AUBURN, Ala. — After turning back the clock in Week 2 against Arkansas State, Auburn’s offense went to the not-too-distant past Saturday night against No. 17 Texas A&M.
It wasn’t a pleasant visit down memory lane for the Tigers as they fell 29-16 to the Aggies. Auburn’s offense looked like it didn’t have many answers outside of a couple of drives, and it squandered what was a strong three quarters from the defense.
Now the Tigers are 1-2 heading into a huge matchup next weekend against LSU, which was a preseason national title contender and is coming off back-to-back wins. If Auburn performs that inconsistently on offense again, it could be a long night on the Plains next Saturday.
Auburn’s defense gets gashed on an 89-yard touchdown run by Trayveon Williams.
The Tigers did a lot on the defensive side of the ball Saturday night, even though the total yardage by Texas A&M nearly reached 500 yards. The Aggies were 2 for 15 on third downs and had to settle for field goals on five separate occasions.
But after Auburn failed to convert on a fourth-down try in the Texas A&M red zone, the defense gave up the monster play that many in Jordan-Hare Stadium feared.
Williams took a simple handoff and went 89 yards for the score, slipping past a few weak tackle attempts and taking advantage of bad angles. (Veteran safety Tray Matthews was the main culprit, completely falling down on a simple move by Williams.)
Auburn did a good job of containing Texas A&M’s running backs for the vast majority of the game. But mistakes like that will get magnified against Leonard Fournette next Saturday.
Was Auburn’s rediscovered offensive prowess a result of bad Week 2 competition?
The Tigers put on a nearly record-breaking offensive showcase last weekend against Arkansas State. But Auburn’s offense against Texas A&M didn’t look anything like the one that took the field in Week 2 — outside of a lightning-fast touchdown drive in the first quarter.
Auburn has lost six straight SEC home games, seven straight home haves vs. Power 5 teams
— James Crepea (@JamesCrepea) September 18, 2016
That 9-play, 80-yard sprint to the end zone didn’t lead to bigger things for the Tigers. They were consistently behind the chains against the Aggies, who brought plenty of havoc with 13 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. The offensive struggles from the Clemson game were back, just without any of the quarterback carousel.
Auburn’s offensive execution dropped off when the competition cranked back up to Power 5 level. Drops became a bigger issue for a receiving group that hadn’t struggled with them in the first two weeks. The holes for Kamryn Pettway shrunk as the game wore on into the second half. A late spark from John Franklin III just netted six points.
The Tigers defense played far from a perfect game, but it held Texas A&M to field goals on four straight red zone trips. Without any help from a grounded offense, Kevin Steele’s unit gave up the biggest play of the night to turn what was once a tense game into a sizable victory for Texas A&M.
Where does Gus Malzahn turn now offensively?
Holding a potent offense such as Texas A&M’s to fewer than 30 points once meant a victory for Malzahn’s Tigers. But his offense hasn’t put up that many points against a Power 5 opponent since last season’s loss at Arkansas — and that featured multiple overtimes.
After generating just 45 yards with him in the second half, Malzahn elected to take starting quarterback Sean White out and put in his speedy backup. Franklin led Auburn on two long drives and even connected on a couple of quick passes after missing badly on a trick-play bomb earlier in the game.
Auburn's third quarter was a bust: 35 total yards on 21 plays, average of 1.7 yards per play
— Bryan Matthews (@BMattAU) September 18, 2016
Now, the question for Auburn is if those late drives were products of Texas A&M’s defense wearing down or actual offensive improvement thanks to the threat of Franklin at quarterback. The Tigers put up 128 yards on Franklin’s first two drives alone, and he proved he’s made progress as a true No. 2 in the entire offense.
Will that force Malzahn to contemplate a quarterback change? LSU has found its offensive rhythm with Purdue transfer quarterback Danny Etling after a season-opening loss to Wisconsin, and the Bayou Bengals will be determined to make Auburn 1-3 next Saturday evening. Will more Franklin — or Franklin from the beginning — be the change Malzahn desperately needs?
9. Auburn’s offense averaged being 9 yards away from the first-down marker on third-down situations Saturday night. Malzahn’s offense once thrived on getting into third-and-short situations and moving the chains with hard-nosed running. The Tigers were too far behind the sticks to make that happen Saturday night, leading to 9 punts from Kevin Phillips and Ian Shannon just one week after not having to boot the ball away at all.