Guerry Clegg

Tigers trying to find offense

When you think about it, they really have a lot in common, these two. For one thing, there are the top-notch engineering schools. Texas A&M’s might be ranked higher. So says U.S. News. But hey, Auburn became the first to deliver a game ball by drone. By the way, nice fair catch there, Aubie. Special teams coaches everywhere would be proud.

It’s hard to believe that until the Aggies joined the SEC Auburn and Texas A&M had met only twice in football. Those meetings were spaced 75 years apart — the seasons of 1911 and 1986, the latter being the Cotton Bowl.

They might have developed one of those so-called friendly rivalries if not for being stuck in the same division. But this game has quickly proved to be pivotal for both teams in the SEC West race. Auburn became a national championship contender three years ago in College Station when Dee Ford knocked Johnny Manziel to the turf.

It was a loss to the Aggies right here two years ago that exposed Auburn’s issues, troubles the Tigers are still trying to resolve. They were 19-3 through Gus Malzahn’s first 22 games and 9-11 thereafter, all beginning with that 41-38 loss to the Aggies.

Last year, they kept their season from spinning completely out of control by upsetting Texas A&M. The oddity of those games: The road team won all four times.

All of that backdrop pointed to the urgency of Saturday night’s game. The Tigers’ defense has dramatically improved, from awful to pretty decent to now pretty good. If they can just get the offense back on track. Against a significant opponent, that is.

The first half revealed a few things. For one thing, the offense is still a work in progress. Kamryn Pettway has provided a different dimension as a straight-ahead, power runner. On Auburn’s first scoring drive, Pettway had 25 yards rushing on four carries — all but one run right up the gut. The rest came on short passes from Sean White, aided by a 15-yard penalty on Texas A&M.

But the Aggies quickly adjusted to the quick and short passing game and Pettway up the middle, and the Tigers had no answer for a while. They finally turned White loose on some down-field throws and it’s going to take more of that to stretch defenses. The problem is the Tigers are just not that efficient throwing deep. Whether it’s personnel or play-calling, they need something to get their offense clicking.

Here’s what that something is not. It’s not bringing John Franklin off the bench to pitch the ball to Kerryon Johnson or throw the ball to … well, to throw the ball. Period. If they want to have Franklin take off and run a few times, that’s fine. Or maybe line him up in the slot and throw the ball to him in space. But anything resembling Franklin actually playing quarterback should be scrapped. Not trying to knock the kid. It’s on the coaches to use him right.

If it is personnel, there’s precious little Auburn can do about it now. White still isn’t a perfect fit for the offense, but he’s the best the Tigers have.

Franklin came in late and provided a spark because the defense has to respect his running. It was especially effective because he was fresh and the Aggies were tired. But if that’s the entire offense, it would be hard to sustain that for four quarters.

And just as the offense started clicking late, Franklin fumbled the ball away. Two plays later, Trayveon Williams ran 89 yards through a tired Auburn defense and that sealed it for Texas A&M.

Up next is LSU, which has offensive problems of its own. Maybe they should just skip straight to the overtime format.

Guerry Clegg: sports@ledger-enquirer.com, @guerryclegg

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