Published September 13, 2012 - 9:10am
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When fans took a look at the 2012 Auburn football schedule last spring, many skimmed right by the Louisiana Monroe game. After all, the Tigers’ home opener is sandwiched between a pair of games against perennial tough opponents (Clemson and Mississippi St.) and two against divisional foes and national powers (LSU and Arkansas).
Things change quickly, don’t they? Auburn has opened its year with two forgettable losses, and ULM has opened with the upset of the season with a win over #8 Arkansas in Little Rock. ULM comes to Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday morning as a current 16.5 point underdog. Last Saturday against the Razorbacks, the Warhawks were expected to lose by thirty.
We said last week that the Mississippi State game was a must win for Gene Chizik and the Tigers, and considering the way Auburn lost, Saturday’s defeat now has portions of the fan base calling for his job. A loss against a (very solid) Sun Belt team, and the whispers will become shouts from mountaintops.
With a very confident team with seemingly nothing to lose coming in, what does Auburn do now? Use whatever analogy you’d like – ‘circle the wagons’, ‘backs against the wall’, ‘nobody believes in us’ – and it will probably be a fitting description for how the Tigers will be going into this weekend’s game. In his Tuesday press conference, Chizik went with, “This is a man’s game, and it will reveal who you are.” That one seems to fit the situation pretty succinctly.
This game was once looked at as one in which a big-time SEC team with two new coordinators/systems would have a chance to fine-tune some things; get players some rest; get new guys some playing time; work on installation of new plays and schemes. That all may very well still happen Saturday, but Auburn will have some serious work to do before it gets to that point.
Auburn must improve. The Tigers have no choice. Not simply improve for the rest of the season’s sake, but in order to win this weekend.
Let’s take a look at what this Tigers team has to do if it wants to walk out of Jordan-Hare with its first win of the young season.
ULM only surrendered 96 rushing yards to Arkansas (62 to Knile Davis), and Auburn must have better numbers than that in order to get anything going on offense. It’s quite the cliché, but you really do have to be able to run the football in order to win.
The running game has to be there to take some pressure off quarterback Kiehl Frazier, who had a dismal outing in the game against Mississippi State. Frazier looked lost, and admitted to watching the pass rush instead of seeing what could be developing in the secondary. He’ll need Mike Blakely and Tre Mason to soften up a ULM defense which runs an unusual 3-3-5 scheme, one meant to cause confusion.
It’s also common thought that it is easier for offensive linemen to run-block than protect the quarterback. With two freshmen starting at the tackle spots, and more youngsters pushing for serious playing time in the trenches, it might behoove Chizik and staff to pound and pound the ball. Then pound it some more.
A successful running attack is congruent with a good play-action pass game, and completing some passes, no matter how short or simple, is something Frazier desperately needs to get some confidence back.
Probably the most troubling thing about last weekend was the revelation that Mississippi State knew what plays Auburn was running. Offensive Coordinator Scot Loeffler and company might want to work that out this week in practice. It’s not every day at the SEC level that you hear one team knows what the other is running pre-snap.
On defense, it’s the usual suspects. Poor interior line play, linebackers not getting off blocks, and giving receivers ten yard cushions are all things that Brian VanGorder has mentioned as things needed to be improved on during the week.
VanGorder stated that his depth chart is fluid, so look to see plenty of new faces on all levels of the defense this Saturday. Facing a potent ULM offense that boasts the Sun Belt Player of the Week in mobile quarterback Kolton Browning, Auburn’s defense should be expected to give up some points. But how many, and in what fashion, will be a factor in whether they can come out with a victory. The Tigers cannot give up 40-yard plays that should have only been six yards if not for missed tackles.
It is imperative that Auburn get on the board early. This is a team that is very close to having its tail between its legs, and something positive early would be a well needed shot in the arm. Whether it is a long, punishing offensive drive or a big defensive turnover, the Tigers could use the early energy from an eager home crowd to carry through the entire game. More importantly, early miscues or an early deficit, and the morning crowd could become very quiet, very quickly.
A team in this state of mind needs leadership, and players like Emory Blake, Phillip Lutzenkirchen and T’Sharvan Bell have to take on that role. Bell seems to already doing his part, saying “I’m not going to say the effort is poor, but I’m not going to say we’re giving championship effort right now.” Possible lack of effort is not something Auburn fans want to hear, but at least it is recognized by veteran players, and can possibly be rectified.
As stated above, use whatever analogy or metaphor you will and it will most likely fit for what’s going on with this Auburn team. The question is: Will it fold? Or will it come out and play football the way the rest of the SEC has been expecting it to?
If Chizik and the Tigers have any hopes of keeping this season from spiraling out of control, they must get a win Saturday. If not, we could be witnessing one of the most disappointing seasons seen in some time.