There has never been a season like this one for the Auburn Tigers.
The 2012 Tigers squad is the first in school history to have three losses before the month of October. A number of reasons account for this lack of success, but I'd like to focus on five key members of the Tigers whose disappointing play has contributed much to the team's downward spiral.
The Tigers have relied on these playmakers a lot this season and, with eight games left on the schedule to right the ship, these five have to step up their performance for Auburn to have a chance to turn the season around.
Kiehl Frazier has had a number of problems this season.
The most obvious has been his issue with accuracy, which is hampering the Tigers' offensive production.
Frazier has not only looked bad in most of his performances this season, but he appears to have little upside. Having a quarterback who makes mistakes but shows promise is forgivable.
Keeping a quarterback in the starting role while he struggles is never a very popular decision. The problem for Auburn is that there aren’t any viable options behind Frazier.
Kiehl Frazier is the key to Auburn turning around this season. Without a major turnabout in his play, the hopes of a bowl game are nil.
Reese Dismukes was suspended for the season opener after a public-intoxication arrest the week before. Dismukes returned against Mississippi State, but looked rusty in his first game back.
The rust seems to have followed Dismukes all the way into Week 4. Auburn has been able to run the football with regularity in every game this fall. It is surprising that the Tigers are averaging over five yards per carry with the issues they have come up front.
When he was suspended, Dismukes was replaced by sophomore Tunde Farikyike. Fariyike had a better game against Clemson than Dismukes has had all season. A return may be in the offing if Dismukes doesn’t make a change quickly.
Jake Holland has received a lot of heat since he has become a prominent member of the Tigers defense. This season there have been mixed results from the man in the middle.
Holland had one game where he played better than average, but in other contests, he has played very badly at times. Against LSU, he was at his best against, registering 10 tackles. But there were also a handful of missed tackles.
Holland plays one of the most important positions in the Brian VanGorder defense. He needs to get the ball rolling in the right direction soon. His leadership is needed.
The only backups to Holland right now are a former walk-on and a true freshman. The Tigers need him to turn around the season because the option to replace him isn't there.
Jeffrey Whitaker was expected to be a leader along the defensive line this season for Auburn.
The Tigers D-line was expected to be one of the team's strongest areas, but through four games there has been inconsistent play. The Tigers have had a great edge rush, but the center of the line has encountered a number of problems.
And Jeffrey Whitaker has been a big problem in the middle for Auburn.
Whitaker was expected to be one of the best interior defensive linemen in the country this year, but there has been a severe lack of production on his part. Whitaker turned it up against LSU this past week and hopefully will continue to build on that success.
Auburn needs for Whitaker to continue to make progress, as the success of the defense will rely on the ability of the front to get stops in the next eight games.
Jermaine Whitehead burst onto the scene last year as one of the most promising freshmen on the Tigers football team. Whitehead was a beast from the nickelback position, but this year he was making the move to safety.
After starting the season at the position, he was quickly replaced after the first two weeks. Whitehead is a very intelligent player, but he was struggling with the learning curve that accompanied the shift to the new position.
A major blown coverage by Whitehead in the Mississippi State game gave the Bulldogs a big score and a lot of momentum in the second half. Those types of plays tend to get a player more time on the bench than on the field.
Whitehead has continued to play for the Tigers—he had a key pass breakup against LSU—but he is no longer a listed starter. As the season progresses, Whitehead needs to get better at his new role in the Tigers defense.
There is a bright future for Whitehead; it is just taking a little longer to arrive than most Auburn fans had hoped.