Gus Malzahn turned 49 this week...49 years young. I always assumed he was south of 50 (or is it north?), but the fact that he's genuinely a year below the big 5-0, it's like we're getting away with something. It's like driving a brand new Porsche of the lot, except it actually appreciates in value.
Regardless of how you measure the ageless Gandalf Gustav, the Wizard of the No-Huddle, the Guru of the Ground n' Pound, the Sultan of the Sweep, you have to appreciate a great birthday party. No, we're not talking about the kind of party where your besties cut out a poster in the shape of a martini glass and write down a bunch of crazy social miscues to perform in public as it hangs from your neck and just barely covers the midriff you left exposed because you wore a shirt that wouldn't fit an American Girl doll...IN DECEMBER (seriously, where are your parents?). We're talking a good ol' birthday party that your parents planned for a month when you were 5 years old. Dad went and cleaned out the garage and the driveway, Mom made sure to order your favorite cake, and EVERYONE was going to be there. Everyone. This was before Facebook events, where "Yes" actually means "Maybe," and "Maybe" means you're not going, but you're being polite. Snack foods, cake, games, party favors, grandparents with money.
So as Auburn prepares to take on Ole Miss this weekend, let's all gather around the foldout table--topped with a festive polka-dotted table cover, gifts in a neat pile on the left, cake on the right--sing "Happy Birthday," and help Gus blow out his candles...all 49 of them. And let's hope that Auburn is able to score that many points, because if they do, I have a feeling that Ole Miss won't be able to answer, because they will have been blown out.
Let the party begin!!!
1. Party Game: "Pin the flag on the Auburn player"
AW, MANNNNN. WHO INVITED TOM RITTER TO THIS THING???
Yes, it's true. This is Tom Ritter's favorite party game. Luckily, he's not invited to this party, but unfortunately, he might still show up. He's the kid that you would get into a petty argument with about whether or not you saw him pick his nose, and your mom, for whatever reason, automatically took his side, claiming you weren't "acting like a big boy," and then had the AUDACITY to send you to your room--AT YOUR OWN BIRTHDAY PARTY. Then, to add insult to injury, he got to ride the pony down the street, but you were stuck in your room, and by the time you came out, that pony was already on its way to the glue factory for an early retirement.
So, yeah. Don't invite Tom Ritter.
I used to be one of those rational folks who didn't buy into this conspiracy that "all refs are out to get Auburn." I'm still not one to believe that. I mean, that's just a ridiculous statement. BUT, I will admit, it seems like lately (and by "lately," I mean the last few years), Auburn has been on the receiving end of several questionable (at best) calls at an alarming frequency. And it's quite inexplicable. You know, Greg McElroy might've correctly predicted that Dak Prescott might be the dark horse Heisman candidate, but even ye olde Ginge' couldn't predict that S(L)ammie Coates would be the frontrunner for Most Penalized Receiver "in the country" ($1 Jesse Palmer). You hope and pray that the officials for Saturday will refrain from ruining this game with appalling calls.
2. Party Game: "Musical Linemen"
Our offensive line has had some questions to answer this year. Losing Alex Kozan has not been fun. It's clear that we're missing him. And with new talent and so much shuffling around on the line, it's amazing (to some) that we've only lost 1 game. JJ Watt probably watched most of Auburn's games leading up to last week and couldn't help but salivate at all the swatted and batted-down Nick Marshall passes. I've never seen anything like this.
BUT, despite our defense being flatter than, well, Flat Stanley against OBC last week, our line seemed to finally find a way to mesh together and give Nick Marshall time to throw and our running backs (and Nick Marshall) lanes through which to run. Ole Miss has a stout defense. If Reese Dismukes and the big uglies can remain the stalwart bastion of Gus Malzahn's HUNH offense that we saw last week, that Rebel Black Bear defense should have some trouble.
Defensive line? Meh...I'm not complaining. Look, Steve Spurrier is the only coach who would end a game 5/6 on 4th-down conversions IN OCTOBER. I know we didn't look hot last week on defense, but we're not facing another coach with that much of a "nothing-to-lose" mentality for the rest of the season, and we won't play that flatly again. Rest assured. Plus, if we're matching opposing teams on offense point for point, I can learn to be happy.
3. Party Game: "3-Legged Races"
The 3 legs I'm referring to are actually our running backs: Cameron "(whose) Art is Payne," O-Town Killa (Corey Grant), and GIVE HIM THE Roc Thomas. And you know what, just to make it fair, Ole Miss, I didn't let Nick Marshall tie his leg into this group. You're welcome.
Between these four sets of legs, Ole Miss is going to have a tough time containing our offense. This is what I like about this game, and quite frankly, I think Nick Marshall's ability to run is going to be the difference in this game--or at least the difference between Nick and Bo Wallace. Nick Marshall put together a Heisman-worthy performance last week against South Carolina, even if nobody seemed to make a big deal about it. Bo Wallace managed to hitch his wagon to a 7-point performance against LSU. One of these quarterbacks is a genuine threat, and the other will continue to be a complete joke and Twitter fodder for every SBNation bro on the Internet.
Did you know that Roc Thomas is on pace to have a better season that Tre Mason's last year? Sure, that's a completely made-up stat that even Jesse "In the COUNTRY" Palmer would be skeptical of, but hey--our rushing game is doing just fine.
People are calling this match-up an "elimination game," and I don't hate it. Given the playoff "bracket" or whatever you want to call it that came out this week, the point still stands: one of these teams will fall from the Top 4 after Saturday. I mean, that's how it works, right? Somebody has to lose.
I don't feel worried about this game. I didn't feel worried about the Mississippi State game, either, but that was different. Mississippi State often plays us...differently. The difference for me, I think, is longevity. I wasn't worried about State, but given their season so far, I still took them somewhat seriously--if only because of Dak Prescott. I haven't taken Ole Miss seriously all year, and they beat Alabama. THEY BEAT BAMA, AND I DON'T EVEN CARE. That's how seriously I take them.
Don't mistake my attitude for cockiness. I guess a more accurate statement is that I'm not worried about Ole Miss. Sure, I'm worried about this game, because the nation probably perceives that it's bigger than it really is, but not the team we're playing. Not the players. Not the coach. Not the collective entity that is Ole Miss.
By the way, did you know you're not allowed to bring shakers to this party? I KNOW, RIGHT? Who made these rules? Surely @AUFAMILY has some kind of ridiculous alternative that somehow trumps bringing our own cowbells to Starkville...
So, happy birthday, Gus. Thanks for inviting us to your awesome party. Although, I do have a complaint about the party favors this year. I got this Gary Danielson talking action figure, but it just keeps shouting "Tebow!" over and over again. I think it's broken.
Football/Party Advantage: Auburn, Arthur Gustav Malzahn
Not Invited: Jesse Palmer, Gary Danielson, Tom Ritter
Opposing Team/Coach/Fans Hate Index: 6.5/10
Score Prediction: Auburn 27 - Ole Miss 20
Because where there are 49 trick candles on a cake, there's fire, and I'll fire these hot takes until the cows come home. DON'T TELL ME HOW TO BARN! WAR DAMN EAGLE!