Auburn Football suffered its most devastating defeat in Iron Bowl history on Saturday. How do the Tigers move forward from the loss?
In college football, losing a rivalry game is pretty much the lowest feeling a program can experience. Bowl game losses are tough and conference defeats are difficult, but suffering a loss in the marquee rivalry of the season, especially an in-state game, is rock bottom.
If there’s anything below rock bottom, Auburn fans are feeling it now. It’s one thing to lose the Iron Bowl, it’s an entirely new low to lose the way they lost on Saturday.
On 4th & goal from the 31-yard line, it appeared Auburn had the game won. Then, Jalen Milroe dropped back, had all the time in the world, and found Isaiah Bond in the corner of the endzone.
Auburn is set to go bowling after finishing 6-6 in Hugh Freeze’s inaugural season on the plains, and while they could cap the year off with a win, it’s tough to erase the pain of the regular season’s last two games. First, there was the historic loss to New Mexico State, and then the Iron Bowl.
There was positive to go along with the negative, however, and Auburn’s path forward after a devastating finish to the 2023 regular season is clear.
Keep up the recruiting momentum
Hugh Freeze’s first recruiting class was the 18th-best in the nation, and the 2024 class he’s building is 17th and climbing. The Tigers have flipped high-ranking recruits from both Georgia and Alabama, and there are several more four and five-star prospects whom Auburn is in the running for.
After the Gus Malzahn era, in which Auburn regularly brought in top ten classes, the Tigers’ recruiting infrastructure fell apart under Bryan Harsin. It was well documented that Harsin failed to build relationships in the state of Alabama, and he even limited the amount of Friday night recruiting the Tigers did.
So Freeze is building Auburn recruiting back from the ground up, and the momentum is there. He’s also making good use of the transfer portal, bringing in the fifth-best portal class in the nation in 2023.
The talent is coming back to Auburn, and the next few seasons will see massive upgrades across the Tigers roster.
Upgrade the quarterback position
Speaking of the portal, Freeze needs to go there to find a quarterback. Payton Thorne was solid at times, but he lacked the ability to elevate the Auburn offense. For Freeze’s offense to operate at its full potential, the Tigers need a better passer. Thorne could run well, but he wasn’t consistently effective with his arm.
Considering Auburn’s deep group of backs, Mississippi State’s Will Rogers could be an intriguing option. With Jarquez Hunter, Damari Alston, Brian Battie, and Jeremiah Cobb all able to carry the rock, perhaps Rogers making defense finally respect the Auburn pass could be what the offense needs.
There are still plenty of quarterbacks who could enter the portal, so the Freeze may see a more specific fit for his offense as the offseason approaches.
Whatever direction Auburn goes, that direction needs to be away from Thorne.
Defensive coaching change
Defensive coordinator Ron Roberts’ unit was good in 2023, and it even kept them in big games, but when those games came down to the wire, he didn’t put his players in a position to succeed.
Against Georgia, Brock Bowers was basically left open for the entire fourth quarter. After three-quarters of strong defense, Roberts left the Bulldogs’ biggest weapon to do whatever he pleased. The icing on the cake was Roberts jumping on X to argue with fans after the blown game.
Then, against Alabama, the Tigers put in another strong effort, only for them to collapse in the end. This time, on 4th & goal from the 31, Roberts rushed two, played a quarterback spy, and allowed Milroe to stand in the pocket for as long as he needed to find his opening.
The defensive position coaches at Auburn have done their job. There were stout efforts from the line, the backers, and the secondary all day long. At the top of the defense, though, there is clearly a playcalling problem in key moments.
The future is bright on the plains
Auburn feels like it’s a good recruiting class and some key changes away from eight wins. After that, another recruiting class or two should bump them up into the ten-win territory where they can compete with the best of the SEC again.
The Iron Bowl loss was absolutely brutal, and it makes it tough for Auburn fans to be positive in the moment, but this program is headed in the right direction.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Auburn certainly won’t be rebuilt in one season.