Texas A&M vs. Auburn score: Escape by the Tigers was nice, but is only temporary relief for Gus Malzahn

Auburn rallied to top No. 20 Texas A&M 28-24 Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium to qualify for a bowl with three games remaining. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham found Seth Williams in the corner of the end zone with 1:41 remaining to cap a comeback that erased a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter and sent Tiger fans home happy. 

But don’t be fooled by the temporary injection of adrenaline, Auburn fans. It’s only temporary feeling to a long-term problem that starts and ends with coach Gus Malzahn. 

Malzahn is supposed to be an offensive guru that uses a power rushing attack out of spread formations that thrives with tempo. Yet, the Tigers (6-3, 3-3 SEC) managed just 19 rushing yards on the afternoon against the Aggies. Granted, Texas A&M (5-4, 3-3) came in with the best rushing defense in the SEC. But that’s not supposed to matter to Malzahn — who has produced 15 players who have topped the 1,000-yard mark on the ground in 13 years as a college head or assistant coach. Auburn’s previous offenses have run over, around and through even the best defenses. See: Alabama in 2013. This one repeatedly runs into a brick wall.

One of those players was Peyton Barber, who did it  in 2015 despite the Tigers having a passing game under quarterback Jeremy Johnson that was a disaster. JaTarvious “Boobie” Whitlow has 642 this year, with games against Georgia, Liberty and Alabama remaining on the schedule. Even if he does the improbable and goes off against two national championship contenders, this isn’t the offense Malzahn was hired to run. The offensive line has been a problem since the season-opener vs. Washington, the running game is as excruciating as a root canal to watch and Stidham is as unstable in the pocket as a the patience for football prowess on The Plains.

All of that falls on Malzahn. He’s the one who recruited and failed to develop the offensive line. He’s the one who isn’t creative enough to try something different with the offense. He’s the one who hasn’t given more flexibility to Stidham to audible at the line of scrimmage — despite saying he would all offseason.

Since taking Auburn to the BCS Championship Game following the 2013 season and falling 13 seconds short of a title, he is 21-17 in SEC play. That’s indicative of an average coach who has had a couple of moments. Nothing more, nothing less. 

There is a sure-fire win against Liberty on Auburn’s schedule, but the other two games — Georgia and Alabama — are almost certainly losses. The Tigers are staring 7-5 straight in the face in a season in which they were coming off an SEC West title, and supposed to be Alabama’s primary threat in the division.

That’s not what this team is supposed to be. That’s not what Malzahn was hired, or given a contract extension in the offseason, to do. With a seven-year, $49 million salary, there’s no such thing as a rebuilding year for Malzahn. The Tigers are supposed to be, at the very least, in contention for the division title every November. 

All Saturday’s win did was take the Tigers out of contention for the Birmingham Bowl.


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