Once a top 10 team, the Auburn Tigers are fortunate to even be at .500 four games into the season.
From quarterback Bo Nix to both lines of scrimmage and even the normally reliable defense, the injury-plagued Tigers (2-2) have had issues pretty much across the board.
Some of those deficiencies were on display in Saturday's 30-22 loss at South Carolina that sent a team once ranked as high as No. 7 tumbling from the Top 25. More importantly, Auburn heads into Saturday's game at Mississippi (1-3) in dire need of a win to begin salvaging a once-promising season.
“I think we improved in some areas,” Tigers coach Gus Malzahn said. "But the bottom line is we made the critical mistakes that didn’t let us win the game. And that’s what we’ve got to correct.
“And really, just getting back to playing good, hard-nosed, blue-collar, physical Auburn football. That’s really my mind-set.”
It may not be enough without fixing the mistakes that plagued the Tigers against the Gamecocks. Nix was intercepted three times and South Carolina converted each of them into three touchdowns.
Auburn also committed nine penalties and blew an early 9-0 lead.
“I always think that’s coaching,” Malzahn said of the penalties. “That starts with me, and we’ve got to do a better job in that area.”
The offensive problems boiled over at one point, when Nix and his star wide receiver Seth Williams exchanged heated words on the sideline.
“Obviously very passionate and emotional guys who want to win,” Malzahn said. “We’ve just got to channel that in a better way moving forward, and we will do that.”
The Tigers have struggled with third-down conversions on both sides of the ball and are among the most penalized teams in the Southeastern Conference. They've also had injuries to players like linebacker K.J. Britt, cornerback Jaylin Simpson, defensive end Big Kat Bryant and tailback Shaun Shivers.
The Tigers can count themselves fortunate to even be 2-2, thanks to breaks on the field that left opposing coaches mystified and upset:
— Auburn scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 29-13 opening win over Kentucky, but also got a late turnover and stopped a fake punt attempt. But replay officials had upheld a call that running back Chris Rodriguez was down before crossing the goal line. Said Kentucky coach Mark Stoops: “He was clearly in.”
— Following a shellacking at No. 4 Georgia, the Tigers beat Arkansas 30-28 on Anders Carlson’s 39-yard field goal with 7 seconds left. That kick was only possible after an official blew the whistle after Nix bobbled the snap on third and 1 and then spiked it behind him. The official ruled the play dead before either team won a scramble for the ball. It was questionable enough that the SEC later issued an explanation of the call.
After Ole Miss, the Tigers still have games at No. 2 Alabama and against No. 7 Texas A&M. They'll need to bank on improved play rather than breaks.
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