Okay. So. It happened. Everyone saw.
After Auburn’s first real test of the season, here’s what we know so far:
Auburn’s defense, largely missing since the Tuberville years, held the defending National Champions to 14 points and 284 total yards in their own house.
Despite this, Auburn couldn’t come away with a win.
Because Auburn only managed to gain 117 TOTAL YARDS in an entire football game in which it dominated time of possession and won the turnover battle.
So yeah. All in all, this past Saturday wasn’t a great night for Auburn. While the opener felt gross in the first half but evened out once the offense settled in, the offense never settled in against Clemson. Not only that, unlike Clemson, it seemed as if our coaches made no effort to adapt once it became clear that the gameplan, as prepared, clearly wasn’t working. When Clemson’s vaunted D-line crashed the pocket ad nauseam, any sort of effort to triage was either non-existent or completely ineffectual. We never tried to hit quick throws across the middle or even swing a speedy back wide until far too late. We just kept sending Bubba to slaughter right up the middle and wondering why Auburn couldn’t move the sticks. Just kidding. We didn’t wonder.
If you add Gus** Malzahn’s salary to Chip*** Lindsey’s, divide it by the number of games in a season, and divide that by the only quantitative measure of their supposed specialty, Auburn paid them $3,828.34 per offensive yard gained on Saturday night. Was it worth it?
Calling for a coach’s head at the beginning of a season is pretty asinine, and I’m not going to do it here. However, questioning a coach’s ability to adapt and succeed feels necessary in the face of complete and utter failures like Saturday night. I said this on Saturday night, and I mean it. I’m not trying to argue that performance and effort weren’t issues, because they were, but it was painfully obvious that preparation and scheme hamstrung the offense’s ability of seize the beautifully giftwrappped chance to win Auburn’s defense presented it on a silver platter.
But man alive, how freaking gorgeous was that defense? Over the past ten years, Auburn fans become accustomed to grinning and bearing porous, elastic defenses. The past couple of seasons have been trending upward, but I think we were afraid to cry wolf and officially welcome defense back to the Plains because we’ve been burned so many times.
It’s fundamentally unfair that the Auburn defense’s coming out party had to be during such a historically inadequate offensive showing, but I refuse to acknowledge the rain during this particular parade. I want to indulge in the despondency and write off the whole game as disappointing but to do so would be a disservice to Kevin Steele and what a damn job he’s done with his side of the ball. For the first time in ten years, the guys are wrapping up and finishing tackles. They’re exploding off the ball as a unit, instead of leaving the dirty work for a few talented stars. Our linebackers matter again. The offense asked the defense to bail them out again and again on Saturday, and the defense answered by giving them chance after chance to win the game. Basically what I’m saying is, “Thank you, defense.” Thank you for pulling more than your weight on Saturday night, even when you shouldn’t have had to. Thank you for keeping the game within one score, inexplicably giving Auburn a chance to win, even after all the flerble-florp. And thank you for giving us a reason to cheer when things weren’t going our way. You made Saturday night bearable, and you’re what I’ll choose to remember about that game.
So where do we go from here? No, really, tell me. Because I don’t know. I hope Saturday’s performance was an anomaly, and I’ll leave it there. It took the wind from my sails and now I’m just kind of out here floating all alone with Heihei on a sea of uncertainty, waiting for Maui****. I do know I’m looking forward to seeing the defense evolve and the offensive line grow together. I think Stidham’s upside is huge, and I hope we see him grow into the starting role. Our receivers are hungry, and if Stidham can find them open, Auburn will score some points this year. Bubba will be Bubba, and Kam Martin and Eli Stove will be precious angels who can get to the outside and burn anyone. Gus lost my trust on Saturday, but no one knows how far we’ll go, so I guess I’ll just settle in for the ride.
If you’re making the trip to Auburn for a weirdly early Homecoming game against the Mercer Bears, make sure the defense doesn’t have to ask the crowd for noise on third down. Or any down for that matter. They leave it all on the field, and the least we can do is leave our voices in JHS.
Until next time—It’s always great to be an Auburn Tiger.
* Extra Bonus Fugly: Of those 117 yards, only 38 came on the ground. I know Clemson’s gameplan was to make Stidham throw the ball, but 38 yards? THIRTY-EIGHT YARDS?
**** In this scenario, Maui is obviously Chip Kelly and Heihei is Jay Jacobs. jkjkjk about the Chip Kelly thing. Mostly.