AUBURN, Ala. – Many afternoons and nights after brutal losses, the players meeting with the media and offering their honest opinions has varied. Could be Dee Ford, could be Demetruce McNeal, could be Clint Moseley.
There has been one constant from a coaching perspective who directly attacks the heart of the issues plaguing Auburn football this year. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who’s seen just about everything in more than 30 years in the business, was again at a loss for explanation after Saturday’s 38-0 loss, dropping the Tigers to an unfathomable 2-8.
“It’s frustrating. Had a good week. Had great meetings last night. Great walkthrough. Really thought we were ready,” VanGorder said. “We played a spirited team. Couldn’t tackle them. It’s been kind of the theme. It’s what happened.”
VanGorder said the opponent didn’t matter, but he had to feel some extra sting with the destruction coming against Georgia, where he spent four years as defensive coordinator – including a three-year stretch from 2002-04 with only top-ten rated defenses.
VanGorder had a pleasant pregame discussion with Dawgs coach Mark Richt – of whom VanGorder is reverent for giving him his first major break in the profession – and waved to victorious Richt as he left the field for adjacent locker rooms.
“(He’s) done an unbelievable job at Georgia, building that program from 2001,” VanGorder said. “The consistency over the years has been admirable.”
He wouldn’t make the pain about him. It’s about his players who were again gashed by an SEC offense, and will likely be part of Auburn’s worst single-season defense in school history by a wide margin.
Asked whether guys have had trouble steadying themselves in adversity since week one, VanGorder acknowledged it’s a plausible theory.
“I think that’s kind of natural when you’re having the kind of season that we’re having,” VanGorder said. “But not to a degree where it’s concerning to me. Bottom line is you work hard and you hope some good things happen and you hope players make a play here or there. We’ve not been able to do that this year.
“This is a game for tough people. You’ve got to be tough. You’ve got to be smart, too.”
VanGorder was immediately asked whether his defense was tough. He spoke, again, to the need for a larger, meaner set of defenders.
“In all fairness to them, they carry a toughness about them. I say that in that they’ve endured a very difficult year. But we’re not built,” VanGorder said. “The defense is not built with size, strength and power right now. That becomes obvious against teams like Georgia, the first game with Clemson. It shows up. Players know. We talk about it.
“But I respect them. I’ve had a lot of fun with them in terms of learning football, working on changing a culture in our room. Did a fine job preparing this week. I feel awful. They go out and good things didn’t happen. But you’ve got to earn those things. You’ve got to tackle.”
VanGorder anxiously voiced his determination, after a tough loss at Vanderbilt, to build this defense in 2012 to eventually have the ability to play championship defense in years beyond. Saturday night, with rumors rampant about the direction of the Auburn program and the job security of athletic director Jay Jacobs and head coach Gene Chizik, VanGorder was asked if he worries about what that future may look like.
“I don’t have a lot of doubt in my mind,” VanGorder said. “Not going to talk about that, out of respect for everybody. That’s the way it should be.”
What VanGorder then said was somewhat vague in terms of what part of the program he was referring to. But the above video shows how much conviction he had in voicing it.
“If you’re into football, you know football, you can look at it and you can pretty much know the route it has to go where we’ve got to improve greatly,” VanGorder said. “If you’re really intellectually into the game, it’s fairly obvious. But in fairness to all our players, we’ve got a lot of guys that are in development stages right now and in the process of growth. They’ve got to get to work in the offseason and keep developing.”