Auburn's offense had an opportunity to drive for a potential game-winning touchdown, but just as it has for much of the year, it faltered, and Vanderbilt defeated the Tigers, 17-13. The loss drops Auburn to 1-6 overall and 0-5 in SEC play. To add injury to insult, Philip Lutzenkirchen missed the game with a reported hip injury, and his career in orange and blue could be over.
Vanderbilt (3-4, 2-3) dominated the first quarter, limiting Auburn to five offensive plays. The Commodores drove 75 yards in 16 plays for a touchdown on their opening drive, using an effective mix of wildcat running and quick outside throws after hurrying to the line. Auburn's defense couldn't stop those plays on the opening drive, and they would prove to be Vanderbilt's best offensive weapons all afternoon.
Truthfully, Auburn's defense deserves a good bit of credit in this game. Yes, Brian VanGorder's unit was often gashed by the wildcat formation with Zac Stacy, but the defense did a good job of limiting Vanderbilt's damage and keeping Auburn in the game. Unfortunately, the Tigers just didn't have an answer for Stacy, who rushed for 163 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. Stacy gave Vandy a 17-10 lead with 8:10 left in the third quarter, but the Auburn 'D,' led by an outstanding performance from true freshman Cassanova McKinzy, held the 'Dores off the scoreboard for the rest of the contest. To no one's surprise, Auburn's offense provided little help.
Clint Moseley received his second straight start at quarterback, and he wasn't terrible, but he certainly wasn't good enough to take the offense to the next level. Moseley completed 14 of 20 passes, but most of those were short swing passes or dump offs. Too often on third and long, Moseley passed to receivers that were well short of the first-down marker. He didn't really do anything to hurt Auburn against Vanderbilt, but he didn't do anything to help the Tigers win, either.
As expected, running back Tre Mason was easily Auburn's best offensive player, and as expected, he didn't get enough carries. Mason ran nine times for 39 yards and a score in the first half and seven times for 45 yards in the second half. All together, Mason picked up 84 yards on 16 carries, a 5.3 yard-per-carry average. Auburn's offense was backed up in down-and-distance on many drives, but it would have been nice to see Mason get more carries. In fact, Vanderbilt showed exactly what can happen when an offense gets away from its workhorse. For the first two and a half quarters, the Commodores rode Stacy and moved the ball well. Then, for some reason, Vanderbilt stopped giving their all-time rushing leader the ball, and the offense stalled. When Vanderbilt took over at its own 19 with 4:50 left in the game, Stacy carried five consecutive times and picked up gains of 27, five, six, three and one. On third-and-6, he fumbled, which in theory gave Auburn a chance, but his running down the stretch all but put the game away. Loeffler could learn a lot from this.
When a final score is within one possession, little things make a difference. One can look at Vanderbilt's final drive of the first half and Auburn's final drive of the second to see the difference in the game. After Auburn scored to take a 10-7 lead with 1:21 to play before halftime, the Tiger defense sat back in soft prevent coverage. Yes, VanGorder brought some pressure, but his defensive backs were allowing quarterback Jordan Rodgers to complete quick throws. The result was an 11-play, 65-yard drive that ended in a game-tying field goal on the last play of the half. It was eerily similar to Ole Miss' final drive of the first half last week, when the Rebels covered a large chunk of yards in a short amount of time to pick up three points.
On Auburn's final drive, Vanderbilt defensive coordinator Bob Shoop decided to get aggressive. After Moseley completed three quick passes to gain 27 yards, the Vanderbilt defense brought heavy blitzes, and the secondary stayed up on Auburn's receivers. Moseley wasn't able to find an open man quickly enough, and Auburn's final four plays went incomplete, sack, incomplete (a drop by Travante Stallworth, but Moseley put too much zip on the short throw), incomplete. Sammie Coates was open on the final play, but Moseley was rattled, and he overthrew his receiver. In a 17-13 game, those two drives made a huge difference.
Auburn is not going to win an SEC game in 2012, and the Tigers are going to finish the year 3-9. Some fans may not agree with the decision, but it's now only a matter of time before Chizik is shown the door. This team has far too much talent to be playing so poorly. For whatever reason, Chizik just hasn't been able to properly develop talent over the last two years, and with the program bottoming out the way it is, it's hard to make an argument for why he should get another chance. Chizik is gone; the only unknowns are when the move will take place and if athletic director Jay Jacobs is out the door, too.
Now, when does basketball season begin?