The terms "hot seat" and "Gene Chizik" have inched closer and closer together with each pitiful Auburn offensive series in 2012.
This doesn’t appear to be coming from the Auburn administration that is still happily shining the national championship trophy that it was handed in 2011, but the whispers are no longer whispers, and the masses are growing impatient.
When your rival is Alabama and you’re playing in the SEC, this process seems to transpire a little more briskly.
You can’t overstate how important Auburn’s first win in 2012 is for this team, perhaps even more so for its head coach. UL-Monroe is more than just a gimmick group that caught fire during a two-week hot streak. The Warhawks are a good team with an explosive offense that could match up with most. Don’t let the name fool you; this team can play.
It took Auburn to the brink and perhaps a little bit past it, forcing overtime. Monroe's missed field goal on its first overtime possession gave Auburn a chance to play for the field goal, which they took. A 31-28 win in extra time isn't how they drew it up, but they will gladly take it. That's the good news.
Regardless of the competition, however, Chizik needed this game. His crew was billed as more than a two-touchdown favorite, and the perception that would have come with this loss would have been damaging. In fact, even in a win, Chizik will likely have a long week on the media front.
The Auburn offense needed a trick play (Kiehl Frazier caught a touchdown pass) and a Hail Mary at the end of the first half to edge out UL-Monroe. These two unorthodox moments accounted for half of the Tigers' touchdowns, and that is terrifying if you’re an Auburn fan or Mr. Chizik.
Even more terrifying is the fact that Auburn's toughest games are still on the horizon. LSU, Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia are still on the docket, and there are a handful of challenging road tests outside the big four they can absolutely lose.
A five-win season looks like it could very much be in the works, and that will not sit well with Auburn fans. Beating UL-Monroe will put out some of the flames for the time being, but unless this offense can find itself soon, it may not mean much by the time November rolls along.
The one item working in Chizik’s favor in a huge way is recruiting. He’s hauled in impressive classes over the past few years, and his 2013 class is shaping up to be his finest. If things really go south, it may become tougher to keep this class as strong as it appears—but many of the nation’s top talents, including freakish linebacker Reuben Foster, are sold on the Tigers.
This outlook for the future can only stretch so far, however, as the "win now" sentiment kicks in. Working with new coordinators and a very different staff also is a challenge, but not one Auburn supporters want to hear about. The term "new staff" will certainly be mentioned, just in a different context.
Would a loss to UL-Monroe have cost Chizik his job? Absolutely not, but it could have helped jump-start a process that may not need a push in the wrong direction.
A win here was critical, although the good news stops there.
Auburn will welcome LSU into its building next Saturday, and the Chizik-in-the-hot-seat conversations could become even louder if things don’t go well in front of AU's home crowd.