TUSCALOOSA — The road to the SEC championship ran through Auburn’s football team in recent weeks, just not in a way the Tigers would’ve liked.
Following a 38-0 beatdown by SEC East champ Georgia (11-1) two weeks ago, Auburn (3-9) was the final bump in the road for West champ Alabama (11-1) Saturday afternoon in a 49-0 Iron Bowl rout that effectively showed the difference between the top of the conference and the bottom.
For fans, it must be hard to remember that at this time two years ago Auburn was gearing up for the SEC championship game en route to a BCS title and undefeated season. It hasn’t just been a drop. It’s been a cataclysmic collapse.
“That was a very disappointing and embarrassing loss to our in-state rival,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said after the game. “It’s obvious to everybody it was a sad performance and Auburn fans and alumni don’t deserve that. We did all the classic things in a football game you can’t do to win it. We weren’t effective offensively, we weren’t efficient defensively and special teams were very sporadic as well. It pretty much speaks for itself. It was a very poor performance.”
Saturday, the Tigers looked as hapless as they have all year, finishing the season winless in conference play. From offense to defense to special teams, nothing seemed to work. Much like their meager win total this year, the Tigers ranked near the bottom in most offensive and defensive stats nationally, and that showed for four painful quarters as Auburn was eviscerated on both sides of the ball.
The porous defense gave up 483 yards and 11 of 14 third down conversions to the Tide, while the offense could only muster 163 total yards and just seven first downs.
If there was a bright spot, it was running back Tre Mason, who gained 88 yards on 21 carries.
“I don’t think there was any quit,” Mason said. “That was a well-coached team and they’re really good. We lost to a really good team.”
In the same place that former Auburn and current Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton led an epic comeback win just two years ago, the Tiger team on the sidelines of Bryant-Denny this week gave up 42 points by halftime — the most in the history of the rivalry —and never found a spark even after the Tide’s starters headed to the bench.
For Chizik, all those mounting problems boil down to just a few fundamental points the Tigers failed to grasp this year.
“We’ve got to coach better, we’ve got to play better,” he said. “There have been times we’ve played well and times we’ve played extremely poor. It just comes back to playing better ... There weren’t many [positives]. I think we have to go back and really look at it and see what positives we can pull out of it.”
Chizik said the slide started following a close, demoralizing 26-19 loss to Clemson to open the season. After that, the coach said the Tigers never could generate any momentum heading into conference play.
“This year was a situation where we never could gain any momentum. We had close games at the beginning of the year we’d usually been able to win ... then it just kind of snowballed,” Chizik said. “There were times where it seemed we were very, very close. We just couldn’t grab hold of any momentum and I think things kind of spiraled down and we couldn’t get out of the rut.”
Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.