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The Pieces Are There, But What Will It Take to Get the Tigers to the Top?

By on June 20th, 2017 in Football, News 8 Comments »
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photo: Julie Bennett/al.com

Supposedly there is a quarterback battle at Auburn. Despite what beat reporters and coaches have said, there is hardly a soul in college football who believes it. Whether it is preseason magazines or online articles, Sean White has yet to be discussed seriously other than in a passing memo.

When ESPN decided to have an Auburn quarterback discuss the 2017 team, it wasn’t all the players vying for the position or even Auburn’s 2016 starter. It was the player who hasn’t taken a single snap as an Auburn Tiger: Jarrett Stidham. Lindy’s, Phil Steele, and ESPN are hardly all-knowing. And surprise starters and superstars do happen, but every piece of evidence says Stidham is the man. None of this is news, just further evidence.

Still, in a conference where QB play has been shaky at best over the last few years, Auburn has both the highest upside and lowest downside of any team in the SEC, something that hasn’t been discussed. This is both a testament to Stidham’s promise as a Heisman contender and the work ethic and resolve of last season’s starter. Sean White isn’t getting any publicity for being perhaps the league’s best back-up. In a game where it’s about “the next man up,” Auburn is in a fine—and unique—position. 

As AubTigerman wrote, Phil Steele believes Auburn is a playoff contender, and Stidham told ESPN that Auburn has “all the pieces.” This leads to the next discussion: What will it take to get the Tigers to the playoffs?

To be a playoff contender, Auburn has to beat Alabama. That isn’t news in the slightest. 

“All the pieces” is just as much about Auburn’s coaches and players as it is Alabama’s. There is currently a gulf-sized void between Alabama and every other team in America, Auburn included. This is equally the result of talent and coaching. How does anyone beat Bama? How can Auburn reverse its 0–3 record from the past three games against Alabama?

Time is the great equalizer.

As with every team in football, the back half of the season is less about talent and preseason preparation than injuries, fatigue, and week-to-week game planning. 

To win out, a lot of pieces have to fall into place. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. The 2009 and 2016 teams almost had those pieces in place. Injuries and time had caught up to Bama, and Auburn almost pulled it off, despite being outmatched across the board. The 2009 Tigers needed just a little more on defense. The 2016 team needed a little bit more quarterback. Obviously, there are years that Auburn doesn’t have nearly the pieces needed, although occasionally, it does (see 2010 and 2013). 

By the time the Iron Bowl is played, even Alabama is nicked up significantly, and the coaching staff is under a time crunch to prepare. Saban is many things, but a great game-time X’s and O’s coach he is not. Preparation and talent diminishes, and the playing field suddenly levels. In the end, Bama usually has overwhelming talent, which is why it is a dynasty.

On the flip side, Gus Malzahn used to be a coach you didn’t want preparing for your defense, regardless of what week it was. The 2013 and 2014 Iron Bowls showed what Malzahn could do as an X’s and O’s in-game coach against elite defenses. All Auburn needed was a defense. After three years, Malzahn finally found that defense but the lack of depth on offense due to injury, talent, and experience, especially at QB, resulted in wasted opportunity.

All respect to Sean White, but he couldn’t make all the throws even when healthy. This had a trickle down effect that Acid Reign has noted many times in the past. In the 2016 Spring game, it was obvious the passing game would be neutered with White. This, combined with the youth of the receiving corps, forced undue pressure on the Auburn running game, especially late in the season,

Going into 2017, the difference in the receivers is palpable. Credit for this goes equally to Stidham, the receivers and, of course, new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey. 

Is Auburn a playoff contender? Absolutely, and that includes being able to beat Bama.

Even though Auburn is one of only two teams to beat Alabama more than once in the Saban era, beating Bama doesn’t come easy. You can’t beat Bama in week one. You can’t beat Bama playing Bama ball. You can’t out-talent Bama. You can beat Bama mid- and late-season by proper game planning and some injury/fatigue luck.

If Auburn has all the pieces, perhaps the most important will be Jarrett Stidham himself. If the media is right, Auburn has that last piece, which will make it a contender.

8 Comments

  1. AETiger AETiger says:

    We also have to figure out a way to win in Baton Rougue (haven’t since ’99) and we HAVE got to beat UGA. I realize we made the BCS championship game in the 2013 season while losing at LSU.

    • Zach Taylor Zach Taylor says:

      I might be over zealous, but I am not scared of LSU (or UGA, for that matter) at all. The Tigers due to coaching, I think it was a pity hire, and Uga was drained of talent.

      • AUglenn says:

        Good article Zach but I don’t understand your comment. I get not being scared of LSU but did you mean UGA or the whole United States? And can you explain the last sentence. What is the “Tigers due to coaching” and then “a pity hire” – then you say something about UGA talent – all in that one sentence. Not trying to be a smart aleck just want to understand what you are talking about?

        • Zach Taylor Zach Taylor says:

          Deff meant UGA. I edited.

          Coach O is a major downgrade from Less. Had he not won 6 of those 7 games, he wouldn’t be discussed. Lsu is a premier job and half a seasons wins don’t make you a viable replacement.

          Regarding UGA. I’m not sold on the QB issue. I think we will see that tooth Eason and Fromm are just meh. As will chubb and Michelle. Both can’t stay healthy. Reciever at UGA has been almost as bad as auburn.

          In the end, I think Richt left the shelves pretty bare. We saw it last season.

  2. audude audude says:

    Well written Zach. I agree that down the stretch you need depth and an unshakable belief in your system to overcome the opponent. Winning in Baton Rouge will give much needed confidence, beating UGA is necessary after we squandered the the best opportunity to beat them in decades. If they can stay focused you are absolutely correct about the upside. Let’s just hope they can be laser focused on the goal.

    WDE

  3. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    ……I recently re-watched my 2010 Iron Bowl DVD, while I was doing extensive cooking. The talent and preparation gulf mentioned above was certainly in evidence. Bama was throwing the ball at will, and probably should have been ahead 42-7 at the half. What won that game for Auburn?

    ……Some of it was pure luck. A dropped pass on the goal line. A miraculous fumble that skipped down the sideline.

    …….Where the game turned, though, was hits on the QB. Near the half, Alabama was in the redzone, going into score, most likely. Then, Nick Fairley jumped the snap count perfectly, and ran right through Greg McElroy at full speed. Fairly recovered that fumble. After that, McElroy’s throws were a bit off, and Bama was going three and out for much of the rest of the day.

    …..Auburn was able to come back, because without quarterback play, teams are doomed in the SEC.

    • uglyjoe says:

      Acid, what is “extensive cooking”?

      • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

        ……This is when I’m in there for several hours fixing everything from scratch. My little kitchen TV has a DVD drive in it, and I’ve been known to pop old Auburn games in there, if I’m going to be a while!