The end of the regular season is finally here for my Auburn Tigers. It was an up and down year on the plains. I'm going to attempt to break down the team the way I see it as an arm chair quarterback who loves this team, but still be objective. This is going to break down each position as well as the coaching staff.
Quarterback: Auburn's quarterback play this year can be described in one word. BAD. Barrett Trotter started the season fairly well managing the team, but from the Clemson game till the time he was benched in favor of Clint Mosely he wasn't getting results. Clint Mosely got thrown to the wolves by making his first start against LSU and well no QB looks good against that defense. Trotter and Mosely both seemed to make mistakes at the worst times in every game they made mistakes in. Kiehl Frazier actually played in more games than both Mosely and Trotter as he was put in as the wildcat QB and show some promise running the ball, but the sample size is much to small to truly evaluate him as a passer, but his two picks aren't a good sign to me. Overall I would grade the play of this position as a D.
Running Back: Michael Dyer was the brightest spot for this offense in 2011. When he is given enough carries to actually make a difference in games he usually does. Only Trent Richardson of Alabama had a better season in the SEC. Over 1200 yards this season by the primary back and over 500 for the second back isn't too bad in the grand scheme of things and gives the offense something to build on next year. Auburn needs to do whatever they can to ensure that Dyer is given 20-25 carries per game next year. Both Dyer and McCaleb return next year so they could have an outstanding year next year running the ball. Grade A-
Wide Receiveer: The wide receiver play this year wasn't expected to be very good and it more than lived up to that billing. Emory Blake was the lone bright spot amongst the receivers. He missed five games due to injury and when he did come back from the injuries he wasn't nearly as effective as he was before. Trovon Reed has big play capability but he dances to much once the ball is in his hands instead of running towards the end zone. DeAngelo Benton catches the ball like he has soaked his gloves in PAM cooking spray because very little stuck to his hands this year. LSU knew what they were doing when they let this kid walk. Grade D+
Tight End: Philip Lutzenkirchen is one of the best all around tight ends in the country in my opinion. After watching all the games this year a defensive coordinator can really predict what Auburn's offense is going to do in the running game because you can bet that Lutz is going to be the one leading the way with his blocking. He is a good pass catcher too though not in the mold of a Jason Whitten or Tony Gonzalez, but more like Jay Novachek for the Cowboys of the 90's a good blocker who can bail out the QB when needed. He is tough as nails too. He actually led the team in receiving touchdowns. Grade B+
Offensive Line: This is where the rubber meets the road in football. Auburn had to replace 4 starters from last years team and started a true freshman at center. So I expected some growing pains at this position. I didn't expect the growing pains to be as bad as they were though. Wow the offensive line was bad. One could make the argument that if they were so bad how did Dyer and McCaleb put up so many yards on the ground, well it was inspite of the line not because of. The vast majority of the long runs broken by Dyer and McCaleb wasn't because the line did a great job, but was because of good blocking from the tight end and the receivers actually blocking defensive backs really well. These guys couldn't stop the pass rush at all either. Trotter\Mosely\Frazier were running for their life from game 1 on. Grade F
Defensive Line: The defensive line was up and down like the rest of the team. Cory Lemonier and Nosa Eguae played pretty well at the end spots getting decent pressure on QB's from time to time but not consistently. Jeffrey Whitaker, Gabe Wright, and Dee Ford didn't do near enough as to stop the run, or at least keep lineman from getting to the linebackers so they could move around and make tackles. The defensive line as a whole is very undersized to hold up over the long haul. There were signs though that this line will get better. Just not consistency. Grade C
Linebackers: This may be the hardest position for me to evaluate because I havn't decided if lack of outstanding and consistent performance is because the linebackers just weren't very good, or if it was because to many times the defensive line let blockers get to the second level when opening holes. The only linebacker that really stood out to me this year was Eltorro Freeman. When he was moved from the outside to inside linebacker midway through the season he really shined stuffing the run. Darren Bates in my opinion should have never been moved from the secondary after his freshman year. He played a nice free safety that year but is way to small to be playing linebacker. Like the defensive line in front of them these guys for the most part are too small when compared to the elite defenses of Alabama and LSU. Grade C.
Defensive Backs: I thought this area would be the biggest weal spot on the team this year and it was. Moving Neiko Thorpe from corner to safety seemed like a good idea with his height and lack of coverage skills and while he did lead the team with 3 interceptions he isn't every going to be confused with Ronnie Lott back in the day. He still got burnt deep way to many times. The only good thing I can say about the secondary is they got to play a lot of the young talent on the team at these positions because nobody did well enough to cement themselves as starters. Grade D.
Special Teams: The special teams this year may have been the best part of this team. Steven Clark is a Ray Guy finalist which says something about the way he punted this year. Will he win it. I have no idea but he single handedly made offenses work with long fields all season long. Cody Parkey had a good year as the place kicker and he had more touchbacks than I think I can ever remember seeing any kickers have on kickoffs this year. He has a booming leg. The return game was pretty decent this year too. Tre Mason took one the distance in the first game against Utah State and gave the team great field position most of the times he touched the ball. Onterrio McCaleb took one the distance in the Iron Bowl. The first one ever returned in the history of the game. Grade A
Defensive Coordinator: The results speak for themselves. This may have been the worst Auburn defensive performance I have ever seen for an Auburn football team. Now I know the defense was very young so this team wasn't expected to be the next coming of the Iron Curtain or the 85 Bears, but the yards and points these guys gave up this year was terrible. How much can be chalked up to the guy that leads the defense I don't know, but in three years as the coordinator this defense has gotten worse and not better that would indicate coaching to me. He has no creativity when it comes to blitzes and getting pressure on the QB. When the front 4 isn't getting pressure then you have to come up with fresh ideas to get pressure and he didn't. If players aren't producing then switch them out and see if somebody else can. Roof didn't do this. I think its time for Ted to post his resume on monster and look for employment elseware because he isn't getting it done on the plains. Grade F
Offensive Coordinator: Gus Malzahn is a very creative offensive coordinator. He had success at Arkansas and Tulsa before coming to Auburn and his first two years he dialed up some pretty potent offenses. Though i question his play calling sometimes, hell, a lot of the time. I think once he realized it was time to make the change at QB that he should have put in the freshman Frazier and lived and died with him. At least Frazier is a threat to make something happen with his feet as much as his arm, well at this point more than his arm. He had a horse in Michael Dyer but there were far to many games where Dyer got the ball only 10-15 times, and that is not near enough for a back as good as Dyer is. If not for his creativity though the offense probably wouldn't have been as good as it was. This is probably a moot point to evaluate Gus though as he will be the head guy somewhere next year. Grade C-
Head Coach: Gene Chizik won a national championship in his second year as head man at Auburn and his fourth year overall as a head coach so thats not too bad. He has put together a good staff at Auburn that has only lost one assistant in his three years, and that was to the NFL so that's not too bad. He will lose at least one more when Malzahn walks on to a head coaching job next year. I have to place some of the blame for the defensive performance on Coach Chiz though because from 2004-2005 at Auburn and Texas his defenses didn't lose a game so for the Auburn defense to get as bad as it has under his watch is inexcuseable. Either he needs to make the decision to get rid of Ted Roof or he needs to get more hands on with the defense because what is happening now isn't working. Grade C.
As always comments are welcome.