The look on Auburn running back Ben Tate's face said it all as the clock hit zero in Sanford Stadium Saturday night. He left everything he had on the soggy turf in North Georgia. As has been the case on too many occasions this year, giving everything was not enough. This senior class will never know the joy of beating Georgia.
Auburn turned in what may be its best effort of the year in Saturday's 31-24 loss to rival Georgia. It was far from its best game, but you can't argue with the effort. Georgia's Mark Richt would likely have at least two more wins, maybe more if he could get the same get up and go from his star-studded roster.
The 60 minute session in Athens was a case study of Auburn's season. Gus Malzahn's offense showed flashes of brilliance, but like so many other Saturdays it was not sustainable. All of the fears about the Tiger defense came home to roost. Even with the Dawg's A.J. Green out for most of the game with injury, Georgia exposed the Auburn secondary for what it is - a patchwork unit with many guys who have no business playing deep into November.
Saturday's loss hurt. In some small way that's progress. Last season's losses brought anger. This year they bring hope. Chizik started the season with a skeptical and divided Auburn Nation. In 11 short weeks he's brought the family back together. Most were outraged over his hire - count me among them. Today I'm sold. Chizik was the right hire and he's my coach.
This team will go down as one my favorite. They'll not be remembered for greatness and will hardly leave a mark in the record books. In all my many years of following Auburn football, few teams have cared and tried as hard as this one. These players have endured a coaching change, the hiring of an unpopular coach and a prolonged quarterback battle. It would have been hard to blame them if they simply threw up the white flag and went to the house. In fact, many of them did.
The ones who stayed will leave a legacy. No, this senior class will never walk out of Sanford Stadium with hedges in hand, but they will be remembered for much more. They've put Auburn football back on the path to redemption. There are enough storylines from these players to make a dozen Lifetime movies.
I'll say it again, is there a better story in all of football than that of quarterback Chris Todd? A year ago he was loathed by most fans and his name was interchangeable with embattled former offensive coordinator Tony Franklin. Smart money said he would do what he's always done, look for greener grass and move on. Now, with one regular season game left, you hate to see the senior leave.
How special was the touchdown catch by Kodi Burns in the first quarter? He's hardly the heralded player fans thought he would be, but it's hard not to love him. He may not be big on skills, but his heart more than makes up for it. His selfless actions back in August when he lost the staring quarterback job to Todd set the stage for this team overachieving.
Now we turn our attention to the big one, the Iron Bowl. There's no kidding ourselves. This is a tall order Auburn is facing. If you didn't have a dog in the hunt, you would give the Tigers no chance. This is one good Alabama football team, especially on defense. On paper, they are better at virtually every position on both sides of the ball.
With that said, don't throw in the towel just yet. Auburn will have two things going in its favor - fresh legs and big hearts. That may or may not be enough in two weeks. Regardless, this team has brought a lot of joy to fans over the past three month. Auburn football is fun again. There's hope in the air.
I already can't wait until next year.