For anyone measuring the Tigers’ results against the best teams on their schedule, the answer has to be an emphatic no.
No. 14 Georgia handed No. 24-in-name-only Auburn a 45-7 rout Saturday at Sanford Stadium, and the Bulldogs’ eighth consecutive victory had the checklist of elements from other such Auburn losses against good teams this season.
It had the easy-pickings secondary and generous third-down defense the Tigers showed in giving up 624 yards in a 38-24 loss at Clemson. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray burned the Tigers repeatedly on back-shoulder throws to the tune of 224 yards and four touchdown passes.
To make matters worse, a running back named Carlton Thomas — not Isaiah Crowell — ran for 127. Crowell rushed for 132, marking the first time since the Georgia Tech game in 2009 that Georgia had two 100-yard rushers in one game.
Saturday’s game also had the quick, turnover-aided scoring bunches LSU used en route to a 45-10 laugher against Auburn. It was 28-7 by 9:41 of the second quarter thanks in part to an Auburn fumble right after the Tigers recovered a Georgia fumble, plus Bacarri Rambo’s 24-yard interception return for a touchdown.
And remember how Auburn’s offense started so well in a 38-14 loss at Arkansas? The Tigers mounted a nice, scripted drive of mostly passes and gadget plays to tie Georgia 7-7 but inexplicably stayed away from the running game.
At one point in the second quarter, Auburn had called as many timeouts (two) as running plays. The final score and Auburn’s 51 net rushing yards were no coincidence.
Wasn’t Auburn a running team before Saturday? Wasn’t sophomore running back Michael Dyer, who rushed for 48 yards Saturday, the most valuable player of last season’s Bowl Championship Series final?
“It’s more what the defense gives you,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “Pretty much week in and week out, that’s what we do.”
Georgia wasn’t giving much, and this is the Auburn team that emerged from a bye week after 10 games. It looked more like a homecoming opponent than one equal side in the South’s oldest rivalry.
“They are a very talented team, and defensively they just, with the exception of the first drive, just flat out stopped our offense,” Chizik said. “I don’t know how many sacks they had (five), but it was a lot. We couldn’t bock their front four.
“Defensively, we couldn’t get some of the perimeter pass game under control. We’ll know more when we see it, but I think it was pretty evident what we couldn’t do, and that was a lot.”
That’s been the story against the best teams Auburn has played this season. The Tigers (6-4) have lost to No. 9 Clemson, No. 8 Arkansas, No. 1 LSU and No. 14 Georgia by an average of 27.8 points.
In none of those games did Auburn show the ability to move the ball consistently, if at all.
In none of those games did Auburn show the ability to stop a good offense consistently, if at all.
Yes, Auburn is likely to finish with seven victories and a bowl. That’s as good or better than most expected after the Tigers lost 18 starters, including Heisman Trophy quarterback Cam Newton, from a national championship team.
Yes, Auburn went a better-than-expected 3-2 in that brutal October schedule stretch that everyone circled in preseason, but that includes victories over South Carolina and Florida — one team likely not to repeat as SEC East Division champion and one free-falling disappointment.
And no, Auburn has not been competitive against the best teams on its schedule, which doesn’t bode well for the Iron Bowl against No. 4 Alabama in two weeks.
The fact that Auburn has looked so out of its element in these games is somewhat surprising. These weren’t games Auburn was picked to win, but shouldn’t a ranked team at least look like it belongs on the field?
Shouldn’t a young-but-talented team show signs of rising to these games late in the year?
And young or not, shouldn’t a team that has recruited as well as recruiting site rankings say Auburn has the past three years at least look a year away against top programs? Auburn hasn’t even looked like an SEC team in these games.
Auburn’s loss at Georgia on Saturday made the Tigers the one SEC West team not from Mississippi to lose to an East team this season.
There was reason to expect better from Auburn against Georgia, especially after a bye week. The Tigers came into Saturday with a wide range of bowl possibilities.
That range shrank like Auburn before a CBS viewing audience, and the scary thing?
“You all won’t believe me when I say this, but it was some of the best practices we’ve had this whole entire year,” quarterback Clint Moseley said about the bye week.
So what is Auburn to do? Chizik left two choices.
“I told everybody in the locker room, nobody has a choice,” he said. “The only choice is the exit over the door, if they don’t like it.”
For players who remember what it was like to play for a championship team just a year ago, that feeling can’t return soon enough.
“I felt like we were prepared,” wide receiver Emory Blake said. “I don’t feel like Georgia is that much better of a team than us. We just did not play well today, so … we’ve just got to bounce back.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.