Gus Malzahn’s hurry-up post-game press conference following Auburn’s loss to Texas A&M was much like the Tigers’ offensive performance itself.
Malzahn stood at the podium and tried to explain the absence of his offense. He found the explanations to be just as scarce as the playbook solutions.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to get better, as a whole group — coaches, the whole bit,” Malzahn said. “We’ve got to do a better job offensively. We’ve got to find a way to improve. I really think we still have got some pieces to the puzzle. We’re still learning about some of the guys.”
It was a refrain of non-answers.
“We’ve got to figure out a way. We said at the first of the year we’ve got to have explosive plays. We didn’t have explosive plays.”
“Our whole offense, we’re a work in progress.”
“It wasn’t all Sean (White). There were some drops on third down.”
Auburn’s season is just three games old and already is looking grim. The loss dropped the Tigers to 1-2 with LSU coming to town Saturday and games against Ole Miss, Arkansas, Georgia and Alabama still looming. Saturday night’s loss didn’t reveal much that we didn’t already know. No one figured the Tigers had solved all of their problems the week before when they ran over Arkansas State.
But their struggles Saturday night did reveal the depth of their troubles — and their lack of options.
Even if this isn’t new, it’s still unimaginable. Three years ago, Auburn was a program on the rise. Two years ago, Malzahn made a commitment to building a championship defense.
Not even those who scoffed at his label as an offensive mastermind could have seen this coming, at least not to this extent. The coach who built high-powered offenses at Auburn, which produced one national championship and nearly a second title, is suddenly completely befuddled.
A day of reflection doesn’t produce any more answers.
Maybe Texas A&M’s defense deserves more credit that it’s getting. Myles Garrett is a nightmare for any offensive tackle. John Chavis, the Aggies’ defensive coordinator, is as good as any in the college game. But that’s not all of it, or even most of it.
The Tigers don’t have a quarterback they fully trust or one who completely fits their system. Sean White isn’t a running threat, and John Franklin isn’t a skilled passer. Yes, White had a few runs and Franklin, who came in late, made a few throws. But neither is good enough in those areas to keep doing it consistently. Jeremy Johnson has the best blend of skills, but his confidence seems fractured.
That’s puzzling because their entire offense is predicated on the quarterback. That’s on the coaches — mainly Malzahn — for not recruiting better.
Texas A&M was in the same position last year. Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin solved the problem by signing Trevor Knight, the transfer from Oklahoma. That’s a bit of pure luck. There’s not many ready-made quarterbacks out there for the picking. But Georgia and Alabama are both starting true freshmen at quarterback. Auburn’s true freshman, Woody Barrett, didn’t enroll early and is said to be way behind the others.
But again, that seems like a lack of prudent planning on Malzahn’s part.
The quarterback situation will have to be addressed in the offseason, either by Malzahn or someone else. As for the rest of the season, all the Tigers can do is make the best of what they have.
They need to stay committed to White as their guy and try to find ways for him to get the ball to play-makers down field. What they don’t need is gimmicks or a quarterback shuffle.