There's a palpable air of disgust among Auburn fans since the team's most recent debacle, this time a never-close-for-a-moment blowout in Baton Rouge. One bad loss--Arkansas--could be shrugged off as a blip. A second--Kentucky--might be rationalized as a young team struggling to reestablish its identity. But three in a row, with the last coming in spectacularly inept fashion, that can't be acknowledged as anything less than a very ugly trend.
From the rash of mental errors on the field to the ubiquitous and ridiculous sight of former ticket office manager (and Jay Jacobs' BFF) Tim Jackson lurking around on the sidelines, an Auburn machine that ran with scarcely a hitch through September has thrown every conceivable rod in October. You didn't have to be a mind reader to hear the thoughts of the dispirited faces of the AU players and fans in Tiger Stadium. They sang out loud and clear: "Here we go again."
For opponents, the recipe for beating Auburn--soundly--is right back to where it was a year ago: stuff the run, get a lead, and cruise. That's all you need to do, because Auburn can't hurt you down the field, and their defense is too thin to stop you.
Chris Todd was either injured against Tennessee (and I strongly suspect that to be the case), or he's simply lost his mojo. Either way, Todd can no longer make the throws he was nailing for the first four and a half games, and by now everybody Auburn plays knows it. With the long threat gone, defenses can just stuff the run early and tee off on Todd late. All the misdirection in the world doesn't do you any good when the defense knows you're limited to the first 20 yards past the line of scrimmage. The safeties can just stay home and the defensive line can pin its ears back and go after you. Under those conditions, the magic of early 2009 has precipitously faded right back to the immobility of 2008. And of course it doesn't help any that the offensive line has gone right back to jumping offsides at the worst possible moments, or that Auburn still doesn't have a punt returner who can be trusted not to fumble a fair catch.
Auburn's defense hasn't had anything resembling a pass rush since late in the West Virginia game, and whether due to lack of players or just poor strategy, defensive coordinator Ted Roof is looking worse and worse as the opposing scores keep running up. And I think it's safe to say that the early season rumormongering about Gus Malzahn leaving in December to take a head coaching job aren't going to be heard again so long as his offense is averaging in the single-digits, as it has over the last two weeks (if you take out the meaningless garbage-time touchdown late Saturday night, it's a shining five point average).
I'd like to come up with something positive here, but the best thing I can say is that LSU wasn't able to run the ball all that much against Auburn. Of course, LSU hasn't been running the ball against much of anybody this year, and since they were able to throw pretty much at will against Auburn, they really didn't have to run if they didn't want to, so the point is rather moot.
Try as I might, I can't see how you don't look at this team and think that the wheels have come off. As to what that says about the young Gene Chizik era, the best thing I can say is that first years are rarely indicative of future performance (here's the canonical example). Recruiting and attrition have been so horrendous recently, Auburn might as well have been on probation for the past three years; the Tigers are playing with at least fifteen fewer scholarships than their opponents, and one glance at the defense tells you that in terms of SEC talent, things are even worse than that.
But even a team with limited numbers can play with discipline, and keep fighting on every play. Auburn's not doing either one right now, and that's a damning indictment of a coaching staff that certainly appears to have lost their team, and their way.