AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn gets why Auburn fans are so frustrated with the offense, which once again looked overmatched against top competition.
New quarterback, new offensive coordinator, same poor results.
The 15th-ranked Tigers (1-1) generated just 117 yards and two field goals in a loss to No. 3 Clemson Saturday night, the fewest yards of Malzahn’s college career as an offensive coordinator or head coach. It was also the fewest by an Auburn offense listed in on line records dating back to 1996.
“From a fan standpoint, the frustration that they have that I fully understand is, the way that we finished the season last year and the frustration and then Saturday night looked the same,” Malzahn said. “So, I get that from that standpoint. I will say this, we are going to improve. We’re going to be a good offense, that is for sure.”
The Tigers’ initial optimism centered on the new pairing of first-year offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey and transfer quarterback Jarrett Stidham . Then Stidham was sacked 11 times against Clemson and the offense went nowhere after a promising opening drive.
It continued a recent trend of struggles against Top 10 opponents. The Tigers have averaged 12.6 points and 232 yards in their last five such games, all losses.
Now, Lindsey is moving from the sideline to the press box for games, which is where he presided over the offense at Arizona State. “That’s really where his comfort zone is,” Malzahn said.
Offensive line coach Herb Hand is coming down to the field starting Saturday against Mercer.
Auburn’s backfield hasn’t been full strength in either game. Kamryn Pettway was suspended against Georgia Southern and Kerryon Johnson missed the last six quarters with a right hamstring injury.
Stidham and the passing game haven’t gotten going either. The Tigers don’t have a pass play longer than 23 yards and young receivers like Nate Craig-Myers and Kyle Davis haven’t produced much yet.
Malzahn said growing pains are a factor.
“I think the fact we’ve got a new coordinator, we’ve got a new quarterback, we’ve got a couple of new guys up front, it’s just going to take a little time,” he said. “Those guys do understand the areas they need to improve on. Like I said after the game, we are going to be a good offense. You’ll see that group improve each week.”
Malzahn said he didn’t expect any changes to the offensive line. Left tackle Prince Tega Wanogho and left guard Mike Horton are new starters.
Darius James moved from left tackle to right tackle.
Then there’s Stidham, who hadn’t played in nearly two years before the opener against Georgia Southern .
He has passed for 264 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Auburn has also allowed 14 sacks, tied for most nationally.
“He was put in some tough spots,” Malzahn said of Stidham. “He was hit quite a bit. Obviously he was harassed in the passing game, but I thought he played with courage. I thought he fought, and I thought he played extremely hard.”