Auburn took the field Saturday for the ninth time against a SEC team since the start of 2015 season. For the seventh time, the Tigers walked off the field losers.
Sitting at 1-2, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s seat suddenly moves from warm to scalding.
It has been 693 days since Auburn last beat a Power 5 team at Jordan-Hare, dating to a win against South Carolina in 2014. Although it’s just one more loss, this was a game Auburn desperately needed.
The Tigers already have played a pair of ranked teams, and still have five more on the schedule. They only beat one ranked team last season, but will need to win one just to make a bowl game this season. This was a prime opportunity to make a statement and Auburn blew it.
For a supposed offensive genius, Malzahn’s offense looks anemic. Quarterback Sean White threw for just 126 yards before getting pulled for John Franklin III. The latter was effective running the ball but also failed to get anything moving downfield.
The running game was better, as Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson combined for 183 yards and the Tigers’ 2 touchdowns, but it wasn’t nearly enough. It seems like an eternity since Nick Marshall and Tre Mason were leading Auburn to 7 yards per play.
After Auburn scored a touchdown on the second drive of the game, here are the Tigers’ remaining drives: punt, punt, fumble, turnover on downs, end of half, punt, punt, punt, punt, turnover on downs, touchdown, turnover on downs.
Unless the Tigers are trying to sell out and help punter Kevin Phillips win the Ray Guy award, I imagine that wasn’t part of the game plan.
“I’d say right now, our whole offense is a work in progress,” Malzahn said after the game. “It was inconsistent to say the least. We’ve got to find a way to do better offensively.”
Fortunately, Kevin Steele’s defense has been relatively effective, holding three decent offensive teams to 20.7 points per game. That’s been about the only positive.
With the loss to Texas A&M, several other games now are in question. If Texas A&M can walk into Jordan-Hare Stadium and smack the Tigers, how can Auburn beat Arkansas? How well can it travel to Ole Miss or Georgia? Can Malzahn survive another late-season beatdown from bitter rival Alabama?
Looking at the schedule after this game, it’s unclear how many wins are left on the schedule. There seems to be gimmes against Louisiana-Monroe, Vanderbilt and Alabama A&M, but that’s just three wins. Every other game all of a sudden is in question.
Auburn barely made a bowl game last season, but people wrote it off as an off year. But three games into 2016, it’s quickly becoming a trend. Fact is, Malzahn is paid too much money at a program that expects too much success to survive another 6-6 season.
“We’ve got to find a way to get better. That’s what’s on our mind,” Malzahn reiterated later in the press conference.
Unfortunately, it’s starting to sound like a man out of answers.