Upon Further Review: You’ve Been Gus’d
The home Tigers were a two-score favorite, a national contender, had a 13-game home winning streak and were hosting an LSU team that had looked shaky in all the right places. The national perception was that this was a Granada game for Auburn.
Although LSU was the No. 12 team in the nation, pundits saw it as an almost an unwinnable game for LSU as the Bayou Bengals were 10.5 point underdogs. After all, Gus Malzahn was a lot more respected than coach Ed Orgeron, Jarrett Stidham was perceived as a top-tier talent at quarterback, and CBS sportscaster Brad Nessler said, “I’m not trying to put Joe Burrow down, but when I watch film of LSU, I see Danny Etling with a different number. It’s just another Ohio State transfer that can kind of manage the game.” LSU had no Leonard Fournette or Derrius Guice, just some upperclassman who had waited around long enough. LSU 22, Auburn 21. And LSU pulled it off because Gus Malzahn was being Gus Malzahn. He Gus’d it. Again.
There has been a lot piling on of the refs.
They sure earned it. The referees single-handedly kept LSU in the game, late, against Auburn. By now, almost everyone in the country has heard the diatribe laid down by Auburn’s own Rod Bramblett and Stan White. Hearing Stan White be a homer isn’t something new as Stan is quick to live up to his job as the color commentator. However, what was new was to hear Bramblett share in the referee bashing that extended for around two minutes leading into and past the game-winning kick and survived a media timeout.
Rod is one of the finest and most professional play-by-play analysts in the college sports and not just because of his ability to call games but to be extremely even-handed at doing so. Rod doesn’t do a lot of bashing, but he did Saturday as the LSU Tigers came into Jordan-Hare and beat the Auburn Tigers.
Rod and Stan weren’t out of line. The calls were bad. There were over 200 yards of penalties in this contest, and even though it is easy to point to the last penalty of the game against Jamel Dean and then recount how LSU had a total of six third down conversions by Auburn penalties, LSU had just as many penalties (9) as Auburn, with just a little less yardage (91 to 111).
Auburn fans can’t really blame the refs for all the penalties or truly blame them for the Auburn loss, although the last penalty was certainly out of line and set up the field goal. The refs dictated the game on both sides. It just happened that the timing of the last penalty will be remembered.
But, refs didn’t give the game away.
Gus Malzahn did. There is a saying that I have stolen, or adopted, or maybe I just made up for my travel softball teams: You can out-hit bad defense, but you can’t out-defense bad hitting. Follow me here, because I know I just crossed multiple sports. The gist of that saying is that you can outscore your bad defense, but your defense can’t outscore your bad offense. See Saturday’s latest example. But wait. Isn’t offense a Gus Malzahn thing? Isn’t he an “offensive guru?” It sure didn’t look like it Saturday.
Here is the top-level view.
The 49-million-dollar man has lost a game in September every year and has six total wins against LSU, Georgia, and Alabama. Six. He is in his sixth year. That’s right. He is getting just one win a year against the three main Auburn rivals, although I realize he hasn’t played UGA and Bama this year. His two wins against LSU have been at home, so this loss is a new low for this series that somehow feels worse than last year’s debacle that saw Auburn lay an egg in the second half against LSU in Baton Rouge after putting up a 20–0 lead in the first half. This year Auburn held a shaky 14–10 lead at half before almost immediately putting up another touchdown to take a 21–13 lead into the fourth quarter. It was another second half meltdown that is becoming the norm for Auburn, just as beating bad SEC teams by a lot of points has become the norm for Malzahn. Under Gus, the Auburn offense has been completely inept the second half in games when Auburn had the lead going into the second half. A tailgating friend of mine said some of the truest words I’ve ever heard, as it pertains to Malzahn: “I’d rather be down three touchdowns at half than be up three touchdowns with Gus.”
Let’s look at some specifics.
There isn’t a fan of football that doesn’t know “you take points in the first half.” Instead, Auburn lined up for 4th-and-one on the LSU 17 in the first quarter where Boobee Whitlow was stuffed for a two-yard loss. It wasn’t even close. The LSU defensive line blew through Auburn’s offensive line. “Everyone just relaxed,” Tega Wanogho said. “When you’re playing a good football team, you can’t do that. That’s on us. At the end of the day, that’s on us.” Think about this quote from a veteran. How is this even possible?
Auburn’s offensive line didn’t look the part of a contender, especially in the second half. LSU brought more than four rushers just one time all game and somehow owned the line. Center Kaleb Kim wasn’t just dominated, he compounded whiffing on his blocks by dragging down the defender twice. The pieces along the offensive line will continue to move as they have every year under Malzahn.
Kam Martin entered the season as the number-one back. He took the lion’s share of work in the spring and the fall and was named as the bell cow multiple times by Malzahn. Yet, anyone that had watched Martin play knew his strengths and his weaknesses. Being a 20+ carry bell cow was not one of those strengths. Martin had two carries for four yards against LSU. Again, another trend under Malzahn is going a quarter of the year while not featuring the better power back. Shaun Shivers began the season buried on the depth chart. He was the clear-cut number-two back by game four.
Joe Burrow didn’t exactly light it up on the scoreboard, and his completion percentage was pretty putrid. Yet, the transfer from Ohio State looked more like a top draft pick than Jarrett Stidham did. Burrow didn’t turn the ball over, and he was flawless when it mattered, no more so than the 4th-and-seven strike he fired to move the chains in LSU’s last possession. His touchdown toss to Derrick Dillon was inches from being picked off, except that it wasn’t, and it turned the tide for the Tigers in yellow and purple.
Stidham opened the game with a second play interception that set up LSU’s first score. He gave another one away in the third quarter. After three games, he has just three touchdown passes and two interceptions. For comparison, Sean White started out 2016 with 510 yards, three TD’s and one interception. Stidham currently has a 584–3–2 line. Certainly play calling and protection were an issue, but Stidham hasn’t looked like a first-round NFL pick.
Receivers haven’t helped Stidham much.
The dropsies showed up again Saturday with even Ryan Davis, the unquestioned leader of the receivers, dropping passes. Auburn has a receiver corps full of upperclassmen, but true freshmen Anthony Schwartz and Seth Williams are No. 2 and No. 5 in total catches. Their performances have opened far more eyes than the veterans. It makes fans wonder what Kodi Burns is doing with these guys if the better performers are those fresh out of high school.
It would be easy to say that most of this is overreaction to a loss, which happens to every fan base after a disheartening loss. Still, the conversation is the same one Auburn fans have had since 2013: Auburn fans got Gus’d.