Hapless Arkansas handles more hapless Auburn, casting a pall over prospects for a Tiger turnaround
by Joe Medley
Oct 07, 2012 | 5012 views |  0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Auburn wide receiver Emory Blake fumbles the ball after a hard hit by an Arkansas defender. (Trent Penny)
Auburn wide receiver Emory Blake fumbles the ball after a hard hit by an Arkansas defender. (Trent Penny)
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AUBURN — There’s a feeling wafting around Auburn, articulated in the streaming of Auburn fans out of Jordan-Hare Stadium midway through the fourth quarter of a football game.

It’s a feeling articulated by Auburn’s head coach, who apologized to those fans and said he understood their feelings.

It’s a feeling articulated by sophomore quarterback Kiehl Frazier standing on the sideline through the second half of Auburn’s 24-7 loss to Arkansas, his “journey,” as Auburn coach Gene Chizik has called it, clearly having detoured.

It’s a done feeling, a la 1998.

The only mystery left of Auburn’s devastated season now becomes whether the feeling is momentary, or if it’s the beginning of all that history hints.

“I’m not going to really focus on a question like that,” Chizik said during his postgame news conference, his wife Jonna in the room. “My plan is that I’m going to be at Auburn.

“That’s the bottom line, and we’re going to work really, really hard, and so you can get all of that out of your mind.”

It’s hard to put such notions out of mind, especially when events drag history into sight.

The aftermath of Auburn’s loss Saturday felt like the aftermath of Auburn’s 24-3 loss at Florida in 1998, only Auburn didn’t lose to an SEC power in its prime. It lost to Arkansas, whose 1-4 start included SEC losses to Alabama and Texas A&M by a combined score of 110-10.

The opposing coach didn’t have to answer for sitting on a 24-3 halftime lead, like Florida’s coach did in 1998. Arkansas’ coach didn’t remark about how obvious it was that Auburn couldn’t score.

He didn’t have to. Auburn entered Saturday ranked 114th nationally in scoring offense, with six offensive touchdowns. The Tigers made it seven through 20 quarters plus an overtime on Clint Moseley’s 21-yard pass to Emory Blake, which brought Auburn briefly within 10-7 late in the third quarter.

So the opposing head coach didn’t have to highlight Auburn’s hapless offense. Besides, Chizik did it for him.

“Offensively, one of the most poor performances I have seen in a long time, just point blank,” he said.

Also, the opposing coach wasn’t Steve Spurrier this time. It was John L. Smith, an interim called after Bobby Petrino’s soap-opera firing in April to front a now-floundering program.

“Number one, I credit Auburn,” Smith said. “They’re a good football team.”

OK, enough from the tortured gaffe machine who passed his torch on to Chizik on Saturday.

It’s enough that Smith did his part --- with help from Chizik, Auburn offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and two quarterbacks --- to back his recent, out-loud and very public guess that Chizik will be out of work in 2013.

Smith’s 2-4 team sacked Frazier and Moseley a combined eight times, reducing Auburn’s net rushing total by 80 yards.

Smith’s defense played like kids under a burst piÒata, snatching five turnovers from a team that came into the game ranked 116th in turnover margin.

With the nation’s No. 116 defense, Arkansas held the nation’s No. 113 offense to seven points.

Most devastating of all, a 10-0 halftime lead and the prospect of losing to 2012’s most disappointing team caused Chizik to panic and pull Frazier.

There have been lots of occasions this season when those thoughts could have occurred, but Chizik had described Frazier’s plight as a “journey.” Chizik seemed determined to let a young quarterback play through his learning season under a new coordinator and system.

Chizik seemed determined to inoculate Frazier’s confidence against anything and everything bad that happens this season.

That all went out the window at halftime Saturday, when Chizik and Loeffler decided that Auburn needed a “spark.”

It all went out the window after Frazier did things he had done previously. He held the ball too long and took a sack, knocking Auburn out of effective field-goal range, then threw for grabs at the end of the first half, resulting in Will Hines’ interception.

To that point, Frazier had shown flashes of improvement. He was accurate on short- and medium-range passes and had Auburn moving at times.

Oh well. Now Frazier awaits today’s evaluation among Auburn’s coaches about how to proceed at quarterback. If he resumes his role as starter, he’ll do it with Saturday’s yanking planted firmly in his memory.

Regardless what happens at quarterback, it’s clear that Auburn has no answers on offense, at least none ready to make real inroads this season. What else to think, after the Tigers scored 17 fewer points against Arkansas at home than Jacksonville State scored in Fayetteville a month ago?

Chizik, his staff and players will keep seeking answers. Only a team that quits fails to earn those consolation chants we heard from the student section weekly as Auburn careened to a 3-8 finish and Terry Bowden’s midseason exit in 1998: “It’s great to be an Auburn Tiger.”

But Saturday’s fourth-quarter exodus through the exits spoke to the hopelessness evident to all who have seen enough of this team. It spoke to that done feeling that now falls over Auburn’s season, just two seasons removed from a national title.

Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or jmedley@annistonstar.com. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.

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