No one exactly can put a finger on the reason for the Auburn football team's struggles through the first six games in 2012.
It is not due to a lack of talent.
Auburn has had three-straight top-10 recruiting classes.
A good place to start when identifying what has caused a downhill spiral of Auburn’s season would be the mental and physical conditioning of this team.
62-3. These two numbers reflect the fourth quarter scoring in Auburn’s games this season.
The numbers also reflect its inability to execute at the end of games.
The three points for Auburn came at the very beginning of the fourth quarter against Clemson on a Cody Parkey field goal.
Lack of execution is the excuse for Auburn's tendency to get blown out in the fourth quarter of games this season, but the reason behind the excuse is that players typically aren’t able to execute because they are physically and mentally tired.
Auburn strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall said so himself.
"If we haven't done our job or if I haven't done my job more specifically, we could have the best offensive or defensive game plan in the world, but I think kids can't execute them because they're physically tired and we won't get anything done," Auburn strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall said.
"So I put a lot of premium on it and a lot of price on it." (via Alex Corddry, CBS42.com)
Although it has since been deleted, former Auburn offensive lineman Lee Ziemba chimed in with his thoughts on how well the 2012 Tigers are conditioned during Auburn's game vs. Ole Miss.
I will love auburn to the grave but this is the most mentally and physically weak team I have watched Auburn field..no heart...it's sad— Lee Ziemba (@Ziemba73) October 13, 2012
It's too bad that Auburn’s games are not only three quarters long. Things would not look as bleak as they do now.
Here are the scores after three quarters for each of the Tigers’ games this year:
Week 1: Clemson 16, Auburn 16
Week 2: Mississippi State 21, Auburn 10
Week 3: Louisiana-Monroe 14, Auburn 28
Week 4: LSU 12, Auburn 10
Week 6: Arkansas 10, Auburn 7
Week 7: Ole Miss 24, Auburn 20
In 2009 and 2010, if Auburn was close in the fourth quarter, chances were that the Tigers were going to win. It was a certainty that Auburn was going to fight for 60 minutes.
The Tigers are lucky to be competitive for 45 minutes in the last two seasons.
On Saturday, while watching Auburn take on Vanderbilt, pay special attention to the size of Auburn’s football team. While you’re at it, you can flip the channel and look at the size of LSU’s football team for comparison, since it plays at the same time as Auburn.
Saturday night, take a look at the size of many of Alabama’s players. There is a noticeable size difference between those two teams (last year’s national championship participants) and Auburn’s football team.
The big difference is in two key areas.
Offensive line and linebacker.
With an offense like Gus Malzahn’s, a smaller team can be successful because it relies on speed and finesse.
Just look at Oregon.
The Ducks rely on speed and finesse in their offense like Auburn once did. Oregon is very successful at it.
When running the pro-style offense like Auburn is now, it needs more power and brute force.
One of the first things that defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder noticed when he was hired last winter was the lack of size on Auburn’s defense. The Auburn linebacker corps in 2011 was the smallest in the SEC.
It is small once again in 2012.
When going against the power-run games and the offensive lines in the southeastern conference, being small on defense is a disaster waiting to happen. Auburn’s undersized defense is next-to-last in rushing defense in the SEC in 2012.
It should be noted that not all of the blame lies at the feet of Yoxall and the strength and conditioning staff. The Auburn coaching staff needs to do a better job of recruiting bigger bodies for him to work with.
Some players do not have the frame to get as big as they would like.
However, once the commitments get on campus, they become Yoxall’s responsibility to get stronger and to be able to compete at a high level against SEC competition.
Yoxall was one of three members of the previous staff that Gene Chizik retained when he was named head coach in December of 2008. Yoxall came to Auburn in 1999 from UCLA, and he has been as solid as a rock ever since.
His resume is as polished as any member of the Auburn coaching staff, as it features awards such as Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year in 2005.
Former Auburn Tiger and New Orleans Saints fullback Heath Evans used to return to Auburn in his NFL offseason to participate in “Yoxercise.”
It can be assumed that Yoxall is doing the same type of workouts that led his Auburn teams to a national championship in 2010 and an undefeated season in 2004.
Those things are not working anymore.
Auburn needs bigger, faster and tougher (mentally and physically) athletes on the field in order to compete for SEC titles.
When looking back and seeing why this Auburn team has struggled, it will not be for reasons such as effort or desire. These players want to win every time they put on the pads.
The poor play and 1-5 record in 2012 begins with this team's mental and physical toughness.
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