Auburn fans know the worse news, because fourth-year head coach Gene Chizik announced after the game that senior tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen and freshman offensive tackle Avery Young will miss the rest of the season with undisclosed injuries.
Want some good news, Auburn fans?
Chizik says the Tigers still practice well. “I say that every week,” he acknowledged.
And from the no-news-is-good-news department, Chizik gave a simple answer about where the buck stops: “Me.”
There’s good news in that no-news because it at least stokes hope for change.
Auburn’s seemingly bottomless free fall two years after a national-title run hit a new low Saturday, the only positives being that Auburn won the turnover battle and at least beat the spread against favored Vanderbilt.
The Tigers’ second consecutive loss at Vanderbilt — the last coming in 2008 — left them at a 20-21-1 deficit in the all-time series against the SEC’s all-time doormat.
After yet another loss in which Auburn continued all-too-predictable, self-defeating trends, after Vandy tried to be Vandy and fumble away the victory, after Auburn out-Vandied Vandy, the Tigers stand at 1-6 overall, 0-5 in SEC play.
That includes losses to Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Vandy in the same season.
To avoid pulling an Ole Miss O-fer, circa 2011, Auburn must win an SEC game among the remaining three against 20-ranked Texas A&M, No. 13 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama.
The only way Auburn’s prospects could look bleaker would be to lose to New Mexico State on homecoming, Alabama A&M or both.
Auburn is off to its worst start since 1952, so the 2012 season is officially headed for worse-than-1998 territory. We all know how that ended.
Credit Chizik for at least showing a willingness to stick around and answer for it, for as long as Auburn allows.
“We’re going to keep fighting, and, again, I’m proud that our guys kept fighting and playing in the game,” he said. “But, at some point in time, we’ve got to figure out a way to get the game at that point and win it. Again, we’re obviously struggling with that.
“We’ll continue to go back to work and continue to try to improve.”
Based on trends that continued Saturday, Auburn will continue trying to improve by giving running back Tre Mason mystifyingly few carries. He gained 85 yards in his 16 tries Saturday.
Auburn will continue trying to improve while killing its drives with negative plays, like two false starts after Mason’s 34-yard run gave Auburn a first down at Vanderbilt’s 40-yard line late in the third quarter.
Throw in a sack of Clint Moseley, and Auburn ended up punting on fourth down and 30 from its 40.
A week after managing just 213 total yards at Ole Miss, Auburn mounted 212 Saturday at Vandy.
Meanwhile, Moseley’s second consecutive start went about like the last one. He had his moments, hitting on passes of 11 and 24 yards to Emory Blake to set up Mason’s 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, then had too-Moseley moments.
He threw behind a wide-open Blake in the end zone before Auburn settled for Cody Parkey’s 27-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
On fourth down and 13 from Vandy’s 44 with a minute to play, Moseley overthrew Sammie Coates, who was running behind Vandy’s secondary on the one deep pass the Tigers tried all day.
Had Moseley been on target, an ineligible-receiver penalty would have nullified the play.
Throw in two fair-catch interference penalties and Jonathan Jones allowing a punt he could have caught bounce over his head and into the end zone, and special teams joined the folly fray.
Throw in that Auburn’s defense gave up two fourth-down conversions on yet another game-opening touchdown drive by the opponent — a drive that covered 75 yards, 16 plays, eight minutes and 29 seconds and nearly half of a page in the game book.
Throw in that Vandy tried so hard to pull a Vandy.
The Commodores aided Auburn’s final scoring drive by hitting wildcat quarterback Jonathan Wallace out of bounds, giving the Tigers 15 yards and a first down at the Vandy 24. Auburn still settled for Parkey’s 39-yard field goal pull it within 17-13 with 9:55 to play.
The Commodores gave Auburn another chance by trying a halfback pass on fourth down and 3 from Auburn’s 31. Auburn’s Gabe Wright sacked Zac Stacy, but the Tigers punted after three plays.
The Tigers punted despite help from a Vandy offsides penalty.
Stacy fumbled away Vandy’s next possession at Auburn’s 32 with 2:24 to play, but Auburn’s last-chance drive ended in Moseley’s overthrow of Coates, which followed Travante Stallworth’s third-down drop.
No wonder Auburn lost, despite a rare, 3-0 victory in the turnover battle.
No wonder Auburn lost, despite scoring in the fourth quarter for the first time since the Tigers’ season-opening loss to Clemson (still no fourth-quarter touchdowns).
No wonder Auburn keeps playing nothing like Chizik continually claims the Tigers practice.
As that disconnect settles in, add Auburn’s current free fall in light of Chizik’s highly rated recruiting classes. It’s hard not to wonder if he has any clue what he’s seeing.
Oh, did we mention that Lutzenkirchen and Young are out for the season?
Maybe it’s time for another Chizik apology for all of the bad news. Or not.
“Obviously, we’re just in a tough place,” he said, when asked about the mental state of his players. “They’ve got to love the game. They’ve got to love Auburn. They’ve got to love playing for Auburn, and they’ve got to love playing college football.
“It’s the greatest game on the planet.”