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A Turn in the Road

We're not even halfway through the season or conference schedule and already Auburn finds itself at a crossroads. Just a week ago we were sitting at 2-0 in the conference after a big road win against a Top 10 team and all things looked possible. Now, aftera big second half collapse while on the road again with another top 10 team, suddenly 4th place in the west looks like a virtual inevitability. This team is headed in two different directions all at the same time--offense and defense, up and down, never in synch. They've got to find the way together. And unfortunately, the path of least resistance and the road less travelled aren't any of our available options.

We all know our difficulties in matching up with Arkansas the past few years, especially with Petrino at the helm. If you would have told me before last Saturday that we'd come away with more first downs, better third down conversions, almost 300 yards rushing, limiting Tyler Wilson under 300 yards passing and coming within 50 yards of their offensive total, I'd say we'd win that game. It obviously wasn't the case. Turnovers and poor play by the QBs and receivers are being universally acknowledged as what killed us. But is it more than that? Why did we collapse as we did in the 2nd half? Why can't this team fire on all cylinders at once?

Is there possibly an undercurrent of doubt that's infected this team. At the beginning of the season, the offense rolled while the defense dragged. Now after a vaunted stand in Columbia and even in Fayetteville, the defense is coming of age but the offense now is sputtering. Is there no harmony to be found? Play from the running backs has been solid both games, but it's from the QB position that we have the problem. I know that the coaches wanted Kiehl Frazier to have his homecoming while in Arkansas, but do we have a legitimate quarterback controversy on our hands now?

Barrett Trotter's troubling performance against South Carolina was somewhat overshadowed by his game-winning drive and the victory, but doubtful it went unnoticed by management. Could Chizik be looking to motivate Trotter by turning up the heat and playing Frazier more? Steve Spurrier solved his problem with Stephen Garcia last week by benching him and letting backup Connor Shaw roll over Kentucky, 54-3. Is that sort of strong medicine needed in this case? Hard to tell. Shaw started their first game, but Spurrier soon gave in back to Garcia for a while. Yea, that's Spurrier doing his customary flip-flopping and I don't think Chizik or Malzahn are like that.

We discussed the possibility of making the switch in Jay's thread yesterday, and most think we should spell Trotter for Clint Mosely. Just understandall the consequences that come with that. Unlike Spurrier, our switch would likely be permanent for the rest of the year. Switching horses mid-stream is a complicated maneuver. It sends misguided signals to everyone on the team. Never in my history as an Auburn fan has it  worked out well within the framework of a single season, other than getting your eventual successor a little further down the road with some playing time. Frazier is being brought along slowly because he is the heir apparent in one to two seasons, but he's not ready yet. He lacks the leadership cred that Mosely can bring, assuming you're done with Trotter, and I just don't know yet.

Call ours a QB controversy of heart, but poor Florida has one of necessity. With John Brantley definitely out (courtesy of Alabama) and backup Jeff Driskel still in doubt, that leaves third-stringer Jacoby Brissett with the reigns. That lineup didn't work too well last week against LSU as Florida looked rudderless, and believe me, Gators, I WAS rooting for ya. With barely over 200 yards in offense, it was their worst offensive output in decades. Our defense's rise along with the removal of Charlie Weiss's offensive production puts us in a good position this weekend, but we play on more than one side of the ball. Their defense is pretty good, and our new problems on offensive have already been discussed. About the only thing I can guarantee you is that it will be a nail-biter. Auburn and Florida on a Saturday night. How we miss the foes from old Florida.

Make no mistake though. This game will be the point of no return in the road. Does this team find their rhythm and harmony and play as one synchronized unit? Do we take Florida down at home and gain the momentum to possibly poach a win from LSU or Alabama later on, or do we sputter again and possibly have to stare down 5th place or worst in the west? Even Georgia is looking resurgent these days. None of these games are gimmes. We are in a conference of tough customers and they all have us marked down on their hit list. Let's get it together, Tigers. It'll be halftime for the season after Saturday night and we can't afford a second half collapse like last week..