It’s safe to say the 2015 Auburn Football season has been nothing like the one that fans and media had expected from the Tigers before the beginning of the year. Auburn was picked to win the conference at SEC media days, the Tigers were in the top 10 of every preseason poll you could get your hands on and quarterback Jeremy Johnson was being touted as a Heisman Trophy candidate
Instead, the Tigers are 4-3, dead last in the SEC West, completely out of the national conversation and Johnson has been riding the bench behind Sean White ever since the 45-21 loss in Death Valley to LSU/
So the knee-jerk reaction is to ask where things all went wrong for Auburn. But really, they never were right.
Most of the reasons people had for propping up Auburn so high in the preseason were based on predictions of changes that would be made rather than what the Tigers had shown on the field. I mean after all, the Tigers went 8-5 in 2014 and that team lost its leading passer, rusher and receiver in Nick Marshall, Cameron-Artis Payne and Sammie Coates.
Some schools recruit well enough on a consistent basis to just reload from one year to the next when they lose top playmakers. Auburn isn’t one of those programs.
Jeremy Johnson was supposed to be a true dual-threat in Gus Malzahn’s offense. Nick Marshall ran Malzahn’s read option schemes to perfection for two years, but two starts in his first two years on campus were somehow enough to convince everyone that Johnson could be a prolific pocket passer for Auburn. He hasn’t been.
Instead, Johnson threw six interceptions to only five touchdowns in his three starts this season, and Auburn’s offense was as ineffective as it’s ever looked with Malzahn at the helm. Sean White has been an improvement since taking over. He’s limited the turnovers and shown some guts hanging in the pocket to deliver nice throws.
But even as a step up from Johnson, White was never going to inject life back into an Auburn offense that was dead, and through four starts White has yet to deliver a touchdown pass. In fairness, he hasn’t been helped by the lack of a go-to receiver ever since Duke Williams was dismissed from the team for yet another violation of team rules.
The production in the run game has decreased from past years as well. Auburn averaged nearly 330 rushing yards per game in 2013 and over 250 last year. Through seven games this season, Auburn has averaged 180 rushing yards each contest. That’s not a bad number by any means, but it’s still well under what we’ve come to expect from a Malzahn offense.
The problems on offense have been far from the only issues on the plains this season. Auburn made a splash in the offseason by hiring new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp after he was fired from his head coaching position at Florida. Muschamp was expected to revamp Auburn and give the Tigers a stingy defense to go along with the usually potent offense.
That hasn’t happened either. Auburn currently sits 14th out of 14 SEC teams in total defense, surrendering over 430 yards per game.
With the championship expectations a distant memory, Auburn now faces an uphill battle to earn bowl eligibility. Auburn has one easy win left on the schedule against Idaho, but will also need one win against either Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama.
The Tigers will likely be underdogs in each of their remaining SEC games.