There are still questions that need to be answered, and adjustments that need to be made to the 2015 Auburn Tigers football team, but there's a lot of promise, as well.
The game started off as perfectly as you could ever script it. Lawson pressured, Tray Matthews intercepted, Auburn drove down and scored. After that, the offense definitely went through some struggles as they looked for an identity.
The defense was really the story for Auburn. From that first interception to a Justin Garrett scoop and score, the defense was constantly in the backfield of Louisville. They pressured the QB on almost every passing play. They were stuffing runs. Sure, they had some bad plays, but for the most part the D was attacking and looked good.
If there's trepidation, it's in the health of Carl Lawson. After an unreal first half, he didn't see the field in the 2nd half due to reported hip flexor issues. When he was in the game, though, it was obvious the "unblockable" comments weren't just hyperbole. He was a BEAST.
On the offense, Roc Thomas left the game with an injury, and Jovon Robinson wasn't seen after one or two plays. Peyton Barber stepped up, though, topping 100 yards on the day and looking just as good as his hype has been big for the past two seasons.
The defense really was the story of this game, and it was beautiful. Sure, Louisville bent that defense at times, but it didn't break. With JJ throwing some VERY bad passes and running backs dropping like flies until Barber stepped up, the defensive line in particular looked amazing. And Ricardo was definitely the speed sweep man.
Let's get to three things we learned:
1) MUSCHAMP DA GAWD.
Ok, yes, the defense wasn't perfect. Not by a long shot. It was still better than it was before. Even with Lawson hardly playing the second half, there was a pass rush. Growing pains in the secondary? Yes, there are. There will be. But they still played pretty well. Tim Irvin is going to be special.
Holding Petrino to __ points is pretty danged good. I don't care if it's the first game of the year, that's good. Hell, the first game is even better, because he had ALL OFF SEASON to plan for this. We flustered him enough that he had to swap quarterbacks in the second half to make something happen.
We're still going to get frustrated with this defense this season, but it's leaps and bounds better than it was at the end of last season. Which leads me to...
2) THE DEFENSIVE LINE
We're going to need Lawson. That defense was a different beast with him in there. That being said, Monty Adams and Dontavius Russell were beasts. I hope they build on their performances against Louisville. What worries me is that this is an aberration. Louisville is a good football team, but their offensive line was always their most suspect position. It's hard to judge the performance of Auburn's DL against a weak OL.
I still think we'll be fine if they're healthy. Byron Cowart wasn't in on a lot of plays, but he was effective at chasing the QB out of the pocket when he was in the game. Not every team he faces is going to have a mobile QB able to make plays.
Still, though, without Lawson things were worrying. Opening day 2013 wasn't the best in the world, either, though, and the team we played that day was pretty danged bad.
3) JJ still needs some work.
The running game is going to be fine. Peyton Barber looked fine running the ball after Roc got hurt. It's a bit concerning that JJ threw three bad interceptions, though. They weren't even "eh, oh, whatever" throws, either. They were bad. I mean BAAAAAAD. It was against a very good secondary, but it still was just awful. The deep ball I can almost forgive, because as someone pointed out, when the play call is "throw it deep," we throw it deep no matter the coverage. But the other two? Those were just horrendous.
Todd Grantham is a good defensive coordinator. He had all season to prepare for Jeremy Johnson, but Auburn was still able to score. That doesn't change that two out of three (and even the deep ball, even if it's a "do it anyway" play) were baaaaad interceptions.
He was brilliant in his previous performances. He was questionable today when he was given the complete reigns. Thankfully we get a game against JSU next week before having to travel to Baton Rouge to take on LSU.
Where do we go from here?
Whew, we have some work to do. BUT... this is the first game against a team that had ALL SEASON to prepare for this one game and who felt this may have been the biggest game in their team's history. They lost. I'll take it.
Auburn has two weeks (because while JSU is a good FCS team, Auburn should still destroy them) to recover. The Tigers faced a team who gave us fits with multiple QBs and tried to game us in a number of ways. We still one.
It's a long season. This was so close to being wonderful, but still very JABA in the way the game ended up. We still won, though.
Get Carl Lawson completely healthy, and things will get NASTY for our opponents, though.
War Damn. Celebrate. Football is back. Auburn won.