Aubserver Mailbag 147: How much did the NMSU loss damage Year 1 for Auburn?
This week: Bounce-back games, the stat to watch, Iron Bowl memories, basketball's room for improvement and Thanksgiving leftovers
HC Hugh Freeze (Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
The fog is real.
Hugh Freeze talked about it Monday morning. After Auburn’s historically poor loss to New Mexico State last Saturday — when the Tigers never led and were ultimately defeated by three touchdowns — his team still looked shell-shocked.
“Most everybody I've seen it's like they're in a fog from what happened Saturday,” Freeze said. “We've got to snap out of that fast.”
The fog seems to have carried over to the fanbase, too. If Auburn would have won Saturday, this mailbag would have been filled with questions about the Tigers’ chances of knocking off Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
Instead, there are a lot of questions about how much the embarrassing loss affected the longterm state of the program.
And that’s understandable. If Auburn plays like it did last Saturday, Alabama will win by a lot of points. If Auburn plays like it did during its three-game winning streak or, say, the close call with Georgia, it could be an exciting game at Jordan-Hare Stadium. That feels like the bulk of the pregame analysis for this year’s Iron Bowl.
So, in today’s mailbag, we look at the big picture. How much did that loss undo what the Tigers were trying to build? What are the odds of a bounce-back? And why does it feel like vibes are so important for coaches going through a rough time?
We answer those questions, along with some basketball ones and the traditional Thanksgiving food takes. I hope all of y’all had a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends, and I’m truly thankful that you continue to support what we do here at The Observer.
How much damage did the loss last week do to Freeze in Year 1? Do you think the program is still heading in the right direction? Are they really starting over from scratch?
One of the biggest consequences of Auburn’s historically rough 21-point loss to New Mexico State is what it represented in the big picture.
Take care of business, and the Tigers go over their preseason Vegas win total before the Iron Bowl. They would be on a four-game winning streak and give the fans more belief that they can knock off Alabama at home. You could point to real progress in Year 1 — an exceeding of early expectations and a clear-cut energy around the program.
With a loss like that one? It makes it tougher to see the progress, for sure. Critics can rightfully point to how Auburn hasn’t beaten a bowl-bound team yet. There’s still a chance at a third straight losing season, too.
I think it’s important to recognize how embarrassingly bad last week’s loss was — something that Freeze said repeatedly this week — while also acknowledging that one loss can’t completely derail a season. If Auburn wins that game, people are fired up heading into the Iron Bowl. So can a loss do that much damage? It doesn’t completely reverse previous results.
Auburn losing to NMSU showed how far it still has to go and how it hasn’t come close to arriving as a program yet. The Tigers reverted to a lot of their early-season problems against a team that wasn’t nearly as talented as they were.
Complacency, lack of focus, weak effort, whatever you want to call it — it’s a bad look. As Freeze said, Auburn needs to remember that it has to actually go win a game each week and that nothing is handed to them, especially after beating up on a few weaker SEC teams.
The loss was a reminder that the problems that plagued the Tigers in the losing streak still exist and that those issues must be addressed swiftly and decisively in the offseason.
Go get more talent, yes. That’s the lifeblood of the rebuild. But you’ve got to figure out how to get stronger at the line of scrimmage, more confident in the passing attack, thoroughly prepared from week to week, etc. Tough decisions are going to have to be made, because Auburn can’t be the same type of team it was next year and expect to make it work.
I will be interested to see how Auburn handles its quarterback situation moving forward, how it prioritizes certain positions in the transfer portal and if significant staff changes are made.
I also know that a competitive game against Alabama on Saturday can help a lot of the hurt feelings from last week. And while I wouldn’t guarantee that happening, I know what I’ve seen in Iron Bowls in Jordan-Hare Stadium with my own eyes.
The NMSU loss was probably the worst one in program history. It also might not mean a ton in the long run if Auburn responds to it correctly. That starts Saturday in the Iron Bowl and carries into a crucial offseason.
At worst, AU will finish 6-7 after the bowl game. For years two and three under Freeze, if you were the AD/power brokers in AU, what would your expectation/goal be for the next two years. And would there be any difference between those goals and what the team could achieve?