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October 27, 2012

Rock Bottom

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AUBURN -- Every team has bad days, but what happened inside Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday night moved into new territory.

This was a program hitting rock bottom.

Texas A&M embarrassed Auburn in a way that simply doesn't happen. The Aggies scored touchdowns on each of their first five drives as quarterback Johnny Manziel, a freshman, undermined every defensive scheme thrown at him. It looked like a spring scrimmage for long stretches - an event where players on both sides of the ball seem to lose interest in what happens.

But this wasn't a spring scrimmage.

This was supposed to be a defining game for coach Gene Chizik, who'd been searching for something positive to ease his growing legions of critics. And, you know, maybe that's exactly what happened Saturday night.

Is this what Auburn has become?

It's difficult to accept upon first glance. We're talking about a program with two undefeated seasons, a national championship and a Heisman Trophy winner during the past decade. More than two dozen former players made their way to the NFL, many of them starters.

It's a healthy program. It has achieved a level of success that other programs one day wanted to achieve. Look at Cam Newton's wide smile, the energized fan base, the top-tier recruits that signed each February.

And now look at it.

The Tigers weren't competitive Saturday night. There were times when the effort simply wasn't there. It was more than simply being out of position on defense - it was players diving half-heatedly at a tailback's feet as if to say: This won't end well regardless of what happens.

Did Auburn quit?

I didn't see evidence of that. Quarterback Jonathan Wallace was as engaged as any quarterback I've ever seen at Auburn. Tight end C.J. Uzomah invested every bit of effort he had. The Emory Blake we saw Saturday was the same Emory Blake we saw in Arizona two years ago.

Yet the team, the overall enterprise, seemed lethargic for the most part. Going down four touchdowns before earning a single first down has a way of stealing hope, but the confident teams find ways to maintain their fire on the field.

That didn't happen Saturday night.

And this wasn't a fluke. Auburn has been making these same mistakes for more than a month. The offsides penalty that extended Texas A&M's first drive. The two more offsides calls in the first half alone. The missed tackles. The confusion when defending a read-option run.

The way Texas A&M audibled to inside runs each time Auburn showed blitz on the outside - and turned those simple plays into big gains. The negative plays on offense. The off-schedule throws.

It goes on and on. Every week.

Auburn's loss Saturday wasn't exactly one for the record books. It has lost by more points and conceded more points at home. Yet this might be one that's remembered by a generation of Auburn fans as the defining low-water point.

Tennessee beat Auburn 42-0 during the 1980 season in what was coach Doug Barfield's final season on the Plains.

It's now difficult to see a scenario where this won't be Chizik's swan song as well. Auburn has fallen too far too fast.



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