Some Auburn fans may think the Tigers belong on the naughty list after a disappointing 6-6 regular season, but for the sake of the next few hundred words, let’s assume Santa Claus was magnanimous and put them on the nice list.
Auburn struggled in multiple areas throughout the season, but there is reason to be optimistic the offense will bounce back after its least productive campaign under coach Gus Malzahn. A good recruiting class, bolstered by the No. 1-ranked 2016 wide receiver Kyle Davis, should help re-energize the passing game. The offensive line should be a strength next year with all five starters expected to return, including three seniors and two juniors.
The defensive side of the ball presents a different challenge. The unit ranked 91st nationally in total defense, allowing 421.8 yards per game. The defense improved in the latter half of the season under defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, but the coach departed for the South Carolina head coaching job. Linebackers coach Lance Thompson will serve as the interim defensive coordinator for the Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 30.
That leads to Auburn’s most pressing Christmas need — A new defensive coordinator.
The new defensive play-caller will have the challenge of trying to make a seamless transition into next season, so the team does not take a step back from the progress made late in the year. Auburn will return a good amount of defensive talent, including sophomore defensive end Carl Lawson who missed seven games this season with a hip injury. Lawson’s pass rushing abilities were sorely missed during his absence.
Auburn desperately needs consistency from the new coordinator. The Tigers have experienced a lot of turnover with their defensive coordinators in the last decade. Whoever Malzahn hires will be the third coordinator in as many seasons.
This hire comes at a critical time for Malzahn, as he enters his fourth season as Auburn’s coach. Since reaching the 2013 BCS Championship Game in his first season, Malzahn is just 6-10 in SEC competition, including a streak of seven straight home losses.
A new defensive coordinator should certainly be near the top of Auburn’s Christmas list.