Despite the loss, as an Auburn fan I am still tickled to death about where this team is right now and where it is headed based on what I have seen.
As the Tigers move into the second half of the regular season, I am impressed with the effort this team is putting into games. The players are going hard for four quarters and if they keep doing that they are going to better at the end of the season than they are now. They are certainly a better team going into game seven than they were to start the season.
Young players can learn valuable lessons in all types of games, even ones on the road that don't go as hoped. Facing an Arkansas team that is especially dangerous on offense, even though the final score might not show it, the Tigers did a lot of good things defensively that helped give Auburn a chance to win until the later stages of the game when the turnovers became too much to overcome.
The Tigers really hurt their cause with the three intercepted passes in the second half. More than 100 yards worth of penalties were also a major factor. Those penalties actually cost the Tigers a lot more than 100 yards in field position because of the big gainers called back on some of those plays. You can't beat an average football team, much less a good one, making that many penalties in the same game you turn the ball over that many times.
In addition to the turnovers and penalties, the offense had a major problem with dropped passes and there were a couple of youthful mistakes the Tigers can learn from on defense that gave the Razorbacks a pair of second half touchdowns. The most disappointing defensive mistake came on the 92-yard run in the third quarter. Auburn slanted its front to the direction the sweep was going, which was a perfect defensive call for that play, but the Tigers' end, instead of stepping out like he was supposed to do, stepped down. When he did that it allowed the guard to pin him inside and hook him so he couldn't force the sweep back inside where there were defenders to make the stop.
The other Arkansas touchdown in the second half came on a screen pass play after a turnover. On third down and long, another defensive end, who was supposed to be covering the back man-to-man as Auburn blitzed, knew his assignment on that play because the coach told him what to do as he went on the field. He had the back covered like he was taught, however, due to his inexperience when the back faked a block he left his man and decided to rush the passer. That left the back open and he was able to catch the pass and walk into the end zone after the quarterback barely got the ball delivered before Auburn's rush got to him.
Those two plays are examples of the Tigers giving up points due to a lack of execution rather than a lack of effort. As a coach those are the type of things you see much more often with young players and young teams than with experienced ones. Both of those players will probably never make that those same mistakes again, but combined with Auburn's struggles on offense on Saturday night and the quality of the opposition, the Tigers weren't in a position to win on the road in the closing minutes like they did a week earlier at South Carolina.
The good news for the Tigers is that those are the kind of mistakes that can be corrected and are being corrected on this Auburn football team. Early in the year the defense was making a ton of those type of mistakes. Now, as the Tigers prepare for game seven vs. Florida this week, those type of miscues are fewer and farther between.
Similar things are happening with the Auburn offense. Two of the three turnovers came on passes thrown by freshman Kiehl Frazier, who has only been on a college football team for two months. Even talented young guys like Frazier are going to make mistakes as they make the adjustment from high school football to the SEC so when you decide to play a young quarterback you have to expect some bad with the good, something Frazier had plenty of, too, in the loss to Arkansas and the road win at South Carolina. That is the nature of college football. You can find plenty of examples of why that is true.
One of the best examples happened just hours before the Tigers and Razorbacks played in Fayetteville where a veteran Oklahoma squad caused major problems for a talented but young Texas team that is going with quarterbacks who have little game experience.
An example closer to home is the Alabama football team that lost three games last year. The Tide featured a talented defense, but a young one that had some growing pains that led to the losses. A year later that team has an excellent chance to win the SEC because those young players who were making mistakes last season have grown up and are keeping mistakes to a minium, something wins football games.
(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.