Let's face it, nobody wants to get Croomed.
--FTB, August 8, 2007
While there's very little "good" that can be taken out of losing to what 24 hours ago was considered the SEC's worst team, Auburn fans now have at least the comfort of certainty: this isn't going to be a good year. No need to fret over the conference standings, much less the BCS. While this is hardly an ideal point of reference, it does have a clarifying effect. Now we can concentrate on simple survival.
I could go into another dissection of the game itself, but what's the point? Everyone who watched knows what happened, and why. You're not going to beat much of anybody when you commit five turnovers, especially when three of them go for points. You're not going to win games when your defense stays on the field for two-thirds of the first half. Not even South Florida, Not even Mississippi State.
I'm quite happy to give State credit for the win. For all the abuse he's received (much of it deserved), Sylvester Croom has succeeded in at least one crucial respect: he's taught his team not to give up. The first two or three squads he coached would have packed it in after getting crushed in the opener, but Croom found a way to get his guys ready to play again, and they deserved the win on Saturday. They played tough, they were well-prepared, and big Anthony Dixon is a heck of a good running back. The draw play on third-and-long late in State's game-winning drive was as perfect a play call as you're ever going to see.
As for Auburn... look, a blind man could see on Saturday that this is a team with a lousy offense. There are sparks here and there, but every time over the last two games I thought the ship was righting itself, somebody pointed a cannon at the deck and opened fire. Did anybody really think that last drive was going to be successful?
Before talking about the quarterbacks, let's talk about the guys they're throwing to. There's no point in being anything other than blunt here: Auburn has a bunch of receivers who can't get open, and when they do get open, they can't catch balls that hit them in the hands. That goes double for the tight ends, who've all gone backwards since they arrived on campus. Receivers coach Greg Knox and tight ends coach Steve Ensminger have collectively done a lousy job of developing these players. Period, dot. I'm still trying to figure out what Ensminger's actual job is. 2003 proved he isn't a competent play-caller or quarterback coach. Since being demoted he's managed to take at least one guy who had great hands as a true freshman (Tommy Trott) and turn him into a one-man incompletion machine.
Tommy Tuberville and his staff do deserve some credit for doing something about the painfully-obvious fact that Brandon Cox is having a terrible senior year, and particularly over the last two games is doing more harm than good. I don't like writing that, and I have no doubt the staff didn't like realizing it, but at least they did accept the rotten reality and moved to get another signal-caller ready last week. They ignored my advice in doing so (a decidedly low hurdle, I hasten to add) and ramped up true freshman Kodi Burns, who all things considered played well in his first outing as a Tiger. Yes, Burns turned the ball over twice, the second time letting State back in the game, but those are the breaks when you play a true freshman.
That said, while Burns brought a tangible spark to the offense, a spark isn't enough. Sure, it's fun to watch Burns and the running backs bolt through option plays, but there's a reason why no successful SEC team has run the option in nearly a quarter-century: it doesn't win games any more. Al Borges and Auburn have got to have more than that up their sleeves if there's to be any hope of salvaging something out of this season.
I'd like to sit here and tell you how and why 2007 can be turned around into something other than a twelve-week debacle, but finding bright spots is pretty tough right now. The worst negative trademark of Tuberville staffs is complacency, and I suspect we're seeing the results of yet another round right now. With the exception of the last-minute addition of a limited "Burns Offense," we haven't seen any indications that the staff knows how to correct its offensive woes. It shouldn't have taken three games (certainly not against these three opponents) for the staff to understand that they have an immovable object on that side of the ball. What's worse, Auburn is plagued with injuries, at least suggesting that the conditioning program may have fallen off.
Where we go from here is anybody's guess. Right now only the Tennessee Tech game should be considered a probable win. I've already seen people calling for Tuberville's head, but even given the crash landing the team suffered on Saturday, I have to suggest that these people get a life--and I say that as one of the loudest voices who said he needed to go in 2003. Tuberville made his point in the aftermath of that year, and at the very least he's earned the right to survive one bad season, even if that forbearance is not due to all of his assistants.
Now we're at rock bottom, and now's when coaching can make a difference. Now we'll see how good they really are.