Why a 34-3 AU win feels like a loss

September 24, 2018 By Skye Underwood

Auburn’s Big Kat Bryant sacks Arkansas quarterback Ty Storey in the first halfArkansas at Auburn football. Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics

AUBURN, Ala. —  No. 9 Auburn fell one spot to No. 10 in the latest AP poll after defeating Arkansas, 34-3 on Saturday in a win that has hardly been celebrated.

And look, I realize every win in the SEC is typically hard to come by, but keep in mind that we’re talking about an Arkansas squad that in the previous week’s game got spanked, 44-17 by a team called the “Mean Green.”

Yep, the Saturday before Arkansas visited The Plains, the Razorbacks hosted North Texas outta the Sun-Belt Conference and they became the second consecutive group of five team to beat up on the Razorbacks after Colorado State upended Arkansas, 34-27 in week two of the 2018 college football season.

Needless to say, the (1-3) Razorbacks are struggling mightily under new head coach Chad Morris, who is forced to use pro-style players recruited by Bret Bielema for his hurry-up, no-huddle offense. An offense that he learned from good friend Gus Malzahn, who revealed the intracasies of the HUNH to Morris while they were both high school head coaches.

And maybe that’s why Auburn’s struggles on the offensive side of the ball are so hard to comprehend – the main reason Gus Malzahn was hired as Auburn’s head coach some six years ago was because of his offensive pedigree.

But on this night, both Chad Morris and Gus Malzahn had to second guess their approach on the side of the ball that led them from successful high school coaches in Texas and Arkansas, respectively, to being placed in charge over two programs who just happen to be in the toughest division in college football, the SEC West.

The Tigers offense put up a measely 225 total yards against one of the SEC’s most dreadful teams this season. In fact, despite Auburn being a 30-point home favorite and surprisingly covering the spread in the 34-3 win, it was the Razorback offense that outgained the Tigers 290-225.

And by the way, here’s some salt for your Auburn offensive wounds — in the first three games of the season for Arkansas — one against an FCS team and two games versus group of five opponents, the Razorback defense surrendered 357 yards to Eastern Illinois, 429 total yards to Colorado State, while the North Texas Mean Green piled up 376 yards on Arkansas.

Compare that to the paltry 225 yards the Tigers offense totaled and that my friends is how a 34-3 Auburn win can feel like a loss.

Now don’t get me wrong, there were things to be proud of if you’re an Auburn fan — Noah Igbinoghene had a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, Ryan Davis was a human-highlight-reel on a couple punt returns, Jordyn Peters got a piece of an Arkansas punt and almost blocked another, Arynn Sippos averaged 47.2 yards on his 5 punts, and the Auburn defense were just flat out filthy as Arkansas starting quarterback Ty Storey spent the majority of the game on his backside.

The Auburn offense, however, looks clearly out of tune and according to playmaker Ryan Davis,  “I feel like we’re out of sync right now, and I feel like once we hit the rhythm, things will pick up more.”

What’s frustrating is Auburn’s offense faced a much more formidable defense than Arkansas in week one when the Tigers piled up 420 yards on the Washington Huskies. An offense is supposed to improve from week one to four, not regress, but that’s exactly what we saw in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday night versus Arkansas.

Auburn came into the game as a 30-point favorite over the Razorbacks according to Vegas and the Tigers covered the spread with an Anders Carlson 43-yard field goal with just 3:15 remaining in the fourth-quarter, but it was hardly a win to remember; more like a win to forget. At least if you play on the offensive side of the ball for the Tigers.

Everyone should know by now that I’m more of a glass half-full kind of guy, but even the sunniest of sunshine pumpers would have a hard time finding any rays of light shown on the Auburn offense.

Play-calling was predictable.

Auburn’s offensive line doesn’t have enough dog in ‘em.

Jarrett Stidham’s few throws over the top of coverage to open men were painfully overthrown.

Auburn gave up four sacks but a couple of those were due to coverage – either Auburn receivers weren’t getting the seperation Stidham desired or he wasn’t trusting his arm to throw his receivers open, but whatever the case may be, the Auburn quarterback held the ball too long resulting in a sack.

The only silver lining for the offense was the fact that they didn’t turn the ball over and Stidham was efficient, completing 15 of 22 passes for a meager 134 yards, but despite not throwing any interceptions, the leader of the Tiger offense hardly looked like himself against Arkansas.

Quite honestly, it was mixture of unacceptable play from Stidham, the offensive line, coaching, receivers, everyone on that side of the ball, really.

Stidham knows by now that his receivers aren’t gonna get a whole lot of separation versus SEC competition; that’s just the nature of the beast in this league so it’s not only imperative that he trust his arm, but equally as important, a quarterback must trust his receivers because there’s nothing more significant to an offense like Auburn’s than the timing of its quarterback and his wide receivers.

And to be perfectly honest, had the Auburn quarterback hit his open men on deep balls, we’re likely not having this conversation right now, but that’s Stidham’s strength — his deep ball accuracy and like I said, he wasn’t his typical self against the Razorbacks.

A quarterback like Stidham not only needs to be on the same page with his receivers, but as SEC Network commentators for the game Tom Hart and Jordan Rodgers pointed out, Stidham needs to be on the same page as his offensive coordinator and head coach, obviously, and they questioned during the broadcast if the communication was up to par with the coaches and the face of the program Stidham.

Stidham, Lindsey and Malzahn all need to get in one room together and be freely to express themselves to air out any frustrations and then get on the same page in hopes of moving forward in a positive direction. We’re talking about a Top 10 team here so there’s no reason to freak out. However, it’s obvious to everyone paying attention, the communication between the quarterback, offensive coordinator and head coach could use some improvement.

And thank heavens for Kevin Steele and that nasty Auburn defense. I’m sure Steele’s boys aren’t too thrilled with toting the weight of Auburn Football, but it’s a long season and there’s time for the offensive side to get their act together and help its defense.

Steele’s boys finished with two sacks, seven tackles for a loss, and nine quarterback hurries. The Auburn defensive front made Storey’s night miserable. Storey may have even suffered an eye-gouge or two, WWE style at the bottom of the pile.

Auburn’s defense as a whole brough their hardhats and lunchpails and laid the smack down to the Pigs while crackin’ heads.

Auburn cornerback Noah Igbinoghene isn’t only limited to having track speed and returning 96-yard kickoff’s for touchdown’s, the converted wide receiver now playing defense is laying the wood as indicated early in the Arkansas game when the sophomore star crushed Razorback running back Chase Hayden forcing the ball loose, which was recovered by Auburn playmaking safety Daniel Thomas who picked up the pigskin and raced 40-yards all the way down to the Arkansas 2-yard line. And in a sequence that perfectly describes the game in its entirety, Auburn could only muster a field goal after the big defensive play that gave its offense the ball on the two yard line of Arkansas.

And I can’t write a story about this game without talking about Auburn cornerback Jamel Dean’s ferocious hit that was heard around the college football world Saturday night. An Arkansas runningback received a toss pitch to the left before being immediately crushed by Dean with the sounds echoing through tv and radio speakers everywhere.

But for all the greatness of Auburn’s defense and special teams, the Tiger offense was so woeful that it’s hard to get too hyped for the win.

Seriously, the analyses for the Auburn-Arkansas game can be summed up like this — Auburn’s defense and special teams made big play after big play, setting its offense up in scoring position time and time again only for the Tigers to show ineptness on that side of the ball.

As Justin Ferguson from The Athletic pointed out, “it was the worst yardage performance by the Tigers in a win since a Cotton Bowl victory over Nebraska at the end of the 2006 season.”

The Auburn offense has a number of issues to sort out, but it all starts with an offensive line that needs to be nastier up front.

Stidham obviously needs to get on the same page with his coaches and receivers.

And maybe I’m alone in this thought process, but Boobee Whitlow appears to have surfaced as Auburn’s primary back who only gets stronger when he’s fed the football and 13 carries versus Arkansas just ain’t gonna cut it. Whitlow appears to be the type of runningback that gets stronger as the games wears on and I think if Auburn gives him a chance with at least 20 carries then I think the Tigers will get a nice return on their investment.

But right now the stock of the Auburn offense is dropping and it’s dropping fast.

Nows not the time to point fingers because there’s literally so much football left to play with plenty of opportunities to improve, or get exposed again.

And if this Auburn football program wants to have a chance to be special, it has to come together as a team, encourage one another, pick each other up, and remind everyone that all their preseason goals are still attainable, but they’ll be short-lived unless drastic improvement on offense happens immediately.

The Tigers will get their chance this upcoming Saturday as (3-1) Auburn hosts (2-1) Southern Miss in a game that will be broadcast by SEC Network at 3 P.M. CST.

Auburn fans can only hope that the real Auburn offense shows up and not the train wreck that gained 225 yards against lowly Arkansas, which kinda made a 34-3 win feel like a loss.