From the start things never felt right. Not since the lowly days of the Doug Barfield era has a lead up to the Iron Bowl felt so hopeless. As ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit noted on air Saturday morning, there were few believers among the Auburn faithful.
Of course, it didn’t take Danny Sheridan to tell Auburn fans what was ahead. The reality had set in weeks ago. Alabama’s manhandling of Auburn was the most complete beating Auburn has taken at home in a generation.
Now Gene Chizik, a year removed from a national title, is faced with a major restructuring of his program. While the finger has been pointed squarely at defensive coordinator Ted Roof all season, more than 87,000 were pointed in Gus Malzahn’s direction as time expired Saturday night.
Malzahn unquestionably slowed the offensive tempo down to help an ailing Auburn defense, but his play calling left fans wondering what he’d been doing all week leading up to the game. Vowing to throw the “kitchen sink” at Alabama, the Auburn offense looked eerily similar to – dare I say it – Tony Franklin’s back in 2008.
More disturbing than Malzahn’s on-field performance this year has been the lack of player development at key positions. After 12 games Auburn is no closer to finding a quarterback than it was back in August. A receiving corp that was thought to be a strength at the beginning of the season never gelled.
If the pundits are to be believed, Malzahn will likely take his trade to Chapel Hill, leaving a once dominating offense in shambles. The question now is whether Chizik takes his checkbook to Clemson and hires away Malzhan protégé Chad Morris or decides to go another direction with the offense.
The only issue left to be determined defensively is whether Ted Roof leaves now or after the bowl game. After surrendering more yards and points than any team in Auburn history, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where he returns next year.
What will be remembered from Saturday’s loss is not the talent gap between the two defenses, but rather the number of times Auburn was out of position on the field. Those mistakes clearly point to coaching.
What a strange year it has been. Few imagined this team putting together seven wins. Unfortunately, what will be remembered more is how Auburn lost. When your closest margin of defeat is 14 points and the other four losses were by 24 points or more, that’s what people remember.
That’s why heads will roll on the Auburn coaching staff.
If there was one positive to take away from the season, it was the determination of Auburn’s young players. They never quit. They never gave up. This is an immensely talented group of players. There will be better days for these young men.
In the end, they deserved to be coached better.
Gene Chizik will now earn his money finding suitable replacements for some on his staff. That’s life in the SEC. With high wages come high expectations. The foundation is in place. The talent is in place.
Auburn will be back.
Auburn will be back soon.