Auburn, Ala.—What went wrong? That's the big question surrounding the Auburn Tigers following a 28-10 loss at Mississippi State where coach Gene Chizik's team was beaten in just about every phase of the game to fall to 0-2 on the season. While you can look at plenty of positions that didn't live up to expectations, more often than not how well a team plays depends on the play of its quarterback and that was a sore spot for Auburn on Saturday.
Making just his second career start, Kiehl Frazier completed 13-22 passes for 125 yards, but had three interceptions and lost two fumbles in the process. Those numbers don't tell the entire story however. In the face of pressure and tight coverage in the secondary the first three quarters Frazier hit on just three of 10 passes for a total of 18 yards. Chizik said it wasn't just the quarterback that was the problem, but that's where offense begins.
"Everybody's going to want to pin it on one guy," Chizik said. "Obviously Kiehl didn't play well. He knows that. It's his second game as a starter, and we've got to help him improve. But to say that it was one guy, that's not true. There were times when protection-wise and things of that nature, we need to improve at that. Decision-making from the quarterback, we know we have to improve on. We know that.
"We also know that there are 11 guys out there. Sometimes it's a receiver that's not exactly where we should be. Whether it's pressure from a defensive lineman or a linebacker on a back, I'm not pinning that on one guy. Obviously he's got to protect the football better. We know that. We recognize that. We can't win any games turning the ball over five times. That's very obvious to us. The thing for Kiehl and our whole offense is we have to improve immediately."
With Frazier struggling and Clint Moseley on the sidelines with starting experience, Auburn's offense may have gotten a boost from putting the experienced Moseley in against Mississippi State. Chizik said that's something they might consider down the line if things don't improve, but right now Frazier is their guy.
"Part of a young quarterback's journey, he's got to play through tough times," Chizik said. "That's part of a young guy's journey. That doesn't mean down the road if we think that that's something that we need to consider, we will. Last night, he had to get through a tough time. He's our quarterback.
"There's going to be some growing pains that go along with that for him, and he certainly went through them yesterday. What a difference a whole week makes. Against Clemson, we saw some bright spots. We expect to get back to those bright spots. There'll be a lot of learning from this game film and the situations that happened in the game. He's got to grow up and improve from what we learned this week. "He's our quarterback. That hasn't changed. Again, in situations down the road, I'm not saying that we would never consider ... If we felt like there was a momentum switch needed or change needed, we did it last year. But Kiehl's our quarterback. He's a young quarterback. He's got to grow up. He's got to live through some tough times. Obviously we don't want to see those tough times. Yesterday is obviously a day that he knows that (chuckle) is unacceptable, that we know is unacceptable. That's coaches and players. That's not just players. That's coaches. That starts with me."
Defensively it was a mixed bag for coach Brian VanGorder's group as the Tigers allowed just one third-down conversion in the game on 10 Mississippi State attempts, and it came on a penalty. The bad news is that the Bulldogs had 10 rushing first downs and 11 passing first downs in the game so there was plenty of success to be had. After holding Mississippi State to 157 yards and seven points in the first half, Auburn allowed 231 yards and 21 points in the last 30 minutes. Chizik said his defense didn't sustain its intensity for the full game and that was disappointing to see, and it all starts up front.
"We've played pretty much our allotment of guys," Chizik said of the struggles at defensive tackle. "We've got to improve on the defensive line, we know that. Yesterday, defensively, I thought there were some improvements there. I thought the sudden change defense was really good. I thought our third-down defense improved. I think the physicality of our defense right now is sporadic. We understand the importance of finishing in the fourth quarter and being a physical team in the fourth quarter. We were very inconsistent in that. Our tackling was inconsistent at times again. We made some improvements from the week before, but defense is no different from offense, we've got a long way to go."
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Chizik said that the move of Robensen Therezie to running back from defensive back made sense for them because they needed added depth at the position. He said with the improvements of several young corners it made even more sense. Chizik said Therezie is really excited about the move and wanted the opportunity.
At running back Mike Blakely got more work on Saturday, but Chizik said the entire group of backs need to do a better job of picking running lanes. He said they've got to be more patient and let the blocking schemes develop."
Demetruce McNeal led the Tigers with 18 total tackles on Saturday after not playing in the season opener. Chizik said it was a big week of practice that got both he and Jonathon Mincy more playing time against Mississippi State.