What a strange game it was in Starkville on Saturday night. It was one of the weirder games I have ever seen, and defensive dominance like that is rarely displayed on both sides of the ball. Here's my take on what happened.
1. First things first: Man, is this defense good. Actually, they look pretty great. While they haven't matched up against the powers of the SEC yet, the way they dominated Southern Miss and Mississippi State deserves recognition.
Only allowing 116 yards in SEC play is unheard of. Forcing a team to go 0 for 14 on third down is even more rare. They don't allow teams to run the ball, and the secondary looks vastly better than last year.
Led by Antonio Coleman and Sen'Derrick Marks up front, Tray Blackmon at linebacker, and Jerraud Powers in the secondary, this unit has the potential to be one of the best Auburn has seen in quite a while. Considering Auburn's defensive history, that means something.
2. Tray Blackmon came up with play after play, including a huge stop on fourth down in the fourth quarter. Walter McFadden made one of the best interceptions I have ever seen to seal the deal for the defense (see picture in article). Coleman and Marks consistently got penetration through the offensive line and made Wesley Carroll (MSU's quarterback) uncomfortable all night long.
The depth was also present. Opelika native Zach Clayton made a couple of big plays from his defensive tackle spot, and all the linebackers flew to the ball. Mike McNeil recorded his first career sack as well.
3. Obviously, the defense will get their biggest test on Saturday night against LSU. While I do not expect them to dominate a team as good as LSU, I do expect the defense to keep us in the game.
If Auburn's offense can score 20 points in every game the rest of this year, I will feel very confident about our chances in each game. I think Auburn's defense is having a blast and playing together as a unit. They will be prepared for the challenge of going up against the defending champions, and I think they will play very well.
4. The offense was not as bad as casual fans might think. They managed over 300 yards of offense on the road in a quarterback's first road SEC start. They were in the red zone three times. They completed multiple deep passes. However, penalties (mostly by the offensive line), turnovers, and missed field goals kept this game close.
Chris Todd finished 14 for 26 with over 150 yards and didn't turn the ball over. That's good enough for this offense to win. While I was surprised Kodi Burns didn't get a couple of situational play calls, I can understand the coaches being hesitant to put him in as the game went on, considering how slim the margin for error was.
5. The fumbles have got to stop this week. All three were inexcusable. All three occurred at terrible times and put Auburn's defense in bad spots.
I was fairly certain that three fumbles wouldn't happen again, but the fact that it has happened twice in two weeks is very concerning with a hard-hitting defense from LSU coming into town this weekend. It will be critical that the running backs and the quarterbacks do not turn the ball over against LSU.
6. Most of the penalties were inexcusable on Saturday night. That's the most penalties I can remember a team coached by Tommy Tuberville having. The offensive line will get drilled this week by Hugh Nall (the offensive line coach), and there will not be that many in a game again this year.
Quite a few very positive offensive plays were called back, and false starts put our offense behind the chains and made it difficult to open up the offense.
7. Brad Lester looked very good running the ball before his injury. Everything I have read has said he is fine and should be back soon. Whether he will play this week, I am not sure.
People wanted balance from the offense...there was balance. I think it was 160 yards rushing and 154 yards passing (or something like that). I know fans wanted more yards, but both phases of the offense worked adequately. The scoreboard just didn't show it due to all the mistakes.
8. The most positive thing to take from this game (besides the defense) is the success Chris Todd had going down the field. The receivers adjusted well to the ball and made big plays to set up opportunities to score.
The most negative thing about this game is the red zone offense. Two missed field goals and an inability to run inside the 20 plagued Auburn against Mississippi State. A solution needs to be found by Tony Franklin this week to get touchdowns when we are in the red zone.
9. Clinton Durst's punting was good, and Robert Dunn's presence made Mississippi State plan for him, even though MSU's punter did an excellent job all night in kicking away from Dunn or having great hang time and forcing fair catches.
Wes Byrum's misses were disappointing, but I expect him to convert if given the opportunity in the big games ahead.
10. The week of the LSU game is one of my favorite weeks of the year. These two teams have been a part of some absolutely incredible games in the last few years. Crazy things always happen when they play, and the game more often than not is incredibly close.
Auburn has a lot of things going for them this weekend. The atmosphere will be electric as College GameDay comes to town. It will be a night game. LSU's quarterbacks will be playing their first SEC game and first SEC road game.
VERY FEW PEOPLE WILL PICK AUBURN TO WIN AGAINST LSU. That's the biggest thing the Tigers from Auburn have going for them. Looking back at recent history, Auburn thrives on the underdog role.
Last year after losses to South Florida and Mississippi State, they went to the Swamp and defeated Florida. Two years ago they beat the eventual national champion Florida Gators after losing to an unranked Arkansas team at home by 17 (GameDay was at that game too...).
Nobody nationally will expect Auburn to win based on their performance against MSU, but I expect it to be another great battle for SEC West supremacy. Whoever wins this game will have a major leg up on the race for Atlanta, which is what makes Auburn-LSU so exciting.
Auburn will have to use their defense, special teams, and most importantly, their home field advantage in order to win this game. Who cares about what happened in Starkville...Auburn did what they had to do early in the year and are in position to fight for the SEC West.
As fans, let's help them do it by showing the country what Auburn football is all about on Saturday night. WAR EAGLE!