Before we begin, please allow me to apologize for my absence last week. I know it didn’t ruin anyone’s football week, but I am truly sorry that I wasn’t able to write last week's installment. We were finishing up a two-week jury term at work, and as a baby lawyer who wants to practice criminal law, jury trials are like the Holy Grail. Unfortunately, days-long trials often mean late nights finishing up work we’re not able to do during those days. Add in a nasty cold that reared its head twice last week, a puppy with boundless energy, and finding out that I passed the Bar Exam, and life just kind of got in the way. But I promise not to let it happen again. I’ve far too many asinine opinions/GIFs to share.
So what’s the State of Auburn? Other than a marketing campaign that needs to disappear faster than the Tiger Eyes and the 2008 We Believe yard signs*. Where do we stand today? On paper**, this team is a disaster. Not like an Arkansas disaster, but a disaster nonetheless. The defense gives up yards in chunks even before contact and can’t get off the field on third down. The offense seems anemic, turning Malzahn’s run-first read option death machine into a false-start-first, throw three straight incomplete passes to the same side of the field fart machine. At least until last Saturday against Mississippi State. Don’t get me wrong: Auburn was not a good football team on Saturday. It did not do enough to win the game, and it did not deserve to win by any standard. But painting that game with such broad strokes does a disservice to the men who played it and what it likely means for the season.
Yeah, Auburn lost. Again. But Auburn is not dead. Auburn should be dead. Auburn was down for the count after countless Fournette body blows. Auburn all but tapped out. This season, which started with expectations of Western Division championships, playoff berths, and a Heisman contender, will likely always be remembered with bitter disappointment. But Auburn is not dead.
Anyone who watched Auburn’s pathetic performance against LSU knew that the MSU game was going to be a fork in the road. Either Auburn was going to lie down in the hole it had dug and take a beating (presumably for the rest of the season) or it was going to scratch and claw its way out. The game wasn’t pretty, and we’re far from the top, but Auburn began to climb on Saturday. The defense dug its claws in the turf and held an experienced, dual-threat, SEC quarterback to 17 points. The offense, while not amassing many points for its efforts, consistently moved the ball on the ground in ways many of us, including myself, had given up on. Its redshirt freshman quarterback, despite a few rookie hiccups, exceeded expectations in his first collegiate start. Is celebrating a moral[e] victory a great position to be in? No. Would we rather be worried about not winning by enough? Of course. But here we are. Auburn won’t win a national championship in 2015. But Auburn is not dead. It did not quit on Saturday, and if the players*** continue to improve, Auburn will win games this season.
It just didn’t win Saturday. Some of the struggle can be chalked up to odd playcalls in the red zone. Some of it was poor execution. And some of it was just bad luck. But Auburn was a freshman interception and a bad snap away from winning that game. Do you know why? Because Auburn did the hard part. It drove the ball, often the length of the field, all the way to the goal line. It just couldn’t punch it across. It reminded me of the scoring drought the US Women’s National Team**** experienced during their Women’s World Cup run. For three or so games, the team took shot after shot on goal, most of them barely missing. Still, only a few shots connected, many of them PKs.
"We can’t win a World Cup if we can’t score!" I lamented to my closest soccer confidant.
In the middle of what would be a 1-0 win over Nigeria after a 0-0 draw with Sweden, I was worried. Abby Wambach having just been benched for younger legs did nothing to help my feelings.
"They’re doing the hard part already," he explained. "Keeping the ball on this side of the field and taking the shots is where the battle is won. The shots will go in eventually. They have to."
And the rest is history.
I’m not saying Auburn is going to dominate the season like the USWNT went on to dominate the World Cup. In fact, I’m kind of saying the opposite. Things might be ugly for a few games while we get our sea legs back. But I’m also saying that if Auburn keeps doing what it’s doing, the ball will cross the goal line. The shots will go in. Auburn is not dead.
If you’re making your way to the Plains for Homecoming, stop by Ag Roundup at Ag Heritage Park Saturday morning. For $5 (children younger than 6 are admitted free of charge), you’ll get all the Alabama-grown food you can eat and it’s a nice way to support the College of Agriculture. We are a cow college, after all. And damned proud of it.
Until next time—War Eagle.
*They’re all toxic and must be destroyed.
**I'm pretty sure the box scores were all that the ESPN2 broadcast crew looked at when they tried to manufacture a quarterback controversy in the waning seconds of last Saturday's game. Sean White earned the job. End the "debate." Their insistence that Auburn fans had turned on the team also rang hollow. Give me Verne and Gary any day.
***And coaches. Especially coaches.
****The day after the LSU game, I saw the USWNT in Birmingham with my best friend, an avid LSU fan. Despite our Calling [in sick to] Baton Rouge, it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. Laura and I totally belong in the American Outlaws. If you didn’t follow their incredible journey during the Women’s World Cup, the USWNT were a joy to watch and represented our nation with pride and grace. And they had a shutdown, SEC-worthy defense. They’re one of my favorite teams across any sport, and they’re damned proud to play like girls. God bless Title IX, God bless America, and God bless Abby Wambach.