A Bump in the Road
USA TODAY Sports
Turnover after turnover, flag after flag, missed opportunity on top of missed opportunity — the Malzahn-coached team we witnessed last Saturday was most certainly not the one we have grown to adore over the past year. Following the first defensive stand that forced the ‘Dawgs to a three and out, I told my cousin, “That was easier than I thought it’d be.” Sure enough, one offensive snap for the Tigers later, and we’re watching Dak Prescott take the field once again after a tipped interception for Mississippi State’s defense. “That’s fine,” I thought, even after the scoreboard lit up 7-0, “We chose to defer — they were supposed to score first anyway.” And would you look at that, one kickoff and offensive snap later, we’re looking at the same damn thing.
For as much credit as we give Duke Williams out wide, he sure doesn’t look like an NFL-ready, polished receiver — the kid has a lot to work on, especially in terms of run blocking and, as we saw Saturday, in the ball security department as well.
14-0. Now it’s crunch time for our offense. We need points — badly. So what do we get? I think you’re starting to follow the pattern — nada. Soon, clouds begin to assemble over Davis Wade Stadium, and slowly one rain drop after the other starting to trickle down onto the playing field.
21-0. After a stalling offensive effort yet again, Dak Prescott leads the Bulldogs to another score. But for some odd reason, I still had the feeling that Auburn could come back fairly easily to win the game — we later found out that it was doable, very doable in fact.
21-13. Things are looking far better in the second quarter of this one — Duke Williams makes his first touchdown catch of the day, as the Tigers are finally able to find the end zone.
Let’s talk about that for a second. Never, at any point last season, was I nervous when we had the ball in our opponent’s red zone. The formula used to be simple — hand off to a back up the gut for a 6 or 7-yard gain, until eventually you’re able to just pound it in from the 2 or 3-yard line. However, a huge key to our past success came at the H-back position in Jay Prosch. Before the year, I tweeted out that people needed to forget Tre Mason and even first-round draft pick, Greg Robinson — both were replaceable with our depth at running back and offensive line. The loss we needed to worry about more, the most underrated player on our entire team last season, was the former Illinois transfer, Jay Prosch. I have never seen a lead blocker as dominant as this kid was in college, and he never, not once, got the recognition he so rightfully deserved. Our team is suffering as a result, at the moment. Say goodbye to the ground-and-pound, red-zone offense that we’ve established as the norm — it simply cannot be achieved with the personnel we have on the field. Instead, you will find us relying heavily on our never consistent pass game and even sillier trick plays from C.J. Uzomah. Trust me, if Gus thought this team was capable of running the ball in the red zone, he’d pull the trigger on it in a quick heartbeat.
28-13. The sky is now completely grey. What was once a clear, humid, and scorching hot day, has now turned into an absolute monsoon in Starkville, Mississippi. We better hope that Nick Marshall learns to throw the football in the rain, or else our fans will be waking up on early Saturday mornings to do the sun dance any game where there’s even the slightest chance of rain. Overthrown, slipped balls left and right from the senior quarterback prevented the offense from converting a few crucial third down plays that would have resulted in fairly big gains for our offense.
I understand the notion that you shouldn’t replace the man who has delivered in similar situations in the past, which Nick Marshall certainly has done throughout the course of his Auburn career. But does anyone else look back at Saturday’s game and wonder, what if? What if Gus had thrown Jeremy Johnson in to take Nick’s place at quarterback for the second half? Do you think that we would have won the game? I do. However, they say hindsight is 20/20.
28-13 (cont.). Fast forward now to the very beginning of the second-half — third down and six. Marshall drops back to pass, under some serious pass pressure too, I might add, to deliver a perfectly thrown ball to Sammie Coates, who darts down the sideline to about the six before it appeared as if he was horse-collared down to around the two-yard line. A penalty flag is thrown, as Auburn fans will take half the distance to the goal on what seemed to be a flag for the apparent horse collar I mentioned — think again. Offensive pass interference. I’m all for making the right call, and I understand that referees are only human and aren’t exactly able to always get the call right, but in that situation, how on earth are you able to take away a 68-yard catch from a team that is attempting to mount a comeback on such an innocent play from a receiver that is just trying his best to make a play on the ball? Tom Ritter and his officiating staff may find themselves calling a subpar SEC bowl game this December, and rightfully so after such a costly call.
28-20. Auburn somehow continues to contain Dak Prescott in the early stages of the second half, as Nick Marshall and the Auburn offense drive a whopping 99 yards, which culminates in a Marshall throw to a diving Duke Williams in the end zone to cut the lead down to one possession for the Bulldogs. Both teams then continue to punt to one another, as Mississippi State is scoreless throughout the entire third quarter. Ever since jumping out to a quick 21-0 lead, the game has swung in Auburn’s favor as they have outscored the Dawgs, 20-7 through the second and third quarters.
We all know the rest — we watched the game. Auburn’s passing game continues to suffer in the rain, as the run game is apparently abandoned altogether as a result of the Bulldogs’ defensive scheme. Ricardo Louis continues to frustrate as he fumbles on the ensuing kickoff following a field goal that pushed it to a two-possession game. (I love Ricardo for the Georgia catch, I really do. But man, that kid is just awful.) Yet another botched pass interference is called, this time on DB Jonathan Jones, a kid who probably played the best game of his entire season as he accounted for two of Auburn’s five turnovers on the day. And finally, another tipped ball turned interception from Nick Marshall seals the deal on what could have marked a remarkable comeback run from the Tigers.
I’ll admit it, Mississippi State is a damn good football team, and they flat-out beat us on Saturday. Before the season, most Auburn fans marked this game as one that they wished we could avoid, and that was before we even knew how balanced and complete this Bulldogs team truly is. So let their fans enjoy this win and their fresh #1 ranking as a result, because their team absolutely deserves it for their performance this season. All eyes are on the state of Mississippi at the moment, as the Iron Bowl and the state of Alabama take a minor step back in the college football world, especially following Alabama’s narrow 14-13, brutally ugly victory against Arkansas late Saturday night.
As for Auburn, the road gets a heckuva lot easier from this point onward. A much-needed bye week will allow Gus’ Tigers to regroup and fix the glaring mistakes, mostly pertaining to the offensive side of the ball. The defense, on the other hand, will be given a vital break following two solid performances in the past two weeks. Looking forward and at the AP poll, if Auburn was going to lose a game this season, this was the one to do it. It’s simple, win out and you make the playoff — don’t even worry about the SEC title this season because, while it may be nice to defend our title, I along with, I’m sure, every single Auburn fan out there have my eyes on the big prize in Cowboys Stadium instead. Auburn could have won last Saturday, but let’s not dwell too much on what could have, and even should have happened in Starkville last weekend. Auburn isn’t the top-gunner anymore, so in a sense a bit of pressure has been released from our team. You won’t be hearing the media hype about the Tigers anymore — that belongs to the Mississippi’s at the moment. But in a way, that’s a blessing, because Auburn has never played well in that type of situation — we far prefer to play underdog and provide spoiler to the teams we face throughout the year. Hopefully we get to do the same on Halloween weekend in Oxford, Mississippi.
Take a deep breath, everyone — we’ve still got plenty of football left.