AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football scored 20 points on its first four drives of the game Saturday against LSU. It added another field goal on its sixth drive and finished the first half with 290 yards, 13 first downs and an average of 7.6 yards per snap.
After halftime, though, Auburn’s offense looked nothing like the one that seemed to be on the verge of a monumental blowout win. In the second half, Auburn recorded zero points, 64 yards, 4 first downs and an average of 2 yards per snap.
Auburn’s 20-0 lead evaporated in the heat of Death Valley, and coach Gus Malzahn left the field with a 27-23 loss — one that puts his team’s biggest goals for 2017 on life support.
But for Auburn, that sequence of events for its offense was nothing new. If anything, it was an extreme example of what has happened so many times in the last few seasons.
In Auburn’s last 10 losses, stretching from a 2015 loss at home against Ole Miss to the recent collapse at LSU, the Tigers’ second-half offense has been woeful.
Auburn has only scored 44 second-half points in its last 10 losses. Its opponents, on the other hand, have scored 144. In those same games, Auburn scored more than twice as many points in the first halves (97). It has also scored multiple times in only two of those 10 losses — 2015 Ole Miss and 2016 Clemson.
|OPPONENT||RESULT||AU 1H PTS||AU 2H PTS||OPP 2H PTS|
|Ole Miss (2015)||L, 27-19||10||9||17|
|Georgia (2015)||L, 20-13||10||3||17|
|Alabama (2015)||L, 29-13||6||7||17|
|Clemson (2016)||L, 19-13||3||10||9|
|Texas A&M (2016)||L, 29-16||10||6||13|
|Georgia (2016)||L, 13-7||7||0||13|
|Alabama (2016)||L, 30-12||9||3||17|
|Oklahoma (2016)||L, 35-19||13||6||21|
|Clemson (2017)||L, 14-6||6||0||7|
|LSU (2017)||L, 27-23||23||0||13|
Translation: Auburn’s defense is doing a solid job — holding opponents to just 14.4 points per second half — but the offense is constantly getting lapped after halftime.
The issues get even worse for Malzahn and Auburn’s offense when the focus is condensed to just the last five losses. In losses to Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma, Clemson and LSU, Auburn has scored only 9 points in the second half, and it has been shut out after halftime on three separate occasions.
In four of those five games, all except the 2016 Iron Bowl, Auburn has gotten off to fast starts on offense.
- 2016 vs. Georgia: Auburn scores touchdown in first quarter, doesn’t score again
- 2016 vs. Oklahoma: Auburn scores touchdown on first drive, doesn’t score another touchdown until final play of the game
- 2017 vs. Clemson: Auburn scores on first two of its first three drives, doesn’t score again
- 2017 vs. LSU: Auburn scores on five of first six drives, doesn’t score again
The common thread among these games — and some earlier losses in Malzahn’s tenure — is evident. Auburn’s opponents make defensive adjustments, but the Tigers don’t on offense.
On Saturday, LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda changed his strategy against an Auburn rushing attack that had 131 yards in the first half. After halftime, Auburn averaged just 3.1 yards per carry.
“There was a certain formation that they were giving us,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said after the game. “It’s something we practiced all week, but we just weren’t getting it right. We were going to go to something that would have been different. We decided as a staff to get it fixed. We challenged our team to get it fixed and it worked.”
According to Malzahn, that tweak was a simple one.
“After the first quarter, they played a little more of walking an extra man in the box and playing a little more man [coverage],” Malzahn said. “They were mixing it up.”
Auburn faced heavier boxes against LSU, yet it still ran the ball right at them. Auburn called 17 consecutive running plays on first down, and they averaged fewer than 3 yards per snap.
Junior receiver Ryan Davis said Saturday night he wasn’t surprised Auburn didn’t call more pass plays.
“I think our running game in the first half had been doing really well,” he said. “We were trying to stick to that. We were doing what worked at first.”
That summed up Auburn’s second-half collapse at LSU — the home team adjusted, but the visitors stuck to the same plan. The conservative and increasingly predictable game plan fell flat after halftime.
On Sunday night, Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham was asked if he could make on-the-fly adjustments by calling an audible out of a run play when LSU loaded the box. He said he did not.
“That’s something just to look at and talk to Coach [Chip] Lindsey about,” Stidham said. “I’m just doing what I’m told to do and I’m trying to execute at a high level. That’s really what it comes down to, just trying to execute the called play.”
The offensive adjustments had to come from Auburn’s sidelines against LSU. Those didn’t happen, and now Auburn is reeling from another awful second-half offensive performance in a loss.
Earlier this season against Clemson, Auburn didn’t tweak its game plan after the host Tigers consistently stonewalled the rushing attack and sacked Stidham. Last season against Georgia, Auburn stuck to its guns and let an injured Sean White throw the ball 20 times in a second half that didn’t produce a single first down.
The failure to adjust in the second half isn’t a relatively new problem, either. In 2014, after being shut out by Georgia after a touchdown on its opening drive, quarterback Nick Marshall told reporters Georgia made the right adjustments.
Both Malzahn and his players have repeatedly blamed Auburn’s offensive downturn in the second half against LSU on poor execution instead of play calling.
Considering how many of Auburn’s recent losses under Malzahn have gone, it’s no surprise they’re sticking to the same script.