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Gus Malzahn: The Pinball Wizard

Sitting in Jordan-Hare Stadium late in the fourth quarter Saturday was almost surreal. People all around were asking the same question, "Is Auburn really this good?" That's the million dollar question on this Monday. Fortunately, we're five days and a wake up from finding out.

Listening to former offensive coordinator Tony Franklin talk last summer, Saturday night's win over Miss State is what most imagined when he described Auburn's new offense. Little did anyone know then it would take an exiled coordinator from Tulsa to finally jump start the Auburn football program.

Fast forward 14 months and Auburn people are wondering now whether this rebuilding project is way ahead of schedule. Has a team with 75 scholarship players ever looked so good? Watching the total yardage rack up like a pinball machine on the Pat Dye Field scoreboard was a sight to behold.

By halftime, the visiting Bulldogs looked like the Washington Generals taking on the Harlem Globetrotters. I halfway expected Meadowlark Lemon to come out and lineup under center to start the second half.  What's next, a 308 pound tackle lining up at wide receiver? Check.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik, ever the defensive mind, marveled at the job offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn did Saturday night. "It is very innovative and it is fun to watch," said Chizik. "Again from a defensive background and me looking at it and being a part of it, it is problematic in a lot of ways, and he does a great job with that."

It's too early to say whether Onterio McCalebb and Ben Tate will ever join the fraternity of great tandem Auburn backfields like Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown or Joe Cribbs and James Brooks, but they achieved something Saturday the others have not. They became the first backs in Auburn history to both rush for more than 100 yards in consecutive weeks.

While it's much too early to put stock in early season stats, the two runners have certainly gotten the attention of the nation. Tate ranks sixth nationally in rushing; averaging 137 yards a game, while McCalebb ranks eighth in the nation with an average of 131 yards per contest.

Critics will point to Auburn's early season schedule and say hold on a minute. But the truth is, Auburn has beaten both of their opponents much more soundly than anyone anticipated. On a weekend where Alabama struggled early, Georgia came within an eyelash of losing and Tennessee fell to UCLA, the Tigers suddenly look like contenders again.

The real test comes Saturday when the West Virginia Mountaineers (2-0) visit the Plains. With Pat White off to the NFL, Coach Bill Stewart returns seven starters on defense and five on offense, led by running back Noel Devine. The biggest question for West Virginia is how effective Devine will be with a rebuilt offensive line. He managed 80 yards on the ground in Saturday's 35-20 win over East Carolina.

With some luck, an impressive win Saturday could land Auburn back among the nation's top 25. It will almost certainly guarantee an undefeated record heading to Knoxville on October 3rd to face Tennessee. All and all, it's a pretty good start for a guy nobody thought could coach.

Auburn kickoffs with West Virginia Saturday night at 6:45 CT from Jordan-Hare Stadium. The game is televised by ESPN 2.