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Auburn Can Still Be A Good Team If …

By on September 12th, 2017 in Football, News 42 Comments »
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Julie Bennett/al.com

Auburn football entered the season as most teams do—with high hopes. A new five-star quarterback, a talented group of receivers and two All-SEC-caliber running backs had fans salivating over the prospects of a rejuvenated offense. However, after the offense failed to show up against No. 3 Clemson, many wondered if the Tigers will even have a winning season.

It was a hard game to watch if you pull for Auburn. I won’t belabor the poor stats but just say that Clemson defenders spent about as much time in the Auburn backfield as the running backs did. It was something that I can’t ever remember happening to an Auburn team, and I’ve been following the Tigers for over 50 years.

Since the horn blew Saturday night in Memorial Stadium, questions of why have flooded twitter and message boards. These blame the head coach, the new offensive coordinator, the new quarterback, the offensive line, or the fact running back Kerryon Johnson is injured and Kam Pettway was playing with an injured foot.

But personally, I was afraid this kind of thing might happen when the depth chart was released before the season and two redshirt sophomores were listed on the left side of the offensive line, one of which was made the starting blind-side tackle despite having only one year experience as a reserve offensive lineman and one year as a D-lineman in high school. 

Those fears were heightened when Georgia Southern had eight tackles for a loss, including three sacks, in the Tigers’ opener. I tried to soothe my anxiety by the knowledge the biggest improvement for teams usually comes between game one and game two. So I was hopeful—then the Clemson debacle happened. 

After the game, Coach Malzahn said every aspect of the offense will be examined this week. And that’s a must. But there is one glaring facet that practically yells for change and change fast—the offensive line.

Here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter who calls the plays, who is the running back, or who is the quarterback—if the line is not able to get the job done, it ain’t gonna happen. To that end, I think it will go a long way to improving the offense if the Tigers put some seasoned veterans on the first-team offensive line.

Now I don’t presume to be as football-smart as the coaches, but here are a few options that could be considered: move last year’s starting left tackle, senior Darius James, back to his old  job and put graduate transfer Wilson Bell, who was honorable mention All-ACC after starting 18 games for Florida State, at guard. And then there’s the first-team All-American transfer from Jax State, Casey Dunn. Those are three guys who have done it before (and in big-time games).

In football, everything begins up front. The front five is the foundation for the entire offense. Much like a house will not stand that has been built on a weak foundation, a football team is only as good as its offensive line. If that can be fixed against Mercer and Missouri then, as Acid Reign said yesterday, “This can still be a good team, ‘if ‘ they fight through and improve on offense.” 

42 Comments

  1. easyedwin easyedwin says:

    Bell and Dunn; Dunn and Bell. I agree completely!

  2. Pine Mt Tiger Pine Mt Tiger says:

    Good read this morning Tigerman and spot on. The coaches are going to HAVE to make some adjustments and make them quick or this season could unravel fast with the SEC west games coming up.

  3. Orange Talon Orange Talon says:

    First, Clemson is a really good football team and playing there in primetime is a daunting task for any team. Auburn played inspired on defense, but as a recurring theme, they were worn down and were beat.

    Here's a couple of questions I was left with after the game: (1) Did Gus panic and begin to micro-manage the play calling? If not, then there is another problem to add to the very big pile of problems (2) Will Auburn ever execute the bubble screen? Or asked a different way, will Auburn's receivers ever execute the blocking necessary to run a bubble screen? If no, please stop calling it on 3rd and 8.

    And finally, "Every aspect of the offense will be examined this week" (which I would swear is the exact quote we heard this time last year). Really? That's it? AUsome.

  4. Orangeblood says:

    We lost a close one, to a better team, in their stadium, in a game we weren’t picked to win anyway.

    My only comment….
    Gus does not seem to make good adjustments during a game. Why????

  5. audude audude says:

    OK, every year Gus has been at AU it has taken time to get the offense running smoothly. Whether its playing to your quarterbacks strengths, getting the right combination up front, suing the right running back, etc. Am I upset at the way the offense played Saturday? Oh yeah. Are they upset about the way they played Saturday? It would seem so.

    This is a long season and we can’t really predict the rest of the year with 100% confidence. What happens if “X” gets injured or “Y” exceeds expectations. These guys, players and coaches, live a pressure filled life. The pressure will make diamonds or dust and we’ll have to wait to see which it is.

    WDE

  6. ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

    I stated earlier on another thread that I have solidly been on the “Gus Bus” from the beginning but no more. I’m not sure Clemson was the better team last year and I’m not sure Clemson was the better team this year. Better coached, absolutely!
    Wish we had not made the trip. Instead of spending the night we drove back home because of the hurricane and the hurricane/tropical storm is more entertaining. And, what I mean by that, if that we all know Mother Nature will win this.
    If anyone thinks this was a painful game to watch on TV then try and fathom how difficult it was to watch in person.
    Again, Kevin Steele and that defense will keep us in every game but, with no offense, I’m not sure how the season will progress. We could win out or not win any game other than the cupcake games. We sure as crap won’t beat LSU, UGA, or BAMA with that (lack of) offense.

  7. friedca friedca says:

    So if we get the problems on the line fixed do we think we actually have a good QB in Stidham? While not JJ levels of collapse he sure didn't look confident out there nor did his decision making seem sharp. I kept wondering why we weren't putting in White then I remembered he was suspended.

    All the headlines before the game were "Malik Willis is back up if needed for Clemson." I can only assume we didn't pull his redshirt because Gus didn't see the issues as being a QB problem. Personally I think Stidham bought off on his own hype like JJ and JFIII before him. I guess we will see if he can come back and be the leader we thought he could or not.

    • AubTigerman AubTigerman says:

      I'm not sure JJ is a good comparison at this point. I've always liked White and Willis could have been activated but really it would have been hard for any QB to have a good game and look confident with the defense in the backfield most of the night. If the O-Line gets better – opens holes and provides Stidham protection – then we will know the answer to that question.

    • jbellison56 says:

      As Col.Angus said below: “Having defenders in your face all night and slamming you to the ground 11 times can alter your reality and make you do things you might not otherwise do.”

  8. Jason Wright says:

    “In football, everything begins up front.”

    Because that’s true it just blows my mind that Darius James was moved to the right side after being the starter at LT last season and that 2 inexperienced sophomores were started on the left side ahead of a 1st team All-American and a guy that started 18 games for Florida State. Can’t understand Herb Hand’s thinking?

    And while i’m on it how can coach Hand coach the O-Line when he’s siting in the box? Seems to me if the line is having issues in a game, he needs to be on the field helping them correct their problems. Just saying.

  9. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..Auburn had offensive line issues early, last season, too. It resulted in losses to Clemson and Texas A&M, because the line could not handle the pass rush. The only reason things changed was due to injury, and the coaching staff HAD to shuffle things around. Otherwise, Darius James was going to sit on the bench. Instead, James did a very good job at left tackle. Why he was moved this fall, I have no idea.

    …..If a change is going to be made this year, now is the time to do it. Get the new lineup practiced, and into SEC-shape for serious challenges in a couple of weeks.

  10. uglyjoe says:

    Does anyone have pictures of Gus and Kevin Sumlin standing next to each other? I’m beginning to think they could be the same person….#AUTAMconspiracy

  11. Col.Angus Col.Angus says:

    I'm tired of saying "IF". I, like everyone else who participates on this blog, wait all year to see our beloved Tigers play and hopefully bring glory to our Alma Mater. Every year I wait to see if this is the year that we act and play like one of the time revenue producing programs in the country and live up to our heritage as a BIG time college program, a program that can handle expectations and….OMG…. EXCEED THEM FOR ONCE!! Why do we have to be the "underdog that nobody believes in" to get some fire in our belly??? Why can't we ever go into a game with a solid gameplan to take advantage of the TALENT WE HAVE and DOMINATE, WHEN WE ARE SUPPOSED TO DOMINATE???

    Every year its the same, TALENT ON PAPER, disappointment on the field. Every year it takes Gus and company 3-4 games to figure out what we should do on offense. What is Gus doing from January to September?? He is certainly not evaluating talent and developing a coherent and competant strategy for the coming season. What happens last year if Gus figures out that Sean White and Kam Pettway should be the starters before the season started? I know we beat Clemson and then who knows what happens?? Gus is the only person in America who could stop Cam Newton in 2010, mainly because he didn't let Cam be Cam until game 4.

    As far as this years Clemson game…..and I never say this, because it is patently ridiculous….I could have done a better job coaching this team. I don't know what has to happen to make you change your strategy, but when your O-line is getting their butts handed to them by an aggressive and attacking defense, you change your play calling and implement a strategy that takes advantage of that aggressiveness. Maybe you call some slant patterns, some quick outs, a few draw plays…..A SCREEN PASS, GOD FORBID!!! Are these plays not in the playbook? I can take 4 10 years olds off the street and run those plays in 5 minutes. Gus (and yes, he is still calling the plays or has Lindsey on a short leash, calling Gus' playbook) seems incapable of adapting, or he is too stubborn, or too stupid, to make changes in game.
    I want to blame the O-line and Herb Hand, and there is plenty of reason to. But it was obvious early on that changes needed to be made to the gameplan, that we didn't have the horses up front to beat Clemson at the point of attack. Yet we kept running Pettway into the middle of the line or kept trying to throw the ball downfield even though Stidham had no time to throw the ball.

    I want to blame Stidham, and there is plenty of reason to, but having defenders in your face all night and slamming you to the ground 11 times can alter your reality and make you do things you might not otherwise do. Did he hold the ball too long, too many times? Yes. He has to know when to give up on a play and throw the ball away. He did not anticipate and make the throws to the most likely open receiver. Granted though, most times, he had a defender in his face or in the backfield when it was time to make that decision and the receivers were not looking back for the ball or they were covered and the throw would have been ill advised. I'll give Stidham credit for at least not making a mistake that would have made this more than a one score game. That being said, again, where is the coaching? Cant someone get the receivers and the QB on the same page??? How does 11 sacks happen??? Its failure to address the challenges that are apparent. Why were we not throwing jump balls to Nate Craig Myers or Kyle Davis or anybody that was working on #2 Fields (Clemson's CB).

    It was obvious he could not guard our guys without committing pass interference. For some reason we didn't do that after the 1st two series. Unfathomable.
    It makes me ill that we have the most talented receiver corp (recruiting star wise) that we probably have ever had and we can't do anything with them. We have a 5 star QB and multiple (as in more than 4) 4 and 5 star receivers and we cant do anything. OMG, I almost want to smash my computer in frustration at how inept our coaching is, that we make potted meat from Filet Mignon.

    I'm tired of Jay Jacobs, I'm sick of Malzahn and his inability to adapt to the changing world of college football AND THE FACT THAT THE WORLD OBVIOUSLY HAS HIM FIGURED OUT. I am tired of wasting, WASTING talent that other schools would die for. I am tired of one of the biggest football programs in the country always saying "we are better as underdogs!". How pathetic is that? How insulting. How demeaning.

    I believe in the Auburn creed and there is nothing about our program that makes me think the coaches believe in it. We as Auburn fans deserve better. Time to step up or get somebody in there to do the job, from Jacobs on down.
    War Eagle

    • jbellison56 says:

      Wow what a well thought out rant Colonel. And right on target. I think you sum up how many of us feel. We’re just tired of waiting for it to happen. It’s apparent that it’s time for the coaches to put up or get out of the way and let someone else do it. (Except for Kevin Steele).

    • Tigerstripe Tigerstripe says:

      Nailed it! To prove your point about evaluating talent, I’d argue that in 2010, Gus didn’t know what he had in Cam until game 4. I’m tired of depending on other program’s failures for our success…like all of the come-from-behind wins and bama not being bama in the second half of 2010…like acts of failures (or miracles) of uga and bama in 2013. I’m ready to be the bully on the block.

      • Col.Angus Col.Angus says:

        Without question we should be the bully on the block, trading haymakers with Alabama to see who is the best team in the country. When you bring in a top 10 recruiting class every year, the only teams that should be able to hang with us are Bama, UGA and LSU and right now those are almost always automatic losses.
        Sorry, but Auburn aint Ole Miss or Arkansas and that kind of performance is unacceptable.
        Gus, drop whatever you are doing and go sit down with Kevin Steele and ask him how he gets top tier performance from top tier talent. You might learn something.

    • Blackbelt tiger says:

      I agree completely. But in all honesty, at this point I don’t even care anymore. Auburn football has become grand comedy and that is the sad part. I should play a drinking game based on how many jet sweeps or bubble screens we run…

    • ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

      Well stated, Col.
      I’m tired of spending, literally, thousands of dollars a year for this. I love Auburn and always will but enough is enough.

  12. Tigerstripe Tigerstripe says:

    – We’re lacking an offensive identity…the up tempo (which really isn’t that up tempo) zone read gimmick has run its course. Now we’ve bolted on a spread style offense plan/QB and a highly touted O line that hasn’t developed along with possibly a meddling HC who won’t let the OC figure out WTH our identity is supposed to be…how can anyone be successful with that plan???
    – We’re great at keeping talent from competing schools but we don’t seem to develop the people who touch the football 80% of the time
    – We find ourselves in uga’s position. Are we okay with 8-10 win seasons with consistent losses to our rivals and no chance at playoffs? God, why did you make me a Tiger fan??? Kidding, WDE! Chins up!

  13. Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

    If a frog had wings……

    WDE

  14. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..You know its bad when even former Auburn players are asking if the head coach should go. I'm referring to Rob Pate, over at AUC. The piece is behind the paywall, but here's a link to it.

  15. dyingculture dyingculture says:

    Here is a film study of the 11 sacks. Bottom line up front: here is who gets blamed for each sack:

    Offensive line: 7
    Wanogho: 4
    James: 3
    Smith: 1
    Jarrett Stidham: 3
    Receivers: 3
    Clemson’s defense: 3

    Here is the link: https://www.seccountry.com/auburn/auburn-football-film-room-clemson-sacks-jarrett-stidham-line

    • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

      …..Very interesting. They picked out the same thing I did, on a couple of occasions. Clemson knew when the ball was going to be snapped, and walked up folks at the last minute or beyond, that were not accounted for. As to the snap count, it needs to be changed up. If you’re doing “snap it on the clap,” every time, other defenses are going to be jumping it, too. Where’s the Al Borges freeze play, when we need it?

    • Tiger4Life says:

      I would blame all 11 sacks on whoever is calling the plays because if you DESIGN the throws/ROUTES to get rid of the ball quickly– you kill two birds with one stone
      1) progress towards a first down (which the defense desprately needs)
      2) you nullify Clemsons D Coordinator sending massive pressure on every drop back

  16. ausouthal says:

    I believe in supporting your whole team from coaches to players. Having written that, I for one have been nothing but supportive of Malzahn. It is my opinion you must give a coach 4 to 5 years to be measured by. Going by that criteria it appears there is a large problem on the offensive side of the ball that is not being addressed correctly.

    In modern football at the highest level of play, you must be adept at running the ball and passing the ball. Last year and the beginning of this year shows that teams are willing to sell out to stop the AU run game because of the total ineptness of the passing game. The passing game demonstrates a failure of coaching, play calling, blocking and anything else you would like to insert.

    AU must decide at the end of this current football season whether there is an available coach that can take the AU team to the next level or whether we should just be satisfied with a better than most program.

    I myself as I stated in an earlier article would love to return to the days when AU should expect to beat Clemson and alabama and LSU and teams of that nature. If we are content to beat the miss teams and vandy and mizzou and the other lower tier teams of our conference to get a bowl game then we need the administration to say that.

  17. audad says:

    I've read all 50+ comments that have been posted between this column and Acid's that he put up yesterday with the grades. Can't disagree with too much of anything that has been said. I'm the dad of an Auburn alum and avidly pull for the team along with my son, so while I'm less impacted by the results than he is, I still get very frustrated trying to figure this program out. I was the only guy last week I think that questioned why they never once targeted Nate Craig-Myers in week one, who became possibly their best receiver last year.

    Only in the long and accurate rant from Col. Angus have I seen his name this week. On the first drive of this game on 3rd and long Stidham put a high pass up over the middle that Nate went up and made a great catch on with two guys all over him, in addition to holding on after getting crunched. 20 yd gain, first down. I don't think he had one ball thrown his way again. Tell me they are not underutilizing this kid and I'll tell you you're nuts.

    The other thing I noticed a bit about Stidham–he doesn't appear to see the field very well, at least in this game. And maybe that's because his protection was awful on so many plays. If there was a straight sideline route called where the WR simply sprints down the field and tries to beat the DB's, he's gonna try to lay that ball out there to be caught even if there is no chance and the guy is double or triple covered.

  18. B-REAL says:

    O-line will be fine.Stidham is not ready.Sean White is better.The defense is awesome!Gus is crazy! When you play a defense like Clemson’s your gonna get sacked there gonna stuff the run and the pocket is going to callapse.Stidham had time to make plays in this game.He’s just not ready to make the throws, can’t see the field and was in a panic all night.

    • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

      …..All the seven step-drop stuff HAS to go. Auburn could not even protect the QB against Georgia Southern with that philosophy. Take the snap and fire, for a while, till defenses back off. Auburn has lots of good receivers. It’s time to use them.

  19. Madkiso says:

    Love that rant Col.Angus and agree with every word. A head coach’s job is to evaluate talent, help position coaches develop talent, motivate, and lead. Gus comes up short on all these. I agree that he is either too STUBBORN OR TO DUMB TO do those 4 things and he absolutely can’t adapt…there is no plan B; it’s A, A, A to the death. I can’t take it anymore, it’s the same exact failure coming out of the gates every year. IT’S LIKE IT’S A TOTAL SURPRISE EVERY YEAR OF WHO EMERGES AND WHEN THAT HAPPENS! This is not smart coaching. Please give Dan Mullens a chance with this talent!

    • Tiger4Life says:

      We all would love to see Gus succeed- but it seems like that loss to FSU (in a game we outplayed them) did something (in a negative way) to Gus’ psyche– It has been hard to put my finger on it– the coaches are trying– but other teams seem to be able to throw the ball well, and we just can’t–especially when we NEED to…
      We could do way worse than Mullens…

  20. audude audude says:

    He does, it’s a process. We can’t see who does what in practice and that’s apparently what they use as a measurement. Now, I am still not ready to throw in the towel on this season. But as you have aptly said previously, we need to see improvement…. SOON.

  21. sparkey sparkey says:

    Auburn will have a good team if it hires PJ Fleck as its next head coach. Now, it may not be that first season. 2018 might have some growing pains and we might finish 6-6 under PJ Fleck. You know what? Nick Saban went 6-6 himself at Alabama the first time he coached there and he lost to La Monroe. If can allow Gus to go 8-5 and 7-6 and 7-6, then we can let a first year coach go 6-6 if he is the caliber that is PJ Fleck. Look, I’ve said for years Gus needed to go and I stand by that now. People are who they show you they are. Gus is not a championship caliber coach. Not now.

    • clm0001 clm0001 says:

      Good call sparkey! A good friend of mine and I were JUST discussing PJ Fleck the other day. He would do wonders with Auburn’s resources. His energy and ability to connect with kids would be a stark contrast to many of the other SEC coaches and would be an asset in recruiting. Not to mention he’s not afraid to be innovative/change things up.

  22. […] others opined that quarterback Jarrett Stidham held the ball too long, still others pointed to issues with the offensive line. And finally, some thought it would take a few games to get the team acclimated to the new schemes […]

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