There were several cases of mistaken identity in Auburn on Saturday.
The defensive team in white – the one that resembled the Pittsburgh Steelers – was actually an Arkansas defense that entered the game as the worst in the Southeastern Conference.
The offensive team in blue – the one that threw interceptions, lost fumbles, committed penalties and allowed humiliating sacks – resembled the Keystone Cops.
Steel Curtain meet Slapstick Comedy.
One thing is for sure, the Auburn team that was crushed 24-7 by Arkansas has no resemblance to one that could possibly qualify for a postseason bowl. Really, the Razorbacks have little chance to do that either. But on Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium, at times Auburn made the Hogs look like BCS contenders.
This much is not hard to recognize. If not for Kentucky, Auburn would be the worst team in the SEC. And, as bad as the Wildcats have been, even that ranking for the Tigers isn’t a sure thing.
Before the season began, you could have forecast a possible 1-4 start. Three of the first five opponents were highly ranked by Lindy’s … Clemson (13), LSU (2), and Arkansas (9). The first two games were away from home, including in Starkville against a senior-heavy Bulldog team. And, the Tigers were starting a new quarterback, with a new offensive line and two new coordinators. But, just losing the games hasn’t been the worst part for Auburn. It is how it’s been losing them.
They were dominated by Mississippi State and Arkansas. They blew chance after chance to pull upsets against Clemson and LSU. And, they’ve looked bad in every game.
How bad has this Auburn team looked?
The 1998 team won just three games, and it’s hard to see more than three wins for this team.
The 1952 team won only two games. With New Mexico State and Alabama A&M still on the schedule, this Tiger team should avoid that low-level mark. But based on how they played against Arkansas, don’t bet your mortgage on it.
In the past 60 years, only the 1980 Auburn team went winless (0-6) in the SEC. This year would be worse … the Tigers play eight league games. Look at the upcoming schedule and see if you can find a conference game that Auburn should win. I can’t.
Can this historic disaster be avoided this season? Probably not. The problems are so many and so basic and of such magnitude that it’s tough to imagine that degree of improvement happening.
Where do you start?
The offensive line was awful against Arkansas. The Razorbacks, who had just seven sacks in their first five games, had eight against Auburn. Tiger fans were having flashbacks of Brodie Croyle.
Even the most adamant Kiehl Frazier defender (and I’ve been one) has to be wondering if he will ever be the answer. He holds the ball too long under pressure, takes sacks for huge losses, misses open receivers, and plays with no confidence. Injured junior Clint Moseley did throw a third-quarter touchdown pass, but he also was sacked several times and threw two interceptions in the end zone.
Does that sound like the answer?
Freshman Jonathan Wallace just runs one play, and the quarterback of the future, Jeremy Johnson, plays for Carver (Montgomery) High School.
Those are the possible answers for Auburn at quarterback and none of them offer help soon.
There are the turnovers. Going into the Arkansas game, the Tigers were the nation’s worst team in that category, averaging a turnover every 20 offensive plays. The Razorbacks were close behind with one every 24 plays. Auburn had five more on Saturday, averaging one every 13 snaps, solidifying their hold on last place.
And, the penalties. Auburn had just five against Arkansas, but three of those came on the first three possessions of the second half, killing drives when the Tigers desperately needed to score and claim momentum.
The defense has improved the past two games, but it still gives up big plays, doesn’t force turnovers, and hasn’t been able to sustain momentum on those extremely rare occasions when the offense has done something good.
Even the usually reliable kicking game abandoned Auburn. Punter Steven Clark was outkicked by the Hogs’ Dylan Breeding by almost 21 yards per punt, and Cody Parkey missed his first field goal attempt of the season.
Maybe the worst indicator is play in the final stanza. When Arkansas outscored the Tigers, 14-0, that made the combined fourth quarter score through five games … Auburn 3, Opponents 45. The Tigers gather near midfield at the end of every third quarter, jump up and down in a frenzy, then run wildly toward fans in the end zone. Based on 2012 performance, they might want to just stay put, discuss a plan, and save their energy. Looks like they will need it.
Unfortunately, it’s no longer possible to ignore coaching in the equation. There are reasons – youth, schedule difficulty, injuries, and player problems – but regardless, at Auburn, just two years removed from a national championship, with back-to-back-to-back Top 10 recruiting classes, you shouldn’t win just three games.
For fans of a program like Auburn – the ninth winningest FBS team in the country over the past 60 years – that level of non-performance won’t be considered acceptable.
That’s not to say that Auburn should consider replacing the coaching staff yet. With the number of talented freshmen and sophomores on this team, and if Auburn can keep the five and four-star players already committed for the 2013 signing class, better times are ahead – probably as soon as next season.
But, that doesn’t change reality now.
Things are bad and likely to get worse before they improve. And, as they get worse, the seat for the coaching staff will only get hotter.
There’s no way to mistakenly identify this Auburn team for anything other than it is. That situation needs to change immediately, but there’s no reason to think it will happen any time soon.