Auburn needs quick fix from opening issues
The Auburn Tigers had better get their act together quickly.
The 23rd-ranked Tigers looked far from ready for primetime in the Southeastern Conference in a season-opening survival game against Utah State, and now No. 20 Mississippi State is paying a visit.
Having to score two touchdowns in the final 2:07 to beat the Aggies didn't exactly send a powerful statement to the rest of the country for the defending national champions. They did survive, though.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik reserved most of his praise for special teams, which produced a touchdown and a successful onside kick, after the less-than-dazzling debut. As for the rest?
''I'm not going to measure the magnitude of how far off we were, I just know that performance on offense and defense won't win us many games,'' Chizik said afterward. ''As I told our team, our biggest improvement has got to be between weeks 1 and 2 and 2 and 3. If we're going to win football games in this league, there's going to have to be significant improvement by this time next week.''
And more physical play. The Tigers were pushed around on both lines of scrimmage for much of the game before the fabulous finish. Utah State's Kerwynn Williams wasn't even touched on a 43-yard touchdown run on a draw play in the opening minutes.
The Tigers, who started four sophomores on the defensive line, gave up another first quarter touchdown on a quarterback run on fourth-and-goal from the 3. They also let Utah State convert a third-and-20 earlier in the 15-play drive. Chizik said the defense had alignment issues, tackling deficiencies and didn't play physically enough up front - major issues with the Bulldogs coming to town.
On the other side, an offensive line starting freshman center Reese Dismukes and redshirt freshman right tackle Chad Slade couldn't consistently open up holes for the running backs.
Mike Dyer and Onterio McCalebb managed 101 total rushing yards on 23 carries, and quarterback Barrett Trotter was sacked twice.
''We're going to have to do a better job up front,'' Chizik said Sunday. ''We've got to get the running game going. That's the glaring issue from (Saturday). No question about it. It's going to start with what we do up front.''
Some of the issues weren't surprising from an opener with such a young team. All told, Auburn put 13 freshmen and eight redshirt freshmen on the field.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen was talking up the Tigers on Sunday nevertheless.
''They scored 42 points against a really good football team from Utah State, against an extremely well-coached Utah State football team,'' said Mullen, whose Bulldogs routed Memphis on Thursday. ''That is a well-coached unit. You saw that during the game. And then the defending national champs found a way to win and scored 42 points in doing so. I think we're going to have our hands full against an excellent Auburn football team.''
Besides special teams, the Tigers were at their best with new quarterback Barrett Trotter running the two-minute drill at the end. An offense geared toward maintaining a fast tempo went three-and-out five times and didn't often get into that kind of rhythm.
''We'd like to think we run a two-minute offense the entire game, but obviously we didn't get any first downs and got in a lull and slowed things down,'' offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. ''We've got to be able to run the football. And when we're able to run the football, that's when we start clicking.''