Pressure mounts on Auburn’s Gus Malzahn after two early losses

Published 6:21 am Wednesday, September 21, 2016

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Gus Malzahn has helped lead Auburn into two national championship games and also coached them through a pair of mediocre seasons. Now, he’s in a much tougher situation.

The Tigers are 1-2 and trying to recover from losses to two current top 10 teams that were both in doubt in the fourth quarter and revive a struggling offense more susceptible to bad plays than big ones.

“I’ve been at Auburn for seven years now, experienced some very good times, a few rough times,” Malzahn said Tuesday. “The last two losses have probably hurt me worse than any of the others. I fully understand our fan base is disappointed, and they should be. The bottom line is we’ve got to coach our players better, and that starts with me.

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“The fact is, we’re close. As a matter of fact, we’re real close to being a good team and we’re going to get this thing turned around.”

The Tigers (0-1 Southeastern Conference) have another big challenge to overcome Saturday when No. 18 LSU (2-1, 1-0)visits Jordan-Hare Stadium, where Auburn has already lost to No. 5 Clemson and No. 10 Texas A&M . Louisiana-Monroe closes a five-game opening home stand that so far hasn’t turned out the way Auburn had hoped.

Malzahn was offensive coordinator during Auburn’s 2010 national title season and led the Tigers back into the championship game in his debut as head coach three years later.

Now, he’s trying to keep this season from continuing to go downhill. Auburn has gone into the fourth quarter within reach of both Clemson and Texas A&M but couldn’t pull off the comebacks.

Malzahn said Auburn is close to turning the corner, but there are plenty of issues to fix, especially offensively.

His offense ranks last among 128 FBS teams in tackles per loss allowed per game, allowing nine sacks already.

Malzahn is sticking with Sean White as his starting quarterback against LSU. Auburn leads the SEC in rushing, largely because of a 462-yard performance against Arkansas State. The team’s longest completion is 43 yards with only seven pass plays of 20-plus yards, all courtesy of White.

Malzahn said it’s not just the quarterbacks, blaming offensive line calls from the coaches for some of the issues protecting White. He also said his own offensive play calling hasn’t been all that good.

“We’ve got to be better around him,” Malzahn said of White. “We’ve got to put him in better situations from a coaching standpoint to help him.”

He took the uncharacteristic approach of broaching fan discontent and the team’s problems in his opening statement. Malzahn acknowledged the reality that he’s drawing heat from Auburn fans for the start. The problems didn’t begin this season.

Auburn has lost 10 of its last 12 SEC games.

“I definitely feel their pain first of all,” Malzahn said. “I know the Auburn family. I know their expectations. I don’t read social media. I just know they expect us to play good football. I hurt too. We’ve got to do a better job, I got to do a better job. I’m going to.”