BMatt’s Monday musings
AUBURN | Auburn fans shouldn’t jump off the cliff just yet. While Saturday’s loss at Florida was frustrating and disappointing, I’m sure, I saw a team that created a lot of its own mistakes and has the potential to play better over the second half of the season.
The two teams looked pretty evenly matched from a talent perspective. Florida, in fact, was more talented than I expected, especially on defense, and had a very good plan to defend Auburn early.
If the coaches and players can use these two weeks and really work on shoring up weaknesses, they can make a run in the second half of the season. An 8-4 finish, what many are assuming now, doesn’t have to be the best that this team can achieve. They’ve clearly got a dominating defense, but one that can improve its pass rush and its coverage on the backend.
Offense has a lot more work to do, but I think job No. 1 for this staff is finding a running identity on offense, one they can turn to in the first quarter and still have success even when teams are scheming against it. Gus Malzahn’s offense doesn’t work and he doesn’t function well as a play caller when his team can’t run the ball. No. 2 is have a better plan for Anthony Schwartz. He’s the best playmaker on the team and he’s got to have way more than just one touch in a key SEC ballgame.
Malzahn never considered benching Bo Nix for Joey Gatewood, and it was the right decision. The last thing this team needs is a quarterback controversy, especially going into and off-week with three top 5 opponents ahead.
Here’s the thing about Nix. Yes, he struggled mightily and the interceptions were costly. But he also struggled a great deal against Oregon before leading a 60-yard game-winning drive that culminated in a 26-yard touchdown pass to Seth Williams with nine seconds left.
Auburn’s offensive struggles against the Gators can’t be all attributed to Nix. The crowd was so loud, AU’s offensive line often couldn’t hear the clap for the snap, disrupting the timing and causing three false start penalties. Florida, by happenstance or design, was slow in substituting on defense, which gave Nix and his teammates very little time to make pre-snap adjustments.
Malzahn has said repeatedly he’s got to do a better job of putting Nix in better situations. I expect two adjustments will be simplifying things on the road and continuing to develop a more effective running game.
Nix will learn a lot from this game, he will improve and he will play better next time Auburn goes against a tough SEC opponent on the road. This coaching staff believes in Nix, his teammates believe in him and he’s going to be Auburn’s starting quarterback for at least the next two and a half seasons.
That doesn’t mean Gatewood shouldn’t have a role on this team and shouldn’t have played against the Gators. Perhaps the biggest issue (there were a lot of them) on offense was going 2 of 14 on third downs including 1 of 5 on third and shorts.
How Gatewood or JaTarvious Whitlow in the Wildcat weren’t involved in some or all of those plays is beyond my comprehension. The Tigers have been very successful out of the Wildcat in the first five games, why abandon it on the road in Gainesville?
Good play calls are the ones that work, and bad calls are the ones that don’t. Anybody can second-guess play calling and that’s why it’s usually not something I dwell on too much. But there’s one play from the Florida game I just can’t get over and that’s the interception in the end zone on 3rd and 12.
Auburn put together by far its best drive of the game starting on its own 5-yard line and moving out to the 37 on five running plays — four by Whitlow and one by Kam Martin. Whitlow had runs of 14, eight and nine yards. They had clearly finally found something that worked in the running game. Then Nix connected with Williams for an explosive 46-yard pass and the Tigers are suddenly at the UF 13-yard line, trailing just 17-13 with more than a quarter left to play.
The next plays were a 3-yard pass to Williams, incomplete pass, 5-yard false start penalty and then the interception. How many times has Malzahn said you’ve got to run the ball to be successful in the red zone? Even on 3rd and 12, a smoke draw could have caught UF off-guard and brought positive results. At worse, you’re kicking an easy field goal to make it a one-point game and suddenly Florida is getting very nervous. Instead, the interception turns into a huge momentum swing for UF, only turned back on its heels when Derrick Brown makes an incredible play to stop a UF drive at AU’s 20-yard line and nearly scores on a fumble return.
This week’s musical journey steps back 46 years to Oct. 5, 1973 when Elton John released his seventh and best-ever selling studio album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, which went on to sell over 30 million copies. The album’s lyrics were written by long-time collaborator Bernie Taupin, John composed most of the music in three days while staying at a hotel in Jamaica and it was recorded at a studio in France.
The double album had 17 songs including hits such as Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Candle in the Wind, Bennie and the Jets and Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting. The album is ranked No. 91 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Candle in the Wind was originally written to honor Marilyn Monroe, but John rewrote for a tribute single to the late Princess Diana in 1997.
Sir Elton Hercules John, who was knighted by Elizabeth II in 1998, was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight in Pinner, England, which is a part of greater London. He has sold more than 300 million records, which is the fifth-most behind just The Beatles, Elvis, Michael Jackson and Madonna. John has more than fifty top 40 hits including nine that reached No. 1. He’s won five Grammys and an Academy Award in 1995 for Best Original Score for Can You Feel the Love Tonight from the Lion King. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.
John established the Elton John Aids Foundation in 1992, which has raised over $300 million. He is a lifetime fan of Watford Football Club, serving as principal owner two separate times, and still holds a significant financial interest. In 2014 a section of Vicarage Road Stadium was named Sir Elton John stand.
One additional note. John performed at Beard Eaves Memorial Coliseum Oct. 22, 1973, just 17 days after the release of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.