By Jay Coulter
There have surely been bigger wins. There have been wins that counted a whole lot more. But none have felt better than last night’s at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
On a night when the rapidly aging Lou Holtz said he had a better chance of winning a U.S. Senate race in Florida than Auburn did of defeating the Gators, the Tigers delivered every county in the state for the former Notre Dame coach.
Counted out by nearly everyone, this young team shook up the college football world and delivered one for the ages. Two weeks ago most of us declared this season dead – a rebuilding year. Now Auburn is a Florida win over LSU away from being in a tie for the Western Division lead of the SEC.
This is why we all love college football.
There were so many storylines that it’s hard to know where to start. I guess you have to begin with Brandon Cox.
With apologies to Pat Sullivan, Randy Campbell, Stan White and Jason Campbell, Cox has established himself as the best big game quarterback in Auburn history.
And this comes from a guy who didn’t even start last week. There has not been a better first half performance by a quarterback in the country this year.
And how about that band of baby faces on the offensive line? It was a solid night for a group of guys who still don’t shave everyday. Led by the grizzled veteran Lee Ziemba, the Auburn offensive line opened up lanes that Rosie O’ Donnell could run through. That’s pretty heady stuff for three guys who were playing on Friday night’s a year ago.
The biggest surprise of the night belonged to the wide receivers that have been virtually invisible for the first month of the season. Rod Smith had a breakout game with nine catches for 102 yards.
Montez Billings finally lived up to his billing, grabbing three catches for 56 yards – in the first half.
When you look to how Auburn won the game, you need look no further than the guys who line up on defense. Tommy Tuberville needs to get out the wallet, because coordinator Will Muschamp is the best in the country. By the end of the game, he was sweating as much as his players on the field.
Despite playing without a lot of its stars for most or all of the game, Muschamp’s group filled in the gaps and kept going. Never mind that defensive end Quentin Groves left in the fourth quarter with an injury, or that Tray Blackmon played very little at linebacker, or even that Merrill Johnson didn’t make the trip to Gainesville; this group headed south to win. Period.
Finally, how can words sum up the play of true freshman place kicker Wes Byrum? Auburn has had some great kickers in the past: Gardner Jett, Neil O’ Donoghue, Win Lyle, Al Del Greco, John Vaughn. Something tells me that Wes Byrum may one day be the best of all.
Saturday’s win may not lead to an SEC title or a national championship; it won’t measure in importance to a state championship; but for sheer pleasure and gratification, there will never be a win that feels any better than last night’s at Florida Field. War Eagle!