For an Auburn football team struggling to find its identity, a 12-10 loss to No. 2 Louisiana State University is encouraging.
The Tigers led 10-9 at halftime and were a Kiehl Frazier interception away from potentially completing the upset of their Southeastern Conference rival.
More importantly, it was a statement game that said, in spite of its recent struggles, Auburn is not completely regressing as a football program contending for prominence in the nation’s finest conference.
With only one win this season (1-3, 0-2 SEC), against an upstart Louisiana-Monroe team, the Tigers have struggled to impose their presence as a dominating defensive program this season.
Auburn gave up an average of 26.7 points per game in its first three contests, so to have held the other Tigers to 12 total points is a great takeaway. Two points came on a safety in the first half, while LSU did not convert a touchdown after its second possession. That is defensive efficiency.
Likewise, two forced fumbles on Zach Mettenberger are an indication not only that Auburn’s defense is beginning to regain form, but also that it can compete against the best opponents in the country when it matters most.
The Tigers’ offense did not manage a point in the second half. Following Cody Parkey’s field goal with 1:21 left in the second quarter, Auburn was held scoreless. It totaled a meager 183 yards of total offense (86 rushing, 97 passing) in the entire game.
While their offensive deficiency should be viewed as a detriment, it is not crippling, considering that the Tigers play in a conference in which defense is boss. Besides, "defense wins championships" is not simply a worn-out cliché; it’s the truest thing in sports.
Though it has struggled in its first three games this season, and throughout the entirety of 2011—since the loss of Cam Newton to the NFL Draft in 2010—Auburn will be okay. Now that its defense proved it can halt LSU, confidence that it can stop the rest of the SEC will certainly be bolstered.
Now it will be more evident in impending games that the Tigers are moving in the right direction.