Auburn: Four Games Full of Positives and Negatives


Sep 22, 2012; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers running back Onterio McCalebb (23) celebrates with tight end Brandon Fulse (11) after scoring a touchdown against LSU during the first quarter at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-US PRESSWIRE

The Auburn Tigers have opened their 2012 campaign with a record of 1-3, a disappointment to most Tiger fans. The first third of the season has been an emotional rollercoaster that has left many fans wondering exactly how good this football team really is. The season started out with high hopes, as Auburn played a good Clemson team tough in Atlanta yet falling in the end by the score of 26-19. Then, the Tigers took their talents to Starkville, Mississippi to face SEC West foe, the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Although Auburn played a decent first half, the Bulldogs were too much as Auburn was soundly defeated 28-10. The giant killing, Louisiana Monroe Warhawks, came to Auburn in week 3 with another upset on their mind after defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks the week earlier. It took Auburn everything they had, and then some, to defeat the Warhawks in overtime by a score of 31-28. The last time we were able to see the Auburn Tigers play, the number two team in the country, the LSU Tigers, came into town. Although many experts, and majority of Auburn fans, expected a blowout, the Auburn Tigers valiantly played the defending SEC Champions even though it was not enough in the end as LSU edged Auburn 12-10.

The season is still young, but it is always informative to take a look back at the first four games of the season and record the positives and negatives. Even though the record may not show it, the Auburn Tigers have had a few positive results on the field. As you can imagine by starting the season 1-3, there are a couple of negatives which have jumped out that should be addressed if the Tigers want to finish the year on a high note.


1) Special Teams Play

This has, by far, been the Auburn Tigers’ biggest bright spot on the field. Place kicker Cody Parkey has been perfect on the year by nailing seven out of seven field goal attempts. He is also sporting a 100% rating on point after attempts by going seven for seven as well. Return man Onterio McCalebb has averaged 36.8 yards per return with one TD for his long of 100 yards. Punter Steven Clark has shown why he is considered one of the best punters in the nation by punting 22 times with an average of 40.5 yards per punt. Clark’s hang time gives punt returners fits. A huge special teams blunder that cost Auburn, and probably an upset against the second best team in the country, was the muffed punt by returner Quan Bray two weeks ago. Overall though, you cannot be disappointed with this special teams unit.

Overall Grade: A

2) Corey Lemonier’s Consistency and Dee Ford’s Emergence

Corey Lemonier made his name known to the SEC in the 2011 season by racking up 28 total tackles, 19 assists, and 9.5 sacks. Through the first third of the 2012 season, Lemonier has not disappointed. Corey has mustered 16 tackles, 6 assists, and 5 sacks through the first four games. He is not alone on the Auburn Tigers defensive front. Dee Ford has emerged as yet another great Tiger pass rusher. Dee Ford has gained 13 tackles, 6 assists, and 2 sacks through the first four games. Even though the defensive production has been lackluster at times, one cannot ignore the pass rushing abilities of Lemonier and Ford, especially on 3rd and long situations.

Overall Grade: A-

3) Defensive Improvement

I know what you are thinking. How can one possibly see defensive improvement being one of the positives through the first four games? After all, the Auburn defense has given up a total of 1,667 yards through four games which averages close to 420 yards per game. Here is something you must consider: Auburn has played four games. Through those four games, three out of the four opponents have ran a spread offensive philosophy against the Tigers with all three running at least a variation of the hurry up no huddle. Against LSU, who runs a more traditional pro style/power running scheme, Auburn’s defense looked lights out by holding the Bengal Tigers to only 351 total yards. Of course, this Auburn defense has not looked great and honestly this unit has looked lost at times, but I believe the title of “best hire” for Coach Gene Chizik during his tenure has to belong to Coach Brian VanGorder. The defense has not been perfect, but under Coach VanGorder’s watch, I do see improvement. I believe the Auburn defense will be even better by the end of the year. Give Brian VanGorder another year or so to recruit his type of players, and the Auburn defense could be its strength once more.

Overall Grade: B


1) What is the Identity of this Auburn Offense Again?

I remember on January 22, 2012 when Coach Gene Chizik hired former Temple Offensive Coordinator Scott Loeffler. The Auburn Family’s mouths watered, fantasizing about the long lost days of the AU offense lining up in an I-formation and executing a downhill running game. Yeah, it was a good thought, wasn’t it?

There is no easy way to say it: This Auburn offense has been atrocious. Through the first four games, this offense has accounted for 1,191 yards which averages close to 300 yards a game. 612 of those 1,191 yards have been on the ground that averages 153 yards per game. Power running game, right?

If you think the running game has been below average, I do not suggest looking toward the Auburn passing game. Poor Kiehl Frazier has been disappointing, but I honestly believe the play calling has not helped him at all. Also, it still appears to me that the Auburn coaching staff does not truly trust him to run the system that they planned. Frazier has attempted 89 passes and completed only 47 of them to give him a 52.8% completion rate. Through four games, he has accounted for 2 passing TD’s and 7 interceptions. He has also been sacked on 9 occasions. Do not get me wrong, Frazier has the skills. Even on some of his errant passes, you are able to see the type of strength his arm has. He really can sling the rock.  Frazier’s running skills have been scouted well by Auburn’s opponents and have been taken out of the picture.

Frazier is going to continue to improve over time; there is no doubt about it. You cannot teach experience. I believe the game is still really, really fast for him. If Emory Blake or Philip Lutzenkirchen is not open, it seems like Frazier panics. He has made some decent decisions, but he has also made some terrible ones.

All in all, Auburn has to do a better job moving the football. The play calling should be centered on the first year starter at quarterback. Give Frazier some easy throws. Get him into a rhythm. Execute the running game in order to open up the play-action pass. As I stated above regarding the defense, I also believe that this Auburn offense will improve over time, but, boy, it has been hard to watch through the first four games.

Overall Grade: D+

2) Leadership? Anyone?

This negative jumped out to me during the Mississippi State on week 2 of the college football season. Let us recap: the defense played a hard fought first half, holding the Bulldogs to just 7 points at half even though the Bulldogs had multiple opportunities to score some points. The Auburn offense (surprise, surprise) was very slow in the first half only mustering together a field goal. After a stellar first half, it seemed like the Auburn defense would continue the fight into the second and hope the offense could execute, but that did not happen, did it?

In what, in my eyes, was one of the most disgusting games in my time of watching Auburn football, the Auburn defense eventually rolled over in the second half by giving up 21 points to fall 28-10. Why did it seem that the Auburn defense just quit? Easy. There was no Auburn offense to keep the Bulldog offense off the field. Eventually, the Auburn defense knew that it was up to them alone to win the ballgame.

This Auburn football team is young. Although there are a few seniors on each side of the ball (Lutzenkirchen/Blake/McCalebb on the offense, Bates on the defense), it seems like there is not a vocal leader to tell the young guys that it is going to be okay. “Hey, we’ve been here before.” “Guys, I have faith in you. Just hold them here, and we’ll score”. Nope. None of that can be seen on the sidelines. As a matter of fact, just watching the sidelines the first four games has been disappointing. Sure, you have Coach Trooper Taylor swinging his towel to and fro, but every sports team on this earth needs leaders that have been through some battles and some wars and are able to tell his teammates that he has been here before. It is time for somebody to step up on this team and start leading and holding this team accountable for what happens on the field. The players I mentioned above, as well as veteran DE Corey Lemonier, are more than able to be the leaders of the Auburn Tigers. They only need to step into that spotlight and prove it.

Overall Grade: D


This is only a small glimpse into all of the positives and negatives that the 2012 Auburn Tigers have shown so far through this young college football season. The truth of it is that this football team is probably not as bad as its 1-3 record shows. On the flip side, these Tigers are not as good as their 12-10 defeat against LSU showed either. Will they improve? There is no doubt about it. No coach, teacher, peer, or role model can teach experience. Experience comes from each snap, and with each snap this football team takes, improvement is sure to follow.

It will be interesting to see how the rest of the year pans out for these young Tigers, and it begins this weekend as the Razorbacks from Arkansas comes into Jordan Hare Stadium. With a victory, this Tiger team could start the month of October on the right track. After Arkansas, the Tigers have games against Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, and Texas A&M which, in my opinion, are all winnable. If the Tigers go through October, continuing to improve each game, they could very well find themselves sitting at 5-3 and hunting for eligibility for a bowl game late in the year.