Auburn Football: The Blueprint for October Success After a Shaky September

Brett Mixon@@TrueBlueAUContributor ISeptember 24, 2012

Photo via Todd Van Emst
Photo via Todd Van Emst

A lot of coaches and athletes like to break football seasons into segments and evaluate themselves after each one. With the bye week coming for Auburn after Week 4, let’s discuss how Auburn did in the first third of the season and what they need to do in the next third of the season to be successful.

A 1-3 start is not how Auburn or its fans envisioned the first four games going.

The Tigers dropped the Chick-fil-a kickoff game to Clemson by a score of 26-19. It was a game that Auburn had a chance to win but poor defense and an inconsistent offense could not put the game away with a fourth quarter lead.

Auburn played one of its worst games of the Gene Chizik era when they went to Starkville and lost to Mississippi State for the first time since 2007 by a score of 28-10. Auburn turned the ball over five times and Kiehl Frazier threw three interceptions.

Auburn put together a good three quarters against Louisiana-Monroe and could have put the game away in the third quarter by going up three scores but a costly fumble by Mike Blakely a yard short of the end zone prevented a score. The Warhawks fought back like good teams do and forced overtime. Auburn won after a field-goal block by Angelo Blackson and a Cody Parkey field goal to pick up win number one in 2012.

Auburn played its most complete game of the season last Saturday against then second-ranked LSU, but a special teams blunder for Auburn was the difference in the game.

Auburn had its chances to win but could not put a successful offensive drive together to get within field goal range in the second half. The defense held LSU scoreless for three quarters. LSU won 12-10.

What does Auburn need to do to be more successful for us to look back in game number eight and give our approval?

The next four games are winnable for the Tigers and could turn around a season that has been a disappointment so far. The Tigers have Arkansas, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M as their next four opponents. Arkansas and A&M will be coming to Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers will travel to Oxford and Nashville for the other two contests.

The answers seem pretty simple. The Tigers must get better on offense. The Tigers are in the SEC and national cellar in most offensive categories. Nationally, Auburn is ranked 115th in passing offense, 113th in total offense and 112th in scoring offense. The highest national offensive ranking comes in rushing offense and it sits at 73.

In the SEC, Auburn is ranked 14th (last) in all of those categories except for rushing offense, where it is 11th.

Get Kiehl Frazier comfortable: Scot Loeffler has shouldered a lot of the blame for the offensive struggles so far this year. And he should. That comes with the territory when you are an offensive coordinator in the SEC. Loeffler needs to get Kiehl Frazier in his comfort zone. Doing that may require Loeffler to come out of his own personal comfort zone. He’s taken the first step by coming down to the field from the press box.

Kiehl Frazier is a spread quarterback attempting to run a pro-style offense. That is not a good recipe for success. He plays scared under center right now.

For now, especially over the next four games, Frazier should be taking all snaps from the shotgun unless in a 3rd-and-short obvious run situation. If Auburn is lucky enough to build a comfortable lead, then that is a time that he can practice taking snaps under center and getting more comfortable being the quarterback that Loeffler wants him to be.

Better play calling: The play calling has been horrendous through the first four games. It must be better in the next four. The Tigers are usually playing behind the chains as soon as 2nd down. Running draws on 2nd-and-long or 3rd-and-long situations not only does not make sense, it just confirms to the quarterback the lack of confidence you have in him.

Let Mike Blakely and Tre Mason both get carries: Mike Blakely and Tre Mason both need to be getting carries. Blakely did not even see the field against LSU. After Tre Mason’s 100-plus yard game against Clemson, he got less than five carries against Mississippi State. Both players can run the ball effectively. Give it to them.

Sammie Coates and Quan Bray must step up: Another receiver has got to become a threat for Auburn. We have seen flashes of Sammie Coates and Quan Bray but nothing to think that they will be consistent contributors.

Sammie Coates let a beautiful pass from Kiehl Frazier slip right through his hands last Saturday on the second play of the game. That play would have gone for a score.

Frazier must also not lock in on Emory Blake, he has missed wide-open receivers each game.

More Lutzenkirchen: Phillip Lutzenkirchen needs to be more involved in the offense. He was supposed to be Frazier’s big target but most throws to him so far this year have been inaccurate.

Control the clock: Auburn has yet to win the time of possession battle in a game this year. The offense needs to get in 3rd-and-short situations and the defense needs to be better on 3rd down. The defense has gotten worn down at the end of games. 

Limit Turnovers: Auburn is 118th (out of 120 schools) in the Football Bowl Subdivision in turnover margin. It's been a constant theme each game. Tre Mason had a costly fumble against Clemson, Kiehl Frazier threw three interceptions against Mississippi State, Mike Blakely had his fumble against ULM and Quan Bray misplayed a punt against LSU. All of these turnovers were costly and could have been the difference in a 1-3 record or a 3-1 record. 

Defensively, Auburn finally faced a pro-style offense and had their best game of the year Saturday night.  Nationally, the defense is ranked 101 in rushing defense, 66 in pass efficiency defense, 84 in total defense and 60 in scoring defense. As far as conference rankings go, Auburn ranks 14, 10, 13 and 9 in those categories, respectively.

Defensive Tackles must get more penetration: We saw some improvement against LSU but it must continue to get better. Too often they are getting driven back into the linebackers and not filling up the running gaps. That is a big reason why Auburn ranks 101st nationally and 14th in the SEC in run defense.

Linebackers must get off blocks better: The linebackers also need to make headway the next four games. Jake Holland had his best game against LSU but he still has a long way to go. Time and time again, the junior gets blocked and he cannot get off of it. This has opened up running lanes the size of Highway-280. 

The secondary needs to keep up their play from Saturday: There were finally some good coverage skills displayed and some new faces saw the field. With Erique Florence seeing the field again and young guys contributing, this unit should be much better over the next four games than they were over the first four.  

Steven Clark needs to regain 2011 form: Steven Clark is not duplicating his 2011 season with his punting statistics. If Auburn can improve in one area of special teams, it would be Clark’s punting.

The Tigers will certainly use the bye week to work on fundamentals and to get refreshed before a crucial month of October. The bye week is very early for Auburn standards. Lately, the bye week has not come until November. The Tigers last had their bye week in October in 2008.

Auburn fans hope to see more of the team they saw take LSU to the wire than the team that played the first three games with slipshod performances.