It seems I've used the phrase "this one really hurts" way too much this season. Losing the Iron Bowl always stinks. Losing it while knowing that the Tigers played one of their best offensive games in school history really stinks.
If I told you on Saturday afternoon that Auburn would put up 630 yards of total offense and 44 points, then you would probably be saying "well, Auburn wins big, then!" wouldn't you? That's not what happened, though. 55 is more than 44.
Let's just get to the thoughts, shall we?
Nick Marshall. I really think Nick may have been in my "Good" section every week this season, and none more deserving than this one. Sure, he made some mistakes, but it's hard for a quarterback to be flawless. What he also did was set the Auburn record for passing yards in a game and total offense in a game. Nick Marshall played out of his mind. He should go down as one of the most exciting quarterbacks in Auburn history. That was one of the most amazing performances by an Auburn quarterback, and it's hard to believe it came in a losing effort.
The Wide Receivers. All of them. They left their heart, soul, and bodies on the field for the Auburn Tigers last night. If it weren't for Amari Cooper's unreal performance for the Tide, we'd be talking about the amazing nights that Nick Marshall and Sammie Coates had. Sammie Coates has the second most receiving yards of any receiver in Iron Bowl history. Duke Williams once again caught almost anything put in his zip code. Quan Bray stepped up big in his regular season finale. I don't know who is going to stay for another season or who will leave for the NFL, but whatever happens, this will go down as one of the best receiving corps in Auburn hisory. If it weren't for some key drops along the way that cost us considerably I would say that it IS the best.
Daniel Carlson. They weren't very long kicks, but he nailed every single one of them. Carlson definitely did his part.
Getting Interceptions. Jay Jones and Jermaine Whitehead have been ballhawks at times this season. What the problems have been with getting stops at other times, I have no idea. But these two have balled out and snagged picks all season long. Well... in Whitehead's case 2/3 of the season long, since he missed 1/3 of it from suspension.
Red Zone Offense. In his post game press conference, Gus Malzahn placed the blame for last night's game on the red zone offense more than on the defense. In a way he's right. If the Tigers scored touchdowns on every single red zone trip last night instead of kicking field goals, this game ends differently. Some of it may be the play calling, such as why didn't we run more? On at least two drives it sounded like there were great play calls, but either the receivers dropped the pass or Marshall threw a questionable pass. Understand though that Alabama has one of the nation's best red zone defenses. So did Mississippi State. Both teams shut down Auburn in the red zone and came away victorious because of it. This is something that has got to be fixed, though. Field goals won't cut it.
Defending Amari Cooper. This was our plan? Seriously? We planned to play the best WR in college football just like he's any other guy? I mean, I kinda get the whole "they face Duke and Sammie in practice every day" theory of it, but I still think it's stupid.
THE HORRIBLE STRANGENESS
Fumbles on the First Play of the Game. I... just... HOW!?!?!? HOW DID THIS HAPPEN TO US THREE TIMES THIS SEASON!?!?! HOW IN THE HELL DO WE FUMBLE ON THE VERY FIRST OFFENSIVE PLAY OF THE GAME THREE FREAKING TIMES AND LOSE IT ALL THREE TIMES!?!?!?
Auburn's Inability to Play a Complete Defensive Game. This may need to be filed under a season review, but I'm going to talk about it here. Auburn's defense played well enough to win the game in the first half. Sure, Alabama had 21 points, but the defense made some stops and pulled down three interceptions through midway into the 3rd quarter. But then something happened, and Amari Cooper and Alabama exploded on offense. Even in the worst games of the season, the defense has made some plays. The first half of the Georgia game was pretty well played (we just couldn't score and gave them them ball back on special teams). The last 40 minutes of the Texas A&M game were almost shut-down performances by the defense. But when this defense went bad, it went REALLY bad. I don't know why. I'm no football expert by any means. I know this defense fought hard, but the plays just weren't being made. Maybe it goes back to coaching decisions like the one mentioned above. I really don't know. I'll turn to our Xs and Os experts for that one.
The sun came up this morning. I had a great night in Statesboro with my father at the Georgia Southern game. We enjoyed following the first 2.5 quarters of the Iron Bowl. Auburn fought hard and those seniors never quit. We will look back at this senior class in amazement of what they've done while at Auburn. They deserved even more.
There's still one more game. I don't know what bowl game we'll be sent to. The SEC decides where to place teams not in the playoff mix this season. SB Nation has us projected to the Outback Bowl against Minnesota. That would definitely be an interesting match-up against a team the Tigers have never played before. I'm all for that rather than playing someone like Wisconsin or Clemson, whom we've played in multiple bowl games in the past 10-15 years.
We'll get to see these Tigers play one more time this season. Enjoy it, wherever it is. It may be the last time we see some Auburn legends wearing that beautiful Auburn uniform. It will be the last time we see others. Cheer them on with everything you have, because they deserve it.
War Eagle. Always.