Forget Alabama. Auburn has to focus on fixing Auburn first
Alabama seems to have a strong partner alongside them when it plays Auburn on Saturday. Fate.
It just seems that Auburn can’t catch a break lately. They played a Texas A&M team at the wrong time of the season when the Aggies were surging. The Tigers lost. Auburn played a great half against Mississippi State before allowing a record-setting comeback. The Tigers lost. Then, quarterback Bo Nix underwent ankle surgery last week and the Tigers had to play backup quarterback TJ Finley. You guessed it. The Tigers lost. A season of hope has changed quickly into despair. Fate? Maybe not.
Unless I’m unaware of a major change in the schedule, Auburn will still host Alabama on Saturday at 3:30 EST. That means they still have a chance. Yes, I’m saying there’s a chance. If the Tigers want that chance to be significant whatsoever, Auburn better tidy up its own house.
First, Auburn needs better quarterback play from Finley or it can think about something else. Auburn offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said Finley “has a presence about him” last week according to this report. Presence or not, Finley presently needs to improve. Finley was just 17-of-32 for 188 yards and a touchdown in the 21-17 loss to the Gamecocks and missed open receivers throughout the game. Perhaps Finley was nervous about his first start for Auburn and lost that presence that Bobo spoke of. Perhaps he was in a generous mood and decided to give South Carolina’s defense some presents before the holidays. Word play aside, Finley has to play much better against Alabama than he did last week for the Tigers to have a chance.
If Finley doesn’t show improvement early against Alabama, which tends to start games slow, then Auburn’s coaches had better have a different plan in place. That could mean a new offense that would take better advantage of Finley’s skills or it could mean a new quarterback all together. Bowling Green graduate transfer Grant Loy might be an option. He has experience. Freshman Dematrius Davis is on the bench as well. At 5-foot-10, Davis isn’t as big as Finley, who is 6-6, but Davis was known for his accurate passing when he signed with Auburn as a four-star quarterback. I’m not suggesting that Auburn should start either player ahead of Finley in a game like the Iron Bowl, but the Tigers need options after the way Finley played on Saturday.
If Finley plays like he did against the Gamecocks, Auburn could get embarrassed, especially considering Alabama has championships to play for in the coming weeks. If Auburn’s coaches don’t feel good about any of their quarterbacks, then some sort of mobile-pocket, simple read, Wildcat approach may keep the Tigers in the game. This is the type of game that Auburn should be willing to open up the playbook if Finley struggles at all.
Better quarterback play is just one of the challenges that Auburn faces this week. Having the right attitude might even be more important. No one needs to be reminded that we are in an era of college football in which players think about themselves first and are rarely criticized for doing so. Players sit out of meaningless bowl games to prepare for the NFL Draft. That would have been a character concern 10 years ago. Now, it’s a sound business decision. If any Tigers are thinking about their professional days, they’ll have a very long day against the Crimson Tide.
Auburn’s players also need to make sure they’re firmly behind their coach and not creating distractions, which seemed to be the case against South Carolina. Running back Tank Bigsby was left on the sideline during a key 4th-down play call in which Auburn’s coaches decided to run a play-action pass that fell incomplete. What is a smart play call? Probably not. Would it have had a better chance if Bigsby was at least a decoy on the field? Absolutely.
Bigsby looked frustrated on the sideline as he spoke to his teammates. Despite the lack of logic in the play call, Bigsby is one of Auburn’s best players. That means he’ll be looked to for guidance. That would have been a really good time to support whatever decision Auburn’s coaches made no matter how senseless it might have been. This isn’t the first time that Bigsby has expressed his displeasure on the sideline. Bigsby was also not very happy about a questionable play call in a September loss to Penn State, according to ESPN’s Holly Rowe in this report.
That brings us to another area of improvement. Auburn coaches don’t need to reinvent the wheel when they decide to be aggressive. They’re a decent running football team with a very good tailback. Don’t forget that.
Auburn may not be good enough to beat Alabama even if the Tigers have a unified locker room. They’re certainly not good enough to beat Alabama or any good team if they have dissension among their top players. Bigsby is just a sophomore, but it’s time to be more mature.
One could go through the usual reasons Auburn can beat Alabama, such as the fact that the game is at Jordan-Hare Stadium. One could point to turnovers and a fast start as important aspects to upsetting the Tide. However, none of that matters unless Auburn has its own house in order. Right now, that doesn’t seem to be the case. If Auburn shows up flat, full of discontent and gets blown out, then the Tigers don’t have fate to blame. The blame will fall squarely on their shoulder pads.