CLEMSON, S.C. — Gus Malzahn didn’t sugarcoat Auburn’s 14-6 loss at Clemson on Saturday night.
“We got numerous chances towards the end and we just didn’t respond,” Malzahn said. “They’re defending national champs and their defenses is one of the best defenses in college football, but offensively we just didn’t get it done.”
The response was frank, but didn’t fully illustrate Auburn’s night offensively. The visiting Tigers put together one of the worst offensive performances in Malzahn’s tenure as a head coach, scrounging to come up with 117 yards of total offense. To make a discouraging situation more frustrating, it was yet another game where its defense provided several chances to pull ahead.
Still, Malzahn is certain that similarly to the 2016 season, Auburn will find its offensive identity and improve. After a 1-2 start last year, including a 19-13 loss to Clemson, Auburn reeled off a six-game winning streak.
“We’re going to be a good offense before this is all said and done, I promise you that,’ Malzahn said. “But right now, we didn’t get it done offensively tonight. I think that’s obvious. Sure, Clemson’s a great defense, but we didn’t get it done. And I think that’s obvious, but we will get better.”
Clemson wasted no time identifying and exposing Auburn’s weaknesses. Christian Wilkins and Co. sacked quarterback Jarrett Stidham 11 times. Now, Malzahn and new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey will have to “evaluate everything” and create a plan to take their team into its SEC schedule in two weeks.
The head coach also maintains that he never took over play-calling duties at any point during the night.
Kamryn Pettway found small gaps at times, but when Stidham wasn’t running away from Clemson defenders the running back wasn’t gaining much traction on the ground, either. Auburn converted just 6-of-17 third downs.
Whatever the plan ends up being offensive line play will be a primary focus immediately.
“We’ve got to be able to run the football a little bit better, too,” Malzahn said. “You know we can’t be in obvious passing situations, I think there’s a lot of third down and eight plus situations that were tough and you know, we’ve got to be able to run play action. We will get better, I promise you that.”
Stidham shouldered the blame and backed up his offensive line after its poor showing in Death Valley.
“There were a lot of things I know I could have done a lot better tonight,” Stidham said. “You know, it kind of starts with me because I’m the one person that has the ball in my hands every play, so. But we just have to execute better all around. We’re going to regroup and we’re going to be a lot better.”
The native Texan said Clemson’s defensive front was “probably the best defensive line” he’d played so far. That included an Oklahoma line during his freshman year at Baylor.
Stidham was sacked before Saturday night and he know’s he’ll be sacked again. Even as he struggled to escape a dominant defense, however, he could see the improvements he made from Week 1 to Week 2.
Fortunately, Auburn’s defense was supportive following the loss. That group could be the key to fixing the disastrous mishaps on offense, simply because the defense will give Lindsey and Stidham time to figure things out.
Even after the same narrative unfolded in 2016, its most vocal leaders remained supportive of their counterpart.
“It is what it is,” Matthews said. “We’re a big family and we can only control what we can control. The offense is doing their thing, defensively we’re doing our thing, but we’re a big family and nothing will ever divide us because we’re family and we’re still together.”
And with that it’s back to the Plains and preparing for a lower-level opponent in the form of Mercer. If Malzahn and Stidham have anything to say about what the Tigers will show offensively in the near future, things will be different.
“110 percent,” Stidham said. “There is no doubt in my mind that we’re going to get this turned around.”