A Disastrous Day
I’ve had over a day now to process what I witnessed yesterday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, and the following is my attempt to explain how Auburn got where it is and what happens from here on out. Up until yesterday I would certainly have classified myself as a “sunshine-pumper” when it comes to the state of the Auburn program. It is becoming more and more difficult to take that stance. As always, here we go with the bullet points:
- Trying to figure out where to place blame for what happened yesterday (and what has happened to Auburn football in general) is no easy task. The easy answer right now is offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler. However, I think that is misguided. From the outside, it certainly looks like he is in over his head, but there is definitely more to the story. He is definitely handicapped by Auburn’s complete lack of serviceable quarterback play. It is impossible to design a successful one-dimensional office, which is exactly what Auburn is trying to do right now. I also think that we are now seeing on offense what so many Auburn fans hated about the Ted Roof defense – meddling by Gene Chizik. It is one of Chizik’s worst qualities, at the first sign of trouble he wants to step in and “save the day”. It usually just ends up making things worse. Let the coordinators do their jobs, Gene.
- Speaking of Gene – I have a lot of respect for him as a person. He embodies everything I think of as an “Auburn man” (a concept that some may laugh at, but one that I find very important) as defined by the Auburn Creed. Up to this point I have dismissed any mention of firing Gene Chizik as completely ridiculous. I didn’t think there was anything that could happen this season that could put his job in jeopardy. I feel differently after yesterday. I’m not saying that he has to go, but when you look at where the program is holistically, and the direction things appear to be headed in, it’s not a rosy picture. Unfortunately, 2010 now seems like a distant memory, and an exception rather than the rule. I am not ready to cut Gene lose just yet, but as Stephen Colbert would say, he is “on notice” at this point.
- Speaking of quarterback play – I was furious when Chizik/Loeffler pulled Kiehl Frazier in favor of Clint Mosely at the start of the second half. I actually thought Frazier looked as good as he had all year in the first half. Sure, he was still holding on to the ball and took too many sacks, but Mosely didn’t perform all that much better. Now Auburn has a quarterback quandary on top of everything else, which can only serve as a dividing point for the rest of the team. Pulling Kiehl was just the latest in a long string of questionable on-field decisions for this coaching staff.
- Speaking of on-field decisions – The offensive play calling in the first half (whether at the hands of Chizik or Loeffler) was atrocious. Trying to execute slow-developing plays like pump fakes and play actions is impossible when its obvious that Auburn’s offensive line couldn’t hold back my eight pound Shih Tzu. The play calling continually put Kiehl and the offense in difficult situations, and this team simply doesn’t have the poise or veteran skill to get out of those situations. One player with poise and skill, fullback Jay Prosch, was on the sideline for 90% of the snaps. Gene Chizik has said over and over again that he wants to get back to smashmouth, I-formation football. It sure doesn’t seem that way.
- The defense played well at times, and it can’t be argued that the unit is improved overall from last year. Two things are particularly worrisome, though: First, the defensive line is getting NO pressure. This continues to be mind-boggling given the talent and depth at that position. Second, Auburn has been outscored 45-3 this year in the fourth quarter. That’s on both the offense and defense, but it is a frightening stat nonetheless.
- More on Chizik: The head coach and his assistants have recruited better than any previous staff, at least according to the fabled star rankings. The picture gets murkier from there though. At this point three things have to be questioned: talent evaluation, character evaluation, and player development. Many so-called “can’t miss” recruits haven’t even hit the edge of the dartboard at Auburn (Trovon Reed, Deangelo Benton come to mind), while others have thrown away their talent with off the field issues (Michael Dyer, the four involved in the robbery, Zeke Pike). Most of the highly recruited players that are still on the roster simply aren’t performing at an SEC-caliber level (see defensive line, above). When you see even true freshmen coming in and making significant impacts at other schools all across the country, it just makes you wonder what is different about Auburn.
- Where does Auburn go from here? There are no easy answers to this question. The team has apparently regressed from week one to this point, and there are only two more sure wins on the schedule – New Mexico State and Alabama A&M. Ole Miss is favored against Auburn this week. Vanderbilt, up after Ole Miss, beat Missouri last week, so that game looks a lot more difficult now as well. Add in Texas A&M, Georgia, and Alabama, and things are certainly looking like 3-9. Is that enough to prompt wholesale changes? Only time will tell…