Dye-Gest: Some Reasons for Encouragement

College Football Hall of Fame coach Pat Dye writes about the Auburn Tigers in this edition of his Dye-Gest column.

I am sure everybody has their own opinion about why the Auburn football team has not played up to expectations so far and what the outlook is for the rest of the season. In my case I have an entirely different feeling about the Tigers than I did after the LSU game.

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Against Mississippi State, despite the struggles in the red zone, I saw times when the offense looked more like what we have come to expect from a group coached by Gus Malzahn than it did in games one, two and three, and that is a good thing. If the Tigers can build on that plus add in plays for big gains, something that has been a staple of Coach Malzahn’s offenses, we should see the scoring average rise as the season progresses.

One reason why that has a chance to happen is because Sean White looks ready to be the type of quarterback this team needs to be successful. For someone taking his first snaps at the college level I thought he did a good job vs. Mississippi State. He wasn’t brilliant and he made some mistakes, but it was surprising to me, considering the circumstances, he didn’t make more mistakes.

On defense vs. the Bulldogs the plan was to have a slow, containing rush against quarterback Dak Prescott to prevent him from pulling the ball down and running it, something he had done effectively against the Tigers the previous two seasons.

Prescott, who is the best quarterback in the SEC, still managed to have a good performance. He hurt the Tigers throwing the football. However, the defensive plan would have worked if the offense had not struggled because holding an opponent to 17 points should be a low enough total to win an SEC football game.

I don’t know whether the kids were embarrassed when they looked at the film from the LSU game or if it was the shakeup in the starting lineup, but it was clear that the defensive play was much better against Mississippi State than in the previous game.

As a former coach it looked to me like the Tigers played with an entirely different mindset defensively than they did at LSU. If that continues this defense will continue to improve.

Going forward I think the offense has a chance to improve with White at quarterback. I hope the coaches will continue to work with Jeremy Johnson and help him get past his struggles to start the season. He has too much ability just to put him aside and forget about him, but I don’t remember seeing a talented quarterback go through anything like he went through to start the season and that can’t happen if a team with a quarterback-oriented offense is going to be successful.

We can say what we want to say about how the offensive line, receivers and backs are performing, but you have to have all pieces of the puzzle together to reach your potential. The biggest piece of that puzzle is the quarterback’s play. He has to get the ball into the hands of the playmakers and make it happen in the right situations at the right times. In Auburn’s offense he doesn’t have to be a great runner, but he has got to be able to run well enough to make first downs and keep the chains moving.

After losing the last two games and not playing great in the two wins, there is no doubt this is a disappointing start for the Tigers. I?have been through this before as a head coach and it’s not fun and it’s not easy to fix. There is no single formula for what the problem is. It’s a combination of a lot of things and the players have got to buy into what the coaches are trying to get done on both sides of the football, and the chemistry of the team is important in making that happen.

There have got to be leaders stepping up on offense and on defense, players who will not allow you to go out there and have a bad practice because it all starts on the practice field. Your team chemistry is built during preparations for a game, not during a game. If it is there it can surface during a game to make a difference between winning and losing.

I believe this Auburn coaching staff understands where their team is with two-thirds of the regular season schedule left to be played. I think they also understand where they need to be. I am excited to see how this group responds to its 2-2 start. I am excited to see if it is ready to grow, and there is a lot of room left for that to happen.

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