Upon Further Review: You’ve Been Gus’d

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Upon Further Review: You’ve Been Gus’d

The home Tigers were a two score favorite, a national contender, had a 13 game home winning streak and were hosting an LSU team that had looked shaky in all the right places. The national perception was that this was a Granada game for Auburn.

While LSU was the No. 12 team in the nation, pundits saw it as an almost an unwinnable game as the Bayou Bengal were 10.5 underdogs. After all, Gus Malzahn was a lot more respected than coach Ed Orgeron, Jarrett Stidham was perceived as a top tier talent at quarterback and CBS sportscaster Brad Nessler said “I’m not trying to put Joe Burrow down, but when I watch film of LSU, I see Danny Etling with a different number. It’s just another Ohio State transfer that can kind of manage the game.” LSU had no Leonard Fournette or Derrius Guice, just some upperclassman who had waited around long enough. LSU-22, Auburn 21. And LSU pulled it off because Gus Malzahn was being Gus Malzahn. He Gus’d it. Again. 

There has been a lot piling on to the refs.

They sure earned it. The referees single-handedly kept LSU in the game late against Auburn. By now, almost everyone in the country has heard the diatribe laid down by Auburn’s own Rod Bramblett and Stan White. Hearing Stan White be a homer isn’t something new, as Stan is quick to live up the his job as the color commentator. However, what was new was to hear Bramblett share in the referee bashing that extended for around two minutes leading in to and past the game-winning kick and survived a media timeout.

Rod is one of the finest and most professional play-by-play analysts in the college sports and not just because of his ability to call games, but to be extremely even-handed at doing so. Rod doesn’t do a lot of bashing, but he did Saturday as the LSU Tigers came into Jordan-Hare and beat the Auburn Tigers. 

Rod and Stan weren’t out of line. The calls were bad. There were over 200 yards of penalties in this contest and even though it is easy to point to the last penalty of the game against Jamel Dean and then recount how LSU had a total of six third down conversions by Auburn penalties, LSU had just as many penalties (9) as Auburn, with just a little less yardage (91 to 111).

Auburn fans can’t really blame the refs for all the penalties or truly blame them for the Auburn loss, although that last penalty was certainly out of line and set up the field goal. The refs dictated the game, on both sides. It just happened that the timing of the last penalty will be remembered. 

But refs didn’t give that game away.

Gus Malzahn did. There is a saying that I have stolen, or adopted, or maybe I just made up for my travel softball teams: You can out-hit bad defense, but you can’t out defense bad hit. Follow me here, because I know I just crossed multiple sports. The gist of that saying is that you outscore your bad defense, but your defense can’t outscore your bad offense. See Saturday’s latest example. But wait. Isn’t offense a Gus Malzahn thing? Isn’t he an “offensive guru?” It sure didn’t look like it Saturday. 

Here is the top-level view.

The $49 million dollar man has lost a game in September every year and has six total wins against LSU, Georgia, and Alabama. Six. He is in his sixth year. That’s right. He is getting just one win a year against the three Auburn rivals, although I realize he hasn’t played UGa and Bama yet. His two wins against LSU have been at home, so this loss is a new low for this series that somehow feels worse than last year’s debacle that saw Auburn laid an egg in the second half against LSU in Baton Rouge after putting up a 20-0 lead in the first half. This year Auburn held a shaky 14-10 lead at half before almost immediately putting up another touchdown to take a 21-13 lead into the forth quarter. It was another second half meltdown that is becoming the norm for Auburn, just as beating bad SEC teams by a lot of points has become the norm for Malzahn. Under Gus, the Auburn offense has been completely inept the second half in games when Auburn had the lead going into the second half. A tailgating friend of mine said some of the truest words I’ve ever heard, as it pertains to Malzahn: “I’d rather be down three touchdowns at half than be up three touchdowns with Gus.”

Let’s look at some specifics. 

There isn’t a fan of football that doesn’t know “you take points in the first half.” Instead, Auburn lined up for 4th-and-one on the LSU 17 in the first quarter where Boobee Whitlow was stuffed for a two yard loss. It wasn’t even close. The LSU defensive line blew through Auburn’s offensive line. “Everyone just relaxed,” Wanogho said. “When you’re playing a good football team, you can’t do that. That’s on us. At the end of the day, that’s on us.” Think about this quote from a veteran. How is this even possible? 

Auburn’s offensive line didn’t look the part of a contender,  especially in the second half. LSU brought more than four rushers just one time, all game, and somehow owned the line. Center, Kaleb Kim wasn’t just dominated; he compounded whiffing on his blocks by dragging down the defender twice. The pieces along the offensive line will continue to move, as they have every year under Malzahn.

Kam Martin entered the season as the number one back. He took the lion’s share of work in the spring and the fall and was named as the bell cow multiple times by Malzahn. Yet, anyone that had watched Martin play knew his strengths and his weaknesses. Being a 20+ carry bell cow was not one of those strengths. Martin had two carries for four yards against LSU. Again, another trend under Malzahn is going an entire quarter of the year not featuring the better power back. Shaun Shivers began the season buried on the depth chart. He is a clear-cut number two back by game four. 

Joe Burrow didn’t exactly light it up on the scoreboard and his completion percentage was pretty putrid. Yet the transfer from Ohio State looked more like a top draft pick than Jarrett Stidham did. Burrow didn’t turn the ball over and he was flawless when it mattered, no more so than the 4th-and-seven strike he fired to move the chains in his last possession. His touchdown toss to Derrick Dillon was inches from being picked off, except that it wasn’t and it turned the tide for the Tigers in yellow and purple.

Stidham opened the game with a second play INT that set up LSU’s first score. He gave another one away in the third quarter. After three games, he has just three touchdown passes and two INTs. For comparison, Sean White started out 2016 with 510 yards, three TDs and one INT. Stidham currently has a 584-3-2 line. Certainly play calling and protection were an issue but Stidham hasn’t looked the preseason part of a first round pick for the NFL. 

Receivers haven’t helped Stidham much.

The dropsies showed up again Saturday, even with Ryan Davis, the unquestioned leader for the receivers. Auburn has upper-classmen littering the receiver corps but Anthony Schwartz and Seth Williams are No. 2 and No. 5 in total catches. Their performances, as true freshmen, have opened up far many more eyes than the work put in by the veterans. It makes fans wonder what Kodi Burns is doing with these guys if the better performers are those fresh out of high school. 

It would be easy for readers to say that most of this is over-reaction to a loss, which happens to every fan base after a disheartening loss. Still, the conversation is the same one Auburn fans have had since 2013: Auburn fans got Gus’d. 

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