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Auburn’s blowout loss could put Malzahn in the hot seat

There was reportedly some discussions on the Auburn Board of Trustees for firing Malzahn at the end of last year. His performance this year could bring that back up.

Most knowledgeable college football observers expected the Auburn University college football team to lose to the University of Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday, but the way Alabama easily routed the outmatched Tigers could make it hard for Auburn head football coach Gus Malzahn to keep his job at the end of this season.

Alabama defeated Auburn 42 to 13. Auburn was limited to just two field goals in the first three-quarters of play by an Alabama defense that gave up 48 points to Ole Miss and 24 points to both Georgia and Texas A&M. Only Mississippi State, who was held scoreless, scored fewer points than Auburn did against Alabama thus far this season.

Auburn quarterback Bo Nix threw the ball 38 times for 23 completions and 227 yards but threw two interceptions and no touchdowns. Nix also had the Tigers’ lone touchdown rushing the ball late in the fourth quarter with the game already decided.

Alabama redshirt junior quarterback Mac Jones threw the ball just 26 times for 18 completions but totaled 302 yards passing and five touchdowns with no interceptions. The Tigers weren’t much better at stopping the Alabama running game. Tide running back Najee Harris carried the ball just 11 times but averaged 8.7 yards per carry. Harris finished with 96 yards rushing and a touchdown on the ground. Harris also had two catches for 34 yards. Tide receiver Devonta Smith caught 7 balls for 172 yards and two touchdowns. John Metchie also had two touchdowns among his six catches for 52 yards. Jahleel Billingsley caught two passes for 33 yards and a touchdown.

Auburn previously was similarly uncompetitive against the University of Georgia, losing 27 to 6. Auburn also lost 30 to 22 to South Carolina. It was the lone bright spot in South Carolina’s dismal two and six 2020 season. South Carolina has already fired head coach Will Muschamp.

There was reportedly some discussions on the Auburn Board of Trustees for firing Malzahn at the end of last year, even though he beat Alabama and finished 9-4. The $49 million buyout that former Auburn University President Steven Leath gave Malzahn following a 10-4 season in 2017 and the efforts of some key supporters on the board helped dissuade the board.

Malzahn has a 67-34 record as a head coach. He is the fifth winningest coach in Auburn history, trailing only Shug Jordan, Mike Donahue, Pat Dye and now-Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama. Supporters of Malzahn point to the fact that he has taken Auburn to four New Years Day bowl games, and has won an SEC Championship and coached in a national championship game. He also won a national championship at Auburn as Gene Chizik’s offensive coordinator.

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Critics of Malzahn point to the fact that he has won only one SEC Championship, his first year, with players recruited by Gene Chizik, and that the Tigers have only won the SEC West twice under Malzahn. Malzahn’s record against Georgia is 2-6, and he is 2-5 against both LSU and Alabama.

The buyout as of Dec. 1, 2020, is reportedly $21.45 million. That could be sufficient to protect Malzahn for another year at Auburn, but the pressure to win the Tigers’ two remaining games is now enormous.

The Auburn Tigers, who are now just 5-3, play the No. 5 Texas A&M Aggies on Dec. 5 at Auburn. Auburn closes the season on Dec. 12 at Mississippi State.

Malzahn’s future may have more to do with economics than wins, though. The $21.45 million buyout combined with the reported loss of $89 million in athletics department revenue due to COVID-19 could mean that Auburn University President Jay Gogue has no choice but to bring Malzahn back for the 2021 season even with a lackluster 7-6 or 6-5 final record (counting an anticipated bowl game).

Meanwhile, Alabama’s Nick Saban, despite his personal battle with COVID-19, is 8-0 and needs just one more win or a Texas A&M loss to clinch the SEC West and another trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game. Alabama next plays LSU in Baton Rogue on Dec. 5 after the SEC reshuffled the schedule.

The Dec. 12 schedule is still in a state of flux, but it appears that Alabama will close the season playing at Arkansas.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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