I was there last week. I sat up in Memorial Stadium, way up in the top corner, with my fellow Auburn students, groaning with every sack. It was the worst offensive game I have ever watched sans Georgia Southern in Week 1, and I've been to all of the Auburn-UGA games recently.
So now what? Do we pack it up and call it a season? Is it time to ring the "Fire Gus" bell?
I don't think so.
Maybe I'm the eternal optimist, but I just don't see this being the end. Am I a little skeptical of the offensive play-calling? Sure. But y'all, there's so much talent here. Somehow I just don't believe this coaching staff, which turned a DB into an elite college quarterback and fixed a similarly desperate offense in 2016 (until Sean went down), can't make something out of this. And when you have a defense looking like what the Auburn defense has since the beginning of last season, "something" on offense is all you need.
This week is Homecoming in Auburn, and we have invited Mercer to Jordan-Hare Stadium as the offense tries to find a direction. Mercer isn't a particularly good team even for FCS standards (they didn't even start playing until 2013), so I don't really want to waste your time with previewing them. Besides, this week is about finding ourselves... as a team, and as a fan base.
Here's what I want to see on Saturday...
I think I speak for everyone when I say I want Stidham to settle down a little bit. He was extremely quick to leave the pocket last week, and sometimes he still had plenty of time before the rush got there. Stidham should play *at least* into the fourth quarter, if not longer, because if the knock is that he's still not comfortable, I want him getting as many reps as possible. It's Mercer, so we may not throw it a ton, but he should still have 25 passing attempts or so.
Goal: Get comfortable.
This is more about what I don't want to see. There is no reason Pettway and Kerryon should play hurt this week, so get Kam Martin and Malik Miller 15-20 rushes a piece. Show some creativity and don't run up the middle every play, even if it works against Mercer. And for the love of God, no tosses to Chandler Cox.
Goal: Get it to the young guys.
It's been hard to evaluate the wideouts so far. We didn't throw much against GS, and between the sacks and limited playcalling last week, there just haven't been many balls to catch. That being said, it was unbelievably frustrating last week watching Stidham scramble for his life while all of the receivers were 20+ yards downfield and covered. Break your route and come back to your quarterback! That being said, against these Mercer corners, just get open. We'll worry about catching and running later.
Goal: GET OPEN.
I'm never fond of booing your own team, especially in college, but if Jarrett gets pressured and lit up like he has the last two weeks, there's not going to be anything I can do to stop the boos.
Goal: Keep the pocket clean, especially on the edges.
Do exactly what you've been doing. It’s beautiful. And terrifying.
Goal: Keep it up.
Similar to the running backs, just keep the main guys healthy and off the field. Tre Williams and Deshaun Davis both went down with injuries at points last week, and they will be needed in two weeks at Missouri. Plus, there’s some other newer guys I’ve been wanting to see. Let them shine against Saturday!
Goal: No injuries.
They’ve been awesome helping out against the run, but they haven’t really been tested through the air yet. This is a talented group that only got beat by a few perfect throws from Kelly Bryant, but hey, that happens when you’re on the field all night. Just like the rest of the defense, they have absolutely nothing to prove Saturday. I’d like to see them play super aggressive and maybe pick one or two balls off against Mercer, mainly because I think the crowd may be a bit deflated and could use some big plays to get everyone into the game.
Goal: Make some big plays, get crowd involved.
I don’t want to see Daniel Carlson or Ian Shannon on the field this week except for kickoffs. The offense needs all the reps it can get, so if it’s faced with 4th and short/mid in Mercer territory, go for it. And heaven forbid we have any 3 and outs in our own territory, especially early.
That leaves the returners. In contrast to the secondary, I just want them to catch the ball safely. No need for big plays here.
Goal: Be invisible.
So I think that covers all of the position groups. But, let’s be honest. This week, it’s not just the players who need to work on things.
As we’ve already discussed, the defense has earned some R&R this week. So (obviously) this is more directed at the offensive staff. As so many of us have bemoaned when the offense is struggling, the play-calling may as well be written on the video board for all of Lee County to see. What’s that, a sugar huddle? Bet it’s a strong side run. Third and long? Streaks. Did Stidham just hand the ball off? Yeah, it’s going up the middle for a yard. I really don’t have high expectations here, I just want to be wrong a few times once I see the alignment. If some dumb college student who only played football when he was 7 years old knows what’s happening (it me), you’re too predictable.
Goal: Just surprise me.
This one’s important. The last week has grated on me more than almost any other in my Auburn fandom. The talk about Stidham being another false quarterback savior from Gus, about the need to just fire Gus now and be done with him, about how much of a joke the entire offense is... I’m over it. I get that we’re frustrated. We were SO. DAMN. CLOSE. to knocking off the #3 team in the country, so close that anything except for the VERY WORST Malzahn offense would have gotten a win.
But calling for their heads won’t bring anything positive right now. In fact, I really think this team needs to feel some support. They fought until the last snap last week, and if they come back to Jordan-Hare to a crowd that’s uninterested, bored, and just generally detached from the game, I really do think it could have negative consequences for the rest of the season.
So, this Homecoming weekend, bring your A-game to Jordan Hare. If you’re in the student section, get LOUD. Stay the whole game. Believe me, there’s still plenty of partying to be had after a game that ends at 6:30. Cheer on the boys in blue like it’s the Iron Bowl, and we can help set the stage for a season for the ages. I was a freshman in 2013, and I saw miracles performed from a team that never had a chance. Now, in my fifth and final year as a student, I want to see it again.
War Damn, y’all.