On a historic day for South Carolina, Auburn’s frustrations spilled over to the sideline Saturday.
First, Bo Nix and Seth Williams got into a shouting match. Then Nix could be seen venting with offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who kept his calm as the sophomore quarterback argued his case.
It happens every Saturday in stadiums across the country, but it was more telling in Columbia as South Carolina survived Auburn in a 30-22 victory by stopping the Tigers’ comeback on the final play.
South Carolina hadn’t defeated the Tigers since FDR was a rookie in the White House. (That's 1933, if you’re keeping score.)
Auburn will go as far as Nix and Williams can take it. That’s why the brief exchange on the sideline was a telling glimpse into frustrations that can’t be easily resolved.
Thus, a bigger question emerges: Why were expectations so out of proportion to begin with for what is, at best, an average team? Why did Auburn open the season ranked 11th after the NFL raided its defense? Why was Auburn ranked 15th heading into Columbia after one embarrassing defeat and two mediocre wins aided by controversial officiating?
A few programs can handle the annual exodus to Sunday paydays. Or rebuild an offensive line from scratch. You can count ‘em on one hand, with a finger left over. Auburn’s not on that list.
Factor in 2020, the year that will never end. It included a loss of spring practice, and with it a chance to build depth, develop young players and find the right combinations up front. I contend no SEC teams were hurt more by the pandemic-forced spring cancellation than Auburn and LSU. The standings confirm that.
Take away another 10 practices at the height of preseason drills.
It’s a formula for disaster, yet no one is forecasting that. Instead, prepare for week after week of games going to the wire. In other words, welcome to Starkville.
We know Nix can be fabulous at times. But those times usually come in the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium. Road Bo is another cat. He’s impatient and prone to bad decisions — as evidenced by his three interceptions against the Gamecocks before engineering a near-miracle at the end.
Nix has one playmaker on the edge, Williams. But with South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn on the field, Williams’ opportunities were infrequent. Against Georgia, they were minimal. See a pattern?
Auburn has an emerging playmaker in freshman running back Tank Bigsby, who looks a lot like a Cadillac blast from the past. But Auburn’s running game isn’t consistent enough to take over against a decent defense. Not yet.
Which means only one thing: more frustration. On the sidelines. In the stands. Throughout the fan base.
There will be more heat on Gus Malzahn. It is an even year, after all. But it should not rise above speculation. A $21-million buyout amid a global economic freefall would be a fiscally foolish decision.
With massive revenue losses across the league, the phrase “it just means more” doesn’t apply to adding to runaway deficits.
Doug Segrest, a former SEC beat reporter, is a freelance columnist for the Montgomery Advertiser.