Monday, October 8, 2012
Arkansas Review (AU 7 Arkansas 24)
I am by no means an Auburn apologist. Don't get me wrong, those that know me best know my heart, my allegiance, my passion to see Auburn excel in every undertaking. Those that know me best also know me as a realist, someone who'll give a heart-felt, honest assessment whether life is good or life stinks to high heaven. Right now, for Auburn fans, life is tragic on Saturdays. And this will not be an easy assessment to write.
What we saw Saturday was quite simply an unprepared football team. Not at every position, not each individual to a man, but overall a team one step slower, one notch less passionate, one level less intense, hungry, DESPERATE. A team displaying poor execution, a team who's only consistency is being inconsistent...ending drive after drive after drive with sacks, penalties, fumbles, interceptions. It's a disgusting sight...historically a sight we are unfamiliar with as Auburn people, but a sight we are undoubtedly being force-fed in heaping amounts on a routine basis. The results have been difficult to defend for some time, but after losing to an Arkansas team without a pulse, coming off a bye week, the results have become indefensible. If we're being honest with ourselves...we'd have to hire David Axelrod or Karl Rove to spin the state of Auburn football in a positive light. Not even the late Johnnie Cochran would take this case.
The sad reality is this team is probably a mediocre at best QB away from being a decent football team still in the thick of the SEC division race. Unfortunately, the lack of mental development at this position is frightening, has been the chief impediment to this group having success, and is solely the responsibility and failure of coach Scot Loeffler. For a coach whose MO coming into Auburn was quarterback development, he'll leave Auburn with his resume forever stained by his tutelage of Kiehl Frazier and Clint Moseley. Five games under our belt and I still have no idea what our offensive identity is? Are we a finesse/misdirection offense, a spread offense, an I-back, one back, no back, 5-wide, three TE, downhill attack or sideways attack? The answer is we're all of it...we are multiple indeed...but we do none of it well enough to win. We're a train wreck offensively and it's pathetic to watch.
Loeffler is not alone in his ability to stink up the place. The consistently inconsistent play of our offensive line and TEs, our inopportune turnovers, our presnap penalties all effectively killed drives...nothing Arkansas did...rather self-inflicted wounds. I didn't expect this offensive unit to set the world on fire Saturday, but I did expect to see improvement, to see two weeks worth of preparation against a miserable defensive unit to be the Rx for what ails us. Instead, we got more of the same and it's unacceptable...Coach Chizik was first to say so. When you're forced to apologize on more than one occasion for the way your football team played in a given season you're forced to look beyond the players and straight to the coaches preparing those players. They're not getting it done.
When Kiehl Frazier time and time again refuses to simply throw the football away I point to preparation. When Onterio McCalebb fumbles a KO return I question his mental preparation. When Trovon Reed repeatedly allows punts to land and roll giving up valuable field position for a struggling offense I wonder why it doesn't mean more to him to benefit his unit. When Tre Mason has but 6 touches the entire game I question what in the hell our offensive coordinator is thinking, and why is our head coach not demanding #21 carries the ball more. When I see Steven Clark let a punt snap slide through his hands...hit his helmet...and nearly have his punt blocked out of the end zone I know something is amiss. When we come out after the half and our first play is false start by our most experienced offensive player in Phillip Lutzenkirchen I know we're still not on the same page. When the offensive line gives up more sacks to a team than that opponent has accumulated against all teams combined I see the signs of a unit content with going through the motions.
Defensively, I thought we played about as well as we could against this team. In fact, I nailed the Arkansas score in my preview prediction (I missed the Auburn score however by 30!). I would have liked for us to have opened up with more success out of the gate to set an initial tone and let Arkansas know it would be a long day. We didn't do that. Most discouraging was allowing Arkansas to drive 75 yards for a TD immediately after our offense shows a pulse and cuts the lead to three. Just when a three and out was in order...we fail to come through with a stop. The inability to get pressure on Wilson was a problem, but in truth...the defense made it a ball game into the fourth quarter. Without their effort through three quarters the game is over at the half. They have improved. They have guys that play with passion and intensity and are a unit that from game one to five have begun to get it. I don't get the impression defensively we're poorly prepared or lack basic fundamentals. We're young, we're still learning a system, but we're now playing well enough to win football games.
From here...I just don't have an answer. It's increasingly difficult to see Coach Chizik survive this start. For a coach with such promise, such conviction and belief in his way of doing things, his post game head-scratching leads me to believe without running the table from here out, his days are numbered. There's been too many players not live up to even a fraction of their recruiting stature. Too many decisions regarding personnel that haven't panned out and have set the program back. Too many losses in which Auburn has looked totally inept, unable to answer, unwilling to adjust, incapable of providing a challenge. Too many losses against the teams we love to beat (LSU, Georgia, Alabama) and the teams we expect to beat (Mississippi St., Arkansas, Clemson) regardless...based on program and tradition alone.
I like Gene, think highly of Gene, have always wished I could have played under Gene, but his football team has regressed and there's simply no where else to point the finger than at the head coach. I'm sure there are things behind the scenes we have no knowledge of, hurdles particular players must overcome to compete, challenges away from the football complex that make his job more difficult than we could ever imagine. His greatest attribute during 2010 was his steadiness, his ability to absorb the criticism, the doubt, the detractors and do so with grace, with poise, with loyalty, with a steel chin. Those same qualities being displayed toward on offensive approach...a coordinator and QB unable to deliver positive results...may be precisely what leads to his undoing. Sad.
All that being said, Auburn will continue on being the Auburn we know and love. There will be those that attempt to divide us and some of us will let them be successful. There will be a strong contingent loyal to Coach Chizik and that should be respected. There will be a strong contingent wanting a clean sweep and that too should be respected. Regardless, we all know we will return to the pinnacle of college football where Auburn University belongs and we will be all the more grateful, all the more humble, all the more in a position to relish the ride because of the adversity we endured. When times are tough I always think of the old proverb, 'Good timber does not grow with ease, the stronger the wind, the stronger the trees.' It rings true. Whatever happens, handle it with class, dignity and an appreciation of the players who live with the decisions others make on their behalf. I've been exactly where these guys sit. Support them. Love on them. Don't give up on them. Better days are ahead.