Auburn Football 2011: October: The Tigers Have 1 Win and 3 Tough Games to Go
In their inimitable fashion, the Auburn Tigers started down their tough October road with an upset win over the South Carolina Gamecocks 16-13.
Although it wasn't pretty, that win impressed the sportswriters enough to propel them from obscurity to the No. 15 spot in the AP Top 25 Poll.
From their rocky start against Utah State and through the loss to Clemson, the Tigers have shown refinements to both offense and defense, with evident coaching and practices that have improved both lines, the secondary, ball control and game management in general. Special Teams continue to shine as they have all season.
However, the degree of difficulty only gets tougher with next three games this month.
One of the keys seems to be that the players are ignoring the nay-sayers who repeatedly downplay the Tigers' abilities. The team just isn't buying it.
Arkansas, Florida and the ultimate game with No. 1 LSU lay out the goals very clearly and a combination of customized game plans and consequences of their opponents' games, are laying out a story line that changes and only gets more interesting as the each weekend passes.
Oct. 8: At No. 18 Arkansas
Next up on the October road is No. 10 Arkansas, fresh from an impressive win over No. 24 Texas A&M (42-38). The poll went through such a shuffling this weekend that the Hogs moved from No. 18 to No. 10 and the Aggies moved down from No. 14 to No. 24.
What was impressive about the Razorback win was the style in which they did it.
Arkansas suffered a dismal first half, letting Texas A&M score five rushing touchdowns, where before their defense had only allowed one this season.
They went into the half barely putting up any resistance, down 34-17. Things did not look good for Arkansas until they started the second half.
That's when they started playing with pure heart. The defense held A&M to only three points, and the scoring attack by Tyler Wilson was daunting.
He broke Ryan Mallett's and the school's total passing record, throwing for 510 yards, completing 30/51 passes and three TDs. Wilson also ran for the two-point conversion that tied the game and led the team 80 yards in nine plays to win it in the end.
Receiver Jarius Wright also broke records with 13 receptions for 281 yards and one TD.
However, there are some down sides to the Arkansas effort this year.
Defensively, they allowed Texas A&M to roll up a total of 628 yards, 381 on the ground. The defense has also been plagued with injuries, most that will not be ready for the Auburn game.
Auburn can defend them if they continue the improvements that were seen against South Carolina. The whole game will need to be buttoned up more, but it can be done.
Offensively, Auburn is starting to open up their options, using Kiehl Frazier and Michael Dyer more and showing different looks. The hurry-up offense could also keep the Arkansas defense on their heels and scrambling like the SC defense did.
Oct. 15: At No. 17 Florida
The Gators suffered a tremendous blow against Alabama this past weekend when they lost starting quarterback John Brantley to a still unknown leg injury. It's any guess as to whether he might be ready to start against Auburn.
Bama won the contest 38-10, and Florida lost their QB just before the first half ended, sending true freshman Jeff Driskel up against the Tide for the second half. The Gators would not score again the remainder of the game.
With the QB position up in the air, the future of the Gators' season is sure there as well, as they face LSU the weekend before the Auburn matchup, so the performance with Brantley out could skew what they're able to muster offensively against opponents.
Defensively, the Florida Gators kept the Crimson Tide at 366 total yards, 226 of those on the ground, but couldn't put much of a dent in Trent Richardson as he gained 181 yards and two touchdowns.
However, with Michael Dyer slowly improving, as long as he's healthy in two weeks, he can make a dent in their armor too.
If Auburn continues its upward progression in improvement, this game could be a good matchup, especially since it will bring the Tigers back home after a long two weeks away.
Oct. 22: At No. 1 LSU
LSU just keeps impressing the pollsters, maintaining their No. 1 position after a win over Kentucky 35-7.
What can I say? Offensively and defensively, they have earned that ranking beating out Oklahoma in the polls after handily whipping West Virginia prior to the Kentucky game.
Not only do they have a solid starting quarterback in Jarrett Lee, original starter Jordan Jefferson is back, even scoring a touchdown in the game with the Wildcats, putting to rest any ill will from the LSU fans and speculation as to capabilities.
Lee is still considered the starting QB, but Jefferson offers some remarkable talents, and the jury is out as to whether he will remain at backup.
The Florida matchup against LSU will answer those questions and help set the stage for the Auburn game.
Defensively, the Bengal Tigers held Kentucky to 155 total yards, and standout CB Tyrann Mathieu set a school record for career forced fumbles with two Saturday night, one of which he scooped up for a score.
They're very good at striping the ball and causing momentum shifts.
They can be intimidating especially with the game being played in Death Valley, with all its noise and mystical powers at night.
However, if Auburn continues on its improvement track, they should be able to bring something to bear against LSU, even given all of the above, but it will be the toughest test the AU Tigers will face all season, Bama included.
The End of October: All In?
Auburn has one more game left in October and that is against Ole Miss. By all indications, the Rebels are not making the same kind of strides at improvement that the Tigers are.
In addition, that game will be back home and should offer some respite from the previous four weeks; it's still an important game in the SEC West, but Auburn will be much more seasoned and able to play.
By the beginning of November, Auburn will deserve the bye week before the Georgia game to heal and regroup.
The gradual improvement, and methodical custom game planning that seems to do everything required to win, is a testament to head coach Gene Chizik and his program.
Whatever the outcome of these next three weekends, taking a very young and inexperienced Tiger team through that scrub board, is a great scenario to build for the future.
The Auburn Tigers can only become stronger given the foundation Gene Chizik creates in the AU Family with the "All In" philosophy.
How Chizik manages to get those games into the win column will be interesting to watch. Somehow, lately, the faith and respect has come back, and that could be all that it takes.