Auburn, Ala.—Missed opportunities and mistakes were the order of the day in the season opening loss to Clemson according to Auburn coach Gene Chizik on Sunday. After reviewing his team’s execution on offense, defense and special teams, he said the thing that jumps out to him was the lackluster play by several areas on defense.
Most notably that came at the safety position where junior Ryan Smith and sophomore Jermaine Whitehead got the start, but didn’t play up to par according to their head coach. Missed tackles and poor angles in the secondary plagued Auburn’s defense and it’s something that Chizik said wasn’t only on the safeties.
“I thought the play was very suspect,” Chizik said. “I thought the tackling was poor. The level of play at that position has to significantly improve for our defense to improve. It’s not just them. I’m going to say the same thing at defensive tackle. I’m going to say the same things at times at linebacker. They’re not the only ones. I think it could pretty much I could say that for everyone I just mentioned.
“I feel like the pace of the game was fast, and I think that we missed tackles,” he added. “The 68-yard run should have been a 5-yard gain. We didn't wrap up. We didn't tackle well, at all. Some of it was misfits on the runs but a lot of it was just poor tackling. Poor tackling out of our linebackers, poor tackling out of our safeties. Just overall defensively, I thought very poor in terms of having a chance to make plays and tackle guys and we didn't.”
With returning starter Demetruce McNeal not factoring into the mix against Clemson nor sophomore Erique Florence and sophomore Trent Fisher playing only a handful of plays, Chizik said there is no question the competition is still very much open there and throughout the defense heading into week two at Mississippi State.
The Auburn offense wasn’t immune to problems either in the loss as the Tigers got inside the red zone three different times and had to settle for field goals in each case. That proved to be the difference in the game as Auburn’s missed opportunities cost them dearly down the stretch.
"Well, you know, really, it just came down to execution,” Chizik said. “In a game like this where you've got people on the other side making plays, you've got to be, when you have a chance to be in a position to make them, you've got to make it. We had one blocked up, that would have been blocked up perfectly in the red zone on one of the instances where we felt like Onterio (McCalebb) would have scored, and a guy misses a block. It really came down to execution down there in the red zone for us offensively, and guys making plays when they had the opportunity to."
On offense thing begin and end with the play of the quarterback and for Auburn that’s sophomore Kiehl Frazier. Completing just 11-27 passes against Clemson and missing several chances for big plays, Frazier was far from perfect, but showed his head coach some things to build on.
“I’m proud of him because, in your first game that you’re the true starter, I thought he managed everything well,” Chizik said. “I thought when things weren’t going well I thought he handled that well. When he had some some success and things were going good he handled that well. I thought he tried to be a guy on the sideline that never really changes demeanor in terms of how he was the leader of the offense. I thought there was some chemistry built out there between a lot of those guys. The value of learning what happened during the game that was good and bad is certainly there, but there is also a lot of value in the chemistry that is starting to be built, them knowing this is our starting quarterback and we’re all in this thing.”
With a game under their belts and heading on the road in the SEC opener at Mississippi State this Saturday morning, Chizik said his team has plenty of work to do in order to be ready for the Bulldogs and all they can do now is get to work.
“I saw a lot of room for improvement,” Chizik said. “We had our chances to win the game at different points in the game. There will be a lot of great teaching moments during the game on the film, simply because we were in positions and we didn't take advantage of those positions. We've got to get it done and we just didn't get it done. We'll go back to work.”
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