As season wanes on, Auburn gets worse
Anyone have any idea what’s happening on the Plains?
Following a 34-7 bashing at the hands of Georgia, Auburn now looks like a shell of the team we saw early in the season, a team that reached as high as No. 2 in the Associated Press Top 25.
The Tigers started 5-0. Then came the road loss to then-No. 3 Mississippi State. Three first half turnovers gave the Bulldogs a quick 21-point lead from which Auburn could never recover.
It wasn’t the end of the world. Perhaps no team in college football could’ve won on that day in that stadium against that team. But it wasn’t that the Tigers lost, it was how they lost.
Six penalties. Four turnovers. It was undisciplined football by a veteran-laden team who plays for a coach that demands discipline.
Auburn would go 2-1 during the month of October en route to a 7-1 start with its goals still firmly within reach.
But the demise of the 2014 Auburn Tigers — a team that returned a wealth of starters and experience from its 2013 counterparts who were 13 seconds from a national championship in Gus Malzahn’s inaugural season — began with the loss to Mississippi State on Oct. 11.
Through its first five games, the Auburn defense allowed just 14.4 points per game and Ellis Johnson’s unit looked to be the most improved in the SEC. The Tigers were surrendering 306.6 yards per game, down by more than 100 yards from a season ago.
As the calendar flipped to October, however, things changed. Sure, Auburn dominated LSU, but true freshman Brandon Harris made his first road SEC start on that evening. LSU’s inept offense contributed as much to its output than Auburn’s defense did.
In the last five games, the Tigers are allowing 471.2 yards of offense and 35.8 points per game. At first, it was considered a downward trend; nothing more than a few bad games strung together.
After Georgia rushed for 289 yards on Saturday night, however, the most allowed by Auburn all season, the nightmare is all too real for Tigers fans.
Tackling continues to be a problem. Just a week after Texas A&M gained nearly 115 yards after contact, the Tigers couldn’t slow Todd Gurley or Nick Chubb. Auburn defenders are getting in position, they just aren’t making tackles.
Alignment is a problem. Communication. Lack of a pass rush. All glaring holes in an already-vulnerable Auburn defense.
Johnson made a startling admission in the wake of last week’s abomination against the Aggies. Johnson told reporters that guys are trying hard, they’re working hard to make the plays. They just can’t make them.
You can’t read too much into that. Not coming from the defensive coordinator on a championship-hopeful team. He believes it’s a talent issue, and Auburn apparently is lacking plenty of it on the defensive side.
Saturday night’s loss to the Bulldogs was Auburn’s third consecutive game with at least seven penalties. The Tigers are committing boneheaded mistakes at key moments to give opponents extra opportunities.
Late in the second quarter down 14-7, Auburn forced a three-and-out and Georgia set up to punt of 4th-and-eight from its own 32. On the play, Gray King came free for the Tigers and appeared to have a clean shot at the block, which would’ve been a huge momentum swing. Instead, King missed the ball and got the leg of punter Collin Barber and was flagged for roughing the kicker.
First down, Georgia. The Bulldogs would march down the field to kick the field goal, extending its lead to 17-7.
It’s those types of mistakes that have cost Auburn in recent weeks. But not just penalties, however.
Since the loss at Mississippi State five weeks ago, the Tigers have 12 turnovers. 12 turnovers in five games. Against South Carolina and Ole Miss, Nick Marshall and the offense were able to overcome the miscues, and the defense came up with turnovers on its own, preserving both games.
Auburn essentially put a band-aid on its problem. It never fully healed the wound.
What happens when the Tigers face a good defense, and the offense can’t score enough points to cover up the possessions it gave away? What happens when the defense can’t come up with that game-saving play at the exact right moment?
Saturday night happens. Auburn gets dominated, and the Tigers look like a very average team.