AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn jogged onto the field in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday eager to correct the offensive issues that plagued the Tigers during their Week 2 loss at Clemson.
A homecoming game against FCS opponent Mercer seemed like the ideal setting to turn things around. Yet, in less than 2 minutes a new problem emerged for Gus Malzahn’s football team: ball security.
Kyle Davis fumbled at the Mercer 30-yard line during Auburn’s initial drive. The receiver was the first to make the mistake, but he wouldn’t be the last.
Auburn fumbled 5 times against Mercer, losing possession 4 times and eventually scraping by with a frustrating and unimpressive 24-10 win. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham completed 32 of 37 pass attempts and Chip Lindsey’s offense totaled 510 yards, but in the end, errors dwarfed progress against a lesser opponent.
“What stands out to me the most is the five turnovers, which is very uncharacteristic,” Malzahn said. “I can’t remember the last time we had five turnovers. We had a critical penalty down there in the red zone. If you take the turnovers away, I think we’d be feeling really good and could have put the game away early.”
Lindsey’s offense sputtered after its deflating first drive. Auburn punted before Kamryn Pettway punched in a 4-yard touchdown run.
When Auburn looked to be turning things around, it instead took steps backward. The Tigers punted and then Eli Stove and Pettway fumbled on back-to-back drives in the second quarter. Before the game concluded, receiver Ryan Davis fumbled twice — one of which was recovered by Auburn.
The turnovers will take priority as Auburn prepares for SEC play in the coming weeks. It’ll be much more difficult to fix any offensive missteps without the football.
“We’re going to have to look at that,” Malzahn said. “It’s obviously an issue and it’s uncharacteristic. It kind of snowballed on us, and I think that three of those were in the red zone. That’s a tough pill to swallow there. We’ve got to correct that.”
And it’s obvious to Auburn’s offensive leaders what the Tigers need to focus on, first and foremost. But there are some good things Auburn can point to as it hurries away from Week 3.
“I think our main thing is to protect the ball, for sure,” receiver Will Hastings said. “I think everyone knows that. Overall, I mean, Jarrett was 32 for 37, which is amazing, and there’s 500 or so yards; I think that’s really good overall. Protection of the football is what we need to work on.”
Hastings said he doesn’t believe the offense has a problem focusing, but it will be concentrating on sharpening up ahead of conference play.
“Like I said, we executed the game plan,” Stidham said. “We moved the ball really well. It just kind of puts a damper on things whenever you turn the ball over five times. We just have to get better from here.”