The Auburn Tigers traveled to Nashville, Tennessee this weekend to take on the Commodores from Vanderbilt. Auburn entered the contest coming off an embarrassing defeat by the hands of the Ole Miss Rebels in Oxford to a score of 41-20. The Commodores came into Vanderbilt Stadium at Dudley Field after losing a hard fought game to the Florida Gators, 31-17, a week before. Although the Commodores entered Saturday’s contest with a better record (2-4) and more momentum than the Tigers, many Tiger fans believed that Auburn may be able to add win number two in Nashville.
At the end of the Saturday, Auburn fans were disappointed once again. Vanderbilt struck first with a Wesley Tate seven yard touchdown scamper in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Vandy added a field goal, but the Tigers ended the half with some momentum. Auburn was able to utilize the combination of Tre Mason and Cody Parkey for 10 points in the second quarter. In a defensive struggle during the second half, the Commodores were able to put up seven more points by way of a Zac Stacy two yard touchdown run in the 3rd quarter. The Tigers, however, could only respond with a field goal and were defeated 17-13.
There is a pattern emerging from my blogs. It is getting more difficult by each week to truly find a “good” section. The “bad” and “ugly” however are becoming easier to find. I give to you the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Vanderbilt game.
True freshman Cassanova McKinzy out of Woodlawn High School received the start over veteran Jake Holland this past Saturday, and Cassanova did not miss the opportunity to impress early and often. Not only did McKinzy bring more size and a better linebacker build to Saturday’s game, he also brought a mean streak to a usually soft Auburn defense. I was very impressed with McKinzy’s play. I do believe there were some busted plays, some missed assignments, and other freshman mistakes, but I currently do not have game film on hand. What I can tell you is that McKinzy earned the starting role throughout fall practice. He worked hard, and he gained the nod on Saturday. He impressed and his stats tell the same story. He finished the day against Vanderbilt with 12 total tackles, seven of which were solo tackles, and five assists. McKinzy is a young player that is very exciting to watch. There is no doubt that he is one of the blocks of foundation for the Auburn defense in the future.
Has anybody seen Corey Lemonier lately? No, I do not mean on campus. I am referring to Saturdays only. After having an impressive start to the year, Corey has completely fallen off the map. I am not sure if it is due to opposing offenses double teaming him or if the disappointments of the season have taken its toll, but Corey is nowhere to be found recently. Lemonier only posted one tackle against Vanderbilt, and it was an assisted tackle. It does not help that fellow defensive end Dee Ford is injured. With both of those ends healthy and hungry, their play tremendously helps out a very average interior defensive line. With Lemonier not producing at his defensive end spot, the Auburn defensive line is not able to penetrate in the backfield. Lemonier truly gives the Auburn defense one of its few sack threats without blitzing. Hopefully, Lemonier will show back up this weekend against Texas A&M and Ford recovers from an injury that has kept him limited recently.
In a game in which Vanderbilt and Coach James Franklin tried time and time again to hand over to Auburn, the Auburn coach staff just could not get it done. Again. The Auburn football program is currently in a serious state of confusion, indecisiveness, and frustration. Many questions emerge from Auburn fans: Does Chizik deserve another year? If not, should we hire somebody like Petrino? Would Gus Malzahn consider coming back? How can Auburn be so unsuccessful on the field yet so successful on the recruiting trail?
These are questions I have heard time and time again and have also pondered over myself. After trying to give Coach Gene Chizik the benefit of the doubt, I have come to the opinion that it would be best if the Auburn football program let Coach Chizik go. Coach Chizik has done a lot for the Auburn Family, and for that, he will always have my utmost respect. He lead the 2010 Auburn Tigers to a National Championship, the first in over 50 years. Not only that, but Coach Chizik endured many hardships through that year due to multiple accusations of the recruiting of Heisman winner Cam Newton. There is zero doubt in my mind that Coach Chizik cares for the Auburn football team, the university, the community, and the Auburn Family.
Upon saying that though, I must add that when a coach loses a team, usually the only option is to clean the slate and start over. It would be one thing if this Auburn football team was improving every week, but they are not. The competitive spirit seems like it has been sucked out of the team. You have younger players calling out older players, quarterbacks calling out wide receivers, and the defense getting upset with the offense, but that responsibility falls on the shoulders of one man and one man only: Coach Gene Chizik. Make no mistake about it, Coach Chizik has lost this team’s confidence, and when that happens, there is no other choice but to let the coach go. I truly hate it for him because, as I stated above, I really do believe that Chizik loves Auburn, but sometimes, things just do not work out.
It will be interesting to see what the future holds for this Auburn Tiger football program. I would not be surprised at all if Auburn wins two more games to finish the year: New Mexico State and Alabama A&M. This week’s game against Texas A&M could get ugly quickly with Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel leading the charge into Jordan Hare Stadium. The Georgia and Alabama games are already being marked down as blowout losses by many fans, and who is to blame them? This Auburn football team is not playing well at all. As much as it pains me to type this, I have to say that either Auburn or Kentucky is the worst team in the SEC at the moment.
I believe that Chizik will stay to the end of the year. I do not see why Auburn would fire him mid-season, but that does not mean that they are not already preparing for his replacement right now. A couple of names jump out immediately: Bobby Petrino (Yes, I know what you are thinking), Jimbo Fisher, Gus Malzahn, and Charlie Strong come to mind. No matter who gets the job, if a hiring actually takes place, they will receive a football team that is young and very talented due to Chizik and company’s great success on the recruiting trail the past few years.
Endure the struggle Auburn Family. I know the 2010 National Championship is still fresh on your minds, but it took the 2008 (5-7) season to propel Auburn’s pursuit of the crystal ball. A coaching change was made after that year, and it paid off pretty well, huh? I like to think that we are at the same crossroads now. If Chizik is indeed fired, and the right hire is made, you will be surprised the difference a year can make. I am not predicting a BCS appearance next year or 2014 for that matter, but I do believe this Tiger team is young and is made up of enough play-makers to compete in the SEC on a weekly basis.
This Saturday, a new conference foe comes into Jordan Hare Stadium for the first time: The Texas A&M Aggies. If you are able to, make the trip to Auburn. Enjoy the scenery. Grab a lemonade from Toomer’s Drugs. Attend Tiger Walk. Welcome our new SEC foes to the best conference in football. Be proud of the orange and blue. A lot of fans love their teams because of the football program, but Auburn is one of the few fan bases that love Auburn for Auburn alone. The Auburn football team will see better days! War Eagle!