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A Bitter End to a Remarkable Season

By on January 3rd, 2018 in Football 44 Comments »

USA TODAY Sports

The season ends with a whimper. The team didn’t want to be there, and neither did the fans—even the ones that showed up to the game. It was pretty apparent from the minute I entered the gates which side was more grateful to be in the building that day.

And frankly, I can’t blame Auburn fans. This was a season that could have and should have ended, at the very least, in Pasadena. But it didn’t, and instead Auburn fans had to witness the nightmare of New Year’s Day 2018—the worst day of football outcomes in my lifetime, rivaled only by December 2, 2017.

Gus Malzahn was out-coached on Monday. There’s no way around it. Auburn took giant steps backward with nearly a month of preparation. For the past few weeks, all I’ve heard from the players is how physical the practices have been and how the coaching staff was treating the Peach Bowl as if it was the playoff. But what we got on Monday was a big, fat egg.

At one point in the game, UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton was 3/15 through the air, and it was still enough to hold a lead. Jarrett Stidham was forced to throw the ball 43 times because the offensive line could generate no running lanes for Kerryon Johnson. It’s inexcusable and incredibly concerning if this is what Auburn fans should expect from Coach Malzahn for the next seven years. I understand the athletic department wanted stability moving forward, but at what cost?

What I want is this program that has a greater sense of confidence—from the fans, the players and the coaching staff. Enough of Auburn being an underdog. Enough of the silly “Cinderella Story” narrative. No matter what occurs next Monday in Atlanta, Auburn beat the national champion by double digits this season.

It’s time for reality to match expectations, championship-level expectations that you should have with a coach making $7 million a year. This is a program that has won a national championship and appeared in another in the last seven years. It’s the 13th winningest program in college football history. And it’s a program that has handed Alabama more losses under Nick Saban than any other school.

Auburn is a true college football powerhouse. Let’s start to act like it.

44 Comments

  1. zotus zotus says:

    Kudos Cole. Perfect! Just what needed to be said right about now.

    Look forward to the day when you finish up @ Mizzou, get yourself a paying job, a barrel of ink, and the opportunity to this kind of stuff every day.

    WDE!

    • dyingculture dyingculture says:

      A barrel of ink? What does that mean? You’re old!

      (So am I.)

    • Cole Locascio Cole Locascio says:

      Thanks for reading and for the compliment! I definitely understand the “barrel of ink” 😉

    • WarEagleinKC says:

      Enough with the “Auburn didn’t want to be there” crap. Once you start getting hit, that all goes out of the window. Auburn got beat upfront, which I was shocked by, but after watching the game it was apparent that UCF was the better team. If we would have ended up pulling it out somehow, it would’ve been a fluke. UCF is legit, and should have been ranked much higher. They could beat any one of those teams in the playoff had they gotten the chance. Which means, IMO, Auburn probably just played one of the toughest schedules in the history of college football. 4 games vs the teams that made the playoff and then the only undefeated team in all FBS, who should have had more consideration when it came to the playoff talk.

    • ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

      Too bad he cannot yet make what college coaches make.

  2. WarSamEagle WarSamEagle says:

    Best thing I’ve read about the Auburn situation.
    Succinctly puts in perspective where Auburn is at and how we fans feel (and without any unnecessary acrimony)!

  3. dyingculture dyingculture says:

    Five years from now, how will this season be remembered? Will it still be bitter? Will 2017 be the year where we smoked both Bama and UGA, or will it be the year where we lost all those games that we really, really should have won?

    Some of it probably depends on 2018. The 2003 season was pretty bitter too, but now it’s remembered as the season that set the table for the 2004 championship.

    I can’t say I feel too great about Herb Hand. The offensive line struggles kept on cropping up, and seems like he never did get it fixed. And his contract expiring comes at a really bad time, considering how they have so many OT recruits coming on official visits this month. They almost have no choice but to extend his contract.

  4. meathead530 says:

    It would have been nice if Gus and the tigers had played for the fans. Yeah, I realize the game unmotivating, but sheesh, play for pride.

    • Cole Locascio Cole Locascio says:

      Pride, a top-5 finish, 11 wins. There was plenty to play for on Monday, but it didn’t look like the players/coaching staff cared very much. Thanks for reading!

  5. Tigerstripe Tigerstripe says:

    CGM was out coached in the SECCG and that’s obviously where the season unraveled. It was fun beating uga and bama but in the end, bama benefits from a much needed break and finds a way back into the playoffs… we just can’t have nice things… CGM wasn’t out coached in the Peach but rather players weren’t motivated (Matthews said it himself) because, well, they’re like every other 20 yo I know. Times are a changing folks… Better find a way to tap into these kid’s athleticism and apathy at the same time. Expanding the playoffs would at least ensure that your last game of the year will be your best attempt.

    • Zach Taylor Zach Taylor says:

      Part of coaching is motivation.

      • Tigerstripe Tigerstripe says:

        That’s kind of my point. We don’t have an X’s and O’s problem (mostly), nor lack of athleticism – we have motivation problems just like every other program. I agree to an extent that motivation is a part of coaching (at least it was when we were kids). Your “process” today better be able to motivate today’s athletes whilst they have their eyes set on making money, not wanting to go to class and participate like normal students and dealing with Baker Mayfield-esque egos. The programs that get it, are successful. The ones that don’t, get to kick sand and shake their fist at the moon on January 8th. Look, we have a great program and we’re in a good place and I’m personally satisfied as long as the program shows signs that they are forward thinking and are working some sort of “process” to navigate the new playoff environment. Bottom line, now that we’ve gone the playoff route, success will only be gauged by making the playoff, not by winning the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl (yikes). Making the playoffs is the only way to ensure that the best athletes are playing their very best in the last game of the season. The last image that recruits, their parents, fans, rs, 120+ Div I programs will see of the 2017 CF season will be uga and bama slugging it out.

    • WDE7385 WDE7385 says:

      The SECCG was the test of true coaching ability. Captain Queeg showed his ability. If you ever saw Bogart in “The Caine Mutiny” playing with his marbles ….

  6. AUJTJarhead AUJTJarhead says:

    Where did Gus get Herb Hand from? This guy is out of his league!

    • Zach Taylor Zach Taylor says:

      Stay tuned for my thoughts on this.

    • zotus zotus says:

      click here for CHH’s undistinguished bio: http://www.gopsusports.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/herb_hand_882979.html

      Zack T appears ready to flesh out the bones of CHH bio and its connection to Gus’ Group-Think-History … but, I’ll say this: the Auburn offensive staff is still as incestuous as always. getting rid of Lashlee didn’t change anything. The whole offensive staff are just interchangeable parts. mediocre staff producing mediocre results.

      • Zach Taylor Zach Taylor says:

        I hadn’t even paid attention to his time at West Virginia. But, having watched them play a lot of football around that time period, I can tell you unequivocally that the same problems persisted there. When WVU was better than the other team up front, they were unstoppable. But, in big games when things didn’t go so well, it was blood letting at it’s finest.

      • WDEGirl says:

        ^^^^^^ #SMDH

        I’m a girl and only way I ever stepped on a football field was in a band uniform, and I think I could run the offense better than this crowd

        1) Will Hastings was underused
        2) Kam Martin was underused
        3) when JS had struggles, have packages for Malik Willis. MW fakes the option as well as Nick Marshal did. Put Malik in a few plays and let JS calm down and get some coaching

        You have to keep defenses guessing. It was very apparent to the entire football world what AU would do on offense and what they wouldn’t. Nobody was fooled.

        • ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

          Playoffs? Playoffs? You wanna talk about Playoffs???

          Didn’t get there and the lack of motivation showed.

      • WDEGirl says:

        “They have some exotics, third-down exotic blitz packages and things” – Herb Hand referring to the UCF defense. I wish I was joking.

        Please quit talking. You are a big, grown man, Coach. sssshhhhhh!

        http://www.al.com/auburnfootball/index.ssf/2018/01/auburn_offensive_line_allows_6.html

        • zotus zotus says:

          WDEGirl, isn’t it telling that, in post game statements, losing coaches (even when they try to tell you nothing) more likely than not will end up telling you a lot. These Auburn offensive coaches, were wearing it as a badge of honor … or, a badge of confidence … or, a badge of some other positive coaching standard that “we as an Auburn offensive coaching staff didn’t make any offensive adjustments at half time, we just focused on trying to prepare to execute better the 2nd half.”

          Huh? Say what? Hello? WE-PLAY-TO-WIN-THE-GAMES.

          P.S. As far as being a girl is concerned, I grew up with 4 sisters. They all have your passion for college football. The youngest is an Auburn fan. She knows more about football than her 3 older sisters (yes, they’re bammers) put together.

          WDE!

  7. hardija says:

    Win two good games then give him the moon. Now back to the same old inconsistent performance. He is just an average coach and we not likely to ever get much better.

  8. audad says:

    Great column, Cole. And many great comments posted. I was happy to see Acid’s grade of D- for the offensive line yesterday. I would have considered an F. They absolutley got embarrassed. Countless times the UCF guys simply overpowered them and I recall instances where our O linemen were flat on their backs looking up at the roof after being flattened by guys that simply were playing harder and wanted to win more. And the defensive lapses were incredible. Why their QB only rushed the number of times he did is inexplicable. He should have dropped back every other play and then just taken off, because 90% of the time NOBODY was around to contain him and he was a step or two faster and more athletic apparently than any of the guys we had on the field. The kid could have rushed for 250 yards instead of the 113 that he actually got.

    It will be interesting to see how far AU drops in the final polls. I would imagine 4 or 5 spots, maybe more. A 4 loss team can’t be in the top 10, even with the two wins over the 2 teams playing for the NC. I guess the trash talking by the UCF players before the game played out. They certainly looked to be faster, more physical, and more motivated than our guys. Good for them. They deserve the top 10 finish they will probably be rewarded with.

    • Cole Locascio Cole Locascio says:

      I would have given the line an F, as well. Worst performance I’ve seen from that unit since 2008.

    • ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

      I hope UCF makes the Top 5 – they beat the team that beat the two teams that are playing for the CFP Championship. Auburn, at previously #7, will not be in the Top 10.

  9. AUJTJarhead AUJTJarhead says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t one of our lineman state that “they, the o line” have numerous communication gaffes during the game . Tell me I made that up please. Inexplicable if it is true!

  10. Tiger Tiger says:

    While I haven’t commented much this year, I’ve been skulking around and reading almost everything everybody’s written.

    Beating b*** and uga was great and completely unexpected (at least by me). Still, I lost of lot of interest in following this season and watching games, about the time we lost the LSU game. It’s difficult to put into words, but it’s like I know that another Clemson, LSU, SECCG, or UCF game is right around the corner no matter how well we do.

    When we’ve lost games the last two years, we lose them horribly. I wouldn’t mind losing close, competitive, well-played games. But giving 11 sacks to Clemson, throwing away the LSU game, having NO answer to uga (version II), and then losing Monday to the “University of Optics and Disney”….it annoys me.

    The past several years, I’ve struggled to understand how we can work, work, work, soar to the highest of highs and then suddenly nosedive during random games in our season.

    Interested to hear Zach’s take on Herb Hand coaching the O-line. In the meantime, War Eagle!

  11. ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

    And Carlton Davis has also now announced for the NFL draft.

  12. neonbets says:

    The results from 2016 bowl season: http://www.collegesports-fans.com/bowls/bowl-schedule.html

    Tenn, UF, FSU and USC won and felt very good about their 2017 season. Didn’t really pan out.
    Of course, UGA, OU, WI did to and things did pan out.

    Auburn disappointed in its 2016 game, but I can’t say 2017 was major fail.

    UCF got its butt kicked by Ark State–no job offers for Frost after 2016.

    I know people are angry–as was I. But none of this has any discernable bearing on next year—and if Auburn is in the Playoff picture after Thanksgiving in 2018–I’ll be happy with that season too.

  13. sparkey sparkey says:

    This is the man so many of you wanted. True Auburn people would cheer on Gus anyway. Well, you have him. This is your coach.

    • ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

      This is Auburn. You support the University, you support the team, you support the fanbase. You don’t have to agree with anyone and you certainly don’t have to agree with decisions being made. Support your team.
      If you are a true Auburn fan then this is your coach as much as it is for the remainder of the fanbase.
      “Well, you have him. This is you coach.” — Sparkey, Gus is OUR coach and not one single one of us had any, no, input into any decisions that were made to make that offer. Likewise, none of us have to be pleased with the outcome of the season.
      But, with that said, we hang in there Because This Is Auburn.
      Yes, I will openly admit, I wanted Gus to stay and I am happy with that. But, with that said, I can also openly state that the coaching in the past two games has not been up to par.
      I love my wife. I would willingly give my life if it meant saving her’s – But, I certainly do not always agree with her. I think she is wrong most of the time (she isn’t), but I still want her as my wife.
      Hang in there, Man!

  14. Jonathon Jonathon says:

    Folks! WE’RE IN TROUBLE!! I had played out a scenario a couple weeks ago that we would be stacked next year for a championship run after this season’s bright spots… BUT!!! Our stacked deck is depleting quickly as each and every day passes.. players are jumping ship! RED FLAGS! Malzahn’s extension being followed up with two straight losses and losing talent to pro pastures is not a good look.

    • ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

      Jono – Those guys were going to jump regardless. I’m not convinced we are in Red Flag area just yet. I may be wrong, but I simply cannot fathom Stidham going to the draft. I think there are too many QB’s ahead of him; not to mention the one that just beat Auburn and, of course, Mayfield. I think Stidham stays. If not, well then, we shall move on.

      Money talks and if you have the chance then take it. That’s why these guys play college football – they want the next level.

      Take Marcus Lattimore as an example. He came back for another year and then got injured to the point where he could not make the next level.

      Don’t throw up the “red flag” as this isn’t serious. (Or white flag if you want to surrender) but Auburn has had more than decent recruiting. And when these 3-4-5* guys see an opportunity to compete for immediate play as a true freshman, then yeah, they will take that.

      Remember last season when Carl Lawson would no longer be around? What happened? Well, another DE stepped in and filled that gap as well, if not better. What about Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown – these guys make a presence.

      • Jonathon Jonathon says:

        I’ll agree that there’s always hope. I guess I envisioned a perfect world where Kerryon stayed or maybe even Pettway would return to the field if Kerryon left. That alone is a lot of firepower to let go of. I get that our receiving core looks to return, which is good… and yes, I’m banking on Stidham staying as he can only improve after this first year on the Plains under his belt with a familiar group of receivers. The defense is depleting by the minute. Will Matthews stay to keep some strength in the secondary? I get the fact that it’s “the next man up” but consistency is such a boost when it comes to both player and coaching rosters. In my mind ‘consistency’ is where the Auburn program is lacking. It’s consistency on the field and coaching strategies that killed our season. “Next man up” may benefit programs consistently recruiting in the top 3 in the nation. Depth becomes questionable after that. If Stidham went down this season who would be our “next man up?” When will Malzahn recruit a QB out of high school and develop him as a consistent player for our program… it hasn’t happened yet. And Carlson, gone. Special Teams will make or break any game in the season. Carlson was a special player that will be hard to just replace with a “next man up.” Carlson was able to band-aid plenty of Malzahn’s mistakes. Who knows.. none of us can predict the future but we are stuck living in the painful present.

  15. wde1988 wde1988 says:

    Wow, I felt this way 2 years ago and had to step away. I totally get the frustration. I didn’t think Auburn looked prepared. With the talent we had we should have won by 21 points. But shoulda/coulda never did much of anything.

    My opinion on the poor performance was also made clearer by the announcement made today and earlier this week. Let’s review:

    Pettway
    Johnson
    Davis
    Holland

    All declared for NFL.

    I don’t think our heart was in this game. At all. I think folks were thinking about staying healthy.

    It’s a terribly kept secret that Pettway has been on double secret probation since failing his 2nd drug test after Arkansas game. No way he even gets drafted. He has been a nonentity this season.

    And Davis had already gotten an agent. That is why Gus sent him home, or it was the rumor swirling before game I heard.

    Out of all of them, I only considered Johnson and Holland had legitimate reason to leave early. Regardless, I doubt they go higher than 3rd round.

    Out of all of them, Holland is the only real loss.

    Just an opinion.

    WDE