Auburn tries to rebound from another humbling loss
The Auburn Tigers are creating some indelible memories again this season, only now they're more like scars.
The Tigers will remember last season for big comebacks, Cam Newton and the national championship. So far, 2011 has been mostly notable for embarrassing defeats at Arkansas, LSU and Georgia when the defense was burned for big plays and the offense couldn't produce nearly enough of them.
The latest example was the worst of them all, a 45-7 thrashing by the Bulldogs that probably could have been much worse if Georgia coach Mark Richt hadn't pulled back his offense's reins in the second half.
''The only thing I can say when you lose like that, is you ... keep moving forward, but you never forget that,'' Tigers defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker said Tuesday.
Ah, memories. Like 38-14 at Arkansas and 45-10 at LSU. Then there was Georgia, which amassed a four-touchdown lead by halftime and coasted. It was Auburn's most lopsided loss since falling 51-10 at Florida in 1996.
''There are really no excuses after that, it's just really not acceptable,'' quarterback Clint Moseley said. ''That's the bottom line. We realize that we really let ourselves down and put embarrassing stuff on film, and we know we're a lot better than that. That is one thing that we do know. We're not giving up. We're not thinking we're worse players or anything like. It's just a fact of executing. It's pretty simple.''
Luckily for the Tigers (6-4), their final two games against FCS team Samford and No. 3 Alabama are at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Led by Newton, last year's Auburn team had the swagger and resilience to repeatedly brush off double-digit deficits en route to the title.
This one has been more prone to wilting, on the road at least.
It's no coincidence that last year's team had the largest senior class of Auburn's modern era. This one has a bunch of promising youngsters either starting or playing significant backup roles.
''That is a huge, huge piece of the puzzle,'' Tigers coach Gene Chizik said. ''Part of the victories that we had last year when things didn't seemingly look like they were going very well, you had a lot of guys that have been through a lot of peaks and valleys in their careers.
''Leadership is a huge, huge element when you come to these types of games. We need more leadership. I don't think there's any question about that, but leadership starts with me and my coaches. We all have to do a better job of that.''
That makes the loss of cornerback T'Sharvan Bell to a season-ending knee injury an even bigger blow. He was one of the defense's leaders and most experienced players.
Chizik said freshmen Jermaine Whitehead and Robinson Therezie, and redshirt freshman Jonathan Mincy are vying to replace him.
A defense that allowed 528 yards to Georgia can ill afford to lose anybody.
Chizik said the lopsided SEC road losses included common denominators, with the offense committing costly turnovers and the defense giving up big plays.
The LSU and Georgia games, especially, had parallels. Both times Auburn was out of it by the middle of the third quarter and Moseley had interceptions returned for touchdowns.
The quarterback, a sophomore, said youth is no longer an excuse.
''It's really tough to figure it out because we're so hurt over that and to have it happen twice in a year, it's tough to handle,'' said Moseley, who made his first start at LSU's Tiger Stadium. ''We're all competitive and we try so hard and we spend so much time doing it, to let ourselves and the fans down like that is tough.
''We're at the point where we have to have leaders step up, and obviously it all starts with me. I'm the one who touches it every play, and I'm going to work on that.''
The adversity wasn't hard to see coming after the Tigers lost most of their key players. Chizik told his players to expect plenty.
''We're just picking up and learning as we go,'' Whitaker said. ''It's just one of those things, we're learning that with something bad, you've got to weather the storm.
''It's crazy, because when we won the national championship, one thing coach Chizik said coming back this year is that it was going to be a season where we were going to literally weather the storm. It's just a learning deal.''