The answer is easy, turnovers. Auburn managed 354 yards of total offense Saturday night against a tough Syracuse defense and the Orangemen offense got only 300 against the Tigers. But when you turn the ball over five times like Auburn did Saturday night, the only number that matters is one. That's the number of games you'll lose every time you have five more turnovers than your opponent. Just ask offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.
"My hat is off to them," he said of the Syracuse defense. "They played hard and they played with a lot of emotion. Anytime on offense, it doesn't matter who you're playing, when that defense can create turnovers like they did with pressure and sacks and things like that, it's hard to win a football game."
Starting his first road game ever in a hostile Carrier Dome environment, freshman quarterback Jason Campbell had not only the usual jitters of not being in front of the home crowd but the added pressure of having to duck and dodge Syracuse defensive end Dwight Freeney--seemingly on every play. The constant pressure that Freeney and friends provided and the heat he put on Campbell were nothing compared to his ball-hawking skills. With four tackles, two sacks and two caused fumbles, the senior All-American candidate was a one-man wrecking crew against the Tigers. Campbell agreed with that assessment.
"We made too many mistakes, the main thing is too many turnovers," he said. "I take my hat off to number 54 (Freeney). He's the best defensive end I've ever played against. He was worth every bit they say about him. He was quick off the ball and made a lot of things happen."
While his performance was far from flawless, Campbell still had his moments, although they were marred by turnover after turnover. Finishing 11-20 for 155 yards with one touchdown, three fumbles and one interception, he had a solid passing night and throw in the 44-yard touchdown run he had in the first quarter and there are some positives to build on. But those positives are far outweighed by his failure to protect the ball in the pocket. With a week to correct the things that went wrong Saturday night, Mazzone said he saw some things that were good signs.
"Even with all that said, I was proud of the way he hung in there," he said of Campbell. "He hung in there and did some good things at the end of the game. There was never any quit in any of our kids. They gave some effort out there and they battled. They played a good football team and got beat with too many mistakes."
With this experience under his belt things should do nothing but get better for the freshman signal caller after his night staring into the face of terror known as Freeney. With the Vanderbilt Commodores dead ahead and another road game to boot, Campbell said the team will just keep working on improving every week.
"It was very tough," he said. "We were moving the ball up and down the field and all of the sudden we had those turnovers. That's what killed us. If we didn't have those turnovers the game probably would have been a different outcome. But, that's something that we'll learn from. We're going to find out what kind of heart our team has from here and see how everything picks up from here on out."
Following a loss like the one the Tigers suffered Saturday night, sometimes you have to get those questions answered. The test will come in one week in Nashville.