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November 29, 2012

Five ingredients in the recipe for disaster

AUBURN, Ala. — As seasons go, there’s good, there’s bad, and there’s ugly.

Ugly might be kind in describing what transpired for the 2012 Auburn football team.

Ranked in the USA Today preseason coaches poll and anticipated to at least compete for a New Year’s Day bowl game berth, Auburn didn’t just fall short of expectations.

The Tigers subjected the program to its worst season in 60 years, not only on the scoreboard or in the standings but in terms of its overall lack of competitiveness within the games. Auburn was outscored by an average of 24 points in its eight SEC losses.

Where did it all go wrong? Five ingredients to a recipe for disaster:

No quarterback development

Remember when nine days before the season, no starting quarterback had been announced? The job began with Kiehl Frazier, but only when Clint Moseley openly admitted his ailing shoulder hadn’t permitted him to throw a football with all his might throughout training camp. And Jonathan Wallace wasn’t quite ready to master the whole playbook yet.

As it turned out, Frazier wasn’t ready either. He continuously feared the pass rush, and even when in doses he found success on rollouts aside from the pocket, the playaction wasn’t called consistently enough. His accuracy dipped to 53.4 percent on the year. When Moseley replaced Frazier at halftime of game six (vs. Arkansas), Moseley at least played pitch and catch with the receivers. Problem was, the receivers weren’t standing very far from the line of scrimmage — Moseley averaged 6.2 yards per attempt. Wallace appears to have the intangibles handy to develop someday into a decent SEC quarterback, but he was never specifically groomed to take the keys to this offense as a true freshman.

Worst defense in history

You thought it couldn’t get any worse than last year’s defense under Ted Roof? Think again. From the very first game, there were red flags when Clemson rolled up 528 yards … and the defenders said they were encouraged. The highlight of the year was holding LSU to 12 points, but those Tigers proved to have an average offense at best. Safety Demetruce McNeal swore after that this year was different, comparing the 2011 unit to “a clown show”.

Well, that would make 2012 comparable to a three-ring circus. Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama combined for 1,651 yards in the final month of the season.

McNeal lost his starting job, and NFL prospect Corey Lemonier made zero impact at defensive end down the stretch. In the end, Auburn reset its own record-setting infamy on defense, allowing an average of 28.3 points and 420.5 yards.

Failure to finish in fourth

Unbelievably, Auburn did not allow a single point in the last three fourth quarters of the season. Well, okay, that’s because Georgia and Alabama were playing third-stringers by that point, which were still better than Alabama A&M’s first-stringers.

The final stats say Auburn was outscored 76-36 in the fourth quarters this year. But that figure was 62-3 in the first half of the season, which honestly can be pointed to as the catalyst to this destructive season. Auburn had a chance to win the game at the end against Clemson, LSU, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, but continually fell short.

Loss of skill players

Quarterback Zeke Pike was arrested in June for public intoxication, and former coach Gene Chizik eventually dismissed him from the team.

Running back Jovon Robinson was in preseason camp, before a Memphis Commercial-Appeal story broke that a high school counselor illegally altered his transcript. He was ruled academically ineligible for the year.

Wide receiver Ja’Quay Williams and tight end Darrion Hutcherson also were banished to prep school for the year. As recently as July, the team expected those incoming freshmen to be cleared by August.

Think any or all of the group might have helped a paltry offense this year?

Lack of playmakers

The coaches persistently asserted, on a daily basis, that practices were going well.

If they were referring to the battles on the perimeter, one wonders what they were watching.

Auburn’s wide receivers and tight ends caught eight touchdowns this year — only four FBS teams had less than that. Auburn’s defensive backs and linebackers made two interceptions this year — the fewest in the nation.

Senior Emory Blake was double-covered all year long, yet he managed to haul in 50 grabs for 789 yards and three scores. Blake prided himself on being a mentor to the younger receivers, but he couldn’t do the job for them. Quan Bray, Trovon Reed, Sammie Coates, Travante Stallworth and the WRs combined for just 42 receptions for 527 yards and three scores.

Read that again: receivers other than Blake, whose job it is to catch passes, averaged 44 yards per game.

Auburn will have to improve in all those areas, and more, to bounce back in 2013.

7 Comments

  1. Three-ring circus? That fits.

    As the season went on, watching the games became similar to watching a planned train wreck. You knew it was going to happen but weren’t sure exactly how ugly it was going to be. Somehow they managed to continually outdo the previous week’s level of ugliness.

    Comment by Stan McCullars — November 29, 2012 @ 9:33 am

  2. The main reason for this year’s failure can be summed up in 2 words (Scott Loeffler). I do not see how you can give any reasons for failure without placing serious blame on that clown. One year experience as an offensive coordinator? At Temple??????? The worst coach Auburn has ever hired. Chizik deserves a large amount of blame, but moron was the reason for Auburn’s ineptitude! The defense gave up! They played fine until the Texas A&M game. Who wants to sit on the field 45 minutes per game because your offense can’t complete a pass or earn a first down? Thanks for the article though! Makes for good conversation. WDE!

    Comment by mike — November 29, 2012 @ 1:23 pm

  3. You know it is bad when the Georgia and Alabama fans around you don’t give you grief about the loss but rather provide pity at the sad state. In other words things were SO bad that these schools were embarrased for Auburn as being a SEC school……and one that 2 seasons ago was National Champ. I think I would have rather had the grief from them and a 7-6 record or something……of course if that happened then we would have not gotten rid of the coaching staff.

    It’s real simple…..the kids have talent…..just look at the recruiting……but they have no motivation, direction, fundamentals for D1 level (maybe highschool), competitive game plan, etc. It comes down to very, very, very poor coaching. I really think the guys we had were a tier two level group…..but they got VERY lucky in having a Cam Netwon with a senior O-line and Nick Farely 2010 season. The stars aligned that year and when the music was over and those handful guys went the reality of our coaching came to the fore-front.

    Comment by Eric — November 29, 2012 @ 2:24 pm

  4. One of the most frustrating aspects to this season would have to be the lack of opportunities given to the younger players.

    When you find half way through the season that there are no playmakers, helping younger players get opportunities to make plays has to be a main goal of the coaching staff.

    Case in point is Cassanova. He makes 12 tackles his first start, and then barely gets on the field. Ricardo Louis, Kris Frost, and Mike Blakely are all kept off the field for most of the season. Are we really worried about mental/coverage mistakes by young defenders when we made ZERO stops on defense with A&M, Bama, and Georgia in their first 5 or 6 possessions of every single game.

    Are we really worried about a fumble by Blakely when we can’t get a first down?

    On defense, let’s try something else besides NICKEL, with Jake Holland “reading the play.”
    On offense, let’s stay with Wallace running the read option (even after he was named starter) because we had a good yrds per play average with that.

    Comment by Adam Steverson — November 29, 2012 @ 5:32 pm

  5. The position coaches failed at their job of providing solid fundamental skills to the players. I have never seen so many highly gifted players look like they have never played the game before. There were countless plays were the players only succeeded on pure athletic ability, which gave coaches and fans hope, but when the real season starts and you are playing teams with just as many athletes as you then, you have to go back to fundamentals and simplify the game.

    Easiest thing is the CBs. They always face guard. No one ever thought them to watch the receivers eyes and hands and turn their head when their hands go up. If they did that they might have had a crap ton more interceptions and pass break ups because they could see the ball and try and make a play.

    You want to fix the problem at AU. Get some position coaches that have actually played the game at a high level, and know the fundamentals it takes to succeed (see Tracy Rocker)

    Comment by EarYourOwn — November 29, 2012 @ 5:33 pm

  6. I wouldn’t put too much blame on Loeffler. It was VanGorder’s defense that set the record as the worst defense in AU history. If the defense had at least showed some hustle and intensity they could have made some stops. BVG just let them go through the motions.

    We’ll be better off without both Loeffler and BVG next year. I hope whoever the next head coach is, he’ll bring in some guys that at least make their players act like they want to play football.

    Comment by MikeP — November 29, 2012 @ 11:27 pm

  7. All 6 points are on target but one word sums this 3 ring circus up…..

    Apathy

    Comment by Bob Powell — December 2, 2012 @ 3:04 pm

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