None of this is new, obviously — I grew up an Alabama fan living in Opelika during the Stallings era, so I understand what it's like to be harrassed on an almost-daily basis because my favorite team failed to cover the point spread or lost a game it shouldn't have (my personal favorite story: on the same day Alabama lost to Arkansas in 1997, my dad attended a party with my mom centered around Auburn playing at LSU; when they got there, one of the ladies at the party immediately crowed, "We're already ahead 10-0!" prompting my astonished father to quip, "Oh hell ... I forgot y'all were even playing today."). It's part of the gig of fandom, I understand, even if it's not particularly my bag — I learned a long time ago to stay away from my Auburn friends after an Auburn defeat (and most of them know how to return the favor ... most of them).
I say all this to say that the primary conversation since I've arrived at work has been Auburn's offense — or, rather, the lack of it. And it's with good reason. At this point, the Teagles' O is really no different than it was in 2007 — there's no downfield threat in the passing game, no game-breakers in the backfield (Lester's the closest they have, and it's good that he's OK) and no real running threat the QB spot. Basically, to score, Auburn has to grind it out for 15 or 16 plays, or it has to hope for the other guys to make a mistake.
Maybe the strangest thing from Saturday night's game in Starkville was Bob Davie's insistence that Chris Todd is the best guy for Franklin's offense because it's the system he ran in high school and in JUCO, so he knows it and understands it better than Kodi Burns. Which would've been fine, except Todd looked completely lost at times, and his arm looked so weak, Auburn's only real downfield passing threat lay in the hopes that their receivers would run into MSU defenders, drawing pass interference flags (and it even worked a few times).
Of course, here's the rub: the Tiger defense is so good, they may actually be good enough to win games by themselves. As Joe Cribbs opines:
That's almost OK, because it's a hell of a hope. Walt McFadden was supposed to be something of a question mark: he only made, particularly given the timing, one of the best interceptions I can ever remember by an Auburn player. Sen'Derrick Marks has shouldered the burden of being a potential first-round draft pick and the best player on one of the country's best defenses, the one that seemed to haunt Q. Groves all season long last year: instead he's been even better than expected, the wrecking ball around which everything else our opponents have attempted has crumbled. Blackmon finally looked liked Blackmon. Tez Doolittle, back from the football dead. Powers. Stevens, Johnson, and Evans. Gabe friggin' McKenzie.Of course, Auburn fans can point to last season as evidence that things can get better on offense, as well — in '07, the offense was bad enough to lose games at home to South Florida and State, before rallying to win on the road at Florida and eventually finish 9-4.
Can they beat the likes of LSU by themselves? Could they beat Georgia? The Tide? I don't know. But after what they did in Starkville, I don't think it's only my burnt-orange-and-navy-blue glasses that makes me think they might. They're that good. They offered us all a lifeline last night, and I'm going to cling to it this week--and probably longer--like a football-crazed man drowning in his worry.
Thinking back, one of the things that helped Auburn get back to the winning side was a home game against New Mexico State, where Cox found his stride, the defense kept playing like the defense and Auburn eventually got back into its groove. They won't have that luxury this time around — screw around against LSU and you'll be in a 14-0 hole, quickly. And with the way LSU's defense can play, there may not be any crawling out of it.
Since it's Monday, here are your requisite staples:
• Dr. Saturday gives us profiles in disillusionment, including the Pac-10, Michigan and Ohio St.
• Peter King has the Monday Morning Quarterback.
• Norman Chad dissects Matt Cassel in Couch Slouch.