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Al Borges Must Improve

By Jay Coulter

Most everyone played their part Saturday night on the Plains. The Auburn fans were in late season mode – loud and ready to go; the band sported new uniforms and Jordan-Hare Stadium never looked or sounded better. The Auburn defense looked downright nasty at times handling a talented Kansas State quarterback. Everybody came to the dance ready to party.

Unfortunately, offensive coordinator Al Borges left his dancing shoes at home.

Rarely do you get a complete read on a team in preseason – see Michigan and Notre Dame. As for Auburn, things went pretty much as scripted. Concerns about a young offensive line were confirmed. The Tigers did indeed miss Brad Lester, although Ben Tate and Carl Stewart were adequate work horses in the backfield.

Auburn’s defense used a bend but don’t break philosophy in the first half and then came out in the second half playing like a unit that may go down as one of Auburn’s best ever. If there’s a better defensive end in the country than Quentin Groves, show me, please.

And how about Wes Byrum? Have you ever seen a more confident freshman take control of a game when he was needed most? His kicks were strong and confident.

There were plenty of positives to go around Saturday night at Pat Dye Field.

While Alabama and Florida were playing exhibition games, Tommy Tuberville’s group jumped right into the 2007 season head first. While it wasn’t pretty, you can count on it paying dividends down the road.

For all the good things that happened Saturday night, they will be overshadowed by the play of a shaky offense and in particular, the unexplainable play calling by Borges. It was a game plan better suited to beat Tennessee Tech than a team from the Big 12.

For 55 minutes Auburn played like a team conflicted. Do we try to gut it out or throw short slant passes until we get lucky? Borges used quarterback Brandon Cox’s injury last year as an excuse for not opening up the offense. Against Kansas State his philosophy nearly got his team beat and his quarterback killed.

Brandon Cox was clearly not hitting on all cylinders. But you can’t lay all the blame on him. We knew the "freshmen side" of the offensive line would struggle – and they did. Lee Ziemba and Mike Berry were uneven as expected.

Giving up five sacks in a game is a major concern. For a team that gave up 35 sacks last season, you have to wonder whether Cox will survive the year. Back-up quarterback Blake Field needs to be mentally and physically prepared because his time is coming.

What do we take away from the win over Kansas State? For starters, defensive coordinator Will Muschamp has to be pleased with the play of his unit. After starting slow, they turned it on. They will only get better. Auburn’s defense has the talent to beat every team on its schedule.

The offense is a different story.

It’s hard to imagine this group going to Florida, Arkansas, LSU and Georgia and being productive enough to win. True – it’s early. But this offense has got some serious problems to overcome. Hopefully Ziemba and Berry will settle down and even out as the year goes on. They both are incredible talents. Wideouts Preschae Rodriguez, Robert Dunn and Rod Smith look hopeful. Brandon Cox looked sharp in leading Auburn down the field in the fourth quarter.

Al Borges is now three years removed from that magical 2004 campaign. It’s time for him to bring back the creativity. In other words, it’s put up or shut up time for Borges and his coaches. Yes, they are young in some spots; but his coaches owe these guys a chance to win every week.

Last night he didn’t give them that chance – they made it happen on their own. That’s not good enough.