The Auburn Tigers have begun the 2012 season with a 1-3 record, representing the first three-loss record before October in school history. There has been a lot of bad and ugly so far this season, with some good sprinkled into the results of the first four games.
The Tigers have struggled mightily on offense. Kiehl Frazier has been worse than expected at times, and the defense had been inconsistent until this past Saturday’s contest against No. 3 LSU.
There are a number of positions that are swapping personnel as the Tigers coaches attempt to find the right mix of playmakers for Auburn this season. Nothing has added up to great success or a bright future to finish the year. The Auburn coaches and players have to dig deep in the next few weeks to right the ship.
Let’s take a look at the best and worst of the first four games for the Tigers.
To start the season, Kiehl Frazier showed something to the country. He looked like a first time sophomore starter against Clemson on ESPN that first Saturday night, but he showed promise.
Four games later and his performance has done nothing but bog down the Auburn offense. There have been some flashes of ability that have given hope to the Auburn faithful, but the overall picture is very hazy.
Frazier is 47-of-89 for 546 yards on the season. He has also tossed two touchdowns, but he has seven interceptions to go along with those scores. Frazier is passing for a paltry 136.5 yards per game.
Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler seems to be taunting Frazier with the number of throws that he has asked him to complete through the first few games. Frazier has shown confidence early in the past two games, but after the half, he becomes a different signal caller.
The Tigers have a very talented player in Frazier, but Auburn needs him to turn up the performance nob after this bye week. There is still no reason to call for Frazier’s removal, but if he doesn’t grow exponentially in the next few weeks, the Tigers may miss the postseason.
There have been mixed reviews of the new offense that has been employed by offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler. Some have berated Loeffler for his play calls, while others have pointed to a lack of execution by the Tigers offense.
To be honest, the woes on offense have been a mixture of both.
There have been a number of opportunities for the Tigers to change games with some of the great calls that Loeffler has made, but there have also been perplexing decisions made on the sideline.
Against LSU, Loeffler made a number of questionable calls, relying heavily on speed back Onterio McCalebb to make plays against an elite and speedy defense. Could Auburn have executed better? Of course, but the Tigers could also have been trying to execute better calls.
Scot Loeffler is only in his second season as an offensive coordinator—there will be growing pains. Overall, the play calling has been bad this season. Not just because the Tigers aren’t executing, but because the play calls are not playing to the strengths of the matchups consistently.
The Auburn rushing offense ranks No. 73 in the country through four games. That is not where the Tigers expected to be. Despite the low production, the Tigers backs are having a great year so far.
Auburn has ran three different backs with consistency in 2012—Onterio McCalebb, Tre Mason and Mike Blakely. All three backs are averaging over five yards per carry.
Tre Mason had a great game against LSU, finishing the game with six yards per carry. The production has been there, but the Auburn offense has not been feeding the ground game with regularity.
With each passing game, the rushing attack seems to be neglected. Auburn needs to start pounding the ball more often, giving Frazier some breathing room and stress relief in the coming weeks.
There was a lot of concern along the offensive line heading into the year. The Tigers were starting at least two freshmen, and had two sophomores on the interior. The lone senior along the line is John Sullen.
The Tigers knew that this squad was talented, but if they could gel early was a big question. So far, things have gone relatively well for the young group.
Players like Avery Young, Greg Robinson and Patrick Miller have stepped up and played well for Auburn. There have been few penalties attributed to the young Tigers, and the line has played with extreme aggression.
Kiehl Frazier has not been pressured into many throws and the running backs are all averaging over five yards per carry thanks to the effort of the hogmollies up front. As the season progresses, the Tigers should only get better up front.
The defensive line has shown flashes of greatness—most notably the entire performance against LSU—but the overall effort has not been up to par.
The strength of the Auburn team was expected to be the Tigers' front four this year on defense. Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford have been good off the edge, but the defensive tackles have allowed a ton of yardage to come through the guts of the defense.
A lot of the issues have come against unconventional offenses, but in the game of college football there are a lot of those hanging around. As it stands, the Tigers are the No. 101 rushing defense in the country giving up 208.25 yards per game. If that continues, it will be a long year.
The LSU game showed a lot of growth. The Tigers will need to bring that top effort for the rest of the season.
Auburn has brought in a slew of receiver talent in the past few seasons, but those bodies have yet to make it to the field to produce. Emory Blake has been the only receiver that has been a consistent threat this season.
Sammie Coates came on a week ago and made a huge play for the Tigers with a Hail Mary catch, but there has been little development outside of that big play.
Quan Bray is another player that has made a few plays, but his catches have shown up with little to no change on the game’s outcome. The lack of development on the outside should be a concern for Auburn fans.
The Tigers must find additional options that can bring a combination of playmaking and consistency to the Auburn offense. Scot Loeffler has shown that he will call pass plays—now the Tigers need to find the bodies to throw the ball to.
When the Tigers need a bright spot to point to, they look at the special teams units. The Tigers have been very consistent on special teams both in coverage and kick scenarios.
One of the biggest weapons the Tigers possess this season is kicker Cody Parkey. Parkey is 7-of-7 on the season and has worked magic on kickoffs. Parkey has been able to kick just short of the goal line on numerous occasions, allowing his kick team to make big plays before the returners hit the 20-yard-line.
Jay Boulware has earned his keep as the special teams coordinator and then some. Somebody get that guy a raise.
Third down is where defensive coordinators earn their dollars and offenses sustain drives. Early in 2012, the Tigers are ensuring a lot of lengthy tenures for opposing defensive coaches.
The Tigers have struggled offensively this year with a major issue coming for the Tigers on third down. Auburn currently converts 28 percent of its third downs. That number places Auburn at No. 120 out of 124 teams this season.
That is as bad as it gets. A lot of issues may come from the hole that gets dug with passing attempts on early downs, but no excuse can be made for that abysmal conversion percentage.
The Auburn offense was downright terrible last year. It is even worse this fall.
To put things into perspective, the Tigers are implementing a brand new offensive scheme that is nowhere close to what was run a year ago. The Tigers don’t have a veteran quarterback or offensive line.
With that being said, this offense is terrible. The Tigers are terribly inconsistent and can’t seem to find the first down sticks more than once in a drive. As it stands, the Tigers are the No. 113 offense in the country. Last year the Tigers were No. 100 at year's end.
There wasn’t a doubt that the Tigers would have growing pains heading into the 2012 season, but no one expected it to be this bad. There is a lot of football left to play for the Tigers, so there is hope for a change.
Keep expectations tempered Auburn fans—it doesn’t look like it is getting better anytime soon.
The Auburn secondary has drawn a lot of criticism—rightfully so—over the past three years. This year, the Tigers have looked much improved in the back half of the defense.
There have been some misses through the first four weeks, but when is the last time that a true freshman corner has stuck with an elite receiver and knocked the ball loose in the end zone for Auburn? I’ll hold for responses.
Seriously, this secondary group has been much improved over a year ago. The past few weeks, the Tigers have been playing a lot of man coverage when able, and it has made a difference.
Add in Demetruce McNeal’s assassin-like play—he has 40 tackles in four games—and this secondary has a lot of promise. The Tigers brought the heat to LSU from the secondary. Expect that type of lights out play to continue through the back half of the season.