Upon Further Review: Does Auburn’s Win Over Ole Miss Mean the Offense Is Back On Track?
Football season is now entering the home stretch. For the most part, teams are now what they will be at the end of the season. Yet, some teams have proven what they were all along, just see the latest Ohio State collapse. Still, Urban Meyer will do what he’s done for years: get the Buckeyes back in the playoffs.
As I watched the annual Tennessee–Alabama game, I just couldn’t quit shaking my head at just how good the Tide had become… on offense. Until Tua was taken out of the game due to a big hit, Alabama was scoring at will. The Vols had no answer for an offense that didn’t even play its starting running back. On defense, the Tide made Jarrett Guarantano look like the pedestrian quarterback he really is.
Comparatively, Auburn’s offense was so terrible against the Volunteers two weeks ago between the first drive of the game and the last drive of the game, the vaunted Auburn defense made Guarantano look like an all star. The same thing happened the week before in a loss against Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald. Don’t misunderstand, that isn’t a knock on the defense, not in the slightest. The third Kevin Steele unit is perhaps the best defense in a generation, but it cannot hold up against the ineptitude of the Auburn offense.
Of course, any talk about the Auburn offense has to revolve around Gus Malzahn, Chip Lindsey, and their quarterback, Jarrett Stidham, who was touted as a first rounder at the end of last season. Typically, the conversation on Auburn’s offense starts about who is calling plays, moves into why Stidham has just eight touchdowns and four picks, and centers on the offensive line’s inability to provide protection for No. 8.
However, it’s not nearly that simple. For much of the season, Auburn’s offense has been stellar in the first or second drive of the game. Then it seems to get lost. It’s not just play calling. It’s almost every facet of the offense, and while there are some obvious “big picture” issues, there are so many smaller ones that leave fans who watch the game scratching their heads. Dropped touchdowns, fumbled balls into the end zone, timeouts at inopportune times and predictable play calling that coaches on the other side of the field key on.
Auburn’s offense has been shockingly bad. How bad? Even in a win against Ole Miss, the Tigers’ 31 points were the fewest allowed by the Rebels in a loss and were the fourth fewest allowed all season to a team that allows an average of 31 a game. Think about that, just for a second. Gus Malzhan, the offensive genius, hit the average points allowed to a team that has played Southern Illinois, Kent State, University of Louisiana–Monroe, and 2–6 Arkansas ranked 93rd in points scored.
It’s been tough to watch college football the last few weeks, especially after …
LSU and UT came to town as big underdogs and took down the Tigers. It’s been even tougher to watch teams from outside the SEC with quarterbacks that can throw timing routes and drop dimes on defenses, receivers that can catch tough passes, and running backs that don’t fumble the ball into the end zone. It’s been even more tough to watch coaches buck the trend of being stubborn in order to do what is best. Take Joe Moorhead, the head man at Mississippi State. Just two weeks after beating Auburn, State’s QB Nick Fitzgerald found the bench, despite being the SEC’s all-time quarterback rushing leader.
Against Ole Miss, it looked like Gus might finally adjust his offense. After two straight three-and-outs that saw Jarrett Stidham have two incompletions and a sack sandwiched between three Jatarvious Whitlow runs that netted negative seven yards, Auburn opened the second quarter with Malik Willis, who immediately picked up a first down as he executed the zone read with Shaun Shivers. But Willis never reappeared. With Stidham back in the game, the Tigers settled for another forty-five-plus-yard field goal. The field goal was missed, and Anders Carlson is now 11–21 on the year. Of course you have to cut Carlson some slack since eight kicks were over 50 yards and four were over 40.
Against the SEC’s worst defense, one of the worst in the entire country (109th), Auburn had a 10–6 lead at halftime, thanks entirely to Auburn’s blocking a field goal for the third consecutive game and somehow styming Jordan Ta’Amu as no one else has done.
Auburn eventually broke the offense loose, largely thanks to a phenomenal day by Boobee Whitlow. Auburn came away with a much needed win. Yet, despite what many are saying about avoiding a third straight loss, the win never felt right. It felt like something else. It was equally impressive and depressing, considering the best Auburn defense in a generation continues to play outstanding football but watching a woeful offense that couldn’t beat the average of a team that hadn’t given up less than 33 points to a conference opponent all year. The Rebels were thrashed by 62 and 45 by Auburn’s rivals Alabama and LSU.
The 5–3 Tigers will become bowl eligible in a few weeks against Liberty but are all but eliminated from any meaningful postseason games, thanks to three conference losses that weren’t even in the tough stretch of the season. Meanwhile, the $49-million offensive genius with the $30 million-plus buyout has a team that ranks in the top 65 in college football in just one measurable category: defense.