TEAMme. That's what comes to mind when I think of this Auburn team, right now. It was one of the philosophies of four-sport Auburn letterman and legendary college football coach Erk Russell. What does it mean? It means Big Team, little me. The team is bigger than any one person.
That's what this Auburn teams feels like, right now. It's evidenced by how well Jeremy Johnson took his demotion after the LSU game. How in his post-game interview he said he won this game for injured Sean White. Peyton Barber has been the workhorse back for the Tigers all season long, and you'd think maybe he'd be a little upset with being supplanted because of his injury and one week's performance by Jovon Robinson. Nope. After the game he tweeted his congratulations and excitement for his teammate's big game.
"Is this another 2012?" That's what we kept hearing back in the first part of the season. There were questions by TV loud mouths about whether the team was losing the fan base. Was there discontent? Would the Tigers collapse after failing to live up to expectations?
This isn't 2012. This isn't 2008. It isn't 2011 or any other year. This is 2015. This is a team that has gone out every week and given their all. The only game they've played where they weren't competitive was against LSU. There were moments and flashes of brilliance by the offense. There were some great performances by the defense. They just couldn't put it all together.
Last night, for the most part, they did. The defense played its best total complete game in a long time. The offense moved the ball with ease between the 20s on all but 2-3 drives. The offensive line opened holes and an explosive running back took advantage of them. There was a big drop or two, but overall the receivers caught the ball well and the quarterback threw the ball well.
The Tigers went on the road to play a ranked team in bad weather. The result was very familiar to everyone who watched those Tommy Tuberville Auburn teams. The Tigers won big. Now let's go a little more in depth.
Was he what we expected at the beginning of the season last night? Somewhat, yes. He didn't make any mistakes. He made some great check downs. He was dropping dimes with some of the deep balls. He managed the offense about as well as either of the QBs has so far this season. #AuburnTwitter was ready to give the game up for lost the moment he was announced as starter. Jeremy made us look like fools. I've never been happier about being made to look foolish.
Who will start at Quarterback next Saturday? I really don't know. If Sean is still aching and not up to it, then obviously Jeremy Johnson. If White is healthy, then I really think he might still be the better option based on his accuracy. I'm glad I'm not the one having to make the decision. You know what's real nice, though? Being able to consider that both give us a good chance to win the game, again. Jeremy Johnson showed us last night what we were expecting from him all along, and it was wonderful to watch him play that way. It was even better to see how happy he was at the end of the game.
Robinson arrived in Auburn way back in December of last season and got in reps with the team during bowl practice. Most of us expected him to be the starter and the workhorse back. During fall camp, he slowly slipped down the depth chart. Then he got hurt in the first game. He disappeared for weeks.
He made his presence known against Ole Miss last week, and then announced it to the world against the Aggies. Robinson kept his feet pounding, he hit holes, he shrugged off tacklers, and he resembled Tre Mason in his running, to me. With his performance last night he leapt to the top of the depth chart.
After getting abused by him last season, Shon Coleman made sure Myles Garrett was just a footnote in this one. I guess he really was looking forward to the chance to go up against him again, as he spoke about early in the week during his media appearance. Shon's 2015 is leaps and bounds above his 2014 play.
The Reggie Fish Special!
Yes, I know, the play is officially called "The Woody." Auburn has tried it a few times in recent years, particularly with Onterio McCallebb, but it's been a while since we've seen it, and it never really worked as well for Auburn as it did AGAINST Auburn back in 2006. I loved seeing it used last night. And no, I'm pretty sure that didn't burn Ryan Davis' redshirt. I think I recall him dropping a pass against Kentucky or Arkansas (which, let's face it, who DIDN'T drop one against the Hawgs?).
You can see a highlight of it by scrolling down to the video at ESPN's highlight section. It worked better than I think I've seen before because Davis was willing to wait long enough to really sell it. He let the rusher come flying around the edge and commit to going after Jeremy Johnson before he took off. It was beautifully done.
Has there been a better Auburn kicker? I'm sure y'all can name me a few of them, but he still has two years to go. He's four field goals short of tying the Auburn record for field goals in a season. He has four from 50+. He's only missed three kicks this season. The wind was playing havoc last night, and he was still perfect. A great kicker is such a weapon for any team.
By the same token, Phillips is an awesome weapon for the Tigers. He doesn't let opponents get a chance to flip the field with big returns. His hang time is ridiculous. I think Brent Musberger said the crew let him know he had a five second hang time on his first punt. That's the type of hang time NFL punters dream of.
Every week he does something great and I mention how he could leave Auburn as the best cornerback we've had. Every week someone else says "Carlson Rogers says hello."
Davis is a freshman. He's got a decent chance at being a freshman All-American. Without doubt he should be freshman All-SEC. He's got at least two more years to play here, and already he's playing at levels far beyond what his nine games of experience should be, and he's been playing at that level for weeks, already. The interception he made last night was amazing athletic effort.
By the time he leaves, he'll be in the conversation for the Thorpe Award. I'm not saying he'll win it, but he'll be talked about.
Does Carl add THAT much to the defense? Yes. Yes, he does. He demands attention. Because he demands attention, he frees up other players. Cassanova McKinzy should have registered a great sack last night, but a weak facemask call on Lawson negated it. Cass came free on that play because Lawson was the focus. His presence on the field makes everyone else better. He's a star in the making.
All of the interceptions
Turnovers have been going Auburn's way, lately, and let's hope that continues. Garrett's interception was a great job of reading the offense. Countess' stop was a big momentum swing. Davis' was pure wanting it more. The Tigers have given up a lot of yards this season, but part of the reason why they haven't given up more points is because of Carlson's kickoffs, Phillips' punts, and generating turnovers.
Defense As A Whole
Wow, what a performance. Texas A&M has a pretty good offense, and the Tigers held them to 10 points. That touchdown was helped by some penalties. Three turnovers gave the ball back to Auburn's offense. They held the Aggies to the lowest yards of any opponent this season (even JSU and SJSU). It's taken time and the return of a game-changing defensive end, but Coach Boom's defense is starting to look like the defense we hoped they would be. Hopefully they continue that trend against a Georgia offense that has been struggling over the last few weeks.
The way Jeremy Johnson and Jovon Robinson played on offense was fantastic. The defense was the real story of this game, though. Their performance was as complete as I can remember seeing an Auburn defense play in a long time. When Kyler Murray was in the game, they only allowed him to pick up 1-2 big runs after he ran for 150+ in his very first game. Sure, they were facing a freshman in only his second game as a starter. However, he was exactly the type of QB that has given Auburn fits over the last few years, and his performance the previous week against South Carolina was pretty impressive.
Red Zone Woes
Not all was perfect, last night, though. Auburn had three full drives inside the red zone. Their last trip there wasn't a full drive, since first down was just outside the 20, but it was close enough to say it was a red zone trip. It wasn't quite as bad as previous weeks. I really feel like execution was a bigger part on some of the plays last night. On the last drive, I also think Auburn could have picked up the 4th and 1, but points to make it a 16 point game mattered more, right then. I think Auburn could have converted more if they wanted/needed, but the defense was playing well enough that field goals were there and they took them.
Still, though, it would be nice to be talking about a great all-around and dominating performance in all facets, including the scoreboard, rather than talking about how we're still having some issues with getting the ball in the end zone. The first two drives were masterfully called to get us in position, and then things slowed down, from there.
Brent Musberger was as bad as I think I've ever heard him. He was constantly talking about what was going on in the Alabama game. Sure, I know that was a really massive game on the college football landscape. However, you could tell how much glee he was getting from talking about what Alabama was doing.
On top of that, he never could let go of the play that injured Kyler Murray while completely ignoring that the (somehow overturned) targeting call may have ruined the leg of a very promising young DB. He kept questioning whether the hit on Murray might have been targeting, too. The defender had already gone into his tackling motion when Murray slid. That negates any targeting.
2015 has been a big disappointment. There's no getting around that. This team could have folded when they lost their first two conference games. They could have folded after the heart-breaking overtime loss to Arkansas. The same after losing at home to Ole Miss. They didn't, though. They kept giving their all, and it payed off Saturday night in College Station. Now they're one win away from ensuring that they won't be sitting at home during bowl season.
Deep South's Oldest Rivalry
Auburn returns to the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium next weekend for another morning game. This time it's for one of the oldest rivalry games in college football. We really need all of the fans to be there in force and to get loud and rowdy. Mark Richt could conceivably be coaching for his job this week, and he always pulls some ridiculous stunt when he needs a win like that. See his team dancing in the endzone after their first touchdown against Florida a few years back. The crowd could be a big factor, so get to Jordan-Hare and pump this team up. Show you appreciate the effort and determination they displayed last night.
War Eagle. Always.