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Auburn, We Have a Georgia Problem

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Auburn has a long way to go before being ready for Alabama in two weeks.
Auburn has a long way to go before being ready for Alabama in two weeks.

How did it happen? When did it get away? While basking in the glow of seven wins in nine years over Alabama, the Georgia rivalry has become a horror show for the Auburn football program.

With Saturday's humiliating beat down in Athens, Auburn has now lost five of its last six games to its second biggest rival. To make matters worse, these losses have come to Georgia teams who are far from championship material. While Mark Richt seemingly fights for his job yearly, he continues to whip Auburn with mediocre teams.

That's not a slight toward Georgia - far from it. As badly as Auburn was beaten on the field Saturday, its coaches were beaten worse by the often maligned Georgia staff. A team that had so much hope after a better than expected October, now finds itself looking for answers to the same familiar questions.

For the first time in his Auburn tenure, Gene Chizik appeared visibly shaken standing on the sidelines in the waning moments of the loss. Georgia was a decisive favorite, but no one imagined this carnage.

"I feel we got beat in every phase of the football game that you can get beat," Chizik said. "I didn't feel like we blocked anybody offensively all night, either in pass protection or trying to run the football."

"I didn't feel like defensively we covered many people all night. We had a hard time stopping the run and we turned the ball over. It's a pretty short conversation. That's why we got beat 45-7."

With two games remaining, it's now time to look toward the future. The battle cry for most of the year has been, wait until next year when these guys grow up. After ten games and an off-week, these young men are no longer rookies.

Much more was expected Saturday.

More troubling than Georgia's 12-of-15 conversion rate on third downs, was the play of Auburn's defensive line in the second half. With Richt mercifully running the ball off-tackle and substituting liberally during the final two quarters, Auburn put nine in the box and still couldn't handle Georgia's offensive line and Isaiah Crowell.  

The question that must be asked is whether these young players are progressing like they should at the end of the season? The answer is clearly no - and that goes for both the offense and defense.

Auburn is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. Winning seven games was more than most expected this year. But with the surprising October success, many believed Auburn would challenge Georgia. Instead, it took two steps back.

Now it's time to look for answers.

Why has the defensive line seemingly gotten worse? With the exception of Emory Blake, why hasn't Auburn's other receivers developed into downfield threats? Why does the defensive secondary always seem to be out of place in pass coverage? Why does the offensive line matchup so poorly against physical SEC defenses?

It's easy to point to inexperience as a blanket answer; but after 10 games that argument holds less water. Without a lot of improvement in the coming days, this November might go down as one of Auburn's worst ever.

Gene Chizik knows there's no stopping now. When asked after the game how his team will respond, he was steely in his response.

"We are going back to work," he said. "I told everybody in the locker room we don't have a choice. The only choice is the exit over the door if they don't like it. We are going back to work and we are going to rebound next week."

What a difference a year makes.