Going on the road for the first time this year, playing against a good and highly-motivated Clemson team, Auburn needed to be very sharp on both offense and defense to win in that situation. That didn't happen on Saturday and the Tigers struggled, something I think we will see more of this season.
When college football coaches put inexperienced true freshmen, redshirt freshmen and other players without much game experience on the field to compete against older and more experienced opponents, it is going to be a challenge for the younger guys to succeed. An extra two years to grow bigger, stronger and more knowledgeable about the game in a college setting can make a huge difference in how a player performs.
If a football team is playing a couple of freshmen who are worked into the lineup with a lot of veteran players on the field beside them, that scenario has a lot better chance of being successful. A perfect example of that for the 2010 Auburn team was what happened with Michael Dyer. Playing with a veteran offensive line and other experienced players on offense, that helped the running back's transition to college football and he steadily improved as the season progressed.
I think what we saw on Saturday shows this Auburn team has a long, long way to go and a lot of growing up to do to face the challenges ahead on this year's schedule. The fans have to be patient and the coaches have got to be patient, too. The worst thing the coaches can do is lose their football team. They have to find something positive they can bring out of every game, win or lose.
The important thing for this team's growth is to stay on task by going out to practice every day with a serious attitude about wanting to get better and a plan to make that happen. I think this team's players and coaches will take that approach and they will get better, but it is going take time.
As much as the coaches want to win and do it immediately, having patience is easier for them than it is for some fans, who think just because Auburn won the SEC and national championships last year that the Tigers should be competing to win those same titles again this year. The coaches know how much talent is gone from last year's team and replacing those players isn't going to happen overnight.
I think the fans should support the Tigers and sit back and enjoy watching this young team grow up. Yes, the players are going to make mistakes. Yes, they will probably break the heart of fans who love them with some of the things they do, but if you just stick with them I promise you they will be fine in time as they gain experience.
Fans who love the Tigers are disappointed to see their team's 17-game winning streak come to an end, but it didn't hurt anybody nearly as much as the players themselves and their coaches. They are ones who put out the blood, sweat and tears to get ready to go out there on Saturdays to represent Auburn on the football field.
The Tigers have had two really good back-to-back recruiting years so two years from now when we are watching Auburn in September there might be one or two freshmen out there playing when games are on the line, not a dozen or more like we are watching this year. When that happens and Auburn is putting mature players on the field throughout the offense and defense, it will be a different game.
Nobody wants to miss a tackle or a block, and those are things that got Auburn beat on Saturday. However, the encouraging thing to me as a long-time college coach is that I didn't see any lack of effort on Auburn's part, which is the biggest sign you are looking for in figuring out if a young team is likely to improve.
If they were wallowing around out there and not trying hard, my take would be very different, but I didn't see that. If anything, at times the Tigers looked like they were trying too hard to make a play and were overly aggressive.
If the players will just hang with the coaches, the guys who did such a great job in 2009 and again last season, the Tigers will be better this week and will continue to get better later in the year. That doesn't mean they will be good enough to beat Arkansas, LSU or the other top teams on this year's demanding schedule, it just means I expect the Tigers will get better and steadily improving is what this team's focus needs to be.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)
Editor's Note: This is part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American player at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn, he also served as a head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming. Dye participates in the Legends Poll, a Top 25 rating of the best teams in college football as determined by a panel of all-star former head coaches. Dye writes three columns for AUTigers.com--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat's Picks.