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Dixieland Disaster

By Jay Coulter

All the warning signs were there: The closed practices during fall camp; the wide receivers struggling to catch the ball in practice; Brad Lester’s little problem; a young offensive line that was struggling in scrimmages.

Like parents that won’t acknowledge their son has a problem, most of us spent the summer refusing to believe this Auburn team was different. We ignored those who said our offensive line would struggle, those who said our receivers wouldn’t be the same without Courtney Taylor. When Lester was suspended, we didn’t worry.  

Auburn just reloads at running back. After all, we are Running Back U.

I thought Phil Steele was an idiot when he released his preseason publication and ranked Auburn 41st nationally. Little did I know that would be optimistic.

Three weeks into the 2007 season it appears, barring a miracle, the season is lost. Auburn is officially rebuilding. Coaches will say otherwise. But we all know the odds of this team playing beyond November 24th are slim.

Football is funny. The Tigers could easily be 3-0 right now or they could be 0-3. Regardless of where they are or could be, this Auburn team is not very good.

The question this week for coaches and fans will be what direction to go. Is Kodi Burns really the answer? There’s no question he brings a spark to the offense.

Would it be better to bite the bullet and redshirt him? At this point, is it worth burning a year of his eligibility? Does a year under center with a bad offense help him and Auburn long term?

Burns is the future without question. But is he the answer this year? I’m not so sure.

Brandon Cox has lost his way. He’s not likely to find it before Auburn’s brutal road schedule begins. Despite leading the Tigers down the field on the final drive, he looked suspect. The pass to Rod Smith should have been picked off. The throw to Tommy Trott in the endzone was into double coverage.

When looking for answers, we have to look beyond the quarterback. What started out as an inexperienced offensive line has grown into a broken down, shot out unit. Left tackle King Dunlap, who has been as big a disappointment as anyone, hyper-extended his left elbow in the first half and left the game, being replaced by Andrew McCain who played the rest of the day.

Back-up guard Leon Hart also left the game early with a shoulder injury. He could be the biggest bust in the state of Alabama since Alan Evans and Billy Ray.  The entire offensive line is teetering on collapse.

The bottom line is when you turn the ball over 10 times in two weeks, you are going to lose. If Auburn does the same Saturday with Hal Mumme’s New Mexico State team, they will lose again.

The defense is a different story. They were by no means dominating against Miss State. However, giving up only 12 points should always equal a win. They were pushed around at times. The opening drive was a disaster.

But when you look closer you can understand why Will Muschamp’s group struggled. Consider this: the Tiger defense played without three of its top players, plus a fourth who was badly banged up. Tray Blackmon, Merrill Johnson and Jonathan Wilhite never stepped on the field. Aairon Savage played but probably shouldn’t have.

It hurt worst at linebacker. When you take Blackmon and Johnson out of the game, you are really in a world of trouble. This takes your defense from an "A" unit to a "C+" group at best. Add in Wilhite’s and Savage’s injuries and you get a group that probably over achieved yesterday.

Despite the 1-2 record and a season on the brink of disaster, this Auburn team is loaded with talent. That’s what is so disappointing. But it’s also what brings hope. The odds are long of salvaging the season; but when a team has this much ability, you hold out hope. And that’s what keeps up coming back every Saturday.