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Circle the Wagons

By on September 23rd, 2016 in Football 28 Comments »
(Photo by Scott Donaldson/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images) (Scott Donaldson)

(Photo by Scott Donaldson/Icon Sportswire via AP images)

The first three weeks of Auburn’s season have produced an alarming number of questions with no sign of any answers in sight. There’s really no debating it at this point—Gus Malzahn is on the hot seat. Questionable play calling, lack of consistency, and an apparent failure to develop talent has seemingly crippled Auburn’s chances of having a bounce-back year in 2016. But, at a glance, Auburn’s record on paper does not immediately raise an overwhelming array of red flags.

Close losses to two higher-ranked teams would not normally translate to doom and gloom among the fanbasebut it is the way those losses occurred that make Auburn’s situation so puzzling and frustrating. Auburn’s lone, convincing victory over Arkansas State, though it was an inferior opponent, only adds to the mystery surrounding the true identity of this team’s offense. 

Auburn entered last weekend with a chance to put firmly behind it all of the concern over its performance two weeks prior against Clemson—a game that featured more quarterback rotations than most teams see in a single season. Instead, Auburn’s offense reverted slightly to the uncoordinated mess it was in week one. To be fair, the offensive line struggled to maintain a high level of play, but one can’t help but wonder if the return of off the wall play calling contributed heavily yet again to a disappointing offensive performance. 

Auburn’s two losses are frustrating in that the scores were somewhat close but held the perception of being far out of reach. Against Arkansas State, it was proven that the offense benefits greatly from stretching the field vertically by passing the ball more often on first downs. Auburn’s inability to do that against Texas A&M seemed to put the coaches back into the position of avoiding big mistakes at all costs rather than taking chances downfield and giving players opportunities to make big plays. 

One term I would like to see eliminated by this coaching staff is ‘packages’. Sean White has a package. John Franklin III has a package. Jeremy Johnson had a package, but apparently his has been taken away. Chandler Cox has a  spinning package. Kerryon Johnson has a wildcat package. Even if it is simply coachspeak, it is a clear indication to me that there are too many cooks in the kitchen. I want Auburn to have a clear and concise offensive identity—a single, unified philosophy with which to move the ball up and down the field and not something with plug and play components that have to mesh together just right at the perfect moment in order to be effective. 

Early struggles under Gus Malzahn-led offenses typically indicate a season-long pattern of those struggles continuing to varying degrees. I do not honestly believe that whatever is plaguing Auburn’s offense can or will be solved within a matter of a few games. The good news for Malzahn is that at this point, with Auburn’s President Jay Gogue retiring, he is likely to have the remainder of the 2016 season to turn things around no matter how dire the situation gets on the field for the Tigers. And the best possible outcome for the program is for Malzahn to do just that. Rebooting Auburn Football and starting over with yet another new head coach would likely add even more time to the typical rebuilding process of the next coaching staff if that were to occur. 

Having said all of that, I do not think that this coaching staff has completely lost the fan base. An upset of LSU would certainly go a long way in bolstering confidence in Malzahn, but even a competent, competitive loss would be a welcome signal to those with concerns that he is capable of turning things around.


  1. meathead530 says:

    This is a baffling season. The talent is there. The coaching is very questionable. I don’t know much about football, but I don’t get why when some rhythm gets going, the coaches yank players. Doesn’t make sense at all. Kudos to the DC and the defense. Maybe Saturday will be a better day. War Eagle always.

  2. DBAU81 says:

    Derrick, you make some good points. First, although I fervently hope we’re both wrong, after what we saw against A&M you are correct that our offensive issues are probably here to stay for a while. Anybody up for a return trip to the Birmingham Bowl – if we’re lucky?

    Second, Dr. Gogue’s retirement is an important factor in Jay Jacobs’ job security and, therefore, in Gus’s. Dr. Gogue is notoriously hands-off when it comes to athletics anyway, and it’s very unlikely that he will make any major moves – like firing Jacobs – on his way out the door. If JJ knows he’s safe, then he’s more likely to keep Gus just to avoid having to pay yet another buyout and start all over again with yet another new head coach.

    All that being said, a win over LSU – especially if it’s convincing – could do wonders for this team. But except for another solid showing by the defense, I didn’t see anything last week that indicates that’s going to happen. Regardless – War Eagle always.

  3. Tigerstripe Tigerstripe says:

    “I want Auburn to have a clear and concise offensive identity” – nailed it DR. That’s been my biggest frustration is that we’ve seen three different offensive schemes with three different outcomes and there doesn’t seem to be any consistency. Again, you had 9 months to create an identity!!! It doesn’t give me the ability to talk trash to other SEC fans. I can’t say, “well, you might beat us ___ but there’s no way you can stop ___”. I miss those days…

  4. Col.Angus Col.Angus says:

    The problem with “the packages” are that they are too predicatable. When they come on the field the opposing DC knows what we are going to run probably 80% of the time and our success depends on excellent execution….which normally doesn’t happen. Malzahn has to accept that his best chance at remaining HC is to stick with one QB….even if its Woody Barrett or Jeremy Johnson….and have them run THE WHOLE OFFENSE, except for the wildcat, which should just be scrapped. Malzahn needs to trust White if he is going to be the QB and let him throw down field and use the whole playbook, handicapping him only makes him less effective.
    As for the O-line, if LSU DE’s “mesh rush” the QB and we don’t ATTEMPT TO BLOCK THEM AT THE LINE, we deserve to lose and the coaches deserve to lose their jobs. That WAS the difference in the game against A&M as each time we pulled a guard to block a DE on the opposite side of the line, he got nowhere near him and the DE made a tackle for a loss which scuttled those drives. After watching the game again and focusing on the line play, they were fine going head to head with A&M, it was pulling the guards that was a massive failure. Gus admitted as much in his presser. When we hammered A&M up the middle with Pettway, we were largely successful but for some reason Gus didn’t want to keep bludgeoning them to death.
    My main complaint with Gus so far is that he WILL NOT let the best kicker in the country put points on the board for us. Gus continiues to go for it on 4th down in situations where points are MUCH more valuable. We left up to nine points on the field against Clemson and another six against A&M, which totally would have changed both games. Gus acts like a 10 point defecit is insurmountable in the second half, which is lunacy! Carlson’s accuracy from 60 yards is MUCH MORE reliable than running the Wildcat on 4th and 2….just saying.
    Here’s hoping Gus doesn’t overthink things and TRUSTS HIS TALENT!!
    WAR EAGLE beat the Carnies!

    • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

      …..Here’s a virtual “like” button, Col.!

    • AU70 says:

      Totally agree with your take. The problem I saw with the pulling guard thing was Sean White was set so deep the DE had a straight line to the QB. No chance for a block because all the guard could do was give a glancing blow. If SW steps up behind the guard it might have had a chance. Just bad strategy.
      Pettway needs to get the ball in short yardage. He has great vision and has the ability to find the crease and the power to pour it up in there. It also has the advantage that we might actually do something else with the ball. In the wildcat everybody in the stadium knows what is about to happen.

    • Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

      Malzahn is a 10 point deficit.

  5. zotus zotus says:

    “Sean White has a package. John Franklin III has a package. Jeremy Johnson had a package, but apparently his has been taken away. Chandler Cox has a spinning package. Kerryon Johnson has a wildcat package.”

    Perfect ode to the over-hyped, over-valued, highly misunderstood, much mis-over-estimated, so-called “Malzahn Offense” Derrick!

    “Chandler Cox has a spinning package” … what a great line! Here’s an idea: Put this little verse to music, put it on YouTube, and watch it go viral! Could be a few bucks in it for you. 🙂

    P.S. With reference to your observation that: “Even if it is simply coachspeak, it is a clear indication to me that there are too many cooks in the kitchen.”

    MY TAKE ON THAT: Or, it could be that it is a real clue that are “no cooks in the kitchen.” As my grandfather always would point out, in situations like the one going on in Auburn’s kitchen right now: “When you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

  6. DVSWDE DVSWDE says:

    Are there any doubts about Sean Whites throwing ability? I do not think so. I mean, I’m not being paid an astronomical amount of money to win football games, but a blind man can see “Pettway up the gut for the first half” is the answer to this teams troubles. Pound them, then open up the play action. Sweet Fancy Moses please stop letting Ret call the plays!

  7. audad says:

    Derrick, terrific article that I might only take one exception with. “A competent, competitive loss would be a welcome signal to those with concerns…” As has been mentioned in previous weeks, moral victories don’t mean much anymore other than a confirmation that the AU fanbase is accepting the fact the program has become one of the bottom feeders in the SEC west. That would be a shame.

    • Derrick Roberts Derrick Roberts says:

      Thank you. It was a painful sentiment to express.

    • Blackbelt tiger says:

      It certainly is a shame. As long as the fan base or administration does not DEMAND that Gus be replaced, then it is clearly evident that we have accepted bottom feeder status. In the past 2 yeas, there has been no evidence that Gus can right this ship. He just keeps on sailing as it sinks.

      • zotus zotus says:

        “We’re settlers, son. We settle for things.

        We settle for the cellar of the SEC West while we celebrate the unveiling of the biggest jumbo scoreboard on the planet and a 7-6 winning season and a Birmingham Bowl Champions Trophy to add to our mahogany trophy case.

        “What have you been doing, Jay Jacobs, while Rome burns all around you?

        “Working the land. Hoping for a fertile Spring.” replies Mr. Jacobs.

  8. easyedwin easyedwin says:

    For some strange reason I think we win the LSU game. Call me crazy!
    I think we do it with Sparky [JF3].

  9. easyedwin easyedwin says:

    Oh yes, and a lot of field goals.

  10. War_Eagle_2010 War_Eagle_2010 says:

    I find it exceedingly unlikely Gus could be fired after this season based on his and his staffs $13 million in buyouts. I do think Lashlee will be encouraged to move on after this season and a real QB coach to hire on. We’ll see.

    • Col.Angus Col.Angus says:

      I have to agree there. I’m sure whoever comes in to replace Gouge is going to look at the debt the University is accruing and is going to balk at having to dole out $13 million in buyouts in exchange for what will likely be an unproven commodity to replace Malzahn.
      I think the decision will be to let go of Jacobs and replace him with someone who is going to take a more businesslike approach to the athletic program and who will be a little more analytical in terms of who they hire and not farm out the decision to a “search commitee”.

      Gus will have to let Rhett go and bring in someone that can develop the QB’s or fashion the offense around their strengths (what a concept!!)

      • ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

        I’m going to say this for perhaps the 30th time, I don’t really know how many times, but I honestly don’t feel that Gus will be replaced this year. I really believe he gets a “pass” on 2016 and will be here for the 2017 season – Anything during or after that is anyone’s guess. Let’s hope he can turn things around this year – starting, of course, with LSU this weekend.

  11. ausouthal says:

    While it is so easy to blame the offense which has many problems it is time for the defense to step up. A turnover here or there would be so great. It is time for the defense to cause some fumbles and make some interceptions on the opponents side of the field to give the offense a short field and a spark. Our defense has played well but no where close to great in my opinion. Maybe they thought they would be great by practicing against our dysfunctional offense.

    • Col.Angus Col.Angus says:

      Wow. After the last 5 years, you are really going to complain about the defense??
      You realize that with the way the offense is performing, there is no need for the opposing offense to take any chances with the ball… and they generally aren’t. Yes, we aren’t getting many takeaways but we have played two very experienced and smart QB’s who have not put the ball in harms way much.
      This weekend may be different. A much less mobile QB, who is very streaky. If we can put some pressure on him, he may make some bad throws. But the offense HAS to carry its load and keep the defense off the field as much as possible and keep the pressure on LSU to score, otherwise they will just hand the ball off to Fournette and milk the clock.

      • ausouthal says:

        I don’t see that as complaining about the defense. Asking the defense to help the offense out with turnovers is complaining? Just as the offense needs to help the defense the defense needs to help the offense. Did you watch the bama game Sat? Did their defense help win the game?

  12. ausouthal says:

    What I am saying is we need a spark by the defense or the kicking game etc. Just as in the Iron Bowl in 2010 the defense caused turnovers and sacks. Our punting game sucked against A&M. What I am saying is it is a team game and we need help for a spark from somewhere. The defense has played steady but the team is struggling and we need more.

  13. wpleagle wpleagle says:

    While I disagree with none of the comments above, the coaches simply have not matched the offense to the abilities of the available quarterbacks. Peyton Manning, as great as he was, would be a lousy zone-read QB. And the coaches are asking a much less skilled Sean White to run that offense!??

    • Blackbelt tiger says:

      It’s called coaching. A coach must adjust his (or her) schemes to the available talent. If they can’t do that then what good are they? You can’t always pick your talent, not even in the NFL. It is what Gus was lauded for in 2013. He just hasn’t been able to get past the perceived need for a mobile quarterback.

      Look what the Patriots did last night. They completely changed their offensive game scheme based on the talents of Brissett. Now I realized that Belichick is probably the best coach to ever coach the game, but I think pretty much any good coach would have altered their scheme based on the Brissett’s abilities. Any coach except Gus, that is. I don’t mean to pile on, Gus has some good qualities. He is by all accounts a really good guy and is a wizard at theoretical football. His HUNH schemes have revolutionized collage football and aspects of it can even be found in the NFL. However, he is awful at game planning and God awful at situational football. He needs to come up with a new theory.

      Speaking of the Pats, I wonder if McDaniels would consider making the move to college…

  14. B-REAL says:

    White is the best sophomore Qb auburn has had in maybe the history of AU football as a pocket passer.Line up 4 WR leave a back in to block and straight up pass block and the kid will have a Feild day.300 to 400yds easy.No WR screens no speed sweeps no fake to this guy or fake to that guy.Every LB & DB is biting on all your predictable plays.How about when White throws a pass for a first down line up quick & let him throw it down the Feild again.Then all your favorite plays that aren’t working just might later in the game.

  15. easyedwin easyedwin says:

    /\ um….Stan White vs UT, 1990 maybe from 28-6 behind to 28-28 tie.