Before this week, Auburn football hadn’t lost to a non-power conference team since 1991. On Saturday, that streak was broken in baffling fashion.
Despite all the momentum on the plains, a week out from hosting the Iron Bowl and riding a three-game win streak capped by a dominant blowout of Arkansas a week ago, the Tigers were absolutely flat against New Mexico State on Saturday.
The Aggies pounced, not only winning the game but doing so in an absolutely dominant fashion.
The box score is staggering. Auburn lost the time-of-possession battle 38:50 to 21:10, and New Mexico State picked up 11 more first downs. The Tigers were held to just 2-10 on third down. Pick a statistical category, and the story remains the same. Auburn was lethargic, and New Mexico State took advantage of it.
Even a pretty significant tussle midway through the first quarter did little to wake up the Tigers.
Instead, they were bullied, on both sides of the ball, for 60 minutes.
The offense was atrocious, starting with a line that got absolutely no push all afternoon. The Tiger run game, usually the strong suit of the unit, gained a pitiful 65 yards on 26 carries, just 2.5 yards per carry.
Payton Thorne, unsurprisingly, did not salvage the day with his arm. He completed 15 of his 19 throws, but with just 7.8 yards per attempt totaling 148, he did very little to keep the Aggie defense honest.
Ron Roberts’ defense was equally disappointing, maybe even more so considering their strong play this season. The unit typically keeps Auburn in games when the offense struggles, but that was far from the case on Saturday.
The 5.8 yards per carry they allowed was already revealing, but they were especially weak when it counted most. New Mexico State converted 6 of their 12 third down attempts and both of their fourth down attempts.
The offense couldn’t stay on the field, and the defense couldn’t get off of it.
The Auburn football blame game
When it’s all said and done, such a complete failure falls on the shoulders of one man: the head coach.
It was abundantly clear that Hugh Freeze did not have the Tigers focused on the team in front of them. The success of recent weeks, and the impending showdown with Alabama, was the cloud hanging over the program this week.
Now, in an instant, embarrassment has overshadowed success, excitement, and potential.
This is the lowest moment in a very long time for Auburn. Even with his status as perhaps the worst coach in the modern era of Auburn football, Bryan Harsin never lost to a team from a non-power conference.
All is not lost on the plains, however. Freeze is still recruiting well, and the positive signs of the last month still indicate improvement in the program. Heading into 2024, there must be an upgrade at quarterback and along the offensive line, both very reasonably manageable tasks with the transfer portal.
Other great coaches have suffered defeats like this. Nick Saban lost to Lousiana-Monroe in his first season in Tuscaloosa. The world is not ending for Auburn.
The world is laughing, though. There will be plenty of memes and jokes to endure. Thanksgiving for Auburn folks in divided houses will be brutal.
Even with the potential, hope, and excitement that has surrounded Auburn in recent weeks, there’s no sugarcoating Saturday’s defeat.
To put it as bluntly as possible: that was embarrassing.