Caldwell Column: Fitting End to SEC Season

Falling in an offensive shootout was the perfect way to end an up and down regular season for the Auburn Tigers.

All season long the Auburn Tigers have been chasing the dream of being 13 seconds better, but unfortunately for Gus Malzahn’s second team on the Plains it was a never-ending quest. Starting with the season opener against Arkansas, the 2014 Tigers never seemed to be able to put it all together, but more importantly this wasn’t a team that got better.

Saturday night in the biggest game of the season Auburn finally showed flashes of why this team was thought to be a contender for the national title this season. Creating turnovers on defense and running up and down the field against a vaunted Alabama defense, the Tigers certainly looked the part for the first 34 minutes.

Then reality set in.

This Auburn defense once again allowed too many big plays to win against a quality opponent on the road. That has been a problem all season long and against Amari Cooper and the Crimson Tide, the Tigers’ flaws were exposed for all the world to see.

On offense it’s hard to find fault with a unit that totaled 630 yards and scored 44 points against one of the best defenses in the country, but it should have been much more. If Auburn had just batted .500 for scoring touchdowns in the red zone the game could have been different. With many of those coming in the first half the Tigers should have been up more than two touchdowns, but that wasn’t the case.

In the end, however, the offense did enough to win just about every football game Auburn has ever played, but not this Iron Bowl. Therein lies the problem.

Rarely do teams come out of the gate playing great football. It will happen occasionally, but the goal is to keep getting better and peak at the end of the year. That is what Auburn did last season, but this year that was far from the case.

Early on Auburn played solid football and even did some great things at times, but only against LSU did the Tigers play a complete football game. Saturday night started out like a possibility, but that went up in a puff of smoke when Cooper broke loose on a 75-yard touchdown catch.

Allowing easy touchdown passes on secondary breakdowns has become a habit for this Auburn team and those aren’t the kinds of things that championship teams do, and unfortunately this group of Tigers had the will, but couldn’t find a way.

It wasn’t because of a lack of talent or leadership. It simply came down to a lack of experience. No, not experience playing football on the field, but of knowing what it’s like to be the hunted and have all eyes on you from the moment you step on the field.

That’s what separates a good program from a great one, the ability to come back year after year and challenge for titles. Auburn has shown it can compete with anybody on any given Saturday and that has always been the case over the long history of the program, the next step is doing it season after season.

With a lot of key faces to replace on both sides of the ball and some serious soul searching to do between now and next season, Auburn has one more chance to salvage something in 2014 and while it won’t be part of the College Football Playoff, finishing with a bowl win would be an important step on the way to getting back on top next season.

Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories