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Tigers Fall Flat in Atlanta (Grading Auburn’s 34–27 loss to Central Florida)

By on January 2nd, 2018 in Football 33 Comments »
Peach Final

The Tigers were ripped apart by McKenzie Milton 
(
AP Photo/John Bazemore)

     War Eagle everybody. It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report on Auburn’s disappointing 34–27 loss to Central Florida in the Peach Bowl. Not since 2007, when Auburn dropped a 26–23 decision to South Florida in a late game at Jordan Hare Stadium, has Auburn lost to a team not currently in a Power Five conference. At that time, however, USF was a member of the Big East Conference that was part of the BCS equation. We have to go WAY farther back to get an Auburn loss to a truly second-tier team. In 1991, Auburn dropped a 10–9 decision to Southern Mississippi. I suppose one could try to salve yesterday’s pain by saluting UCF as the only unbeaten team in the bowl subdivision. For this Auburn Tiger, it was a sad day where the Auburn football program dropped the ball in numerous ways.

     My first complaint about this game was the footing for this Auburn team. I’ve seen nothing from the print or television media about it, but Auburn players over and over were slipping and falling on the indoor turf. We’ve seen bad indoor turf before in Auburn bowl games, most notably in the 2011 BCS title game in Arizona. If bad turf was the issue, why weren’t the Golden Knights slipping and falling, too? I can only believe that it was the shoes, but you’ll not likely hear any Auburn folks bad mouth any equipment suppliers, thanks to today’s ubiquitous sports-apparel contracts.

     I cannot believe the performance by the Auburn defense. In November, it held next week’s participants in the national title game to a combined 31 points. Here in January of 2018 UCF bested that total in just one game. Most baffling was the decision not to try to go after UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton. We heard chatter from the coaches prior to the game that Auburn’s objective was to keep Milton from beating Auburn by running around, but Auburn failed to do that as Milton was the leading rusher in the game with 116 yards. I’d like to take this time to remind all coaches that the best way to stop any quarterback is to get him on the ground. Auburn’s failure to pressure the quarterback resulted in an injury-riddled secondary getting picked apart in the second half.

     The Auburn offense had success at times, but at other times it was a sputtering, turnover-plagued mess. The offensive line was just plain bad in the first half. Lead blocking took the holiday off, too, as guys slid down trying to make blocks, and UCF defenders flew past them and took receivers and backs down behind the line of scrimmage. Auburn tried all week to promote the idea that running back Kerryon Johnson was 100 percent healthy for this game. Did he look healthy and effective to any of you readers? I fail to see why the deception is necessary from this coaching staff.

     Auburn special teams have had serious problems this season but largely outplayed their counterparts in this game and kept Auburn in the game till the waning seconds. There were some punting issues and tackling issues on returns, but the special teams units came through when desperation plays were needed. Without massive pressure and push on the field-goal defense teams, this would have been a double digit loss to UCF.

Unit Grades after the jump!

Defensive Line: B-. Handcuffed by a particularly bad defensive game plan, this unit managed just 1 sack, no quarterback hurries, and half a tackle for a loss. The plan was to contain UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton, but that did not happen. Auburn largely contained other UCF runners but still gave up 34 points. Auburn linemen contributed 25 tackles, but 24 of them were beyond the line of scrimmage.

Linebackers: C. I can only guess here that the plan was to ignore UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton and watch him run by. Auburn linebackers were mostly able to limit UCF running backs to short gains, but any sort of attempt to spy Milton failed badly. The linebackers contributed 20 tackles in this game.

Secondary: C-. I was tempted to give an F, but it is unfair to ask an injury-depleted group to cover for 10 seconds or more while the quarterback runs around unmolested. Auburn defensive backs did break up some passes and were there on coverage, although they did allow some contested catches. Overall, the secondary made 27 tackles. When you consider that UCF only completed 16 balls, that’s way too many that the front seven of the defense let through.

Punting: B+. I would have liked a little more distance at times from punter Aiden Marshall, but he did a decent job of playing keep-away from dangerous return man Mike Hughes, who finished the game with just 1 punt-return yard.

Punt Returns: C-. Auburn got a few fair catches, a fumble and run backwards for 10 yards. At least the Tigers did not turn the ball over in this department.

Kick Returns: B-. For the first time all season, Auburn faced a kicker that did not reach the end zone and got 6 kick-return opportunities. Blocking was pretty poor, and Auburn got flagged repeatedly for holding and blocks in the back. Return man Noah Igbinoghene made a lot out of nothing, and got Auburn back in the game with a 72-yard effort to start the second half. He would have scored on that return except for more missed blocks down the field.

Place Kicking: B. Daniel Carlson missed on a 53-yard field goal attempt, but I did not count off for that. What was disappointing was that Carlson only managed 2 touchbacks on 6 kickoffs, and the coverage team subsequently gave up 90 yards on 4 returns. Footing was an issue here, particularly in the first half. The kicker’s plant foot is not supposed to slide and rip up turf indoors!

Offensive Line: D-. I’m not going to belabor this grade much. Auburn was regularly manhandled, whipped and just out-hustled here, for most of the game.

Running Backs: C-. Auburn has made hay this year by making the first tackler miss. Not this game. No Auburn back averaged more than 4 yards per carry in this one. H-back blocking was particularly poor. Again, footing was a big issue, as guys could not plant and cut. I did like seeing Chandler Cox used in the passing game, as he had a couple of receptions.

Receivers: C. I really didn’t see much from this group in terms of blocking. There weren’t any glaring drops this week, but we did not see much after the catch nor any spectacular catches in traffic. Routes did not look sharp, either. Several miscommunications happened, too. I did like some of the route concepts in this one, and Auburn did have Will Hastings running around wide open numerous times. Too bad Stidham didn’t have more time to find these guys. The opportunity was there for a record passing day.

Quarterback: C-. Yes, there was bad offensive line play, but Jarrett Stidham didn’t do much to compensate. When UCF blitzed, Stidham was just looking to run, rather than find a hot route to dump it to. Then, he basically cost Auburn the game with turnovers, none worse than trying to force a late slant pass into backed-off zone coverage. Stidham connected on 28 of 43 passes, but a lot of them went for short yardage.

     A season concludes for Auburn with a couple of pretty bad showings after a November to remember. The team now has 8 months to get ready for the 2018 season. This program must, MUST figure out how to play indoors as the Tigers will open in Atlanta to start next season. Somebody, somebody needs to go shoe-shopping!

     There is little to do this January but go back to work and try to improve in the weight room and on the track. Auburn players will get to watch a couple of teams they beat by double digits play for a national title. For Auburn to get there, execution and game planning must get a lot better.

33 Comments

  1. neonbets says:

    When I wasn’t simmering in a low-grade, migraine-inducing stew of annoyance, I vacillated between soul-sucking boredom and tongue-lashing hostility.

  2. easyedwin easyedwin says:

    Happy New Year, errybody!

    In 2013 Auburn beat the U of Ala and it seemed the U of Ala lost their will to live [my wife’s famous quote]. The same can be said of Auburn. Losing the SEC also cost Auburn the Peach Bowl loss. Our team obviously did not want to be there in the first half. Our QB did indeed cost us in the second half. I do not know why we were not motivated.

    Auburn baseball starts February 17th at Plainsman Park.

    Auburn basketball could be fun if we beat UT tonight.

    War Dam Eagle !!

  3. Tigerstripe Tigerstripe says:

    I’m getting a sneaky suspicion that players only care about three games now and if you don’t get into those, then it’s just an expensive trip to workout in a different city. Players are becoming more interested in their draft stock than the health and progress of a program that’s making folks millionaires – and who can blame them… Let’s face it, the bowls are dying and athletes have become self aware. Expand the playoff if you want to see a better product.

  4. Zach Taylor Zach Taylor says:

    Well folks, we discussed the idea of being in this spot although no one really thought we'd be here.

    We've now seen the length and breadth of Malzahn's program. This is it. And when they extend herb hand today, the fanbase will finally get it.

    Sadly, they will get it for half a decade more.

  5. meathead530 says:

    This was the season of false hope.

  6. AubTigerman AubTigerman says:

    I had the worst nightmare last night.

    I dreamed that after Auburn laid an egg to an underdog in their bowl game that both Uga. and bama won their games to meet in the NC game.

    What's worse than that, when I woke up this morning my wife said it wasn't a dream!!!

    What a downer.

    And now I can't find my headache medicine!

    • AUglenn says:

      LOL !

      So who you gonna pull for ATM?

    • AUTiger57 says:

      How true Aub TM. My worst nightmare also. My wife and her family are all Alabama fans. Co-workers are Ga fans. How ironic that we defeated both in regular season and now both are playing for NC!!! War Eagle

    • ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

      I have to pull for Bama. As much as that pains me. I am simply not sure I can live with the UGA fans should they win the Natty. Maybe those co-workers simply won’t show up for work for at least a week.. I have one co-worker who spent $17,000 on the trip to Pasadena. Seriously? How much do you make, Dude? I want your job? Can you now even afford to attend the Natty in you own hometown? Good gosh!
      I LOVE Auburn but still…
      No, he doesn’t have season tickets so is on no “priority” list and cannot get tix through UGA but, $17,000?? With that win, though, I am quite sure he feels he got his “value for the buck”.

  7. WDEGirl says:

    I like your grading system Acid, but you should add 2 categories: Coaching and Preparation. Both get an F-

    Auburn people (both alumni and fans) have a problem with reality and truth. Gus Malzahn is Tommy Tuberville’s twin. Beat some ranked teams, everybody is happy and you’re the best coach ever, and then turn around and lose to an unranked team. But between the wins and the losses, the Auburn Administration gets as giddy as the fans and extends the coach’s contract and gives a salary increase. The AU Administration is rewarding mediocrity. You can’t extend contracts and increase salary with no demonstration of performance and preparation to back it up. Quit extending FB Coaching contracts based solely on beating UAT. That doesn’t matter anymore. You have to perform in the post-season, whether it’s the SEC Championship Game, the CFP or a Bowl game. Malzahn is 1-4 in bowls as head coach. I want better than that for the players and fans. The players deserve to be developed talent wise and prepared for the opponent. They are not getting that from this coaching staff.
    #WDE

  8. Jonathon Jonathon says:

    Thanks Acid. Great Comments folks! Another season in the books. I want to agree that the playoffs have brought about three meaningful games post-season. The Power 5 Conferences only care about those three games now, especially the teams ranked in the top 10-15. Anything else is, well, a pitfall. Auburn losing to UCF was degrading. We now boast a losing streak.
    I also agree that it was painful to reward Gus but have to also agree there weren’t better options at that time, only the option to lose him to Arky. If our core guys stay for next year, Stidham will have this break-in year under his belt, players regain health, and coaching realizes how important every game is (even if you have big leads), we are primed for a great run next year and Heisman talk for our QB or RB.
    To-date, Malzahn is proving to be the next SEC Richt. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
    WAR EAGLE!! Till next year.. and for now, Go Dawgs!!

  9. Zach Taylor Zach Taylor says:

    And, again, I point out that not having better options wasn’t a reason to pay him more. In fact, it was the PERFECT reason to hold serve. Make him earn the extension and always have the ability to cut bait for a new coach.

  10. Orangeblood says:

    Is it just me. Or did the Zebras cost us some BIG plays.

    1- The early fumble should had a been a TD.
    2- Tray certainly intercepted that ball before going out of bounds with a foot down.
    3- Derrick Brown was clearly being held late when their QB pick up a huge gainer. He was waving his arms in protest.

    That was the Worst officiating I had seen in an AU game in a long time for me.

  11. zotus zotus says:

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

    “We settle for a total beat-down at the hands of — GASP!!! — UCF in the Peach Bowl … while, we celebrate a High School Coach with a High School Mindset — who picks his nose on the sidelines and watches as his team lives & dies on Trick Plays & Field Goals — as a Football Genius and as One of the Best Offensive Minds in the Nation.”

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

    “Working the land. Passing out seven-year $49-million contracts. Hoping for a fertile Spring.” replies Mr. Jacobs.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Bottom Line is this:

    Rule #1 – You ARE what your win-loss record (on Game Day) says you are.

    Rule #2 – You ARE NOT what your Recruiting Class Ranking (on National Signing Day) says you are.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Of late, Auburn’s win-loss record against Alabama, Georgia and LSU speaks for itself. Of late, Auburn’s win-loss record in the post-season speaks for itself.

    It should be embarrassing to Auburn that the Powers at Alabama … and, the Powers at Georgia … and, the Powers at LSU no longer measure success by how they do against Auburn. Alabama’s bar and Georgia’s bar and LSU’s bar is now set much higher than that.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    It should be unacceptable to Auburn that Gus Malzahn and his staff were completely out-coached by Kirby Smart and his staff (when a hell of a lot of championship-marbles were up for grabs) in Atlanta.

    It should be unacceptable to Auburn that Gus Malzahn and his staff were completely out-coached by Scott Frost and his staff (when a hell of a lot of pride-marbles & a hell of a lot of character-marbles were up for grabs) in Atlanta.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    In Atlanta? In Atlanta? You mean, on the exact same field in Atlanta? You mean, on the exact same turf in Atlanta?

    And, on the 2nd of January 2018, we’re talking about what are the best kind of shoes to use on that field in Atlanta? You mean, on the 2nd of January 2018,we’re talking about what kind of football shoes that Gus Malzahn and his staff chose for the Auburn football team to wear in Atlanta?
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    What mattered (to some) on this planet is that Gus Malzahn and his staff were 0-2 in Atlanta and ended the season in Atlanta in a way we have come to expect from Gus Malzahn.

    What mattered (to some) on this planet is that Gus Malzahn and his staff ended the season in Atlanta as the highest-ranked 4-loss team on the planet. Maybe (to some) there will be a way to take a little pride in that.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    The elephant in the room, of course, is the $49-million contract. You know it and I know it.

    The silence has been off-putting for a lot of Auburn folks. But, some of you out there may have heard at least one writer acknowledge the obvious. Kevin Scarbinsky wrote an article right after the Peach Bowl entiled: “Gus Malzahn’s contract deserves scrutiny because he’s not Mr. January.” It’s worth a read. It’s worth some discussion among Auburn people.

    Check it out: http://www.al.com/auburnfootball/index.ssf/2018/01/gus_malzahn_proves_again_hes_n.html

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    P.S. FWIW, I believe that the person or persons that made the decision to give Gus Malzahn a $49-million contract extension — that will be paid (one way or another) by folks who (one way or another) financially support Auburn University — need to be held to account. The first step is for those people to step up and explain to the public why it was in Auburn University’s best interest to have made such a financial commitment to Coach Gus Malzahn and his staff. And, let’s be clear here, Jay Jacobs is not the person to be explaining this to the public. We don’t need to hear from Jay Jacobs any more. Let him spend his time negotiating his multi-million dollar ‘Golden Parachute’ courtesy of the not-so-deep-pockets of folks who (in any way) financially support Auburn University.

    The truth is going to come out eventually, Auburn. So get on with it, Auburn. We’re watching. And, we’re listening.

    WDE!

    • Zach Taylor Zach Taylor says:

      Solid, solid points and thoughts.

    • ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

      Valid points, for sure. But, I don’t think this was a Jay Jacobs decision. In fact, if my feeble memory serves correct, I believe I read where Jacobs had no input at all in the contract extension. I may be incorrect and, if so, then it’s no shock to me.
      On the open thread, I commented that I had a few minutes to speak with President Leath. My questions to him centered around a new AD with the answers being about what one would expect at this point.
      But then, President Leath was almost giddy before the game saying, “You wait and see. We will end up having one of the best head coaches in college football”. At the time – and this was prior to the game when we spoke – I automatically assumed (yes, I know) that he was speaking of CGM. After being witness to what we saw in the Peach Bowl? Well… It was still a fun time sans the score.
      (Being able to enter the warmth ahead of the 10:30 opening of the gates was a blessing!
      But, as I stated on the Open Thread comments, being able to spend a few minutes with other TET staffers was the highlight of the day!!!)
      I was hoping for an OK/CLEM NCG – and neither of the “bad” guys lost.
      (BUT, I did buy tickets way back in Club Level for the NCG so those are already on StubHub. Hint: I paid $140 per and I think I will get my money back – and, no, I’m not going stupid greedy.)

      WAR EAGLE!!

  12. sullivan013 sullivan013 says:

    My thoughts – Before Gus Malzahn Auburn never played for a National Championship game for a stretch of 47 years.

    Since Gus Malzahn has been involved in the program we have played in two NC games (and won one outright). In the last 25 years, Auburn has ended the season ranked in the top ten just four times. Twice have been since Gus Malzahn joined the program. This year might be the third of five in the last quarter century.

    Settling? Most programs outside of the state of Alabama dream about this level of performance. Georgia is living the dream this year after waiting since *I* was a sophomore at Auburn in 1980.

    Clemson? Dingbat Dabo is in his 10th year at that school – and has no more National Championship games than Gus has.

    FSU? Jimbo’s only National Championship game was against Auburn in 2013. After all his hype and legacy as the ‘highest paid NCAA coach’.

    • ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

      And, valid points, but Auburn won’t be ranked in the Top Ten at the end of the season. AU was at N#7 prior to the Peach Bowl and lost to the #12 team. But that #12 team was in the so-called “Group of Five” and not in the “Power Five”.
      I made a comment somewhere earlier that this was a “No Win” situation for Auburn.
      Beat the group of five team and, yeah, you did what you should do. Lose to the group of five team and, well, no real answer for that, but a no-win situation.
      I really do not like bowl games like this. I mean, seriously, I had rather be paired with a Wisconsin in the Outback or an Oklahoma in the Sugar – even if AU loses, it’s still a loss to a Power 5 team and, to the voters, doesn’t sting as bad. No, Auburn will definitely drop in the polls as I don’t believe the pollsters see the value in a team like UCF. And Head Coach Scott Frost, even doing “double duty”, had the UCF team better prepared.

    • jlobailey says:

      Spot on. I like Malzahn, and these games are a lose-lose. Hopefully the UCF win will spurn a playoff expansion, and we’ll have a silver lining!

      I was more disappointed with Stidham. Since the GSU game, I was never sold on him. He has awesome arm talent, but it just looks like he is instinctually inept at times. I’d really like to see what his completion percentage would be if the completions from then screen game were removed.

      And, yes, the offensive line played poorly. But, just like the Clemson game, JS looked panicked and uneasy in the pocket. If the first read wasn’t there, he would lose his cool and take off. I repeatedly found myself yelling at the TV, “TAKE THE CHECK DOWN!”
      And if Gus had taken JS out and put in the freshman and it didn’t work out, there would be even more people in this board calling for his head.

      We beat GA and UAT this year. It’s still great to be an Auburn Tiger!

    • AUwaterboy AUwaterboy says:

      Thanks for saying what needed to be said Sully! Agree 100%

  13. Tigerstripe Tigerstripe says:

    …and that’s what ‘settling’ looks like. In CGM defense, you just aren’t going to get this generation of athletes to play their best when it doesn’t matter TO THEM, period. We could’ve been playing UTEP for the 5th spot in the nation and they would’ve played flat. Sit everyone who’s draft eligible and play your seniors and those fighting for a starting spot next year.

  14. wde1988 wde1988 says:

    Acid, it was obvious from the start of the game that you had put major effort into the game blog. I enjoy watching the banter.

    I speak for no one else… but my grade of your performance this season, keeping things light and interesting deserves nothing less than an A+.

    I wish we could hire you for recruiting!

    WDE!!!

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