Somehow, someway, against all odds, the overmatched Auburn Tigers found a way to HANG ON at Jordan-Hare on Saturday. Despite pulling brilliant new starter Jeremy Johnson and replacing him with reefer-addled Nick Marshall, the defending SEC Champions scraped by, creating a massive quarterback controversy. Whew. They made it, gang. Now they can regroup and put in the San Jose State game plan before looking toward mighty Kansas State. Let's take a breath and look at the tape.
1. Quarterbacks! You know what the most interesting thing that I saw at quarterback was? Jonathan Wallace. It was really great seeing Coach Malzahn put in the team leader, the only guy that didn't quit on 2012, late in the rain-delayed game. I know it's "garbage time," but I hope he continues to find ways to give Wallace opportunities to see the field. There were a lot of things that were wrong about 2012, but Jonathan wasn't one of them.
I saw media which did not watch the game live making comments about "what a great passer" Jeremy Johnson is, and I've heard others not attached to the program say, "Could there be a quarterback controversy after Johnson threw for 200 yards in the first half?"
No. There isn't. Jeremy Johnson is great at football and his time will come. But Nick Marshall commands Gus Malzahn's offense completely, so much so that he led this team to a national championship game appearance just nine months ago. So stop that. Jeremy may get some snaps, but this isn't a "quarterback controversy" like the one in Tuscaloosa. That one shouldn't be either, but that one isn't my battle to fight; just an easy analogy.
Nick's ability to misdirect and his threat to run separate him from most quarterbacks. And oh, hey, the kid can pass, too. He may not have that Jason Campbell-esque, lofty spiral like Jeremy, but he can get it done. And he isn't going to have to try that hard with the targets that he has. I mean, you know, unless Sammie Coates drops one. [It's cool, Slammin,' you'll get 'em next time.]
2. DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUKKKKKKEEEEEE: This guy, amirite? If Nick Marshall's suspension caused any foreseeable issue, today, September 1, it's that he may be the second most likely Heisman candidate on the team. Because he lost a lot of those crossover stats in the first half. On the one hand, I don't think Duke Williams sticks around for a long time, because he's going to have a special year. On the other, it's too early to start thinking about that and WR's aren't extremely valuable in the draft. Sammie Coates [despite the TD drop] is still Sammie Coates and Melvin Ray adds a third legit target. I don't remember having three legit targets, and I'm certain Tommy Tuberville wishes he had been fortunate enough to have two with easy names. ["Mix, I got this one," Tuberville exhaled each time Anthony caught a ball.]
3. DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE! Here's the thing: this team looked exactly like the team that finished 2013. My HOPE was that this defense was improved. And it's not that it isn't, it just looks familiar: Ellis Johnson does a masterful job of putting something on the field, anything, and analyzing it in the 20 minute break and adjusting to completely shut it down in the second half. It's not comfortable, but as long as Auburn is scoring 40 points a game, it doesn't matter. And with this offense running as efficiently as it does, there's no immediate cause for concern.
Look, Auburn is as good on week one as it was on week TWELVE last year. Do you recall what Auburn looked like on week ONE last year? Week four? If Auburn is beating a conference opponent not named Vanderbilt or Kentucky by 24 on week one this year, I think they have plenty of positive momentum.
4. "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" They really wanted to recreate that moment. Tried SO hard. But the students left. They LEFT, bro. That was disappointing. I mean, yeah, I walked to Haley during the lightning warning and got some AC, because holy crap it was hot, but I didn't LEAVE. I was right back inside, covered in a poncho, waiting on those last nine minutes. It was some experience, and it probably made the remainder of the evening much less interesting because everyone became scattered. But for those that hung around, I SALUTE YOU.
And I'll include this blistering hot take under this heading, although unrelated: shoutout to that improved phone service. The only time I had any issues all day was during that trip to Haley. The takes never had to stop, thanks to Jay Jacobs's vision for a brighter cell tower. Those $2 waters were a nice price, and the "Bodacious footlong" hit the spot. Now, that dog LOOKED better than it tasted, but I still liked it a lot. I'd probably seek out a Momma G's or Jim n Nick's next time, though. 2 stars.
5. GENERIC TAKES POWER RANKINGS: I sat beside this guy. He meant well, but he REALLY wanted to talk. I don't like talking during games all that much if I didn't come with you. High fives? I'll dole those out with abandon. But the friend I came with is just fine for me to share takes with.
But generic takes man talked anyway, and he and the folks around me had the luke warmest of generic takes!
- "THIS IS A BIG DRIVE!" - What generic takes man wants you to know is that he understands that the game is close, and any score could make a huge impact on the outcome. By saying "drive," you know he totally gets football.
- "GET HIM!" - Now this generic take is a staple. The person shouting it sees an opponent running free and they need everyone within shouting distance to know that they understand that the opponent needs to be "got," or tackled. This will prevent a score.
- "Man, I really don't understand why [player] ain't in the game." - Oh this generic takes man is sly. He knows the names of people not on the field. You don't just get that info in the program, pal. He got it from studying; something those coaches sure ain't doing.
- "Really need a score here!" - Well, yeah, generic takes man. We always need a score here. That generic take is always on point.
- "Alright now hold em defense need a stop here!" - see above.
- "SURE COULD USE A TURNOVER!" - I totally agree, generic takes man.
6. Auburn, you are beautiful. I stayed a litter further from campus than usual, as my closest friends have moved down Glenn. Speaking as someone that has been hit by a car this year, the streets are walkable for much greater distances than they were when I was in school. Which is spectacular because I hate driving on game days, I hate parking on game days and I love drinking. They are all the reason that I drive down after whatever high school assignment I receive on Friday and arrive at 1 a.m. Once my car is parked, I'm done until Sunday.
And there is no better time to live there, to study there and to work there: you have culinary masterpieces, like The Hound or Acre (where I brunched on Sunday). You have way more and much better bars than we had, and among them, something for everyone. And you have the best combination of football and basketball coaches in the country. The music scene is steadily improving, and as the venues and embrace of locally crafted things continues to blossom, so will the attraction for regionally touring musicians.
Auburn has become a top notch Modern South city. It's evolution has aimed much closer to Athens than Tuscaloosa, and not that either is the right or wrong direction, but this is the direction for me. It's a town like Florence. Or Oxford. Or perhaps even Lexington. I'm just extremely proud of what that city continues to grow into, and that it's surrounded by communities like Dadeville and Waverly and Lake Martin that embrace the Modern South the same way, it's heartwarming. There are five Southern cities that feel like home to me: Muscle Shoals, Nashville, Athens, Birmingham and Auburn. For a long time, Auburn was home because of the memories I created there, but now it's aging gracefully, and makes me much more eager to return. Basketball season is finally going to give me ample excuses.