If you go by past history, things might not seem as bleak for Auburn football as it appears after watching the 28-10 beat down that the Tigers suffered against Mississippi State on Saturday.
Sure, the Tigers are 0-2 (both games played away from home). Yes, there are still six teams ahead on the schedule that played in bowl games at the end of last season. But, this isn’t the first time that’s happened.
Auburn has opened with back-to-back losses to start a season twice in the past 28 years. When the 1984 team lost to Miami and Texas on the road, people in the media, and people in the Jordan-Hare stands, questioned head coach Pat Dye. That team won nine games, defeated future SEC member Arkansas in the Liberty Bowl and finished the season ranked No. 14 by the Associated Press.
In 2003, Auburn was 0-2 after consecutive losses to Southern Cal and Georgia Tech. That team won eight games and beat Wisconsin in the Music City Bowl. The next year, Auburn won every game, was named national champion by some, and stands today as the only undefeated team from that season.
Then, in 2007, the Tigers did at least win their home opener, but lost the next two, falling to South Florida and Mississippi State – both at home. That squad won nine games, beat Alabama for the sixth consecutive time, knocked off Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and finished No. 15 in the final AP poll.
So, all is not necessarily lost.
Unfortunately for Auburn, it isn’t 1984 or 2003 or even 2007 … and after seeing the Tigers’ game from the press box in Starkville on Saturday, there is no reason for even the most optimistic Tiger fan to expect a similar outcome.
Where do you start?
Defensively, the fundamentals don’t appear to be there. The Tigers don’t tackle well and don’t cover receivers closely. The defensive tackles often appear invisible and linebacker play is inadequate. There’s a reason that defensive back Demetruce McNeal had a team-high 18 tackles in Starkville. In two games, Auburn has given up over 900 yards of total offense.
Offensively, the line is inconsistent, and not enough receivers are involved in the passing game. Quarterback Kiehl Frazier is overthrowing targets and doesn’t appear to be playing with confidence. But, why should there be confidence? In eight quarters, Auburn has scored just one offensive touchdown, and that was in the first quarter of the first game.
As for coaching, fans are questioning everything from play calls to lack of fundamentals to selection of which players are on the field … among other things. All of those questions are justified – and more.
With those problems, still one thing is perhaps the most troubling. Supposedly, teams get better between the first and second games of the season.
Auburn got worse between the loss to Clemson and the debacle against State … significantly worse in some aspects.
The problems in Starkville were glaring. Over and over, the Auburn offense put itself in long yardage situations. Throws were inaccurate. On the defensive side, one State touchdown drive was kept alive by a third-and-long pass interference call. Another continued due to an Auburn personal foul. Both times that Auburn took leads on the scoreboard, the defense couldn’t sustain the momentum as the Bulldogs immediately had long scoring drives to pull ahead.
One problem is still the team’s youth. Auburn fans don’t want to keep hearing that, but it is unavoidably true. On Saturday in Starkville, the Bulldogs had 11 senior starters. Auburn only listed 12 seniors total on the entire roster and only half of them started. State started no freshmen. Auburn had eight freshmen on the two-deep chart, including two offensive line starters.
The Tigers felt the impact of sub-par recruiting classes in the final two years of the Tommy Tuberville era last year. But that can’t be used as an excuse now considering Gene Chizik is in his fourth season.
If Auburn can keep the high school seniors already committed for February 2013, they’ll have brought in four consecutive Top 10 signing classes. Granted, there has been some attrition and some bad luck with a number of players in those classes, but the cupboard isn’t exactly bare. Or is it?
As for the schedule, it won’t be worse than this season when the Tigers play five of the Top 13 teams in Lindy’s preseason rankings. No team in the country plays more.
But, a realistic look at the rest of the 2012 schedule can’t be encouraging for Tiger fans.
What are the “sure” wins?
New Mexico State and Alabama A&M would appear to be safe bets, but did Colorado expect to lose at home to Sacramento State on Saturday?
How about Ole Miss? The Rebels are not good, but that game is on the road for Auburn, and the Rebs are 2-0.
How about Vandy? Like Auburn, they’re also 0-2, but did you see their game with South Carolina … and the Tigers plays the ‘Dores in Nashville.
LSU, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas. Are you kidding?
And, speaking of the Razorbacks, they lost at home on Saturday night to the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks. (If you think UL-M is a pushover, you might ask Nick Saban about his Homecoming game just a few years ago in Tuscaloosa.)
Who does Auburn play next? Those same Warhawks will be in Lee County on Saturday for the Jordan-Hare home opener. After putting 34 points on the Hogs, do you think the visitors will be trembling looking ahead to this one?
Back in 2003, after that 0-2 start, Auburn played host to UL-M in October. On the way to righting that season, the Tigers demolished the visitors, 73-7. Don’t expect the same thing this time. Unless it drastically improves, this Auburn offense might not score 73 if it played all month.
In fact, unless things do drastically improve, Auburn could be looking at its fewest wins in a season in the past 60 years. That was Shug Jordan’s second year as the Tigers’ head coach. That’s not exactly the best way to cause fans to look toward better things ahead.