Football Team Needs Major Changes

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the disappointing Auburn football season.

Not long ago, I wrote here that there was no "reasonable scenario" in which Tommy Tuberville would lose his job as Auburn's head coach. I was convinced, from talking to people very close to the situation, that he would return. I am no longer convinced.

It is not for me to say what needs to be done with Auburn's football program, but it should be clear to anyone that something major has to be done. And it will be. Just what that will be probably won't become clear for another week or so. The outcome of next Saturday's game with Alabama has, amazingly, become only a side issue. Winning that game won't save this season. Losing it will only add another unhappy chapter to an already unhappy story.

No, I still don't believe Tuberville should lose his job. I believe he's done too so many good things that he deserves a chance to make it right. At the same time, there is no rational explanation for what took place at Sanford Stadium on Saturday. It was no overwhelming force that struck the Tigers down. Georgia has lost five defensive starters to injury. David Greene made some good throws, but completed just 11 of 24. Yet, for the fourth time this season, Auburn never really threatened to make much of a game of it.

It was less than three months ago that Auburn football players, fans and coaches were riding an emotional high. The Tigers were ranked No. 6 in the nation. They were the overwhelming favorite to win the SEC championship. Some publications picked them to win the national championship. Truth is, Auburn was probably never a national championship caliber team, but we'll never know. The players on this team never really had a chance to show what they could do. The defense played hard Saturday, as it always does. With just a little help from the offense, the defense would probably have played well enough to win. But there was no help coming.

Two years ago, Carnell Williams ran 41 times for 167 yards when Auburn won 24-17 in Athens. Saturday, he carried twice in the first half. He carried 12 times in the game. I'm no coach, but that makes no sense.

Auburn is not the first run-oriented team that has faced defenses that stacked the box. Yet, that strategy seems to work wonders against the Tigers unless the opponent is simply overmatched (Vandy, Mississippi State, Louisiana Monroe, etc.). When the Tigers do get into the red zone, that's when the trouble really starts. It's well-known what happened a week ago against Ole Miss. Saturday, the Tigers went inside the Georgia 10 twice in the second half when there was still time to pull out a victory. The only points that came out of those two forays into the red zone came on a 99-yard interception return by Georgia's Odell Thurman.

The hard truth is that Tuberville's first Auburn team in 1999 played better than this Auburn team has played. This Auburn team has the talent to line up with any college football team in America and be competitive, but it frequently isn't. That 1999 team didn't have the talent to line up with middle-of-the-pack SEC teams, but it was almost always competitive anyway. Tuberville has said several times that this is his best team, and it certainly should have been. I don't question the effort of Auburn's players against Georgia, but they didn't play like a team that expected to win or even believed it would win.

The schedule has been difficult. Some might call it brutal. But that no longer is an issue. Southern California certainly was a tougher nonconference opponent than Auburn normally sees. But then came losses to Georgia Tech, LSU, Ole Miss and Georgia. Georgia Tech is a middle-of-the-pack (at best) ACC team. The others are opponents every Auburn team plays. The future can still be bright. Auburn will again have the talent to be a championship contender next season. But whatever is broken must be fixed. Clearly, the offense must be dealt with. Scoring 10 points or less five times in a season is not up to the standards of a football program with Auburn's proud tradition. Can Tuberville fix it? I believe he can, but I don't have a vote. Interesting days are ahead.

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