Auburn Football: What New Head Coach Gus Malzahn Must Improve Most in 2013

Patrick Clarke@@_Pat_ClarkeCorrespondent IDecember 12, 2012

Dec 1, 2012; Jonesboro, AR, USA; Arkansas State Red Wolves head coach Gus Malzahn during the game against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders at ASU Stadium. Arkansas State defeated Middle Tennessee 45-0. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

It took less than two years for Auburn to go from best in the nation to the laughing stock of college football, from BCS national champions to winless in the SEC.

After finishing 14-0 atop the college football mountain in 2010, the Tigers have gone 11-14 since and now find themselves set to begin the Gus Malzahn era in 2013. Malzahn was hired following the firing of Gene Chizik, who led Auburn to a 3-9 season this past year.

Needless to say, Malzahn has his work cut out for him.

Here we'll break down what the former Auburn offensive coordinator and now head coach must improve on most next season. 

Quarterback Play

Auburn's quarterback play was dreadful in 2012, and that's why bringing in an offensive mind like the program's former offensive coordinator in Malzahn was so important for the Tigers. 

Auburn ranked 116th out of 124 FBS teams in passing offense this past season, averaging just 156.6 yards per game through the air. And only four teams in FBS threw for fewer touchdowns (eight) than the Tigers in 2012. 

The Tigers played a handful of quarterbacks this past year with zero success.

Freshman Jonathan Wallace struggled, as did sophomore Kiehl Frazier and junior Clint Moseley. The three combined for just 146 completions and 15 interceptions. It remains to be seen how Malzahn is going to improve Auburn's poor play under center, but he must if the Tigers are going to have a better showing in 2013.

Protecting the Ball

The easiest way for a good team to get beat is by turning the ball over. Not that Auburn was a good team this past season, but it did turn the ball over 25 times in 12 games, more than 90 other teams in the FBS. 

Of course, had the Tigers' defense been better then maybe they could have overcome their mistakes. Auburn only forced 13 takeaways all year, ranking it 112th in that category. Never mind the lack of turnovers created, turning the ball over more than twice per game on average will never get it done, no matter how talented the team.

Malzahn will need to preach ball security to both his running backs and his quarterbacks. Making examples of players who turn the ball over during practice and in games won't hurt either. 

Run Defense

Auburn's defense wasn't nearly as terrible as its offense in 2012, but nonetheless the Tigers' run defense could use some shoring up in 2013. 

Auburn ranked 100th in the country in rush defense last season, surrendering over 197 yards on the ground per game. The Tigers also gave up 23 rushing scores in 12 games under Chizik. A defense that porous spells trouble in general, but when pitted against SEC competition each week, well, things get outright ugly.

Sure, defense isn't Malzahn's specialty, but recruiting top-notch talent on that side of the ball will be where he excels down the road. For the time being his motivation and coordinators will have to do the job.

There isn't just one area or even three in particular that Auburn can improve on and suddenly return to championship form in 2013. But if Malzahn can change the culture this offseason and address the aforementioned issues next season, Tigers fans will at least have a team they can be proud of.

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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