From the Eagle’s Nest
With the Iron Bowl behind us, I can safely say my frustration with this offensive coaching staff is at an all-time high. Obviously, the injuries to Sean White and Kamryn Pettway contributed to the Tigers’ struggles on offense, but the game plan presented was yet again head-scratching and inept. As soon as I saw Chandler Cox take the second offensive snap of the game for Auburn, I knew we were in for a long day.
The limited action seen by John Franklin III provided a much needed spark, but the coaches remained steadfast in their almost spring-game’esque approach to play calling. There were limited shots taken down field, the bubble screen made a handful of appearances, and though the score was tight at halftime, Auburn never had Alabama in any serious position of fear. Even with two Jalen Hurts interceptions, Auburn’s offense never legitimately threatened to hurt the Crimson Tide.
In many ways, it’s sickening—to be so inferior to your biggest rival. Auburn’s two most recent head coaches (Gene Chizik and Gus Malzahn) are just 2–6 against Alabama. After a decade of dominance that included 6 consecutive victories, Auburn has fallen woefully behind in the battle for supremacy in the state of Alabama. I feel especially bad for the defense. One of the most impressive units in Auburn history will have to walk away from a season with only the wonder of what could have been.
I would never openly call for a coach to be fired—and I am not doing that now—but right now the facts are that Auburn has failed consistently to compete with its two biggest rivals: Georgia and Alabama. Now, I won’t sit here and pretend like I can competently say exactly what needs to happen in order to reverse that trend, but it is something that needs to be seriously examined by Auburn’s Athletic Department and this coaching staff.
Nothing would make me happier than to see Gus Malzahn accomplish just that. The very best possible situation for Auburn is for Gus Malzahn to regain his offense’s consistency. I’m just not sure how he will be able to do it. Outside looking in, he seems to struggle mightily without a dynamic, dual-threat quarterback. That kind of talent isn’t the easiest to come by. And it would be hard to argue in favor of his talent development at that position in his time with Auburn.
Can Jarrett Stidham save Gus Malzahn’s job? That’s the hottest topic on Auburn message-boards of late, and I’m admittedly intrigued by the potential talent the former Baylor quarterback brings to the table. But at the same time I’m annoyed that we are even in this position in the first place. The coaches, I think, still do not genuinely know what Woody Barrett brings to the table, and we’ve seen the level of play Sean White is capable of when healthy. I don’t like being in the position of having to woo someone that the coaches may not even trust in a year with the football.
And speaking of that—trusting players with the football is another point of contention for me with this coaching staff. I think they could stand to benefit greatly from not holding so many guys back. Young players making mistakes and gaining invaluable experience is how you build strong, championship-caliber teams. Auburn’s young wide receivers were criminally under-utilized this season even when Sean White was healthy and playing well. Any defensive coordinator in the country prepping for a game against Auburn is not at all fearful of the passing offense we bring to the table. The amount of talent and athletes at the wide receiver position simply does not match the output.
Bottom line: I’m frustrated. I’m disappointed. And I absolutely cannot believe Auburn has likely gained an invitation to the Sugar Bowl on January 2nd. The players deserve it. The coaches do also, but they absolutely have to make a statement regarding the state of the program heading into the 2017 season. Gus needs to be feared again, and it is now his duty to re-establish himself as the offensive guru revered by so many. Another anemic offensive performance will only fuel an offseason of doubt and ridicule—and Auburn deserves much better than that.