January 03, 2017

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) The Auburn Tigers once again struggled on offense and slumped down the stretch.

The 17th-ranked Tigers, who had vaulted into the national championship conversation with a six-game winning streak, capped their latest up-and-down season with a 35-19 loss to No. 7 Oklahoma in Monday night's Sugar Bowl.

Now, coach Gus Malzahn heads into another offseason with a quarterback battle looming, but with promising young players returning on both sides of the ball.

''The future is very bright,'' Malzahn said after the game. ''We're losing some great leadership, but we have got a bunch of talented young guys.''

He's hoping they can lead a turnaround. Auburn has gone 23-16 overall and 11-13 in Southeastern Conference games since making it to the national championship in 2013, Malzahn's debut season.

He also fell to 1-3 in bowl games.

The Tigers (8-5, 5-3 SEC) couldn't sustain that midseason momentum after injuries to quarterback Sean White and tailback Kamryn Pettway. The offense produced 20 points or fewer six times.

White's injury problems continued in the Sugar Bowl, when he broke his right forearm early in the game. He had missed the final two regular-season games with an injury to his throwing shoulder.

White was the SEC's most efficient passer for much of the season but Auburn wound up ranked 112th in passing offense, averaging just 169.5 yards per game. Now, White will face a renewed competition for the starting job from transfer Jarrett Stidham , a former Baylor starter who will go through spring practice.

He fought off a challenge from another junior college transfer, John Franklin III, last spring and preseason.

The offense returns Pettway, who ran for 1,224 yards, and backup Kerryon Johnson (895 yards) but lose offensive linemen Robert Leff and Alex Kozan. While leading receiver Tony Stevens departs, Auburn freshmen Eli Stove, Darius Slayton and Kyle Davis all played significant roles by season's end.

The biggest departures come on the defensive side, where Auburn ranked eighth nationally in points allowed per game.

Defensive tackle Montravius Adams and defensive backs Rudy Ford and Josh Holsey depart. Defensive end Carl Lawson, who led the team with nine sacks, isn't expected to return for his senior season. The team honored the potential first-round NFL draft pick along with the seniors before the Tigers' final home game.

The team's three leading tacklers - Tray Matthews, Tre' Williams and Deshaun Davis - all have eligibility remaining. Cornerback Carlton Davis and defensive end Marlon Davidson also return.

Auburn sputtered in the opener against Clemson, when Malzahn played three quarterbacks early in the game and wound up losing two of the first three.

''This season, we battled through adversity,'' Johnson said. ''We had ups and downs. Started 1-2, made it to the Sugar Bowl. Obviously, it didn't turn out the way we wanted it to. But I tell you that no one on our team is a quitter, which I don't think you can say about a ton of teams.

''We fought through. Everybody was together. So life doesn't always go your way. You have to keep on battling.''


More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25 .

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