COLUMN: New year, same problems for Gus Malzahn
New year, new personnel, same old Auburn offense.
As it always is, there was an enormous amount of hype surrounding the Auburn football team this offseason, but what’s new? Gus Malzahn brought in a new offensive coordinator to fix the offensive woes from last year. He landed a talented transfer quarterback in Jarrett Stidham to come run the offense. And if that wasn’t enough, you have the SEC’s leading rusher Kamryn Pettway and possibly the most talented wide receiving core in Auburn’s history all returning.
What’s missing? Coaching, apparently.
The Auburn offense, as we have now come to expect, laid yet another egg Saturday night at Clemson, failing once again to score even one touchdown in a 14-6 loss. Sound familiar?
As if last year wasn’t bad enough for Auburn fans, Saturday night’s performance, or lack thereof, was the worst offensive performance under Malzahn ever. The offense managed a total of 117 yards against the Clemson defense. And yes, the Clemson defense is very good, but it’s not like Auburn doesn’t have the athletes to compete at a higher level than that.
It was nothing new Saturday night in Death Valley. The Auburn offense was abysmal, and at points looked worse than last season. The offensive line allowed a total of 11 sacks, and if the offensive line is poor, that translates into no running game, and no time for Stidham to sit in the pocket and make an accurate throw. Even when the offensive line gave Stidham some time to throw, one of two things happened: either he was hesitant and held on to the ball too long or the wide receivers weren’t getting open. Apart from the first drive of the game, you’d be hard pressed to find anything that went well for the Auburn offense Saturday night.
To put this in perspective for an ever-frustrated fan base, three of the worst four offensive performances for Auburn have happened in the last five games dating back to last year’s games against rivals Georgia and Alabama. The Tigers could only muster 140 yards against Alabama and 164 yards against the Bulldogs – not a good trend for a coach on the hot seat.
The offensive struggles for Auburn have become glaringly evident the past three years. Malzahn hasn’t been truly successful in his scheme since he had Nick Marshall in 2014, and the last time his offense was good enough to beat a top-three team was back in 2013 when a special teams play won the game for him. It seems like defensive coordinators are starting to figure Malzahn out, and he is yet to change, which is quite poor for a so-called offensive guru.
All of this begs the question, has Malzahn run out of time? Will he ever fix this offense?
Malzahn is so clearly trying to run a system that fit with athletes like Cam Newton and Marshall who were run-first quarterbacks, but that does not fit with throw-first quarterbacks like Jeremy Johnson, Sean White and now Stidham. Malzahn brought in a new offensive coordinator, but it didn’t look like a new offense. It looked like more of the same. It is time for Malzahn to hand over the playbook to Chip Lindsey and let him do his job.
The defense, on the other hand, deserved to win that game. If you had said that the Auburn defense was going to give up 14 points and force two turnovers on the road at Clemson and still lose, people would’ve said you’re crazy. Yes, the defense still has room to improve, but giving up two touchdowns on the road to a dynamic offense, with a talented dual-threat quarterback and impact players across the board, is a job well done. You can’t ask for much more if you’re Kevin Steele.
But even with the stellar performance on the defensive side of the ball, the red-zone woes from last year popped up again, and the Tigers could only manage to kick two field goals inside the Clemson 10-yard line. Rhett Lashlee or Lindsey, don't seem to matter because it all looks the same under Malzahn. The fact still remains that this offense is failing and doesn’t look like it’s trying to change.
Saturday night was Auburn’s fourth straight loss to Clemson, but what were we expecting? The defense can’t do everything. Did the offense look any different? No, it looked like Malzahn’s offense, not Lindsey’s run-pass option based offense. This is the same old Malzahn that hasn’t been getting it done for the past four years.
Insert whatever offensive coordinator you want; things won’t change if Malzhan can’t adapt. The question that every Auburn fan wants to know now is, can he?