LSU 31, Auburn 10: Looking For Silver Linings in Loss
In the aftermath of another abysmal, soul-wrecking performance, the now 5-3 Auburn Tigers are searching for silver linings in some very dark clouds.
Let's get this out of the way. There is almost nothing positive to take from the 31-10 thrashing delivered by LSU Saturday night. Search if you will, but there are no silver linings. There are no bronze linings. There are no linings of any color, only clouds. Menacing clouds.
If there's any solace at all to be wrung from the shockingly bad display, it would be that career backup quarterback Neil Caudle came off the bench when the outcome was decided, played with enthusiasm and reckless abandon and made plays that neither starter Chris Todd or designated "wildcat" Kodi Burns have shown any recent capability of making.
If you're looking for some small glimmer of hope, tailback Ben Tate still runs the ball like he's on a mission. He picked up 76 yards on 18 carries...not nearly enough.
If you're trying to find that needle of encouragement in a haystack of despair, Mario Fannin acts like it means something to him. Unfortunately, Fannin doesn't get enough touches to make a major impact.
There's no getting around the simple fact that Auburn is a bad football team. What's worse is that the Tigers have steadily gotten worse as the season progressed.
The Bayou beatdown may have been the single worst effort by an Auburn football team in decades. It's definitely in the conversation.
Another writer recently chastised those who characterized Auburn's 5-0 start as a mirage, noting that a mirage, by definition, indicates seeing something that isn't there.
After the collapse in the last three weeks, mirage may be the most fitting term. Caught up in the relief of a 5-0 start, it was easy for hopeful Tiger fans to see things that weren't really there, while looking past the things that were staring them directly in the face.
Yes, Auburn is a bad football team. The Tigers were incredibly fortunate to reel off five wins to start the season. In retrospect, Auburn could easily have lost to both Tennessee and West Virginia. Luck has run out.
Good football teams do not bog themselves down with senseless penalties. A week after a series of absurd penalties in the fourth quarter killed what would likely have been a game-clinching drive and later an attempt to tie, Auburn was flagged seven times for 64 yards against LSU.
Three of those penalties, including two 15-yarders, came on LSU's opening drive, a scoring march that put Auburn in a hole from which it never recovered.
Penalties are a matter of discipline: something this Auburn team is suddenly lacking, and something that can be laid squarely at the feet of the coaching staff.
Good football teams do not turn the ball over. Two fumbles and an interception were costly against LSU.
Good football teams do not outcoach themselves. Too many times, the Tigers went away from what worked on offense in a doomed attempt to be cute or tricky. It isn't always necessary to operate from 15 different formations with nine variations of motion to get the job done.
Auburn's first possession of the game showed promise.
Two scrambles by Todd and a designed run from Burns moved the chains.
Running back Ben Tate ripped off a nine-yard blast to near midfield. On second down and one, Burns came back on and launched an awkward laser that had zero chance of being caught by Mario Fannin.
On third and one, a slow-developing handoff to Tate was stuffed for no gain.
In the confusion over whether to go for the first or punt, the Tigers were flagged for a false start.
Auburn punted and confidence wilted.
After LSU scored on the penalty-aided drive, the Tiger offense again failed to convert a third-and-one.
Good football teams do not finish with less than 100 yards in a half. Auburn managed a mere 42 yards in the first two quarters, six of that coming on the last play of the half.
It may be too early to declare that offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's system will not translate to SEC play, but if you can't write it in ink, you can definitely jot it down it in pencil.
Back in early September, head coach Gene Chizik cautioned about putting too much stock into Auburn's early effectiveness under Malzahn.
"Right now, its effective simply because there are some new things off of it that we can do," he said then. "After four or five weeks, now, you run out of things and you just got to execute better than the other guy."
Change Chizik's first name to Nostradamus. Week five opponent Tennessee slowed the Auburn offense drastically. Since then, it's gone nowhere.
Auburn certainly isn't executing better than the other guy.
You could make a compelling case that the five-win string aside, Auburn's offense under Malzahn is even less effective than it was under the heckled Tony Franklin.
His performance was considered so bad he was ejected from the program in mid-season and suffered the ignominy of the media snapping photos of him carting his belongings to his car after being summarily booted.
In Malzahn's apparent desire to get as many hands on the ball as he can, his overcoaching seems to drown continuity.
Auburn once estabilshed its reputation by handing the ball to its backs 30 or more times a game, relentlessly wearing out opposing defenses.
It worked for Carnell Williams, Rudi Johnson, James Joseph, Brent Fullwood, Kenny Irons, Bo Jackson, and a host of other Tiger backs.
Tate wants to carry the team. It might not be a bad idea to let him. It is readily apparent that Todd is incapable of doing so.
Good football teams do not choke against the worst defenses in the SEC and allow the worst offenses in the SEC to gash them.
Arkansas was among the worst in the league on defense when the Hogs abused the Tiger offense and rendered it completely impotent.
LSU was statistically one of the worst offenses in the SEC when it passed and ran with abandon over the Tiger stopping unit.
Auburn is simply a bad football team. There's no way to sugar-coat it.
Depth may be a valid issue, but depth isn't the problem on the first drive of the game. Depth doesn't commit ridiculous penalties that kill drives or extend those of the opponent.
During the three-game losing streak, the Tiger coaching staff seems to have no concept how to correct the issues that plague the team week after week.
The defensive schemes employed by coordinator Ted Roof are horrific. Receivers are given enormous cushions and are routinely wide open across the middle and on the corners.
Tackling fundamentals are poor and get worse week by week.
The Tennessee Volunteers under first-year coach Lane Kiffin may not make a bowl, but you can see the team gradually improving. Each outing is slightly better than the last.
Same for Mississippi State and new head coach Dan Mullen.
On the same day Auburn was being made to look like chumps against an overrated LSU team, Kiffin's Volunteers had a legitimate chance to knock off second-ranked Alabama and Mullen's Bulldogs kept top-ranked Florida on the ropes for three quarters.
Both the Vols and Dogs acquitted themselves far better than the Tigers.
Chizik is precariously close to losing the team as evidenced by the expressions captured on the sidelines in the fourth quarter.
Chizik adopted "Do What We Do" as the team's unofficial slogan. That was great when what the Tigers were doing was working.
What will Chizik do when doing what he does continues to fail? So far, he has no answer.
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