Well, that wasn't fun. It doesn't get any better as time goes on, either. Even as Auburn is going to probably backdoor our way into the Sugar Bowl, losing to Bama is never fun. Losing when the defense was performing to the level that they were early in this game just makes it worse.
Honestly, though, did you expect anything different? We knew the issues going into this game. We knew we had backup QBs who we weren't comfortable with. That wasn't a sudden factor that popped up. Auburn went into the Iron Bowl against the #1 team in college football with a broken offense, and the odds of walking out of Tuscaloosa with a win were slim, to begin with.
I'm not going to excuse the loss because of those issues. Someone still has to answer for the fact that Auburn was ever in the situation where it has no effective backup QB. We have to wonder why Rhett Lashlee offered John Franklin III instead of Jerod Evans, who has had quite the year at Virginia Tech. There are questions. Someone will have to answer for them. I have a feeling that somehow someone will. We'll find out in the coming days.
I do not think the person who will answer for that is Gus Malzahn, though. Not with his job, anyway. With a healthy offense, things were rolling. This team was and still is a quarterback away from a great offense. Maybe Woody Barrett is that quarterback next year. Maybe it's Jarrett Stidham if the Tigers land him. Maybe it's Sean White if he can stay healthy. I don't know.
There's still a ton of very young talent on the team and there's a chance next year's offensive line is even better than this one. Let's just hope they're better at pass protection, at least. The backups on defense looked pretty stout. Auburn played a good bit of last night's game with underclassmen in the defensive backfield from what I saw. The linebackers pretty much all return. The defensive line loses some very key pieces, but the rotation is still deep and there are some redshirts to be excited about.
That's just me rambling on the future of the team. Let's get to some more thoughts on last night's game.
1) The defense is still pretty good. From the Texas A&M game until last night, Auburn did not allow a rushing touchdown. It took the #1 team in the country to be the only team to score 30 on this defense. They did that in part because Alabama held the ball for twice as long as Auburn. It's hard for any defense to hold up under that strain.
2) Daniel Thomas will prove to be a steal. Auburn signed Thomas at the last second. He was offered because Nigel Warrior chose Tennessee. With Rudy Ford out for much of the Iron Bowl, Thomas stepped in and pulled down two interceptions. One was thrown practically right to him, but still. He made the catch, something a few Auburn DBs have failed to do this season.
3) Why did we go back to rotating QBs? JJ leading Auburn to victory would have been one of the best feel-good stories ever. He didn't get helped out by some of the wide receivers, that's for sure, but he didn't do the best job himself, either. JF3 had one beautiful deep pass to Eli Stove (who is going to be a star for us) but then had two questionable throws in the red zone. Neither really did anything fantastic, but not allowing one or the other to get into any sort of rhythm in the first place couldn't have helped. Plus, why wasn't the game plan to just pound Pettway as much as we could, anyway? Unless he isn't quite as healthy as was put out.
4) That Play. You know the one. 4th and 2 and we let Chandler Cox throw the ball. It was crazy, yes. If Kerryon Johnson doesn't jump and fall backward, though, there's a chance he makes that catch. Still, though, the fact Auburn burned that Cox MIGHT throw it earlier in the game should have been enough for Auburn not to try it again. That's not the type of thing Saban and/or Pruitt would forget, and I'm sure they told the defense to be on the lookout for it. Still, though, I also think Alabama was expecting run, and if Auburn hadn't burned that play earlier, it could have worked.
5) I don't have much else. It was a bad loss. As much as we here like to try to BARN HARD, I think most of us expected this game to turn out like it did, much as I detailed above. With everyone healthy and the offense rolling like it was mid-season, this game could have been much different. The reality of football, though, is that players are going to get hurt. Auburn will always face Alabama at the end of the year with players banged up. Not having capable backups of key players isn't acceptable for a team that recruits like Auburn does. Auburn shouldn't have to resort to whatever that lack of a game plan was in an attempt to win. More behind that later.
Auburn - somehow - will probably end up the 2nd highest ranked team in the SEC this season. The conference is down. Yes, it's frustrating that Auburn couldn't take even more advantage of that, but when so many were expecting a repeat of last season, I'll take 8, possibly 9, wins and a Sugar Bowl birth - should that actually happen - is much better than what plenty were expecting. It's frustrating as hell that it could have been so much better than that. There's still a ton of potential - with a change or two in staffing, probably - on this team for a great run in the future.