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Auburn starts fast, dies slow in the Sugar Bowl

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Auburn vs Oklahoma Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

How is that for your season in a microcosm?

Auburn began 2016 by rolling out 3 quarterbacks in an early season loss to Clemson. Auburn ended the 2016 season by the same measure, though this time it was due to injury not insanity.

I don’t know if Auburn could have matched scores with OU, but White’s injury sealed the deal early. We just didn't know it until right before halftime.

I have my concerns about when the Auburn coaching staff knew, however. I’m not accusing of Malzahn of running Sean out there with a broken arm, but I do think they knew he wasn’t healthy. I base this on Auburn’s second drive where on 3rd and 10+ they insert JFIII to run a draw after a timeout.

Or maybe Gus thought he could fool everyone by putting in the quarterback he’s afraid to let throw the ball run the ball on 3rd and 10+. I’m just guessing. I will predict that we have seen the end of White’s days as a starter. It is hard enough to keep him upright without him taking on an All-American linebacker on a run play. And even when healthy, he is serviceable at best. Auburn did not have a game this season where they passed for over 280 yards. So though it is true that he had a high completion percentage that was tops in the SEC for a while, he threw few passes that were not high percentage passes, and fewer passes in general for that matter.

After the first drive, when Auburn had no semblance of a passing threat, Oklahoma’s defense, obviously sick of being called soft by the media, began to tee off on Auburn’s run game. Pettway still managed over 100 yards and was tough as nails. I have very little problem with the run game. It was good all year.

Auburn’s defense played well up until the midway point of the 3rd quarter when Gus decided to punt it on 4th and inches at the 43 or so. I thought he should have tried for a 4th down conversion, just to show JFIII and the offense he believed in them. He punted, the defense responded with an emotional letdown, and just like that it was 28-13 and the game was over. It was similar to the Alabama game in that way. In no way am I saying the guys quit, but it’s hard to get yourself to the emotional level to excel when in the back of your mind you know you have very little chance of success.

So 2017 should be interesting, to say the least. I believe Malzahn begins 2017 on the hot seat much like 2016. Auburn has now had 3 consecutive 5 loss seasons for the first time since the Jordan to Barfield transition. And let’s face facts, the offense is predictable. Does that change with a blue chip QB calling plays next year? It might, but I can sit and call Auburn’s plays based on personnel groupings from my easy chair. A good defensive coordinator is probably better at that job than me. So the offense needs an overhaul in terms of tendencies and passing routes. So having a great quarterback will help, but I'm not sure if Aaron Rodgers could lead Auburn to the promised land if everyone already knows what plays are coming. Defensively Auburn loses two very high draft picks in Adams and Lawson, and two very good guys in the defensive backfield in Ford and Holsey.

Both units return a ton of talent. I have to be honest, I have doubts about Malzahn’s offense at this point. It is probably too late to change offensive coordinators at this point, and maybe everything will be fine with Stidham at quarterback. But I have little confidence Auburn can return to the land of the elites and maintain without some major tweaks to its current system on offense.

War Eagle anyway. Clemson, you got one job...