Marshall: AU Follows Football Recipe For Trouble

Turnovers and foolish penalties were costly in Auburn's loss to Georgia Tech Saturday night.

The explanation is pretty simple. It's as old as the game of football.

If you turn the ball over, get untimely penalties and struggle to run, you will usually lose. And that's just what Auburn did Saturday night against a good but not great Georgia Tech team it really should have beaten.

Sophomore quarterback Brandon Cox, starting for the first time, did some really good things. He passed for 342 yards and two touchdowns. He took his team on a 61-yard touchdown drive with no timeouts in the waning seconds of the second quarter. But four straight possessions in the second half ended with interceptions. Another ended with a lost fumble.

Auburn managed just 50 yards on the ground. Even if you take out 48 yards in losses, it would have been just 98 yards. And that's not enough.

But even with all that, the two most costly plays in the game might have been penalties.

Marquies Gunn hits Reggie Ball, one of the few times he was hit in Saturday night's loss.

Georgia Tech's 10-0 lead had been cut to 10-7 when Auburn went marching in the second quarter. The Tigers faced second-and-seven at the Georgia Tech 22 when Cox broke contain running to his left and threw a strike to Courtney Taylor in the end zone.

But center Steven Ross was called for holding well behind the play. Cox was sacked on third down and Auburn ended up punting.

Trailing 20-14 with 10:16 left in the game, Auburn finally got it going on the ground. Tre Smith ran for 21 yards and Carl Stewart for seven and then four. Kenny Irons, with fresh legs, got his first run of the night and gained six yards for a first down at the Georgia Tech 29.

But on the next play, Auburn was called for a false start. Forced to throw, Cox's arm was hit as he threw and the pass was intercepted.

As the sun came up Sunday morning, Auburn players and coaches were faced with plenty of questions.

Cox will learn from his mistakes. He showed he has the potential to be outstanding. But he doesn't have the legs of Jason Campbell. If Auburn doesn't develop a better running game, he will be under duress against every good team he faces.

And why couldn't the Tigers run more effectively? That's a question coaches will surely be asking this morning. Did they try to run enough? They had just 23 rushing attempts. Two of those were sacks and two were Cox fumbles that technically aren't called sacks. There were just 19 called running plays.

Where was the ferocious pass rush most of us expected? Georgia Tech's rebuilt offensive line protected Ball for most of the night. When it didn't, Ball was often able to run out of trouble.

Why was the defense on its heels in the first quarter, giving up 101 passing yards on Georgia Tech's first two series.

It is certainly no time to panic. The Tigers can still have a big year, can still win an SEC championship, can still do a lot of things. But they won't unless they figure out the solution to the problems that beset them Saturday night.

No doubt, with a new backfield, it would have been much better to open the season with a weaker opponent. But that's not the way they schedule fell. It was Georgia Tech's first game, too, but the Yellow Jackets had veterans at quarterback, tailback and wide receiver. They didn't make many mistakes.

The atmosphere at Jordan-Hare Stadium was electrifying at kickoff time. It was loud and it was boisterous. For the most part, the fans stayed with it until it was clearly too late.

When it was over, the Tigers' 15-game winning streak was gone. So, too, was the argument that the pollsters were wrong in believing that replacing the entire starting backfield would cause problems.

They can do nothing now but evaluate what happened and move on. The Tigers should win their next four games – Mississippi State, Ball State, Western Kentucky and South Carolina. But it would be a big mistake to believe that Mississippi State won't come to town next Saturday believing it can win.

And Mississippi State could win if it gets the kind of help from the home team that Georgia Tech got Saturday night.

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