Gene Chizik thinks this is the time of the college football season when there are no more secrets or surprises.
“They have seen pretty much the gamut from us everywhere,” the Auburn coach said Sunday, a day after his team’s baffling 21-14 loss to Kentucky. “It becomes, in my opinion, at this point in the season, how well you’re executing.”
The Tigers (5-2, 2-2 SEC) struggled with their execution in all phases against the Wildcats, their second straight loss and one that is sure to set off panic from Auburn nation as it prepares for the most difficult stretch of its season, with remaining games at LSU, vs. Ole Miss, at Georgia and vs. Alabama.
“This is new for us, for this coaching staff,” Chizik said. “We make it very clear to our guys that we play through all the momentum swings, the good and the bad. And your circumstances don’t dictate who you are. You’ve got to keep doing the same things you’ve been doing to get to five wins. When we have opportunities to win games, we’ve got to do the things that allow you to win games, and last night we didn’t.”
The team’s execution woes were most evident on offense. Auburn finished with a season-low 315 yards and 14 points, with the offense only accounting for seven of those.
Penalties ruined most of the night. Auburn committed 10 for 76 yards. Eight of those came in the final quarter, with six coming on one Keystone Cops-like drive that ended with a punt that, predictably, had five yards taken off of its conclusion because of an illegal formation penalty.
After getting into a third-and-1 situation at the Kentucky 43 trailing by seven with two minutes left, the Tigers had two consecutive procedure penalties to back them into third-and-long. They didn’t convert on either of the next two plays, ending the comeback bid.
“I am puzzled by it to a degree,” said Chizik, whose team has 18 penalties for 132 yards in the last two games. “At a critical time in the game, when we had our chances to go down there and score, it is somewhat puzzling that against some of our most reliable players you get procedure penalties.”
“It just kills you,” tight end Tommy Trott said. “It’s real tough to play behind the chains. It allows the defense to really put the pressure on you and you’ve got to play to what the defense is giving you, because they know what you’re trying to do. And they have the advantage at that point.”
Even without the penalties, Auburn’s offense in no way resembled the fast-paced point machine that gained national attention earlier in the season.
Quarterback Chris Todd struggled for a second straight game, going 10-for-24 for only 80 yards.
In the last two weeks, he’s 25-for-52 for 213 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. Still, Chizik doesn’t plan to make a change any time soon.
“We’ve named our starting quarterback and we’ve also seen him play very well,” Chizik said. “We’ve got to obviously continue to get better. It’s not just Chris. It’s our whole team. It’s our offensive line at times, nobody sees that. It’s our wideouts blocking on the perimeter, nobody sees that. It’s all that but, you know, he’s got to get better.”
Unlike two weeks ago, when Chizik sensed a lack of focus heading into the Arkansas game, the coach was not displeased with his group’s preparation for Kentucky.
The Tigers’ performance Saturday, however, especially with the game on the line, left a lot to be desired.
“We had our chance to win the game,” Chizik said. “And when the important times comes, you have to take advantage of it. And we didn’t do it. But our football team is going to stay focused and keep practicing and playing hard every week. It’s not an option.”