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Niziolek: Surprising forecast for Auburn’s future with offense, defense trending in opposite directions

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn running back Jovon Robinson (29) carries the ball as he gets around Georgia cornerback Reggie Wilkerson (9) during during the first quarter of an NCAA football game, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Auburn running back Jovon Robinson (29) carries the ball as he gets around Georgia cornerback Reggie Wilkerson (9) during during the first quarter of an NCAA football game, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

“Pitiful.”

“Awful.”

The words Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee used Wednesday night to describe the Tigers’ second half performance against Georgia aren’t exactly encouraging, but the coach isn’t hiding from reality – Auburn’s offense isn’t good.

Ten weeks into the season it might even be safe to say the outlook for the defense is brighter than the offense; a development few would have predicted going into the season.

“Obviously, we want to score more points,” Lashlee said. “We want to finish drives, convert and get some tempo going.”

The offense hasn’t been able to get into that extended kind of rhythm all season, and is trending in the wrong direction.

Auburn didn’t score a touchdown in a 17-9 loss to Mississippi State earlier this season, but somehow was more ineffective against Georgia.

On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is starting to witness the improvements he’s boasted about seeing in practice.

Auburn held Georgia to 243 yards of offense, the lowest total given up by a Tigers’ defense since 2007. It was also the second straight week the defense gave up only one touchdown.

“I think we've come a long way, certainly, from the beginning of the year and I think that we continue to make strides,” Muschamp said. “…We've made improvements before that, they just didn't show statistically. That's the bottom line. We all want results but as a coach and seeing this for a long time, we made improvements before the last two weeks.”

While Auburn coaches, and players, are trying to stay focused on the last two weeks of the regular season, the discussion has slowly started to shift to the program’s future.

Questions about the quarterback situation dominated much of those conversations, but the Tigers lack of offensive playmakers is an extension of those concerns.

The defense can point to a healthy Carl Lawson, and maturing Carlton Davis as building blocks for next season, but who inspires the same kind of confidence on offense?

Running back Peyton Barber might break 1,000 yards this season, but the coaching staff’s reluctance to make him the Tigers’ primary back is a concern.

Freshman Kerryon Johnson might be the player with the most upside on the entire offense, but even he hasn’t had the kind of breakout first year similar to recent SEC star backs Nick Chubb and Leonard Fournette.

None of the team’s young wide receivers -- Jason Smith, Ryan Davis -- the coaching staff touted during the spring have established themselves; even as the dismissal of Duke Williams from the team opened up an opportunity.

Auburn will bring back its entire offensive line as long as Shon Coleman stays for his senior year, but the group has been a dominant force. The Tigers are only averaging 4.2 rushing yards per carry, and has allowed 16 sacks.

Last year, Auburn averaged 5.5 yards per carry, and only allowed 15 sacks the entire season.

Lashlee acknowledged Wednesday Auburn’s offense hasn’t exactly been a “stat-machine” this season. How long is that machine going to be on the fritz? No one really knows.

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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