A Tale of Two Halves.

By Posted on: December 19th, 2013 in Football 14 Comments »
Juggernaut

A look back at the first half of Auburn’s 2013 Football Season.
(Photo by Acid Reign)

     War Eagle, everybody! It’s bowl season again, beginning this weekend. Auburn Tiger fans have been living the dream since mid-October, and will be celebrating all through the holiday season! Today, I’m going to take a look back at the first half of the season. Yes, this year began hopefully, with the hires of a number of quality assistant coaches. Still, I think most fans were only cautiously optimistic, after last season’s disintegration.

     As in any season, there were questions coming in. Auburn had some big ones, this fall. The largest obstacle was handling adversity. When things went against the Tigers in 2012, games got out of hand quickly. Could the 2013 Tigers handle failure at times, and not unravel? As far as position groups, folks wondered if Auburn had any SEC-quality linebackers, or quarterbacks. I’ll be honest. After analyzing A-Day, I figured Auburn had enough talent, if it kept fighting, to return to a bowl game. Anything more was going to be gravy. My preseason predictions had us finishing at 9-3, which was wildly optimistic.

     Before the season even started on Labor Day weekend against Washington State, the Tigers had already suffered more attrition. Leading returning tackler Demetruce McNeal was gone, as was promising tight-end/h-back Ricky Parks. Fall camp had been pretty brutal, and there were folks missing for the opener. Dee Ford was one of those, as was star Justin Garrett, the defensive MVP of spring ball. I think the most worrying thing to me, though, was that Auburn was going to come out of the gate with a JUCO quarterback that had not been through spring drills. Could he possibly keep pace with Washington State’s Airraid offense?

     Mike Leach’s folks came out gunning it. Connor Halliday slung 65 passes, and led a Cougar offense that put up 464 yards in Jordan Hare Stadium. Auburn’s passing attack sputtered, but a three headed rushing attack was enough to keep pace. Auburn ran around and through the Cougars for 295 rushing yards, and Nick Marshall was careful enough with the ball that Auburn kept the pressure on. The Auburn defense surrendered yards, but 3 crucial interceptions, 2 by Robensen Therezie held Washington State off. Auburn topped the Cougars, 31-24. Washington State see-sawed through the rest of the season to finish 6-6, and they’ll kick off the bowl season this Saturday afternoon in the New Mexico Bowl against Colorado State.

     Undefeated, defending Sun Belt champion Arkansas State was next. This was the team that Gus Malzhan had coached last season, and most figured that there would be a chip on Red Wolf shoulders. Bryan Harsin’s “Boise Lite” offense roared up the field between the 20 yard lines, but stalled in the red zone repeatedly. Red Wolf quarterback Adam Kennedy had a big day throwing and running, but all Arkansas State could manage against Auburn was 3 field goals. Arkansas State did a better job on the edge containing Auburn’s speed sweeps, but was pounded between the tackles by Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne, who both topped 100 yards rushing. Auburn whacked Arkansas State 38-9. The Red Wolves went on to finish 7-5, and are in the GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile on the January 5th against Ball State. And Harsin has returned to Boise, and there’s no telling who’ll be coaching in that game.

     Auburn opened SEC play hosting Mississippi State. The Bulldogs had suffered a disappointing season opening loss to Oklahoma State, 21-3, and I think Auburn folks were looking for some payback for last year’s shelling in Starkville. Auburn jumped on the Bulldogs early for an 11-0 lead in the first quarter, but had problems for much of the game. The Auburn defense had a lot of trouble with young Bulldog quarterback Dak Prescott, who passed for 213 and ran for 133 more. Auburn’s early lead evaporated under a 20-6 Bulldog scoring run, and Auburn trailed for much of the second half. The Tigers got the ball back trailing 17-20, one last time with 1:56 left in the game. Bulldogs played prevent defense, and Nick Marshall picked them apart with short throws. As the clock wound down, Marshall hit C. J. Uzomah with an 11 yard scoring strike, and Auburn took the game, 24-20. Mississippi State would struggle in 2013, but a dramatic overtime win over Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl pulled them to a 6-6 record. The Bulldogs will play Rice in the Liberty Bowl on New Year’s Eve afternoon.

     So at the one-quarter mark of the season, Auburn was 3-0, but there was still skepticism. They had eeeked by mediocre Washington State and Mississippi State teams, and beat the Sun Belt team about like a middle-of-the-pack SEC squad should. There was still no hint of what was to come as the leaves turned in this state!

     The trip to play number 6 ranked LSU was Auburn’s first serious test of the year, played in a monsoon rainstorm in Baton Rouge. Auburn struggled mightily in the first half. A Nick Marshall fumble set up an easy LSU score, then a Steven Clark muff of a punt snap set up another. Auburn trailed 21-0 at the half, and Auburn folks were wondering if yet another epic beatdown was coming on the bayou. An onside kick failed, but LSU threw it right back to Jermaine Whitehead quickly. The Tigers drove for a Tre Mason score, and served notice that Auburn would not go quietly. When Cody Parkey attempted an onside kick with 6:32 left in the game, Auburn trailed 21-35. A blind guess by the referees as to the spot robbed Parkey of the recovery, and LSU was able to hang on. Later on, LSU lost a barn burner to Georgia, suffered an amazing upset at Ole Miss, and was beaten down by a superior Alabama squad. The LSU Tigers finished 9-3, and will play on New Year’s Day in the Outback Bowl, against Iowa.

     The Auburn Tigers returned home to face the 24th-ranked Ole Miss Rebels, and folks were expecting another struggle. The Tigers did struggle in the passing game, particularly after Marshall suffered a leg injury in the second half. Ole Miss had trouble establishing the run on Auburn, but Bo Wallace basically passed at will between the 20s. Red zone heroics by the Auburn defense held three Rebel scoring drives to field goals. Ole Miss sold out to stuff the Auburn offense in the middle, and paid the price. Nick Marshall had a season high 140 rushing yards, as Auburn built a 27-9 3rd quarter lead, but watched Ole Miss try to storm back. It was wrenching for the Auburn fans, but the Auburn D stood tall, winning the game 30-22. Ole Miss finished 7-5, and will play on Monday afternoon, December 30 in the Music City Bowl against Georgia Tech, in one of the more interesting matchups this year.

     The Tigers concluded the first half of the season on homecoming, against Western Carolina. While no one thought the Catamounts had a chance, there were still concerns on a very-average looking Auburn team. Quarterback Nick Marshall needed work, convention wisdom went, on the passing game, or Auburn would lose most of its games going forward. Marshall was banged up the previous week against Ole Miss, and was held out on homecoming, while true freshman quarterback Jeremy Johnson’s redshirt was burned. Johnson showed a sharp passing touch, but it wasn’t necessary against the Catamounts. The Tigers rolled up 511 rushing yards, and cruised to a 62-3 win that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. Western Carolina finished the season with a 2-10 record, with the only wins coming against Mars Hill and Elon.

     Most Auburn Tiger fans were fairly happy at this point, with a 5-1 record. The previous season, Auburn was 1-5 at this point, having just suffered a 21-point blowout against Ole Miss. Questions lingered, though. Would Dee Ford make it back to an all-SEC level? Could Auburn rely predominately on the running game against the second half of the schedule? Convention wisdom said, “nay.” Would Auburn travel to College Station to face Johnny Football with a true freshman quarterback at the helm? After witnessing a number of sad stories in this vein through the past 30 years, things didn’t look good.

     Even at midseason, I don’t think anyone saw what was coming. Nick Marshall would return for Texas A&M, and the fortunes of the two programs would cross. We’ll look at Auburn’s steam-roller of a second half, next week! Until then, Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and may you avoid the December germs. Me, I haven’t been so lucky. If this post seems a bit disjointed, well, it was typed with a 101.1 temperature, and a throat full of razor-blades. Still, all the medicine I need is a click-tour through the Auburn late-season highlights, and I’m fired up all over again! War Eagle, and isn’t it great to be SEC Champions this year?

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  1. wde1988 wde1988 says:

    No. There was no clue at what was coming. Even after A&M game most still thought it was an anomaly.

    The LSU game was the reason.

    But everything happens for a reason. i firmly believe that.

    What an amazing turn of events. Picked last in the west…. and as we prepare to go into next season we are already picked to repeat. College football analyst are so fickle.

    WDE

  2. AubTigerman AubTigerman says:

    Good review Acid. Enjoyed it! You never disappoint (well or sick).
    Take care buddy and Get well soon!

  3. ATL_AU_FAN says:

    No way – In no manner, shape, form, or fashion did I envision where this AU team was heading at this point in the season. I was happy, don’t get me wrong! I was cautiously hopeful of an 8-4 season if AU could catch some breaks. But 5-1, while nice, was still very worrisome with the likes of A&M, UGA, Bama, etc. still on the horizon.
    Little did we know just how happy we would be come the middle of December!!

  4. sullivan013 sullivan013 says:

    Great write up of the early season. Hope you’re fully recovered in time for both Christmas and the bowl season.

    As for my mid season emotions, I was ecstatic that we were only an FAU game away from being bowl eligible and one additional game away from reaching my preseason guess of a seven win season. Auburn was playing well but not exactly dominant football. Even so, I was thinking we might have a ghost of a chance to prove something in College Station.

    What has happened since has exceeded my wildest expectations, hopes, and dreams. The odds against were the same as being struck by lightning and bitten by a shark while sinking a hole in one. The only possible words I can find to describe it are:

    “War Damn Eagle”

  5. War_Eagle_2010 War_Eagle_2010 says:

    Such an amazing year, to think how far this team has come on and off the field is astounding.

    I was pondering earlier about next season (I know, a little early but I’m a fan so who cares), Auburn should be even better. There is so much potential for improvement on defense and in the passing game that next year’s team could be significantly better than this team.

    Think about having a TWO year starter at QB (is that even permitted at AU?), a deep O-line of all 2-3 year starters, a veteran bona fide deep threat in Coates and the best WR prospect (high school or JUCO) opposite him, a deep stable of backs (even if Tre goes pro), a veteran D-line with three super sophomores, good linebacker depth (hopefully good play), good safety/star depth and talent.

    The only areas of concern are fullback, corner depth, and a new kicker and punter (though both will be redshirt freshmen and were both rated No. 1 at their respective positions). And that is just the personnel side; Auburn will have a better understanding of the offense and defense. If memory severs Ellis Johnson’s defenses usually are greatly improved in year two from year one.

    War Eagle!

    • MyAuburn MyAuburn says:

      Colin Cowherd has already predicted that we will beat Fla St and repeat next year. Way to early but I like to dream big ie. I still think I will win the lottery someday.

  6. Tiger on the mountain Tiger on the mountain says:

    I don’t know why folks view the LSU game as a big fat downer. Outside of it being a loss (bummer), these Tigers showed serious signs of life. With 6:35 left in the 4th, I actually BELIEVED that they would find a way to comeback. Seriously. At the end of that game, I was more happy than bummed. They showed courage and heart and the will to win, despite great adversity. If that doesn’t make a championship team, then I don’t know what will. We owned the 2nd half, the Bayou Tigers knew it and we knew it. Pivotal moment for the rest of the season.

    Preachin’ to the choir, right, WEA??

    Hope that you feel better, Acid!!! Hopefully some honey, lemon, bourbon tea will fix your throat right up! War Eagle!

    • MyAuburn MyAuburn says:

      With an emphasis on the bourbon, Dr. myauburn prescribes Jack Daniels

    • WarEagleAtlanta WarEagleAtlanta says:

      Damn right. The second half of the LSU game was the pivotal moment of the year for this team. They could have just cowered but they took off soaring. It took losing that game for this team to discover how to win. LSU provided the biggest teachable moment for this team. Anyone could see it. The rain clouds opening up was a perfect metaphor for how much the sun would shine on the Auburn Tigers for the rest of the year.

  7. greyfox says:

    it’s “conventional wisdom”.

  8. Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

    During the course of the first few games of this season, I felt like something special was happening. I felt like the “special” would happen in 2014. 2013 has been a dream come true.

    I’ve only closely observed four Malzahn coached teams (AU ’09, ’10, ’11, and ’13). All four showed improvement from first game to last game. The only team which he was/is the head coach (’14), showed SIGNIFICANT improvement from game to game.

    Recruiting was pretty darn good during Malzahn’s years as OC at Auburn. Since Malzahn took over as head coach, recruiting has been taken to an even higher level.

    I can’t wait to see how it all comes together down the road.

  9. wpleagle says:

    Get well, soon. Nothing worse than the flu.

  10. AUJTJarhead AUJTJarhead says:

    Pay the assistant coaches so well that feel respected and appreciated! Keep em together Gus!

  11. milehighmike says:

    I’m not worried about Auburn being able to run the ball on FSU. The Tigers have been able to run it on everybody. What I am concerned with is the defense. The noles have some big play receivers and I just hope the offense will continue to do it’s part and keep the noles offense off the field.