To win ‘em all, you’ve got to win the first one. At halftime of Auburn’s 2014 season opener against Arkansas I was thinking less about getting back to the national championship game, and more about just getting back to the win column. But the game reminded me of another football adage—if you can score at the end of each half, you can usually win. I’ve seen that maxim play out even when it doesn’t. That is, sometimes the team that very nearly scores at the end of the first half is the better team, and their talent will take over in the second half. The tale of two halves tells the story of Auburn’s win over Arkansas, and we’ll pursue that theme in this week’s edition of Are We Going Back?
Why We’re Not Going Back
The biggest answer to why Auburn won’t return to the national championship game is our run defense in the first half. The Tigers let Arkansas rush for 151 yards in the first half, at an average of 7.5 yards per carry. It was ugly. The hawgs shoved it down our throats at will. Their first scoring drive included runs of 21 and 20 yards by Alex Collins on consecutive first downs. The Razorbacks tied the game at 21 in the second quarter with a touchdown drive that featured four runs of eight or more yards. The Tigers had to do something different in the second half. Thankfully, they did.
Why We Are Going Back
The Tigers’ change of defensive stripes for the second half answered all the questions from the game’s first two quarters. Auburn allowed only 2 yards rushing, and a total of 61 yards, after the break. Most importantly—the Tigers pitched a shutout in the second half. The successful defensive adjustments, combined with offensive consistency, empowered the Tigers to finish off the hawgs—salving somewhat the memories of blown leads from last season.
Who We’ll Meet When We Get There
Each week we’ll take a brief look at one of the teams Auburn could face in this year’s championship game. The obvious choice for week 1 is free shoes. Anyone writing an Are We Going Back series for the Seminoles would have to answer No after their six-point win over Oklahoma State. The Cowboys outscored the noles 31–27 in the final three quarters. While there still isn’t anyone on their schedule who should beat them, free shoes’ performance Saturday was characteristic of a team that will lose to someone they shouldn’t.
Yes or No
The bottom line from week 1 is that Auburn is going back to the national championship game. It’s more because the Arkansas game gave us no reason to doubt the return than that it gave us reason for confirmation. At the same time, if Auburn can make halftime adjustments against stronger teams as effectively as they did against Arkansas, the Tigers will be unstoppable.
Josh Dowdy is a College & Mag contributor and the author of Orange Is Our Color: The Tuberville Years through Navy-tinted Glasses.