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Gus Malzahn and the Auburn Tigers are at a crossroads

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Auburn needs to rebound, or Gus Malzahn may be looking for a new job.

Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn's loss Saturday to 10th-ranked Texas A&M nudges the Tiger coaching staff to the precipice. Maybe it's a coach with play-calling yips and mismatched personnel. Or maybe the offense is playing too slow. There's probably a dozen explanations at this juncture, but as the season progresses causative factors tend to crystallize. The why will probably be less important to the who as fickle boosters pine for the next head coach on The Plains.

Two losses to Top 10 teams by a total of 19 points would be acceptable in most places, but it's the broader body of work that breaks down upon scrutiny. Malzahn has now lost 10 out of his last 12 conference games. That kind of record isn't passable at most P5 programs let alone a proud one like Auburn. There are still road games at Ole Miss, Georgia, and Alabama. They'll also host ranked Arkansas and LSU. Malzahn isn't paid nearly $4 million per season to wheeze to six or seven regular season games. This campaign is setting up to be a repeat performance of 2015.

Overall, the Tigers seem like a better team than last season mostly thanks to a defense allowing 21 points per game. This is rather impressive considering it has faced S&P+'s currently 20th, 96th, and 38th ranked offenses consecutively, and also held them below their season averages in total yards per play. One doesn't need to squint to see a defense that's further along that its offense.

The offense hasn't even been that bad outside of facing a tough Clemson defense. The offense has been hitting big plays, but too many have come from running the ball. Allowing far too many negative plays tends to put an offense behind the chains, and a lack of passing game tends to keep them there. Additionally, a dearth of credible balance enables defensive game-planning. Auburn needs an aerial attack, but its personnel may be holding it back.

Sean White has never appeared like a good long-term fit, and even though his numbers have improved this year relative to 2015, it's difficult to imagine he gives Auburn an edge to punch above its weight going forward. Same goes for other members of the offense. John Franklin III doesn't appear to be the answer at quarterback even if White was giving the staff an excuse to bench him. Freshman receiver Kyle Davis appears to be the only big play threat in the entire receiving corps. Senior Tony Stevens is averaging four catches per game, but he's a possession receiver who doesn't produce above average yards after the catch. The loss of running back Peyton Barber still stings, and former receiver Ricardo Louis isn't walking through that door.

Malzahn is the 13th highest-paid coach in college football, and he's had more time to win than his predecessor. Previous Auburn coaches didn't receive much in the way of patience either. Firing coaches is always a gamble, but deep pocket boosters probably won't shrug at shouldering the cost.