If Malzahn Were a Gambler
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn talks to quarterback Jarrett Stidham during the first half of Clemson game Sept. 9, 2017 (Julie Bennett/al.com)
There have been hundreds of movies portraying the volatility of gambling. The topic has been covered from every angle imaginable, from being the bookie, to being the house, to being the long shot that wins big, to being the down-on-the-luck loser and everything in between. Which got me thinking …
If Gus Malzahn were a gambler, what kind of gambler would he be?
What fans witnessed from Gus Malzahn Saturday night was something out of a gambling movie, and it permeates a whole game, a whole season, and a whole career at Auburn. Malzahn is the down-on-his-luck gambler who just can’t get the dice to roll as he wants them to. But instead of walking away from the table and making adjustments, Gus Malzahn is going to do the same thing, regardless of previous result. It’s all on black. And when that loses, it has to be black the next time because it wasn’t the time before. And when that loses, it has to be be black because it wasn’t black the time before or the time before that.
It’s getting late in the third quarter, and Auburn needs to move the chains. Malzahn checks his play sheet and sends in the play. Stidham drops back to pass. He holds the ball. Pats it. Checks it down to a pass three yards short of the chains to Will Hastings, but Hastings can’t come up with it. Now it’s third and ten. Stidham drops back and throws the exact same pass to Ryan Davis, again, three yards short of the sticks. 4th and three, Auburn goes for it, but the D-line reads the snap count perfectly, explodes upfield and Stidham is sacked for a 14-yard loss, the 11th of the game. It’s the same situation and same result seen all game.
This play is the microcosm of the drive, of the game, of the season, of the career of Malzahn. But isn’t Auburn supposed to push the ball down the field this year? Isn’t Chip Lindsey calling plays? Isn’t Stidham the best quarterback Malzahn has had? Despite changing quarterbacks, offensive coordinators, and, supposedly, his role in the offense, the result against Clemson was the same as last year. The result against a Top Ten opponent is the same as it’s been the previous five tries. 0–6. It continues a trend that began in 2013: a regressing offense from a supposed offensive genius.
Auburn‘s incredible defense kept Malzahn in the game for the second straight time against Clemson, despite his being a supposed offensive genius. Fans kept thinking, the Auburn offense just needed to make a small change. A rub route. A slant. A perimeter run with Kam Martin. A change to Malik Willis. Anything other than what Malzahn kept doing.
Despite the need for change from the in-game play calling, in the offensive personnel, in the offensive identity, Malzahn doggedly does what Malzahn thinks will work, even if it doesn’t work anymore and hasn’t worked in some time. This is the third time in the last six games that Auburn has produced fewer than 200 total yards, and the seventh time in the last 15 games that Auburn has produced fewer than 20 points.
This time, though. This time it will be different. This time the buck sweep on first down will work. This time the receivers will outrun the corners and get open. This time the defense will be confused on 3rd and goal from the two-yard line when Chandler Cox lines up as quarterback. After it all, Malzahn sits in the press conference and wonders why it didn’t work, once again, and he offers the same excuse he offered before, hoping the fans hear him.
So, who would Malzahn be if he were a movie gambler? He is the once-successful gambler standing at the wheel, who has squandered away all his winnings instead of investing wisely. Day after day, he is ready to throw his last dime on black, even though black hasn’t turned up all night or the night before or the night before that. Each night, when the money is gone, he thinks about missed opportunities and what he should have done differently instead of the obvious solution: quit doing what you did last night and the night before.
At what point does Gus realize he has a legitimate problem? More importantly, when will he run out of cachet with his bosses and his fans?