Auburn's most glaring problem this year has been the offense's inability to put together long drives and score touchdowns. To be able to do that consistently you have to be able to make some short third down plays and some long ones, too, which is something the Tigers struggled with vs. Vandy as they converted just 2-12 times on third downs on Saturday.
For the season the Auburn offense is converting just under 30 percent of its third down plays, which goes a long way toward explaining why this team is not winning football games.
On the bright side I am seeing a lot of young players on offense and defense who are making progress. I don't know how far they will come this year, but next year they will take the field with more experience and maturity and they will have a chance to help their team win games. I say a chance because football is first and foremost a team sport. You can't be successful with just good individuals. It has got to be a team thing. The returning members of the team will have more maturity and more experience next year, and I believe there is enough ability to win.
The most critical position on any team is quarterback and the play there has been subpar, at best. We really don't know about the freshman yet. Unless Jonathan Wallace gets more playing time in the last five games the Tigers will go into spring practice not knowing if he will be good enough to play at this level of competition. There is always the possibility the Tigers could try to find a junior college quarterback who has enough talent and maturity to come into this conference immediately ready to play, which is not an easy thing to do.
The Tigers had success doing that in 2010 with Cam Newton. He was a special case because of his athletic ability combined with his maturity and experience level. He had spent two years in the SEC at Florida, one as a redshirt and one as a reserve, before starting as a redshirt sophomore for his junior college team. That allowed him to grow up even more. By the time he arrived at Auburn he was as a man and as ready as a transfer quarterback can be to face SEC defenses.
Another possibility for next season is to consider going with an incoming freshman, which is also not easy to do. I?understand the Tigers have two quarterback commitments who are excellent athletes, players who I think will have a chance to come in to compete for playing time.
The Tigers need to have a good recruiting class to fill their needs for next year. I think they need to add talent and numbers to help at linebacker where two of the three starters are seniors. In my opinion the Tigers really need to sign a couple of good running backs, too. Tre Mason is plenty good and any team in the country would love to have him, but if he goes down where do they go for a replacement?
As Auburn prepares for this week's game vs. Texas A&M I think it is important that the team continue to work on eliminating mistakes. You expect there will be some from the less experienced players, but it is disappointing when it happens with older, experienced players. An example of that on Saturday is when the Tigers had an unforced error as Onterio McCalebb got hit in the head while covering a punt. As a senior, he should know better.
The week before, offensive guard John Sullen got a procedure penalty and as a senior and he should know better. As a coach that is disappointing, but by pointing that out to the younger players you hope that they will remember mistakes like that and make it clear how they affect a team's chances to win and hope it sinks in so they remember to avoid making those kind of plays when they are on the field.
As disappointing as the loss was on Saturday, I did like the effort I saw from the Tigers. I thought they played hard from the start to the finish. If they keep doing that there will be happier Saturdays down the road if they combine that with improving the execution and cutting down on mistakes.
From the mailbag:
Thanks for the article and for helping us keep our chins up, but these boys sure are making it tough. I am an Auburn man and believe in the Auburn way but, wow, I have never seen us looking so rough.
Rick '84, Rick Luders
Thanks for your comments. It has been the type of season that has been very tough for Auburn fans to go through. I understand your feelings.
(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 writes three columns for AUTigers.com--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat's Picks.