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Niziolek: 'Special' special teams not enough to power Auburn through mediocre season

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn quarterback Sean White (13) scrambles for yardage during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015, in Auburn, Ala. Mississippi defeated Auburn 27-19.
Auburn quarterback Sean White (13) scrambles for yardage during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015, in Auburn, Ala. Mississippi defeated Auburn 27-19. AP Photo

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn made one of his talking points this week about the need for the offense, and defense playing well at the same time.

It’s a feat that the Tigers haven’t accomplished in eight games this season.

Malzahn’s hesitating to even give an instance this year where his team was close speaks volumes of why Auburn is sitting at 4-4 overall, and is 1-4 in the SEC.

“That’s probably a good question,” Malzahn said, with a pause. “I don’t think there’s… I think everybody will know when we play good offense and defensively at the same time. We haven’t done that yet.”

Auburn’s best unit this season is hands down its special teams group led by kicker Daniel Carlson, and punter Kevin Phillips.

Carlson was named as a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award Thursday, an annual award given to the country’s top place-kicker, and Phillips is also one of the top players in the country at the position.

The consistency and discipline on special teams is lacking for Auburn in every other area where a new issue seems to pop up on a weekly basis on at least one side of the ball.

Malzahn’s frustration comes on the heels of avoidable losses to Arkansas and Ole Miss that put a spotlight on the Tigers’ unbalanced play.

In the four overtime loss to the Razorbacks, it was the defense’s inability to get a stop on multiple fourth down plays that cost Auburn a key win on the road.

The Tigers offense scored on five straight possessions (for the first time this season) from regulation into overtime, but the defense let Arkansas answer with points each time.

A week later the tables were turned with the offense spoiling the defense’s solid efforts late in the game against Ole Miss.

Auburn’s defense wasn’t all that impressive statistically in the 27-19 loss, but it managed to force a turnover on downs at the Tigers’ own 5-yard line, and intercepted Chad Kelly in the fourth quarter.

An Auburn offense that scored touchdowns in 13 of their previous 16 trips to the red zone had to settle for field goals on three straight trips inside the 25-yard line against the Rebels, and that proved to be the difference.

It was similar to how the Tigers’ loss to Mississippi State played out earlier in the season. 

During his time answering questions with reports this week, Malzahn offered little in the way of solutions to the problem. He spoke generally about “leadership” and “relationships” being important, but didn’t shed light on the coaching staff plans on attacking the problem.

“Our talk with our staff and our players is we've got to find a way to put together our offense and our defense and special teams and play good in all three areas, and that's our goal moving forward,” Malzahn said. “That's what we're going to need to do to beat a team like this on the road.”

Auburn fans will have to just cross their fingers that Malzahn is true to his word.

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google

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