Reviewing last year’s upset loss ‘disgusting’
By ANDY BITTER
AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn is meticulous when reviewing game film with his players, dissecting each and every play with a discerning eye.
But it’s been hard for Auburn’s offensive coordinator to stomach going through last year’s Kentucky game, a mistake-filled 21-14 loss at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“It’s disgusting to look at,” quarterback Cam Newton said. “We’ve been skipping plays because it’s so hard for him to even look at it. … A lot of guys are taking it personally this week.”
Auburn’s offense hit its nadir a year ago against Kentucky, the middle of a three-game swoon that took the shine off the team’s 5-0 start.
The Tigers are 5-0 again (2-0 SEC), ranked eighth in both major polls and out for revenge against Kentucky (3-2, 0-2 SEC) tonight in Lexington.
“They came into our house and beat us last year, and we’re going to try and do the same thing to them,” tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said.
Last year’s Kentucky game was a comedy of errors. The Wildcats, who snapped a 15-game losing streak in the series, denied big plays, forcing Auburn to sustain long drives to beat them.
The Tigers didn’t, passing for only 95 yards on a frigid night and finishing with 315 yards overall against an average Kentucky defense. Auburn committed 10 penalties for 76 yards, including six on one cringe-worthy fourth-quarter drive that typified the night.
“We just weren’t very good that night,” Malzahn said.
It would have made a good instructional video about what not to do. In fact, that’s exactly what head coach Gene Chizik did.
“He made a video of just body language and mistakes that we made that led to us not being great last year,” left tackle Lee Ziemba said. “And quite a big number of those plays came from that game last year. So we need to eliminate that.”
Auburn’s offense is primed for another shot at the Wildcats. The Tigers lead the SEC and are 11th nationally in total offense, averaging 475.4 yards per game. Their rushing attack tops the league and is eighth in the country (269.0 ypg), and no team in the nation has a better pass efficiency (188.82).
Kentucky hasn’t allowed many yards this year against weak competition but has looked shaky in SEC play, allowing 90 points in losses to Florida and Mississippi the past two weeks.
Kentucky’s offense, however, remains the same, with former offensive coordinator Joker Phillips succeeding Rich Brooks as head coach.
Running back Derrick Locke and do-it-all wide receiver Randall Cobb are a formidable 1-2 punch, averaging 340.2 combined yards of total offense.
Auburn safeties coach Tommy Thigpen compared 6-foot-5 receiver Chris Matthews to Georgia’s A.J. Green. And quarterback Mike Hartline, who missed last year’s game with a knee injury, has completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 1,222 yards and eight touchdowns this year.
“They’ve won a lot of games there for a reason,” Chizik said. “This is not by accident. They’ve got some great players to fit exactly what they want to do. … They’re physical, they’re fast, they know exactly where every guy is supposed to be.”
Tonight’s game is the first of a crucial four-week SEC stretch for the Tigers. With home games against Western Division foes Arkansas and LSU on the schedule this month, there usually would be the temptation for Auburn to look ahead.
Not after last season.
“I think that’s what happened last year; we kind of looked ahead,” Tigers linebacker Craig Stevens said. “We’re not looking ahead. We have to keep the train rolling, staying focused every week.”