Before the season we talked about the possibility that Auburn could be a better team in 2014 even though the record may not be as good as last season’s when the Tigers made a run to the national championship game. That was the case for the first half of the season, but there is no question in my mind that the gauntlett has taken its toll on Gus Malzahn’s team.
The team I saw Saturday night wasn’t the same team that took the field early this season. Georgia’s running game isn’t any more physical than the one Arkansas took the field with to open the year, but the defense that played them was definitely much different. Auburn’s group looks worn down from the front line to the defensive backfield.
Not being able to get off the field on third downs the last five weeks has contributed to that, but a lack of depth at some spots has also been a culprit. Some of that is self-inflicted as young guys like Tre Williams and Stephen Roberts have disappeared from the rotation after playing some key snaps early in the season. Others like Anthony Swain weren’t used enough during the season. Now Auburn is paying the price on defense.
The offense isn’t without its share of problems right now either as the mistakes have been piling up for the Tigers over the course of the last month. It started at Mississippi State and when you see struggles for Auburn it usually revolves around turnovers or key penalties. Too many times the offense finds itself in long yardage situations or has big plays called back because of penalties. Very few teams are good enough to overcome those things multiple times during the course of a game vs. good opponents and still win.
Pass Rush Problems
There is no question that Auburn’s need for a pass rush was going to be important as the Tigers got into the meat of the schedule, but looking back on the early part of the season it now seems apparent that the defense played much better when they had Montravius Adams and Gabe Wright at end and sacrificed outside pass rush for being able to hold the edge.
Saturday against Georgia I thought we would see the return to that front at least some of the time with the running game the Tigers were facing. Time and time again Auburn’s defensive ends got hooked or pushed inside while Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb got the edge on the toss sweep. Nothing is working as Auburn tries to increase the pass rush so why not at least be more physical at the point of attack? With the injury to Jeffrey Whitaker it probably limits Auburn’s ability to move guys back outside, but right now Rodney Garner needs to try to find a way to get his four best players on the field together as much as possible.
Is Auburn Ready?
This Auburn team is following a consistent pattern for teams on the Plains since the end of the Pat Dye era. The Tigers haven’t had a problem fielding championship-level teams with 1993 and 2004 both undefeated seasons, 2010 a national championship and last season’s run to the BCS title game. The problem has been consistency. Staying at the top is the most difficult thing for a team to do in any sport and Auburn is finding that out the hard way this year.
The schedule was going to make it tough already, but with a target on the chest of the Tigers it made for a tougher run. Dealing with high expectations means dealing with getting a team’s best shot every time you walk on the field. If Auburn is truly ready for that role then this season could be a big learning experience for the future of the program.
Good Start For Basketball Tigers
Last Friday night was one of the most enjoyable basketball experiences I have had covering Auburn since Marquis Daniels led the Tigers over St. Joseph’s and Wake Forest a decade ago in the NCAA Tournament.
Getting big games from K.T. Harrell as well as newcomers Antoine Mason and Cinmeon Bowers, Auburn gutted out an impressive win over Milwaukee in front of the second-largest non-conference crowd in Auburn Arena history. While this Auburn team likely won’t make a run like that this season, Coach Bruce Pearl’s first team has already showed the hustle and determination that winning programs are built on.
With only nine available scholarship players and a serious lack of size inside, the Tigers will have a tough time matching up with many of the teams on their schedule, including Monday night at Colorado
Watch Crazy One-Handed Catch!
Watch Crazy One-Handed Catch!