AUBURN — With another fourth-quarter implosion in Saturday’s 41-20 loss at Ole Miss, Auburn is once again examining what it can do to try and right the ship of the 2012 season.
“There’s no question that we’re not playing well in four quarters of the football game, so we’re looking at everything,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said of his team, which is off to a 1-5 start that includes a 0-4 mark in the SEC, the worst start for the Tigers since 1998. “We’re evaluating everything we’re doing because obviously we’re struggling in a lot of areas.”
Now keeping a team united that only a week ago had several displays of in-fighting, with younger and older players calling each other out publicly, becomes a more challenging task as the heat on the coaching staff to improve only intensifies as well. But Chizik feels the team remains united and has shown it will persevere through what has been a tumultuous start.
“Of course there’s frustration that goes and there’s challenges that go with being where we are right now,” Chizik said. “I just feel like that anybody in our situation would feel the same frustration, but our practices have been good, they’ve been crisp, the kids have worked hard. I’m sure they’re disappointed.
“I feel like with the challenges that they’ve faced and that they’re facing right now, they’ve been really impressive in terms of forging ahead and working to try to improve.”
The series of fourth-quarter errors Saturday — lining up offsides on a punt that would have given the Tigers a short field but ended up costing them 41 yards; a false start on a short third down; failing to finish a tackle; and a late interception — were all pivotal in the latest loss for Auburn. Chizik emphasized each of them, saying the lack of execution in the fourth quarter, in which the Tigers have been outscored 62-3 this season, is a problem that must be solved.
“We had our chances in the fourth quarter and again, the same things that have plagued us previously in the fourth quarter, snuck up on us again,” Chizik said. “When you’re talking turnovers and field position and talking explosive plays, certainly in the fourth quarter, that’s a very critical part of the game we’re not winning.”
More frustrating, the execution issues are not isolated to the fourth quarter as the Tigers have been outscored 40-21 in the first quarter as well, including 21-0 in the past two games which came off a bye week.
Chizik felt the same issues are at play early in the game as later: turnovers, explosive plays and field position.
“Those same things are happening in the first quarter as well if you go back and look at it,” the fourth-year Tigers coach said.
Ole Miss took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter thanks to a 25-yard trick pass play from running back Randall Mackey to quarterback Bo Wallace and C.J. Johnson recovering a bad snap in the end zone.
Wallace was 17-for-22 for 226 yards and a touchdown with 15 carries for 39 yards and two touchdowns as the Rebels snapped a 16-game SEC losing streak.
The starting quarterback position remains unclear as Chizik refused to name a starter Sunday. Clint Moseley went 11-for-18 for 112 yards with an interception in his first start of the season, replacing Kiehl Frazier who started the first five games but has an undisclosed arm injury.
Tre Mason had 18 carries for 82 yards with two touchdowns in the re-emphasized running game but had just five carries in the second half. Chizik said Mason’s lack of carries after halftime was due to game circumstances.
Circumstances change though, especially when you execute and finish.