Every team is going to have tight games at some point. Plenty of teams are going to have very tight games against teams they absolutely shouldn't struggle against.
Make no mistake about it, Vanderbilt has one of the better defenses in the conference. They have one of the best running backs in the conference. Auburn still should have handled them without too much of an issue, but when the Tigers play a full half without the starting quarterback while also missing the leading receiver and two linebackers for basically the entire game, then the dynamic of any game will change.
So things go. Auburn caught a Vandy team that could still make a bowl game in an 11am kickoff in front of a sluggish crowd and just managed to get out of the game with a win. It shouldn't have been that way. It shouldn't have been that way, but the play of superstar linebacker Zach Cunningham gave the Commodores a chance even at the end.
Let's get to some observations:
1) Holy Holding, Batman. For two weeks in a row, Auburn's defensive line (and Carl Lawson in particular) has been held so egregiously at times that it defies belief. On Vandy's first drive coming out of the timeout, Lawson had a burst up the middle and was past the offensive lineman when I saw him stopped in his tracks and pulled back. At the same time, Auburn was called for more holding penalties in this one than they've been called for all season, I think. That's just nuts.
2) The Targeting Call. Eh, yeah, that was probably targeting. It was also almost bang-bang live. My biggest question was the orientation of Davis' head. One replay review seemed to show his facemask going into the chest of the receiver. One looks to be the crown of the helmet. After the game, Gus Malzahn mentioned it's hard to coach a good hit these days. I agree to an extent, but it seems like it would be easier to just make sure players are taught about keeping the head up.
3) T.J. Neal In Relief. I had honestly forgotten about Neal. When Auburn needed it most, Neal did a pretty good job of stepping up and filling the void left by Deshaun Davis. For all the "3rd and Auburn" stuff, I have to figure not having the Tigers' two primary linebackers hurt a bit, but overall Neal had a good game for a guy who hasn't seen the field much, this season.
4) QB Play. It should be obvious now why Sean White is Auburn's quarterback. Even "banged up," he played a much better game and sparked the offensive revival. Shut the run game down? White will just go 10-13. They're both not the best protecting the football when hit hard, but White's throwing ability is far beyond Franklin's. If you don't think so, then ask yourself why - when he's the #2 guy who is supposed to be able to run the whole offense - he hardly ever passed. Franklin is a dynamic athlete, yes. But he's not a great QB. To the point that if White gets hurt in the next 2-3 weeks, don't be shocked if a redshirt is pulled off.
5) So, What Was Up With Sean? According to Gus Malzahn and others, Sean White did not practice all week. Phillip Marshall reported he was told by an insider that Sean took a lot of first-team reps on Thursday. What's the truth? I'm almost willing to go with Marshall and say that Sean's "shoulder issue" is a combination of being banged up (he was favoring it a bit at Ole Miss) and maybe a little something else. A first half suspension, maybe? Was he sick? He did run to the locker room at one point in the 2nd half and came running back out. Need to use the restroom? Get a cortisone shot? I have no idea. That whole situation was just really strange. We'll likely never know, though, because Gus Malzahn is extremely paranoid about issues like that.
6) The Pooch Kicks. Yes, it's kinda annoying to see Carlson's stats screwed up by not having him kick deep. However, Vandy has a very good FG returner - one of the best in their history - and did you see how Auburn was giving up some returns to Ole Miss last week? I really wish the Tigers had just let him kick it deep, anyway, but I understand the strategy. Especially in a close game when you're trying to limit momentum.
7) The Broadcast. So. Many. Commercials. Here's the thing about commercials, though. ESPN sells a certain number of commercials per game. They're going to get those all in. So, if the gameplay action doesn't lend itself to commercials for a while, you're going to get those times where it's *play*timeout*commercial*play*timeout*commercial. It's annoying, but it's going to happen. That being said... yeah, the broadcasters were every bit as bad as Twitter made it sound. I feel bad for Mike Patrick. He used to be one of the best. Ed Cunningham... yeah, he sucks.
8) Pettway Is So Dang Good. His fourth straight game of 150+ yards. All of those against SEC defenses. He's the first Auburn running back to have four straight 150 yard games since Vincent Jackson. He's over 1100 yards for the year through 6.5 games worth of carries. And, now, we're left wondering whether he's going to be available for Georgia. He pulled up lame on Auburn's last drive. I've seen conflicting reports on how he's doing. Hopefully it was just a cramp. We're going to need him against UGA. Oh, and the fumble... I'm guessing they ruled his calf and ankle were down. So suck it, Ed Cunningham.
9) Auburn Controls Its Destiny. Gus Malzahn continues to mention that the Tigers are taking things one game at a time. That philosophy just became even more important after Mississippi State upset the Aggies in Starkville, yesterday. With that, Auburn can now win the SEC West if it wins out. That's a very tall order since it involves beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa, but it's possible. First, though, comes the Georgia game. The Bulldogs are coming off a last-second win over Kentucky and will be looking to get Kirby Smart his first "signature" win as a head coach. The game is in Athens. It will not be easy for Auburn. That's particularly true if Auburn doesn't get a lot of banged up players back and healthy.
War Eagle, y'all. Amen Corner is upon us, and Auburn still has a chance to make a run at the biggest prize of them all. I'll take it.