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Undercover Barner: All the Above

This week’s Undercover Barner indulges in nostalgia and isn’t sorry.

NCAA Football: Georgia Southern at Auburn
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Whoever said the best defense is a [consistent] offense did not attend this past Saturday’s game between Auburn and Georgia Southern*. While the offense struggled to find its feet in the first half, the Auburn Defense, all but missing in action for the past ten years, roared to life on GSU’s opening possession and refused to lie down all night. Sure, it was week one against a non-conference opponent, and we’ve been known to cry wolf in the past, but the fundamentals looked tight and allowing 78 TOTAL yards against any FBS opponent is something to be celebrated.

Meanwhile, under the guidance of a new coordinator and missing its best receiver and running back (and then its second best running back), the offense had to lean on the defense a bit until the pieces came together. I don’t know how it felt to watch the game at home, but in Jordan-Hare, it was difficult at times to remember, especially in the first half, that once we gained the lead, we never lost it. Costly turnovers killed momentum and all but took the crowd** out of the game. It became clear soon after kickoff that Pettway was our only running back capable of breaking arm tackles and without him, the offensive line had to make their presence felt in order for Auburn to accomplish anything on the ground. Thankfully, I think the coaches and linemen had a come-to-Jesus talk about that very subject at halftime. As rotten as we all felt*** about the first half, the second half was a much better showing. We moved the ball down the depth chart and that felt pretty good.

All of that is to say, I think the macro view of Saturday’s game was a lot more positive than the micro view we got at the time. Auburn won that game 41-7, and after the first quarter, it was never really in doubt. Every mistake seemed to be magnified by the intensity of the moment and by stray thoughts of our next opponent. But more on that later.

First, I want to admit that I may have been wrong about something, which is my very least favorite thing to admit. Last week when Auburn announced it was adding a DJ to the student section to “make things hipper” or whatever dumb nonsense Jay Jacobs is doing to distract us from how his administration condoned sexual harassment, I nearly pulled a muscle rolling my eyes. When you have one of the best marching bands in the country providing the perfect soundtrack for your game, you don’t need human hair gel with a Macbook and a Spotify account killing the vibe with crappy EDM remixes. However, if this past Saturday’s musical selections were the doing of this mysterious DJ, I take it all back. I mean, not about the band, because their playing Trap Queen was my everything, but about the rest of it. I never actually spotted a DJ in the section, but whether he was in the box or hidden amongst the crowd, his playlist was on point.

Tell me what do you see
When you looking at me,
On a mission to be
What I'm destined to be…

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but I think the way to a football fan’s heart is through nostalgia. Harkening back to the glory days and shared struggles is the most effective way to generate #heartmist and forge unity. And when those synthesizer strings at the beginning of All the Above hit my ears as break between the third and fourth quarters drew to a close, I was flooded with memories of standing in the student section as Cam Newton, Josh Bynes and Zac Etheridge ran toward us in 2010, knowing that the fourth quarter was theirs, as if it had never been in doubt. I was reminded of the magic that comes with unexpected not unearned success. In that moment, my heart was full. Even though they cut the song early to resume gameplay, I smiled as I sang to myself the verses I took hours to learn on car trips and long runs. That song, and all it represents for Auburn and for the players who made it their own back then, will always catch my heart. It feels like home, like those guys are still there, running toward us with their helmets in the air, only with new babyfaces and different names to match their numbers.

Ain't you happy I made it?
That I'm making a statement?
Take a look and you can tell
That I'm destined for greatness...

This season’s story remains unwritten, save for an interesting introduction. With so many unknowns, it could easily go the way of the last few seasons, or the cardiac kids could surprise us again. The beautiful thing about September is it could still go either way. However, I’ve learned from experience that when a team with talent and heart sets its sights on glory, stand back and let them snatch it.

Before Auburn can dream of anything, its first test, Dabo’s Clemson Tigers, looms large in the immediate foreground. I’m not a huge fan of this parallel universe in which the team in Auburn’s old faded uniforms is the touchdown favorite, but if nothing else, Auburn does relish the role of the underdog. I wish I knew what to expect on Saturday, but after watching all of our game and some of theirs, I am still mostly shrugging at matchups. Clemson put up 56 points against Kent State, with their 600+ yards of offense split nearly evenly between rushing and receiving. Our defensive line is undoubtedly better than Kent State’s, so I hope we’ll be able to slow down their ground game. Unfortunately, as well as the defense did against GSU, because of their offensive scheme, our secondary was largely superfluous and I have no idea how they’ll match up against Clemson’s aggressive receivers. Clemson has the edge, but Auburn still has a chance to walk into [fake]**** Death Valley in their Stormtroopers and steal one out from under Dabo’s nose. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want revenge for 2011, where Dabo cried, said, “Roll Tide,” during his postgame interview, and Clemson’s fans rushed the field in September. Act like you’ve been a place.

If you’re accompanying our Tigers to [fake] Death Valley, do take some time to enjoy the trip. South Carolina is a beautiful state, and if we’re being honest, Dabo is the only truly unpleasant thing about Clemson. Be loud and proud, and even though the True Blue game isn’t until Georgia, a nice navy ensemble sure would look good on TV in the visitors’ section against their [fake] orange.

Until next time—War Eagle!


*We should’ve known this because Walt was such a good fan, but I can’t say enough about what wonderful people the GSU fans were. They showed up in their best blue, cheered loud for their team, and were exceedingly polite, even when our moods turned sour in the first half. I hope we see more of them in the future!

**It could’ve been the heat or the fact that we were still easing into the season, but for a fanbase that prides itself on being one of the most supportive (and loudest) in the nation, Jordan-Hare Stadium was uncharacteristically quiet on Saturday night. Even on third down, when even the most stoic Auburn fans find it in themselves to roar, the players still had to call for crowd noise. Thankfully they didn’t need us, but if I had my way, we’d all be on our feet screaming on every defensive down as soon as the play clock started. It’s our job to disrupt the opposing team’s offense, and we shouldn’t have to be told to do it.

***I mostly kept contained my sour mood to text messages instead of Twitter. You’re all welcome.

****I’m not saying their [fake] Death Valley isn’t an intimidating football experience but I AM saying that the only Death Valley worthy of such a name is in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Maybe name it something else, like Discomfort Valley?