Marshall: Tide Can Salvage Season vs. Tigers

Phillip Marshall writes about the Auburn football team's play vs. Georgia and this week's Iron Bowl game vs. Alabama.

It was another bizarre chapter in a series filled with them.

It should have come as no surprise that Georgia played its best game of the season Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The surprise was that Auburn played, by far, its worst game of the season and probably its worst since giving up 400-plus yards rushing and losing 38-17 to Arkansas in 2002.

There's plenty of blame to go around. Blame the players. Blame the coaches. You'll be right either way or both ways. It was a performance unworthy of any team playing in the Deep South's oldest rivalry.

It's been obvious for a while now that this Auburn football team is not in any way dominant. The championship-level talent is in the younger classes, not the upper classes. That's good for the future, not so good for the present.

Through almost an entire season, the flaws become more and more obvious and opponents become more likely to exploit them.

But 37-15? To the weakest Georgia team in maybe a decade?

Nobody could see that coming. And it could have been worse.

You heard the old cliché from players. "They wanted it more than we did." A cliché is all it is. By all accounts, Auburn had a really good week of practice. The players were hyped for the game. They knew as well as anyone what was at stake. They played hard.

Believe it wasn't important to Auburn players and coaches if you want, but that's not reality. It was very important to them all.

So why did it happen? Why, with so much at stake, was Auburn overwhelmed by an average football team?

I don't claim to have all the answers, but I have some.

For this Auburn team to beat quality opponents, things have to go right on both sides of the ball and on special teams. Things went very wrong in all three areas against Georgia.

Throughout the season, Auburn has survived because its offense has kept the ball and run the clock. The defense has been tough when it mattered most. It was a different story against Georgia.

Brandon Cox's four interceptions were, of course, devastating. Georgia turned three of them into 17 points. Neither Auburn's offense nor its defense is strong enough to overcome that. Amazingly, Auburn had just 37 offensive snaps, surely an all-time low.

Brandon Cox had his worst football game as a Tiger in the loss to Georgia.

Cox says he didn't feel any ill effects from the hit he took on his knee on Auburn's first offensive play, but he completed only four passes for 35 yards. To the untrained eye, it certainly seemed that hit affected him.

But the turnover plague that has suddenly hit Auburn didn't start with Saturday's game. The Tigers had just seven turnovers through their first eight games. They've had 10, including eight interceptions, the last three games.

The defense, for all its warts, had been very good in the red zone all season. It wasn't good there Saturday.

The special teams had been the most impressive part of this Auburn football team. Saturday, Kody Bliss shanked two punts.

It all added up to a gruesome Auburn football Saturday. And if Auburn plays the same way at Bryant-Denny Stadium, it'll be yet another gruesome Auburn football Saturday.

Auburn still has two wins to its credit over Top 10 teams--LSU and Florida. But those games seem long ago and far away after what happened against Georgia.

Saturday's Iron Bowl will be challenge, maybe more of a challenge than anyone would have thought just a few weeks ago. Alabama is probably as good as Georgia, and it is playing at home.

If the Tigers play well and don't turn the ball over, they should win. If they don't play well and they turn the ball over, they won't win. It's as simple as that.

I wrote in this space during the summer that I believed 11-1 would be a phenomenal season, 10-2 would be a great season and 9-3 would be a good season for this Auburn football team.

I still believe 10-2 would be a great season. But if Auburn goes 9-3, losing to a four-loss Georgia team and a five-loss Alabama team at the end, it would be hard to call it anything other than a disappointing season.

Alabama, on the other hand, can salvage a season that once seemed lost with a victory. Auburn will need to recapture the fire it displayed in the second half against Florida, fire that hasn't been seen since.

Can it happen? Sure. Will it happen? At this point, there's no way to know.

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