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Marshall: Some sobering facts

Camp is over, as Gus Malzahn puts it. The season-opener is just more than one week away. Time to get serious.

The Malzahn era begins in nine more days.

My friend George, a lifelong Auburn fan, points out some statistics that will jar even the most optimistic Auburn supporter.

Auburn has lost 10 straight Southeastern Conference games. Nine of them “have been embarrassing,’’ as he puts it.

A loss to Vanderbilt, no matter how narrow, is embarrassing, in his view. I agree.

Average margin of those 10 straight losses: 25.7 points.

Almost as shocking, Auburn hasn’t led in a Southeastern Conference game since the end of the first half of the Vanderbilt game.

Now, my friend George prides himself on being realistic. Every now and then, I think he borders on pessimism, but I don’t tell him that.

He likes to kid me that I am “too easily swayed’’ because of my enthusiasm for Malzahn.

I don’t apologize for that. I’m impressed by Malzahn and his staff. I think they’re about to do a lot of good things.

But George has a couple of points, just the same. There’s no evading Auburn’s recent record, the worst stretch in school history.

A lot of that was because of the poor discipline under Gene Chizik. Some of that was also because of some past personnel deficiencies in some key areas - quarterback, defensive line and linebacker, among them.

Does Auburn need to make strong improvements in those areas to return to the top tier of the Southeastern Conference? Or are Auburn’s problems the result of shoddy team chemistry and discipline?

I’m convinced that many of Auburn’s problems had more to do with an unstable foundation under Chizik. I’ll say it again: A coach who refuses to take ultimate responsibility for discipline, as insiders say Chizik did, can never succeed.

He might make it for a season or two, but never for the long haul - not in this era.

When a coach loses a team as quickly as Chizik did, it’s easy to see how he loses 10 straight conference games by an average of about four touchdowns a game.

Auburn may still have some personnel issues, especially with depth on defense, but Auburn’s talent is now more than respectable, in my estimation. It should be good enough to end that conference losing streak early in the season.

Football is still won up front, even in this era of evolving offensive strategies, and the offensive line will be one of Auburn’s strengths. On defense, Auburn might not be good enough in the line to get pressure without blitzing.

Blitzing can make a defense vulnerable. Being vulnerable can lead to a lot of big plays.

So there you have it - a team likely to score a lot of points and perhaps give up a lot of points.

But in the end, it should be a team with a plan, a purpose and passion.

If you have those three things, you get what Malzahn was hired to do.

Build a winner.

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