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.