This is a question fans ask their peers repeatedly during the course of a season in the quest to be a champion. The one unalterable truth in the topsy-turvy world of college football, but more specifically the SEC, is that any team can beat any other on a given Saturday. Don’t believe me? Ask Oklahoma or Stanford. Hey, WDE1988, don’t you know that they are not in SEC. Ok. Ask Georgia! Such will be true next weekend as Auburn travels to College Station to face #7 Texas A&M.
Speaking solely for myself I will answer the question: Yes I do, but with conditions. After forty-eight years as a fan I think I am cautious (finally). The way I look at it now is that I have to right-size my expectations. I think that is good advice regardless of your age.
I think we are in a much better position this week than we were last. Why? We have a common foe that is separated by two weeks time. Seriously, after having just played Ole Miss, I think Auburn fans have a really good opportunity to see how we might fare going up against the vaunted offense of Texas A&M.
I think everyone remembers last year’s debacle: 63-21? (*still fighting the urge to be sick*) It’s not like we didn’t expect the outcome. I mean, by the time we played A&M we had already lost to Ole Miss, Vandy and MSU. For me, when this game played out (by early in the 2nd Qtr) we basically watched the curtains go down on the season.
I reluctantly admit that I could only endure that game to half time and went back to my RV. Unfortunately for me the horror didn’t end. I was forced to watch the bon-fire of someone else’s RV burn to the ground. To me, the fire represented more than just someone’s dreams going up in smoke, it was the status symbol of the program that only a year or two before we thought was going through the roof the other way! It would also represent the plank Coach Chizik was standing on. Still, the only thing hurt, thank God, was just egos. The older couple had insurance I was told. But unfortunately Auburn fans didn’t have that luxury… instead we were left to cling to the only thing we could: hope.
That aside, I learned some things Saturday night: Ole Miss’s program is actually in good shape because they have plenty of talent. We saw the fight left in this team. They went toe to toe with A&M and damn near pulled off an upset. Besides I like Hugh Freeze. Unbelievably, most Rebel fans don’t. Talk about unrealistic expectations. Can you believe they booed him during the pre-gram introductions?? At this point I have to admit a small sin: I enjoyed listening to them lament about “how can their program almost beat A&M yet lose to AU???” That’s the million dollar question sports fans…
Ole Miss tried to do what they couldn’t do against Auburn. Namely establish a run game. Ole Miss could only muster 133 yards. Why would they do that you ask with a QB like Bo Wallace? It’s a good question. I believe it is because of ball control. Control it and you control the clock and indirectly you control Johnny Football. When Ole Miss’s offense had its running game taken away from them they went to the pass early and often. Ole Miss had 329 yards in passing. Still, Ole Miss was able to extract 23 first downs.
With stats like that what’s the bad news? Well, Ole Miss was only 6-14 on third downs. That is pretty paltry pickings. And it explains why their defense petered out in the 4th QTR. Why? Because the defense was on the field a lot in the second half.
Texas A&M wasn’t burning up the night sky last Saturday either. They had 241 yards on the ground between the backs and Manziel. And the Aggie passing attack was slightly better with 346 yards. Still, A&M had 33 first downs. Their 3d down rate was 9-14.
This game was as close as it gets in the SEC. Ole Miss was actually leading by 7 points with about 6 minutes left. And then A&M got the ball back. Ole Miss’s defense was gassed. Still, Ole Miss was in a position to take the game into overtime until they got the ball back and they couldn’t control the clock in the final minutes of the 4th Qtr and had to punt. Manziel did what he always does. He finds a way to get A&M the points. And A&M won by a field goal. Can you believe it??
Auburn has slowly re-established itself as a run first program. Last year, we couldn’t do much of anything well. This year, with a decent offensive line, we have established the option and it has paid some dividends. Now, after saying that, the one game where we were tested… and I mean really tested, LSU pretty much took us out of our game plan. Their defense was pretty stout. They loaded the box and forced us to throw. We did and managed to score some. Still, the deficit was too great to overcome.
So this is chapter two in the 2013 season and Auburn’s second test on the road. Barring rain, sleet or snow… I think Auburn has a 50-50 chance to come into Kyle Field and pull the upset.
How does AU do that? Through physical play on defense… in a word: domination. And they have to get to Johnny Manziel to at least get him out of rhythm. Obviously they don’t want him running all over the place. If he is able to do that he will consistently get first downs and keep their drives alive. And wear out our defense. Therefore they will need a shadow watching Manziel as a linebacker. And our DB’s will have to go man to man. This will be a big, big test for our defense. And please notice I didn’t say we would keep them out of the end zone. If bama can’t keep them out of the end zone… AU won’t be able to either. Still, we need to disrupt their rhythm and get them to punt on occasion.
And our offense… regardless of who is QB (Johnson or Marshall)… will have to keep drives going and score points. But now I have mentioned the category… and gotten the musical jingle of the daily double… let’s talk about that briefly. This week, I thought it was very interesting after homecoming listening to Coach Malzahn state that AU’s starting QB is Nick Marshall. Really? You just burned a red-shirt off of a kid that obviously is extremely talented. And yet, you are going to stand up in front of the AU family and say that Marshall is still the starting QB? Whatever!
But then I started thinking about it. Ole Miss did something else that I thought was interesting. They played two QB’s. And it worked! I think we may see AU do something similar. After throwing four TD’s against a mediocre high school team in the Catamounts, Johnson obviously has some touch to the ball. Something that Marshall apparently lacks. Does anyone else think that the dimensions of Johnson are eerily familiar to that of former Auburn QB and 1st round draft pick Jason Campbell?
That all said… I think AU get’s to pick its future this weekend. Obviously AU is a young program. A program that is rebuilding. A program that is on the rise. A program that has promise. Are we back yet? I don’t think so. But we will know a lot about our future after this weekend. If AU manages to pull an upset this weekend on Kyle field… well, AU might find itself in a position it hasn’t been in some time… at the front of the pack.
So… do you believe?
War Eagle and beat the hell out of them Aggies!!!