On paper Ole Miss should have easily won this game. They have a superstar tailback in Dexter McClusters, a pre-season Heisman hopeful in Jevan Snead and one of the best defenses in the country giving up a miserly 13.6 points per game. Auburn on the other hand has a sore shouldered QB in Chris Todd, no playmakers on offense and a depleted and porous defense. Ole Miss had all the talent and Auburn didn't, ...right? Wrong!!! Yesterday showed....I think once and for all...that we DO have the talent to compete and win in the SEC. All the talk recently bemoaning our lack of talent really makes me upset because these are the same guys that went 5-0 and were beating the tar out of folks. That isn't exactly salve to souls of the players out on the field when they are losing. When I played, I could take criticism of the mistakes I made...just don't tell me I'm not good enough to be on the field. If you want to be supportive, be constructively critical, demand performance and elimination of mental mistakes....don't tell our boys they should't be able to compete. Remember, the trepidation going into the Arkansas game from the Auburn faithful, was not lack of talent, but because we would be on the road for a second straight week and going up against a hot Ryan Mallet. Everybody expected a shootout not a blowout of an overmatched Auburn squad. What happened in Arkansas and the ensuing three game losing streak was lack of preperation by the coaching staff, poor execution, and mistakes. Plenty of mistakes.
On Saturday our young Tigers found that executing and cutting down on mistakes and penalties greatly enhances your chances of winning....or enhances your talent level depending on your point of view. Is it also a coincidence that when Chris Todd played his best game in 4 weeks that we won? Hardly. Everyone knows by now that stopping Ben Tate is the key to stopping Auburn and that you make Chris Todd beat you through the air. Well, yesterday Chris responded, making throws he hasn't made in weeks against arguably the best defense of a team not ranked in the top 5. Receivers were getting open....wide open...and Chris was hitting them....for most of the game anyway. Terrel Zachery and Darvin Adams were factors again...hell even Tommy Trott caught a TD pass. While Ole Miss was still keying on Ben Tate and the Auburn running attack, Big Ben and Marion Fannin still provided some outstanding runs. In short the offense tallied 24 points against an Ole MIss D that has only given up 2 TD's in a game twice this season. Auburn took what Ole Miss would give them and eliminated a lot of the penalties that have plagued them in the last few weeks. While we did have a couple of penalties that killed drives, for the most part they were spaced far enough apart not to have the dramatic impact they have had in the last 3 games. No stupid personal fouls, and the only 15 yarder was on an offensive facemask by a stiff arming Ben Tate. In all 6 penalties for only 43 yards, which isn't great but a big imporvement from how we have been playing.
Our woefully depleted defense arguably played their best game of the year, giving up only two touchdowns to a very explosive and balanced Ole Miss attack. Of the 394 yards Ole MIss gained on the day, roughly half of those yards came on the two TD drives, the 95 yard drive to start the game and McClusters 79 yard scamper in the 3rd Qtr. I know many of the Auburn faithful, had to be saying "Here we go again" when we missed a GOLDEN opportunity to capitalize on the opening kickoff fumble by Ole Miss and the Rebs then proceded to rapidly march down the field for an opening drive touchdown. But from that drive on, until McClusters got loose for his scamper, the Auburn D clamped down on Ole Miss, repeatedly getting into Sneads face and pressuring him into poor throws. They looked inspired and full of more energy than I've seen since the Tennessee game. Granted Snead is his own worst enemy, but I think our secondary played an excellent game and could have had another game like we did against West Virginia if we had held onto some some of those interceptions that were dropped. I didn't see too many Rebels running wide open in the secondary like I have in the past few weeks. I guess we got an infusion of talent. Tackling was still an issue, as McClusters repeatedly got tons of yardage after contact. A lot of those yards though, I give to McClusters, who realizes its easier to break tackles when you keep your momentum running downhill, instead of stopping and starting trying to juke your way out of a tackle. Even at 170 lbs. McClusters was easily able to dart through our line and slip the plentiful arm tackles we threw his way. Luckily, McClusters got his bell rung a couple of times on a hit from McFadden and a body slam by Colemen, that he was not effective when Ole Miss needed him late. Without McClusters Ole Miss was definitely a more pedestiran offense and the Auburn defense stifled Snead. The Defense ,and yes Ted Roof , really stepped things up this week and played well when we needed them the most....during gut check time in the 4th Qtr when Chris couldn't move the offense.
While I think Ole Miss is over rated, they do have weapons, and of course, that much vaunted defense. But for a while in the 3rd Qtr we were totally destroyng them, scoring 31 unanswered points after Ole Miss' opening drive. That was what we were doing in the 1st five games, taking advantage of opportunities and making the opposition work hard for theirs. That isn't a talent issue, its a coaching and preperaton issue. Sure we got some breaks yesterday, but missed out on just as many. The hitting was harder and we seperated some guys from the ball....thats making your own luck We hit some big plays on offense, but that requires execution. Yesterday showcased both the high octane offense of the 1st five games in the 2nd and 3rd Qtrs and the stagnant ineffective offense from the last 3 games in the 1st and 4th Qtrs. When the offense stalled it was mainly due to predictable, poor playcalling by coach Malzhan and poor play by Chris. Running Tate up the gut out of the shotgun on 4th and 1??? Not very smart or innovative Gus. On a crucial third down midway through the 4th Qtr, Todd makes an inexcusable mistake by losing 20 yards AND the ball when he should have thrown the ball away, instead giving the Rebs a golden opportunity to make it a Touchdown game at our 25 yard line. Fortunately the Rebs shot themselves in the foot with a couple of penalties and the defense forced a punt to nullify Todd's freshman-like error. Had Ole Miss scored there, who knows what happens?
The point is of course that we could have lost yesterday, like we have the past three weeks but the difference was that the guys played with enthusiasm, with spirit and with smarts. Nobody hung their heads, and some of the guys were even smiling going into the locker room at the half up 10-7. When Ben Tate took off for his 53 yd TD it was almost like the last 3 weeks never happened and the magic was back. Fortunately....YES, FORTUNATELY, Ole Miss came back and made us work hard for every bit of that victory. It showed us how ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL it is to play smart, tight football for 60 minutes. To me thats a blessing, we need that lesson. College football is not always about getting breaks and who has the most talent, but what do you do with the talent you have and how well do they execute. Would anybody dare say UGA has no talent??? Of couse not!! UGA's problems are poor discipline, penalties, mistakes and poor preparation. They should be a top 20 team but might go 6-6. Sound familiar? We saw yesterday what happens when we execute our plan...we look like we have talent!! And when we don't...well we don't look so hot. Yesteday we had a great game, and hopefully showed everybody we aren't the sad sack lot everybody thinks we have turned into in the last three weeks. I don't have a doubt that if we build off this win and play disciplined, inspired football, there is no doubt in my mind we can win in Athens and also give the Tide a run for their money. Coach Chizik, Coach Roof and Chris Todd are going to have their opportunity to rebuke their naysayers and shock the world in the process.....and I think they can do it.
War Eagle Everybody, Support Those Young Men and Have a Great Week!!