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Justin, do you trust Gus can keep building this team so that we can win big road games?
-David B. (Facebook)
AUBURN, Ala. — When Auburn lost the SEC Championship Game by 21 points two weekends ago, it continued an ugly trend for the Tigers away from Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Under Gus Malzahn, Auburn is just 5-11 against ranked teams away from home. The Tigers’ last win against a ranked opponent outside of Jordan-Hare Stadium came in 2015, when it beat a Texas A&M team that briefly cracked the poll at No. 25 before Auburn won, 26-10.
Auburn’s last road or neutral-site win against a top 10 opponent was in 2014, when it beat Ole Miss after a last-minute fumble near the goal line by Laquon Treadwell, who broke his left leg on the play. Since then, the Tigers haven’t been able to win a “big game” away from home.
|2013||(6) LSU||Loss, 35-21|
|(7) Texas A&M||Win, 45-41|
|(5) Missouri||Win, 59-42|
|(1) Florida State||Loss, 34-31|
|2014||(20) Kansas State||Win, 20-14|
|(3) Mississippi State||Loss, 38-23|
|(4) Ole Miss||Win, 35-31|
|(16) Georgia||Loss, 34-7|
|(1) Alabama||Loss, 55-44|
|(13) Wisconsin||Loss, 34-31|
|2015||(8) LSU||Loss, 45-21|
|(25) Texas A&M||Win, 26-10|
|2016||(1) Alabama||Loss, 30-12|
|(7) Oklahoma||Loss, 35-19|
|2017||(3) Clemson||Loss, 14-6|
|(6) Georgia||Loss, 28-7|
Add Auburn’s loss at an LSU team that was unranked but is now No. 16 nationally into the mix, and it’s clear that this is the biggest hurdle facing Malzahn in 2018.
Auburn looked like one of the best teams in college football at home in 2017, knocking off both Alabama and Georgia — two eventual playoff teams — by double digits.
But it lost to another one, Clemson, away from home early in the season. In what was a quarterfinal game for the playoff, it lost to Georgia by three touchdowns.
Now, Auburn can point to obvious problems in those two losses to the Tigers and the Bulldogs. Against Clemson, Auburn hadn’t figured it all out offensively in the second game with a new quarterback-coordinator combination and also didn’t have Kerryon Johnson. In the rematch against Georgia, Johnson’s injury weighed heavily on the offense’s effectiveness.
Still, Auburn needs to overcome this “big road game” obstacle heading into 2018. Auburn has to face both Georgia and Alabama on the road. Washington, which is a New Year’s Six team, will open the season against Auburn in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. If Auburn wants to get back to this spot next year, it has to end this trend away from home.
Fortunately for Auburn, it should have the experienced talent to do so. In 2013 and 2014, Auburn had a pair of these wins over ranked teams away from home. According to Phil Steele, in both of those seasons, Auburn returned more than 12 starters — something it didn’t have in 2015 and 2016.
If only a couple of Auburn’s draft-eligible underclassmen return to school in 2017, it’ll have more than a dozen returning starters from a team that won the SEC West.
Returning a starting quarterback, as it most likely will do with Jarrett Stidham, will be key. In 2014, Auburn beat Kansas State and Ole Miss away from home behind Nick Marshall. Stidham will have experience and a much better defense than the one Marshall played with during his time at Auburn.
Injuries, of course, can sink a team’s chances away from home. It happened late in 2016, and it clearly affected the Tigers in the SEC title game two weeks ago. However, if Auburn stays healthy, Malzahn and his staff have the roster in place to reverse those road game woes.
That’s where the Peach Bowl could have extra importance for the Tigers. While No. 10 UCF is a Group of 5 team in the midst of a wholesale coaching staff transition, it’s still a dangerous ranked team that Auburn has to play away from Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Getting a win there would create momentum for 2018, when Auburn opens the season in the same building against Washington. Although a Peach Bowl victory over UCF won’t blow many fans away, it could be the first step toward Malzahn’s Auburn team overcoming a huge hurdle between it and consistent championship contention.
For answers to prior Auburn Tigers Questions of the Day, go here .
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