By Zack Steele
You could see it coming from the Georgia loss in Week 2. Auburn’s offense looked lost and listless. Bo Nix looked like a high school quarterback who had not lived up to his high recruiting ranking.
Auburn followed up that terrible performance in Athens with an even worse one in Week 3 against a terrible South Carolina team. Meanwhile the neighbors up in Tuscaloosa were destroying everyone.
There is something to be said about coveting what your neighbor has, even though there is a commandment against it. Alabama drives a shiny Cadillac and Auburn drives a 2013 Toyota Camry. It was really nice in 2013 and probably serviceable in most circumstances. But we often covet what our neighbors have. And Auburn covets.
While struggling to watch Auburn finish off a Mississippi State team with barely enough scholarship players to field a team, I came to the conclusion that Auburn fans were as enthusiastic about watching this game as the players were in playing it. There is no enthusiasm in the program right now. The fans are not excited. No one believes at this point that Gus can consistently get Auburn to the upper shelf of the SEC. And while Malzahn’s record against Nick Saban was respectable. His numbers against other key SEC rivals, namely LSU and Georgia, were most certainly not.
In the end, failures against Georgia and LSU were his demise. Auburn had ample opportunity is 2015 and 2016 to beat Georgia. They blew leads in both games. Auburn had chances in 2017, 18, and 19 to win against LSU and choked in all three.
One of the more maddening aspects of Malzahn’s time at Auburn was the failure to develop a quarterback. Save Nick Marshall in 2013 and 2014, Auburn’s QB play was nothing short of a train wreck. Jeremy Johnson was a can’t miss guy. By the end of his career, he was a shell of the guy we saw in the first half of the 2014 Arkansas game.
Sean White followed and started out as a tough, plucky leader, only to get injured and fade away.
Bo Nix has been equally if not more disappointing in development with his happy feet and his needless evacuation of the pocket. In between we see glimpses of greatness with amazing throws and escapability. That makes his regression even more maddening.
Nick Saban had kind words for Malzahn yesterday. Gus changed the game according to Saban. And to paraphrase, if you can’t beat em, join em. Saban was one of the biggest complainers about Auburn’s offense when it first arrived. Since then, Saban adopted it, and improved on it, like many coaches across the country. Gus was never able to upgrade the hurry up no huddle. And like many things in this day and age, the beta version is never as good as 2.0 or 3.0.
Auburn football historians will be kind to Gus, and rightfully so. The 2013 season will be one everyone remembers. The Prayer in Jordan Hare and the Kick Six are seared into the memory of every college football fan. Malzahn ran a clean program and his players loved him. In the end, it was not winning big games against teams not named Alabama that sealed Gus’s fate.