Auburn, Ala.--Saturday night's offensive performance in Tiger Stadium against LSU was more of the same old problems for Auburn in 2007 as it failed to get anything going, allowing LSU to gain momentum on both offense and defense. Offensive coordinator Al Borges says looking back on the game it was obvious the Tigers just didn't make the plays when they had the chance.
"The third quarter we shut it down and that hurt us," Borges says. "We needed a drive in the third quarter and didn't get it. That's the first thing that jumps out at me is we didn't play well (in the third quarter) and early in the fourth we didn't play particularly well. In the first half we didn't play bad. We did some good things. I was proud of the way we came out. We came out a lot like we did against Florida, but a half does not a game make. Particularly when you're playing a good team like that, you know they've got some weapons. I think that's the thing that jumps out at me the most."
Leading 17-7 at halftime, Auburn managed to gain 169 yards on 37 plays and had 10 first downs in the first 30 minutes. Things changed dramatically after that as Auburn had just 14 plays for 48 yards in the third quarter. On the first possession Brad Lester carried for two yards before Brandon Cox was sacked on second down and threw an incompletion on third down.
On the second drive Cox threw incomplete on first down before hitting Lester for 18 yards on second down. A six-yard run by Lester followed before Auburn was called for holding on a pass attempt. Cox followed it up with a 13-yard strike to Montez Billings to set up a third and short which Lester converted. A first down run by Ben Tate for two yards put Auburn in a whole as Cox threw incomplete on second down before being forced out of the pocket on third down for a two-yard gain.
Auburn's final three plays of the quarter were a Cox scramble for six yards on a pass attempt, a Lester one-yard run, and an incompletion intended for Tim Hawthorne on third down that fell to the turf. For the quarter Auburn threw the ball six times, had three more runs by Cox on pass attempts, and ran the ball five times. Borges says it wasn't a matter of playing cautious, it was just a matter of getting the job done.
"It was execution for the most part," Borges says. "I don't think the intensity was any less. We didn't do some things we did early in the game. We didn't do them as well. They're a good defensive team. You're not going to win every battle against those guys, but we needed to keep our defense off the field because they were playing pretty darn solid. We just left them on the field too much and I think it hurt us at the end.
"The problem is conversion of third downs," he adds. "We were doing a good job in the first half and our run to pass ratio was not bad in this game. It wasn't as efficient in the third quarter as it was the rest of the game. We weren't running the ball every first and second down in the third quarter. It was very much like it was in the first half, we just weren't completing as many balls."
In what has become a trend for Auburn's offense, they didn't get the job done in the second half, but did find a way to make the plays at the end of the game. Borges says as an offensive staff and unit they're going to take a close look at how they're doing things to see if they can make the offense more productive throughout the game.
"You get what you emphasize," Borges says. "We're going to go to school on that a little bit. You've got to look at everything and yourself as a play caller. You've got to decide if maybe you need a little different approach in the third quarter to help re-energize our offense. It's never one thing. It's always a combination of everything. In the coming weeks we're really going to look at that. It has been a pattern. The third quarter has not been very good."
One big bonus for the offense was the continued good play of Lester at tailback. In addition to running for 68 yards and having just one lost yard, the junior caught five passes for 56 yards. Borges says his play as a dual-threat back is something Auburn will continue to use in the coming weeks.
"We're going to keep expanding on that," Borges says. "I have said from the beginning that Brad Lester is really a good receiver. We've used him in that capacity. He's been very effective in doing so. We're going to continue to work that. One of the best things he does is catch screen passes. He's a good screen runner. Screens weren't a real high priority this last week because LSU has been so good at defending it. In future games we'll try to use him in that capacity."
Auburn now turns its attention to the Ole Miss Rebels in a game the Tigers will be heavy favorites to win and improve its record to 6-3. Borges says he hasn't had a chance to watch much of the Rebels on defense, but one thing he's sure of is that they'll play hard Saturday. He says the same can be said about Auburn as well.
"We have a resilient group," Borges says. "They have been through some adversity already. They know we didn't win and we're not going to reward winning. We're not going to act like we won. The kids played hard and had a chance to win the game. We let it slip through out fingertips, but they know they are very capable. This is a darn good football team. Maybe earlier in the year we had to talk ourselves into that a little bit, but not any more. We've gone blow to blow with some very good teams and won. The kids are still very confident and they should be."