The Auburn Tigers reached into their Halloween bag on Saturday afternoon and served up a heaping helping of tricks to the Ole Miss Rebels, knocking out the once and no time in the future number four team in the country 33-20.
Halloween was a fitting time for the Tigers to rise from the grave where they'd been planted after three straight abysmal performances and return to their previous slashing gory, err, glory.
The Ole Miss Rebels made the haunting day trek to Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium with the same youthful recklessness that spurs on teens in any typical slasher film to revisit the scene of previous carnage.
Why not go have a fun-filled romp at Camp Crystal Lake? Go ahead and pull on the mask and go door-to-door in Haddonfield on Halloween. Trip on over to Jordan-Hare. You don't really believe the stories, do you?
If there ever was a boogeyman, he's long gone now. Nothing but mist and legend.
The kids from Kentucky, Arkansas and LSU saw to that, didn't they? They cut off his head, put chains around him, drowned him in the lake, and destroyed the monster.
They reduced the potent Tiger offensive machine to a box of clunking gears, stripped of its ability to churn out yardage.
Those meddling kids from Fayetteville, Baton Rouge and Lexington ripped the mask off the Auburn defense and exposed it to the harsh light of day, melting away whatever frights it might have held.
There is no grim mauler lurking in the shadows. Go ahead and ring the doorbell. Spread out the blanket at Camp Crystal Lake. Head on over to Jordan-Hare. There's nothing to fear. There are no demons. Everything's fine.
Like Jason Voorhees (or Freddie Krueger, or Michael Myers) just when you thought the Tigers were dead and buried, done in by some grisly past mayhem, they rose again, clawing up from the dirt, emerging from the lake, chains dripping, to unleash their particular brand of horror again.
Starring in the role of the trashy and provocative teen were the Rebels. As anyone who's ever watched a scary movie knows, its the girl who's fast and loose with her gifts who first gets the axe from the angry mauler.
When the Tigers emerged from the hole in which they'd been prematurely buried by most media (and many fans) they were angry and looking for blood. ESPN talking head Kirk Herbstreit, one of the few in the national media who had hailed the hiring of head coach Gene Chizik, went so far as to declare the Auburn program a "sinking ship" during his network's College Gameday.
Roused from their slumber, the Tigers sought revenge for past wrongs. Like the too-friendly teen who buys it early, the Rebels were fodder for that vengeance.
Everything that had gone wrong for Auburn in the three losses that nearly drove a stake through the heart of the season, went right on Saturday.
The penalties that had spooked Auburn drives and given new life to the opposition were largely exorcised against the Rebels.
After turning the ball over seven times in the previous three games, Auburn only surrendered one fumble on Saturday, that a frighteningly bad fourth-quarter Todd decision in the course of a 21-yard loss on third and twelve. Todd's gaffe gave the Rebels the ball and a jolt of energy at the Tiger 24-yard line.
The Todd drop came after Auburn had watched Ole Miss scratch back from a 31-7 hole and close to 33-20.
In any of the last three weeks, a costly mental error late in the game would have spelled doom for the Tigers.
Auburn's much maligned defense suffered down the stretch in each of the three losses, and a spirit-crushing turnover seemed poised to open the floodgates again.
Not this time.
A rushing play lost two yards. A sideline pass lost five more. Rebel quarterback Jevan Snead escaped on an 18-yard run to the Tiger 12, but what was that yellow thing lying on the ground? Penalty. Not on Auburn.
Holding on Ole Miss backed the Rebels up to the Auburn 39. Snead dropped back to pass on third down and was plowed under by Antonio Coleman for a six yard loss.
Out of field goal range, Ole Miss punted. And the Rebels were done.
The best numbers to come out of Saturday's defensive effort? 7-0-0. That's how many points Ole Miss scored in the first, second and fourth quarters respectively.
For the first time this season, Auburn rush was able to get pressure on an opposing quarterback and the results were obvious.
Dexter McCluster ripped off one long run, but you can't expect any defense to contain a back of his caliber for the entire game. He was going to get that.
Part of the defensive resurgence is due to the disruptive efforts of linebacker Eltoro Freeman. The transfer is still out of position occasionally and his mental lapses lead to big plays for the opposition, but he more than offset those negatives Saturday with his ball hawking presence.
Auburn's special teams still lacks spark. A failure to corral the Ole Miss kick returner after the Tigers built a 31-7 lead in the third allowed the Rebels to keep breathing a little longer than they might have otherwise.
In terms of improvement in all the things that had plagued the Tigers over the past three weeks, you couldn't really ask for much more.
The Auburn defense played its best game of the season, pressured Snead, forced turnovers, and added a score of its own.
Todd seemed more relaxed and, with the exception of the one fourth quarter meltdown, was in control of his game. He missed receivers early, but settled in and was significantly more efficient and poised as the game progressed.
The Tigers served tricks to the Rebels and treats to the fans who turned out early for the Navy Daymare.
Trick or treat is the theme for this Auburn team through nine games. When the Tigers are on, it's a real treat to watch them perform.
The Tigers aren't deep enough, experienced enough or polished enough to survive their own mistakes, however. When things don't go as planned, the snowball effect comes into play. One mistake leads to another and another and the next thing you know you're looking at a growing deficit on the scoreboard. When the negative roll starts, all the Tigers have in their bag is the trick of Charlie Brown's proverbial Halloween rock.
Auburn can't afford penalties. It can't afford turnovers. It can't stop itself.
The resurrected Tiger monster is again on the prowl. It dispatched the teen scream Rebels with relative ease.
Next week it will mow through a couple of bit players, leaving Furman body parts scattered through the scenery as it tromps toward the final showdown.
After that come the climactic scenes between the main protagonists, the chilling showdowns that cause fans to pack the theaters, err, stadium in droves.
The Tigers close out the regular season with traditional rivals Georgia and Alabama, sort of a Freddie vs. Jason vs. Michael extravaganza.
After Saturday's mauling of Ole Miss, it's practically impossible to predict how this film will end.
This much is certain. Despite some critical pans, director Gene Chizik has earned the right to helm the sequel for which there will be even greater anticipation.
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