During the last few seconds of Saturday’s loss to Mississippi State, I didn’t hear a little red-headed boy screaming encouragement at Auburn. I didn’t even scream encouragement at Auburn. And coming from someone who probably collected her first noise violation in her new apartment yelling "GO GO GO GO GO GO GO GO SQUIRREL" at Onterio McCalebb’s kickoff return, trust me when I tell you, my not screaming at the TV was abnormal.
If you follow me on Twitter, during the game, you may have seen this:
That goes for this column, too. Really and truly, I've got nothing.
I want to grasp at straws, but I’m having a hard time finding straws at which to grasp. Sure, it was a tough environment. Sure, the cowbells were loud. Sure, our team is young. Our quarterback has only two starts under his belt. Our offense and defense installed new systems over the offseason. Our team needs to find its identity.
But from my couch in Tuscaloosa*, it sure looked ugly. I said last week that I was willing to wait for this team to find its identity, and I meant that. I guess I assumed that they’d make strides each week in finding it.
From my perspective, it looks like we took a giant step backward against State. In the game against Clemson, I saw a team willing to fight tooth and nail until the game was over. This week, I saw a team give up once MSU pulled ahead by two scores. I saw them settle for another loss as if it were a foregone conclusion.
But what do I know? I’m just a fan. I don’t have any inside knowledge of the program or access to the players. I’m just a casual (maybe a little more than casual) observer. I don’t want to believe that this team gave up, not after what we saw last week and not after hearing the players’ reactions after the game. I want to believe that these are more growing pains. It really was a pretty hostile environment, open end zones notwithstanding. And the cowbells probably did make it hard to communicate. Far be it from me, a nearly 25-year-old armchair quarterback** to assume that these student athletes quit when I have nothing but circumstantial evidence to back it up. For a multitude of reasons, the most important of which being that the season has just started, I think I owe them the benefit of the doubt.
Roll your eyes, call me an ostrich, leave mean comments about what an idiot I am. It’s cool. You’re totally entitled to ask fair questions about the direction and leadership of this team. We are all asking them. I’m just not ready to consider them answered yet.
We can pretty much all agree that the MSU game was a disaster. How they respond against a Louisiana-Monroe team that just took down Arkansas should be telling. Call ULM a cupcake if you want, but this game matters. It matters for the record and it matters for their confidence. It’s a home game, something the 2012 Tigers haven’t had the benefit of experiencing yet. They’ll get to hear their fans cheering for them. If they struggle then, even when all of Jordan-Hare is behind them, it may be time to worry. If they don’t struggle, it should provide a much-needed shot in the arm for a team who desperately needs something to smile about.
I'm not chastising everyone who criticizes the team right now. Obviously, something isn't working. All is not well. I'm just not going to concede that the sky is falling quite yet. It may very well be, and if that's the case, you'll see me eat crow. But there's also the chance that the sky is actually intact--just cloudy. All I'm saying is that we don't know yet. If being an Auburn fan has taught me anything, it’s that one way or another, the Tigers will always find a way to surprise you.
Take care this week, Tiger fans.
Until next time—War Eagle.
*I do, in fact, realize how close Tuscaloosa is to Starkville. I also realize, logistically, it would have been relatively easy for me to actually attend the game instead of watching from my couch. Unfortunately, I am a poor student and the bulk of my budget goes to lame things like food and bills and not to awesome things like football tickets and buying quarterbacks.
**Really, I’ve always thought of myself as an armchair linebacker. Way more fun.