Auburn 41-West Virginia 30: Tigers of a Different Stripe

Kevin StricklandCorrespondent ISeptember 20, 2009

Auburn 41 - West Virginia 30.

This is Auburn football.

It's not the Auburn football you grandfather remembers. It's not the Auburn football your father remembers. In fact, it's not even the Auburn football you remember unless you were born prior to Sept. 5, 2009.

Auburn fell behind 14-0 and trailed 21-10 to the visiting West Virginia Mountaineers on Saturday night before rallying behind an opportunistic defense and a determined offense to fell WVU.

Auburn 41, West Virginia 30.

This is a different kind of Tiger football team.

No disrespect to former coach Tommy Tuberville, whose teams won their share of thrilling, emotional, nationally relevant games, but digging out of a hole when the opponent had momentum wasn't one of their strong points.

Arkansas 27, Auburn 10

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Arkansas 42, Auburn 17

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That's what used to happen when an Andrew Zow or a Fred Talley or a David Greene or a Noel Devine got hot against a Tiger defense.

If the defense couldn't carry the day, the Auburn offense rarely had an answer. 

Things got out of hand.

Saturday night, the opportunity to fold was there. West Virginia burned Auburn on its first two offensive series with a long pass and a long run.

Perhaps feeding off the pent-up emotion of a raucous Tiger crowd, Auburn overpursued, was overly aggressive and ended up getting scorched. 

Recognizing that the Mountaineers had speed to spare and a multitude of offensive weapons, the defensive strategy switched from impact to containment. If West Virginia was going to score, they were going to have to drive the ball to do so. 

The Tiger defense kept Mountaineer ball carriers in front of them, giving up yards in exchange for preventing the big plays that opened the game. 

The strategy was largely successful.  After giving up a 58 yard pass play on the first series and a 71 yard Noel Devine rush on West Virginia's second possession, the Tiger defense allowed just four plays of 20 yards or more the remainder of the game. One of those came on the last desperation snap.

West Virginia piled up 509 yards and 23 first downs, but after the first two long strikes, the majority of that came between the 20s.

Forcing West Virginia to drive the field also increased the opportunity for turnovers. Auburn grabbed six on the night, converting one for a score.

All the defensive maneuvering might not have mattered in the past. Until the arrival of Gus Malzahn, Auburn has not been a team engineered to dig itself out of holes.

When it became apparent that the defense was going to have trouble keeping West Virginia from moving the ball or scoring points, it became incumbent on the offense to match the Mountaineers.

In the past, that was often a recipe for failure.

For three consecutive weeks, however, the Tigers have put the burden on the offense.  Auburn overcame deficits against both Louisiana Tech and Mississippi State before putting both away in the second half.

Against the Mountaineers, the offense again bailed the Tigers out. It did so even when West Virginia was able to neutralize its most effective weapons.

The vaunted Auburn rushing game was essentially eliminated by a quick Mountaineer defense.  West Virginia's strategy was clearly to force quarterback Chris Todd to win the game.

Todd shouldered the burden and while he might not have been spectacular, he was effective.  Todd was a pedestrian 16-of-31 with an interception.  But he also threw four touchdown passes and converted several critical third down passes. 

More encouraging, Todd consistently made the right decision. Other than the interception and a few poorly thrown passes, Todd kept the Tigers out of trouble and the offense moving forward.

The Tigers aren't world beaters.  Significant challenges await in the SEC.

Just don't tell this team that.  Auburn looked a repeat of 2008's Mountaineer meltdown in the face and stared it into submission. 

There was no panic, no resignation, no quit, no sense of 'here we go again.'  The Tigers simply got up off the mat and went right back to the fight.

No, these aren't your father's Auburn Tigers. 

That's what 87,000 fans who waited for an hour in a blinding rain and who filled the air with chants of "It's great to be an Auburn Tiger" as the clock struck midnight on the Mountaineers realized.

This is a different breed of cat.

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