AUBURN, Ala. — When it comes to evaluating his team in the month of September, Auburn coach Gene Chizik said he “can go on and on and on” about what needs to improve.
He essentially had already done just that at his Tuesday press conference.
Surveying the entire offensive and defensive units, Chizik intricately described what the Auburn coaching staff saw on film during the bye week. (Special teams, still an effectively solid unit, was spared.)
“The assessment all over our football team was glaring,” Chizik said, “that we’ve got a lot of improvement to be made at every position, not just one.”
Chizik’s most blistering heat was directed at the group of wide receivers.
“They’ve got to grow up, they’ve got to step up, they’ve got to play better. It’s that simple,” Chizik fired off. “If the ball hits them in the hands, they’ve got to catch the ball. We haven’t done that every time. We ask the route to be
at 15 yards, it needs to be at 15 and not 12. We haven’t done that all the time.”
With sophomore Quan Bray suspended for the next game against Arkansas (1-4, 0-2 SEC), Saturday’s eligible receivers had a combined total of 16 catches for 281 yards in four games — just four and 59 for guys besides senior Emory Blake.
Just for comparison, Razorbacks wide receiver Cobi Hamilton had 10 catches for 303 yards all by himself … in one game against Rutgers.
Blake has 12 catches for 222 yards and a touchdown this year, low for his typical standards, as the Tigers (1-3, 0-2) continue to break in first-year starting quarterback Kiehl Frazier to a new offensive system.
“He’s not afraid to compete. When the game is on the line and we’ve got to have a catch, if we put that ball somewhere around him, he’s usually going to catch that,” Chizik said. “That’s just called delivering as a receiver. That’s what their job is. That’s why they’re on scholarship.”
The problem has been, Blake has had little help in the receiving game beyond tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen.
“We don’t have enough guys right now that are living the same life. So the younger guys have to come on,” Chizik said. “We talked to them this whole week about the level of consistency of their play is not acceptable. So they’ve got to look at Emory to see what it looks like.
“He’s been doing that his career, and I’m not saying Emory’s arrived. But more times than not, if you throw a ball near Emory and it’s catchable, he’s going to do that. He’s been that reliable. He still needs to improve his game and we need to get some other guys to jump on board.”
Redshirt freshman Sammie Coates, who has the Tigers’ only other touchdown by a receiver on the end-of-half Hail Mary against Louisiana-Monroe, said his position group simply hasn’t made plays, such as his crucial early drop against LSU.
“With the wide receivers, we know what we’re supposed to do, but we don’t execute,” Coates said. “We’re supposed to run a 12-yard route, we run 10 yards. It’s the little things that are killing us like messing up Kiehl’s timing.”
There was more Chizik criticism where that came from.
“We’ve been able to go back and, without a game, assess things in a little more depth and detail than you would if you had an upcoming opponent,” Chizik said. “You can start on defense and work from the secondary all the way up to the defensive line and see things.”
Chizik on the defensive backs: “Playing the football in the air, we’ve got some pass interference penalties right now where we could have played the ball better in the air, broken on the squeeze routes more to put ourselves in better positions to knock the ball down or get disruptions in the passing game.”
Linebackers: “Misfits on long runs and blitz intensity.”
Defensive line: “Executing stunts and twists and twists. You can go through the whole gamut defensively as well.”
And then, Chizik moved on to the offense.
Offensive line: “With the things we’ve been able to improve on and things that we haven’t been as good on that we certainly have room for improvement, with pass sets and picking up blitzes and pressure on certain protections.”
Running backs: “Taking the right angles of departure in the running game to be able to do what we’re trying to get accomplished in the run game.”
Quarterbacks: “Taking the right steps.”
Finally, back to the receivers: “Depth of routes with the receivers. Crispness of the breaks and the things we’re trying to do with our receivers.”
Chizik then concluded simply:
“I can go on and on and on. It’s everywhere.”