Auburn Football: Winners and Losers from the First Month
We have closed the book on September, and the calendar will turn to October on Monday. No Auburn fan, coach or player is happy about being 1-3 after a sluggish September.
At this point in the season, the Tigers have their work cut out for them to achieve bowl eligibility. They have two games remaining against teams that are ranked in the top five in the country.
The Tigers will look to turn things around next Saturday and get October off to the right start against an Arkansas team that has struggled as much as, and maybe more, than Auburn.
Before putting September behind us, let's find some winners and losers from the first month of college football.
Winner: Young Running Backs
After the Mike Dyer expulsion from the football program and the ruling that Jovon Robinson was academically ineligible, there was fear about the capability of the running back position in 2012.
Tre Mason put those fears to rest in the very first game against Clemson, gaining 106 yards in his first game. In Week 2, Mason only received eight carries.
Mason had his second best game in Week 3 against ULM, where he tallied 90 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. The sophomore only had nine carries against LSU but showed his ability to run the ball at a high level.
Mason has 275 yards so far this year. With the struggles of the passing attack, Mason needs to be getting more carries on a consistent basis.
Mike Blakely has been effective when he has gotten an opportunity to carry the ball. He led all rushers against Mississippi State in Week 2 when he had 42 yards on 11 carries. In Week 3, Blakely had a fumble deep in ULM territory, and we have not seen him on the field since then.
Loser: Gene Chizik's Comfort Level
Things have to get much worse for Gene Chizik not to be the Auburn head coach in 2013. With that said, he has not done himself any favors in the month of September with the way that Auburn has played.
With each loss in 2012, a little more pressure gets put on Chizik to produce a solid team in 2013. Chizik can do himself some favors by having Auburn ready to play each and every remaining game this season. Playing like it did against LSU (especially defensively) is the kind of play Auburn fans expect from their team.
Auburn needs to show that it is improving over the course of 2012. It is Chizik's responsibility to make sure this team does that. If the Auburn offense can improve and the defense can continue its recent play, Chizik should be a little more comfortable after the season than he is after September.
Winner: Special Teams
As a whole, the Auburn special teams unit has been excellent in 2012. They have been the difference in games (both positively and negatively) on more than one occasion.
Against Mississippi State, there was a big field goal block before half time to keep the game close. On the opening kickoff of the second half, Onterio McCalebb returned it for a touchdown to give the Tigers a temporary lead.
In Week 3, special teams play was highlighted by a field goal block in overtime by Angelo Blackson. Cody Parkey won the game in overtime with a field goal.
Auburn is ranked in the top 10 nationally in kickoff return yardage allowed and kickoff returns.
Auburn also ranks eighth nationally in punt return yardage defense.
The lone blunder for Auburn on special teams came last week when Quan Bray could not handle an LSU punt. It was the difference in Auburn's unsuccessful upset bid against LSU.
Despite the mishap, Auburn's special teams play was outstanding in September.
Loser: Transition to Pro-Style Offense
Gene Chizik decided to go a different way offensively when Gus Malzahn left the Auburn program to become head coach at Arkansas State.
The extreme shift in philosophy and scheme under new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler has resulted in a bumpy road offensively. Auburn ranks last in the conference in passing offense, total offense and scoring offense. It ranks 11th in rushing offense.
Loeffler runs a run-first, pro-style offense with variations of the spread. Gus Malzahn's offense was a run-first, spread offense that relied on misdirection and tempo.
Quarterback play has been a major factor for the offensive struggles. Kiehl Frazier was groomed since middle school for Gus Malzahn's offense.
Auburn fans knew that the transition would take some time, but no one thought it would struggle this much offensively.
Competition breeds success, and Auburn hopes that is true for all of the competition going on at different positions.
With all the talent that has been accumulated in the last three recruiting classes, players will continue to work hard for playing time.
Right tackle Patrick Miller is a perfect example. While Avery Young was doing an admirable job at right tackle the first three games, Miller's hard work paid off when he got the starting nod against LSU in Week 4.
Joshua Holsey saw significant time at cornerback for the first time against LSU as well. He had a big pass breakup late in the game.
Are the coaches sending quarterback Kiehl Frazier a wakeup call by burning Jonathan Wallace's redshirt against LSU?
The coaches have said many times that competition will continue at every position, and there is not a starting spot promised to anyone. This competition can only lead to good things for the Auburn football team.
Loser: Offensive Play-Calling
Scot Loeffler is only in his second year as a full-time offensive coordinator. One area in which he must become better is in his play-calling. The play-calling up to this point has been extremely predictable. It's also been highly questionable.
At times, it seems like Auburn only has three or four plays in their playbook. Jet sweep to McCalebb, stretch play to Mason to the left and a bubble screen to Bray is what a typical three-and-out looks like for Auburn.
It is too often an occurrence that Auburn is in a 2nd-and-long situation. An offense, especially one with a young quarterback, will not be successful if it is constantly playing behind the chains on first down.
Running a draw will never be understood when it is 3rd-and-16 or longer. It's been called multiple times. It shows no confidence in your offense or your young quarterback.
Scot Loeffler needs to use Tre Mason and Mike Blakely more. Tre Mason went from 22 carries against ULM to only nine carries against LSU? Why? Especially when he was showing some success in the second half. Blakely went from 11 carries against Mississippi State to only three against ULM and zero against LSU.
Loeffler seems intent on calling plays according to his offensive philosophy instead of calling plays that are geared toward the strength of his offensive players. In a transition phase, it is more important to do the latter. Loeffler needs to get out of his comfort zone when calling plays and do what his offensive players are more comfortable with.