigers were incredibly fortunate to reel off five wins to start the season. In retrospect, Auburn could easily have lost to both Tennessee and West Virginia. Luck has run out.
Good football teams do not bog themselves down with senseless penalties. A week after a series of absurd penalties in the fourth quarter killed what would likely have been a game-clinching drive and later an attempt to tie, Auburn was flagged seven times for 64 yards against LSU. Three of those penalties, including two 15-yarders, came on LSU’s opening drive — a scoring march that put Auburn in a hole from which it never recovered.
Penalties are a matter of discipline — something this Auburn team is suddenly lacking, and something that can be laid squarely at the feet of the coaching staff.
Good football teams do not turn the ball over. Two fumbles and an interception were costly against LSU.
Good football teams do not out-coach themselves. Auburn’s first possession of the game showed promise.
Two scrambles by Todd and a designed run from Burns moved the chains.
Running back Ben Tate ripped off a nine-yard blast to near mid-field. On second down and one, Burns came back on and launched an awkward laser that had zero chance of being caught by Mario Fannin.
On third and one, a slow-developing hand off to Tate was stuffed for no gain.
In the confusion over whether to go for the first or punt, the Tigers were flagged for a false start.
Auburn punted. Confidence wilted.
After LSU scored on the penalty-aided drive, the Tiger offense again failed to convert a third and one.
Good football teams do not finish with less than 100 yards in a half. Auburn managed a mere 42 yards in the first two quarters, six of that coming on the last play of the half.
It may be too early to declare that offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn’s system will not translate to SEC play, but if you can’t write it in ink you can definitely jot it down it in pencil.
Back in early September, Chizik cautioned about putting too much stock into Auburn’s early effectiveness under Malzahn.
“Right now its effective simply because there are some new things off of it that we can do,” he said then. “After four or five weeks, now, you run out of things and you just got to execute better than the other guy.”
Change Chizik’s first name to Nostradamus. Week five opponent Tennessee slowed the Auburn offense drastically. Since then, it’s gone nowhere.
Auburn certainly isn’t executing better than the other guy.
You could make a case that, five-win string aside, Auburn’s offense under Malzahn is currently even less effective than it was under the heckled Tony Franklin. His performance was considered so bad he was ejected from the program in mid-season and suffered the ignominy of the media snapping photos of him carting his belongings to his car after being summarily booted.
Malzahn’s apparent desire to get as many hands on the ball as he can seems to drown continuity. Auburn once established its reputation by handing the ball to its backs 30 or more times a game, relentlessly wearing out opposing defenses.
It worked for Carnell Williams, Rudi Johnson, James Joseph, Brent Fullwood, Kenny Irons, Bo Jackson and a host of other Tiger backs.
Tate wants to carry the team. It might not be a bad idea to let him. It is readily apparent that Todd is incapable of doing so.
Good football teams do not choke against the worst defenses in the SEC and allow the worst offenses in the SEC to gash them.
Arkansas was among the worst in the league on defense when the Hogs abused the Tiger offense and rendered it completely impotent.
LSU was statistically one of the worst offenses in the SEC when it passed and ran with abandon over the Tiger stopping unit.
Auburn is simply a bad football team. There’s no way to sugar coat it.
Depth may be a valid issue, but depth isn’t the problem on the first drive of the game. Depth doesn’t commit ridiculous penalties that kill drives or extend those of the opponent.
During the three-game losing streak the Tiger coaching staff seems to have no concept how to correct the issues that plague the team week after week.
The defensive schemes employed by coordinator Ted Roof are horrific. Receivers are given enormous cushions and are routinely wide open across the middle and on the corners.
Tackling fundamentals are poor and get worse week by week.
The Tennessee Volunteers under first year coach Lane Kiffin may not make a bowl, but you can see the team gradually improving. Each outing is slightly better than the last.
Same for Mississippi State and new head coach Dan Mullen.
On the same day Auburn was being made to look like chumps against an overrated LSU team, Kiffin’s Volunteers had a legitimate chance to knock off second-ranked Alabama and Mullen’s Bulldogs kept top-ranked Florida on the ropes for three quarters.
Both the Vols and Dogs acquitted themselves far better than the Tigers.
Chizik is precariously close to losing the team as evidenced by the expressions captured on the sidelines in the fourth quarter.
Chizik adopted “Do What We Do” as the team’s unofficial slogan. That was great when what the Tigers were doing was working.
What will Chizik do when doing what he does continues to fail? So far, he has no answer.
First to the post!!!
Change QB’s. Caudle can do no worse. We only need 2 more wins to avoid the Pizza Bowl in Birmingham.
Crap, I put a HD projector and a 100 inch screen in the basement so I could enjoy the “magic” Tiger season in 1080i and we’re 0-3 since. Did I jinx us?
And, I had to look away when the LSU dude did that creepy dance toward the end.
Good op ed, Kevin. I don’t think it can be said or written any clearer or more accurately than this.
Huh. No tackling, poor coaching, excuses about “depth” against teams no deeper than they (see Kentucky.)
I think I’ve seen this movie before…at Iowa State ’07 and ’08.
Thanks, Auburn, for the trade. Our Auburn reject has won as many games in eight Saturdays than Chizik did in two years. And before anyone credit Chizik’s recruiting for this weekends upset vs. Nebraska — defensive player of the game was a McCarney walk-on – starting QB (who didn’t play due to injury) is a local kid and McCarney recruit – and these same recruits were blown out in the first quarter at home to Nebraska last year.
This isn’t the difference a year makes. It is the difference a coach makes.
I’ve seen three years of Chizik ball – he doesn’t practice them in pads, doesn’t value the ball, and won’t ever teach them how to tackle. I don’t how care how “deep” you are – if your starters don’t know how to play football, your depth chart isn’t going to win it for you.
He’s a beauty pageant coach.
Yes, things are bad- -but I think you are being a little harsh here. What would you rather have? Start completely over with a new coaching staff? Facts are facts- the cupboard was left bare. We made enough plays in the first 5 to win games. We believed our own hype in an 11AM road game against a more motivated team. We also have an injured signal caller. This offense is predicated on connecting on some intermediate/long passes. He can no longer make them. Kentucky only underscored Todd’s injuries (physical turned to mental), and in that game our D did play OK for 3 quarters, but left on the field all game- -depth led to points and a loss. LSU was going to be a meat grinder no matter what. Even with a 5-0 start, and they being overrated- -getting a road win there would have been a surprise.
But look at our recruiting. Look at the progress our receivers were making. The Bull made contributions last night.
It’s like I’m trying to remind myself- -it’s never as bad as it seems (or you say), and it’s not as good as it seems either (5-0). But let’s step back from the ledge, and let the baby sit in the lukewarm water a while, shall we?
I’m going to go ahead and disagree with pretty much everything you said.
It IS as bad as portrayed.
What I would have us do is irrelevant because Jay Jacobs already did what shouldn’t have been done. Great programs get there via continuity. The decision to push Tuberville aside was a foolish one. Just ask Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden, Tom Osborne and, yes, even Bear Bryant. All of those coaches walked through the valley and suffered slumps.
We have an injured signal caller? Really? Do you have any proof of this or are you just making a speculative excuse?
The defense did NOT play well for three quarters.
The Bull? Please. Where’s The Bull been the last few weeks?
What progress have the receivers made? Improved their towel waving skills?
DEPTH? Christ. Don’t even try to play that card. Depth has nothing to do with the opening drive. Depth is NOT the problem. It’s not a get out of jail free card.
Look at our recruiting. Okay. So far nothing but smoke and mirrors. Yeah there are big targets out there, but which of them has actually cast his lot with Auburn?
LSU a meat grinder? Seriously? Not even close. Until Auburn came to town their offense was a circus act. It was completely impotent. But Auburn made Jordan Jefferson look Heisman worthy.
LSU wasn’t playing Auburn, they were TOYING with the Tigers and working on parts of their game. Nothing but a glorified scrimmage.
I wasn’t being harsh. I was being kind.
Nice job taking a line directly out of the Chizik playbook. I watched him say “it’s never as bad as it seems or as good as it seems” 19 times at Iowa State.
Are you kidding that we should have kept xCTT? Seriously? He didn’t recruit for 3 years. We have approx 70 folks on scholarship. Bama had more when they were on PROBATION! He was tired and fed up, it was time for him to go. Anytime you change coaching staffs, there will be ups and downs. Way to pile on when things get down? You think we can’t make any progress over the last few games? I think we can.
Evidence of Todd being injured? Only my eyes. Stared down Trott wide open 35 yards away vs Kentucky and didn’t (couldn’t?) make the throw. One hopped a 25 yard throw to Fannin. Just seems like not the same confident, on time, on a rope QB from the first 4 games.
I can’t figure out if you are an AU fan, or just a negative guy who has a platform. Beginning to think it is the latter.
Question anything you want.
Don’t question loyalty just because I don’t agree with your opinion.
There is much more to the story than Tuberville being tired and fed up. What do you suppose he was tired of? Certainly not coaching. What do you suppose he was fed up with?
What you offer is one-sided spin.
I will say this. Tuberville had his faults. But until last season no matter who Auburn was playing, I felt we had a chance to win. That is not the case now. Your broad brush regarding Tuberville is shockingly short-sighted in my opinion.
Can things get better? Sure. But other than your thoughts and hopeful wishes, what evidence do you have that indicates they might? By any rational estimation this is a downward spiral and one that shows no signs of improving.
If Todd IS injured and his play is as horrendous as it has been, why isn’t something else being done? Does it make sense to stick with him? Haven’t we seen that horror movie before? When Jason/Freddie/Michael Myers starts coming after you, don’t run upstairs. But they do in every single movie. Why are we running upstairs? We’re just going to trip and fall and get slashed. We’ve SEEN that movie already. It didn’t work then. Not working now.
We can wish for anything we want. I wish I had a Canadian midget who would come down my chimney every morning and drop gold coins all over the hearth. i don’t see that happening either.
Fine. I won’t question your loyalty, but I will question what it is that you are after. You want coordinator change, head coach change? Speaking of short sighted. The current staff gets 8 games and done? We’ve all been able to piece together, or at least I thought we all had, what happened to Tubs. The power brokers didn’t like him, tried to get rid of him, he held a grudge and never tried to reconcile. But please don’t tell me that he was battling 24/7 for AU the last few years. He hired Franklin without even meeting him if you read several sources. He wouldn’t recruit top rated prospects in state because he just figured we couldn’t get them and it wasn’t worth our time. And he and staff didn’t do a great job of homework or help to recruits who did sign, but never made grades. So that’s my “one sided spin”.
I think I’ve figured out though, our fundamental disagreement here. You ask me to point to signs that things will get better. The difference is I think this assemblage of coaches can turn things around. You clearly don’t. And i think that is awfully short sighted, speaking of. That’s the bottom line. I don’t expect it to happen in one season, or in 8 games. Am I frustrated that we make mistakes that thwart drives? Yes. I also realize that we are dealing with 18-20 year old kids, and not paid professionals.
And I do appreciate the condescension at the end. Sure, we’d all love a toilet made of gold, but that’s just not in the cards. Well done.
I had another exhaustive post, but ISP hiccuped and it’s gone now.
Oh well, it’s a ton of fun to argue with you and all, and I do appreciate the condescending midget comment (always an awesome closing)- -but the bottom line is that I think the current coaches should be given a chance to turn it around. I’m sensing that you don’t.
But since they aren’t going anywhere at least this season, I guess I just don’t understand what all your bile and bitterness is really accomplishing in the interim. I mean, it’s not making things much better right now- -so other than to just be angry for its own sake, I don’t get it. It doesn’t seem productive.
But neither does spending my Sunday arguing with someone I don’t know.
So, War Eagle. Good afternoon.
Not arguing. I just happen to disagree.
My job is to analyze last night’s game and offer my opinion on the team. That’s why I write.
What would you have me do? Paint pictures of kittens? Describe the awesome way Chris Todd jiggles when he’s being indecisive? Marvel at the way the defense runs behind the LSU players to make sure they get into the endzone?
Nothing condescending unless you take it that way.
Our fundamental disagreement as you put it is that I asked you for quantifiable, logical reasons for your anticipation of improvement. You gave me “I think” and “I feel” That’s really nothing but vapor.
I’m open to hearing it. Explain it. What is it about Chizik that inspires your confidence? What in his resume do you see that leads you to believe he — or anybody on this staff — is capable of making the adjustments needed to reverse the slide.
Was it his experience at Iowa State where that team got worse every single day he was there? Was it Malzahn having “his” offense taken away from him by Nutt?
If there’s something I don’t see, I’d be glad for you to point it out. Your feelings and hopes aren’t tangible enough.
I’ll be back again later this week for further analysis. I’ll preview the Ole Miss game. And I’ll analyze the aftermath.
It’s what I do.
So you’re trying to say we DIDN’T play well the first five games? That’s the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard. A mirage? A mirage is something that was NEVER there.
I won’t be reading any more of Strickland’s blogs. I’ve lost all respect. He’s just trying to prove to himself that he was right with his own pessimistic predictions from before the season.
The only disappointing thing about our play the last three games is that we haven’t given another quarterback a chance to run the offense, because it’s very clear that Todd’s shoulder is out again. Hopefully we’ll see some of Caudle next week. And say what you will about Kodi Burns, but he can complete all the BS dumpoffs that Todd’s been completing the past three weeks, as well as give us another running threat.
Regardless, we were a GREAT TEAM through the first five games. The differences between the team from the first five game and the last three are VERY clear. There is no doubt in my mind that we can solve these few problems very easily, and return to being a great team again down the stretch.
Quit trying to be cool with your pessimism, and be real.
I don’t care about being cool — or being right.
We were NOT a great team through five games. We were a fortunate team playing horrible defense.
La. Tech and Ball State were gifts. Anybody should beat them. Mississippi State at that stage of the season, too. That’s three.
West Virginia handed that game to Auburn on a silver platter. Auburn had to take the game, yes, but lost in the excitement (and lost by me as well) were some significant issues that have since kicked us in the gut.
Tennessee simply wasn’t ready to win. If they’d played the way they did in the fourth for even one more quarter, that would have gone badly.
If Todd’s shoulder is really that damaged, then he should come out. If the coaches aren’t capable of seeing that and making that call, what does that say about them? If YOU can say for certain that his shoulder is injured without having access to the reams of medical information readily available to the coaching staff, then why is it they are not able to reach the same conclusion?
I don’t know that what we wanted to see at 5-0 is really what we were seeing. Maybe we saw something that really wasn’t there at all because we desperately wanted to. That’s the classic definition of a mirage.
I am real. Very. I’ve got nothing to prove to myself or to anybody, really.
I’m sorry, but there is nothing GREAT about Auburn’s start. To quote a truly great former ISU coach, Earle Bruce, “September is for pretenders. November is for contenders.”
Gene Chizik is a September coach in a November league.
To quote another great former ISU coach, Johnny Majors, “The first thing any coaching staff must do is weed out selfishness.” Kind of hard to weed out selfishness when the HC himself is looking out for number one.
To quote one last ISU great, Pop Warner: “You play the way you practice.”
Until Auburn puts the pads on in practice, until they do the dirty work of learning fundamental tackling, until they lift weights for football muscles instead of beauty contests, they’ll keep playing this way.
Keep in mind that Texas improved the year after Chizik left. So did Iowa State. Trend?
As far as Todd goes — that’s what I’m saying. It’s been a disappointment that the staff has apparently zero confidence in Caudle or Burns. I think they both should be given chances to run the normal offense. Kodi is by no means the best quarterback ever, but he and his legs are a lot better than a handcuffed Todd who is limited to short dump-offs, all of which Kodi can also complete.
So you’re saying we weren’t great, but fortunate? We were FORTUNATE that our running backs were churning out yards? We were FORTUNATE that Todd was hitting our receivers in stride? We were FORTUNATE that Adams and Zachary have been snatching down amazing grabs that none of us have seen in at least 15 years? We were FORTUNATE that we were perfectly disciplined? FORTUNATE to have minimal penalties on both sides of the ball? FORTUNATE to get up and immediately hand the ball to the referees, and pick up every fallen teammate?
The offense that hung up scores of 37, 49, 41, and 54, and then 26 on Tennessee, is NOT the same offense that came out flat against Arkansas, gave up against Kentucky, and got held out of the end zone against LSU. They’re NOT the same.
Maybe you DID get all happy and delusional. The rest of us didn’t. The rest of us saw what we saw, and now we’re seeing something different.
We have some problems, all of which — save defensive depth, which is a problem that we are capable of coping with (see first five games) — have emerged after the first five games, and all of which can be fixed. All we need is our discipline, a healthy quarterback who’s looking forward instead of backwards, and a heap more running plays slapped onto the game plan, and we will have our swagger back and be the same team that made all those catches, broke all those tackles, scored all those points, and truly was GREAT.
Dan — if Chizik is so bad, why are you so obsessed with him, to the point where you follow him to other school’s fanblogs?
No one gives a damn about any ISU sayings, and Texas lost like three games in each 06 and 07, after Chizik left.
You don’t know anything about real muscle, or anything about meaningful November football.
I don’t care what the score is or was, it’s great to be an Auburn Tiger. I watched last night to the bitter end. Was it all doom and gloom and menacing clouds, 95% yes 5% no. Freeman may have finally come to life last night yeah it was the 4th qtr and the game was out of reach but that sack could be what he needed to finally flip the switch. I still believe Ben Tate is the best back in the league. As much as I hate to get into the qb debate I firmly believe Caudle should be given a shot, no injuries to his throwing arm he’s a legit running threat so that option pitch we inexplicably keep running with Todd has a better chance.
We all knew it was going to be a tough year going in let’s not forget how we felt going in. For now I’m willing to ignore the steady decline in performance and discipline, unless we lose to Furman.
Why would you ignore a “steady decline” in performance? I simply don’t understand that line of reasoning. ignore random performances that are not indicative of an overall trend, yes. Ignore a steady decline? No.
Yes, I think we were fortunate the running backs were churning out yards. Fortunate because the scheduling gods smiled on Auburn. In case you were wondering, the running backs continued to churn out yards until this week — to no avail.
Todd hit receivers in stride against Ball State, WVU and Louisiana Tech. Not so much Tennessee, MSU, Arkansas, Kentucky or LSU. Teams with better speed figured out his progressions and have since denied him the first read. After that, he panics.
Catches we haven’t seen in 15 years? Good grief. Don’t be ridiculous. Devin, Ben, Courtney and Anthony all made quality catches. Maybe you’ve forgotten Ronney Daniels. There’s not a receiver on Auburn’s roster right now who could carry any of their water.
Perfectly disciplined? Eric Smith suspended. Byron Isom suspended. How many kids booted off the team? Auburn has played sloppily on both offense and defense in patches all season long. Perfect discipline? No.
What are you talkiing about handing the ball to referees and helping people up? What does that have to do with the price of bread in Nairobi?
Maybe Auburn can turn things around. At this point, however, there is no evidence to suggest that it is about to happen.
I’m obsessed with winning football. I’m still amazed that the football gods would bless us so much to unload our albatross on such a vaunted program as Auburn’s.
Watching Auburn play like Iowa State of the past two years is simply the confirmation of a miracle. Don’t worry, unlike Auburn, ISU still has plenty to play for this year.
I’m simply voicing my gratitude to the Auburn faithful. I can’t voice it enough.
Earle Bruce, Johnny Majors and Pop Warner aren’t just “some ISU coaches.” Any real football fan would know that.