Auburn's offensive flaws on full display against Georgia. Can Chad Morris find the cure?
Remember how Chad Morris was supposed to come in and rejuvenate an Auburn offense that had become more predictable than the calls for Gus Malzahn’s job? Seems like a fantasy at this point.
Auburn put up an embarrassing offensive performance as the Tigers dropped their 7th game in a row between the hedges in what was their worst offensive output in over 3 years dating to a Sept. 9, 2017 game against Clemson in which Auburn produced just 117 yards of offense.
Before the Tigers could even record their first official offensive snap Saturday against Georgia, 2 back-to-back false start penalties foreshadowed the type of nightmare scenario that was to unfold over the next 60 minutes.
Exotic defensive-line motions, a raucous stadium environment (in COVID-19 terms) and frequent blitzes from Dan Lanning’s defense had Bo Nix and Co. flummoxed from the get-go as the Tigers’ offensive line turned more sieve than wall. Nix was never comfortable, particularly in the first half, as the Bulldogs opened up an early 24-0 lead, zapping any life from an Auburn offense that already knew the type of challenge waiting for it in Sanford Stadium.
“It’s tough to get behind a team like this defensively,” Malzahn said after the game. “That’s what we did, and they made us one-dimensional.”
For an offense that has one of the most dynamic wide receivers in the SEC and is led by a potential rising-star at QB, you would have had no idea that was the case against the Bulldogs.
Georgia more than doubled Auburn’s output, 442-216. If the Tigers’ 91 rush yards against Kentucky were concerning, they were limited to 39 yards on 22 carries. That’s fewer than 2 yards a carry. It’s worst rushing performance since the 2017 Clemson game when the Tigers only rushed for 38 yards.
Auburn’s first 4 drives? Punt. Punt. Punt. Punt. It took almost 25 minutes of game time to pick up their 2nd 1st-down of the game.
The Tigers were held out of the end zone for the first time since losing 23-9 at Mississippi State in 2018.
Nix reverted to looking like an inexperienced freshman, not the one forged in the flames of a national spotlight game against Oregon. He faced relentless pressure, but too frequently he flushed from the pocket under his own volition or threw off his back foot when he had the time for proper mechanics.
On throws of over 10 yards, Nix was just 3-of-18 with 1 interception and a passer rating of 16.9.
A handful of overthrows to Anthony Schwartz didn’t help, either, as Nix struggled to even target his stud wide receiver Seth Williams until late in the 2nd quarter. Nix’s 4th-quarter interception ended his streak of 251 consecutive passes without one.
— Georgia Bulldogs (@UGAAthletics) October 4, 2020
Nix looked pretty good in Week 1, throwing 3 touchdowns and averaging 8.6 yards an attempt, but the Kentucky secondary is no substitute for the type of defenders at Georgia. Even with Georgia losing preseason All-American safety Richard LeCounte in the 2nd quarter to targeting, Nix failed to find the end zone all night and averaged just 4.3 yards per attempt.
It’s one thing to average fewer than 5 yards an attempt like he did last year against the Bulldogs when you have a defense anchored by Derrick Brown, but doing so with a young defense yet to find its stride is much less forgivable.
And in the end, that’s the biggest problem this year for Auburn. A top-20 defense in 2019 could be the ultimate deodorant to cover up whatever offensive flaws there were. The Tigers didn’t have to win a shootout.
The season is still young, but through 2 games, the defense is allowing 413 yards a game. The outcome of the game now falls more squarely on the shoulders of what magic Morris can scheme. And with games still ahead against Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Alabama, Morris needs to be a little more creative than the 6 points his offense generated against Georgia.
If there was a bright spot on Auburn’s offense, and that’s a stretch, it was freshman Tank Bigsby making his first career start in place of an injured Shaun Shivers. Bigsby had a team-high 31 yards on the ground and also led the team in receiving, with 7 receptions for 68 yards. But outside of Bigsby, the Tigers offense just felt truly outmatched.
“We played about as bad as we could play,” Nix said. “We just got beat. That’s really all you can say about it.”
And if there’s no improvement in this Tiger offense going forward, it’s going to be a long season, one that could ultimately end with Auburn’s two offensive gurus squarely on the hot seat.