AUBURN, Ala. — Try to find the common thread through Auburn's first third of the 2012 college football season.
Against Clemson, a Cody Parkey field goal gave Auburn a 3-point lead with under 13 minutes to play. Clemson scored the game's final 10 points for a 26-19 win.
Against Mississippi State, Onterio McCalebb scored on the second-half kickoff, putting the Tigers temporarily on top 10-7. The host Bulldogs responded with three unanswered touchdowns, winning 28-10.
Against Louisiana-Monroe, Auburn rolled down the field on the opening drive of the third quarter, and Tre Mason's 1-yard score extended its lead to 28-14. The Tigers could not score for the next 25 minutes, needing Parkey's overtime field goal to survive 31-28.
Against LSU, Auburn was up 10-9 at the half, shoving the odds in its favor — the Tigers were previously 23-2 in four years under Gene Chizik when leading after 30 minutes. The Tigers didn't score again, spotting LSU a short field goal after Quan Bray fumbled a punt in an eventual 12-10 defeat.
The theme is no secret: the Tigers had its chances in all four games. And yet, here they are at 1-3, facing a massively important home game on Saturday at noon ET against similarly scuffling Arkansas.
While the Razorbacks have been flattened from start to finish in several games, Auburn has hung in there. Until the fourth quarter, that is, when the Tigers have been outscored 31-3.
“If you look at the first three quarters in just about every game, it's been very competitive,” Chizik said. “We have to finish down the stretch and I think it's obvious that's something we haven't been able to do. Our guys understand the urgency of finishing in the fourth quarter. It's simply execution.”
The problem has stemmed from the offense — while Auburn's defense has been bend-but-don't-break a majority of the time, they've been prone to wearing down the longer they're on the field, with opposing offenses running 74 more plays than Auburn.
Auburn's best offensive fourth-quarter output was its one true road game so far, when Mississippi State grabbed an 18-point lead and settled into a variation of the prevent defense.
In the Tigers' three other games, they've failed to top 50 yards in the final 15 minutes, including just 80 yards in the two home games against ULM and LSU.
It's somewhat unexplainable to a program used to finishing games.
“It's frustrating any time you don't play as well as you'd like to,” Chizik said. “That's kind of been our M.O. since we got here — being able to finish games in the fourth quarter. It's something we're trying to address and trying to improve at.”
Arkansas has been blown out of both its SEC games against Alabama and Texas A&M, but the Tigers realize this could be a 60-minute game against a prideful quarterback like Tyler Wilson, who leads the SEC in passing yards per game (338.8).
“If it's a crunchtime game, we've got to finish. That's what football basically comes down to — finishing,” junior safety Demetruce McNeal said. “Right now, we're not a good finishing team.”
The Tigers feel positive and refreshed coming out of a bye week, and while they were pleased with their previous effort against LSU, it has still been over a month into the season with just one victory.
“We don't have a good taste in our mouth right now after that last game and having a week to kind of sit on it and see what you did wrong,” senior tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said. “We're just ready to get back out there. We just need to keep bringing that physicality that we brought against LSU into each game, starting with Arkansas.”
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