Back In The High Life Again
What a glorious Saturday night we just had. Auburn football is back! Gus Malzahn completed his first signature win and the newly ranked Auburn Tigers built on that platform by running and passing the ball all over Johnny Manziel and the #7 ranked Texas Aggies on their home turf of Kyle Field. If you’re like me, you wanted this game SO badly after what they did to us in Jordan-Hare last year. We got beat down, and for this team to make this kind of turnaround in one year and beat one of the top-3 highest octane offenses at their own game is nothing short of amazing.
The game is still on both of my DVRs. I can’t erase it. I’ve watched it end-to-end three times and pieces of it quite a bit more. It’s an instant classic and it came exactly at the right time for us, exactly against the right opponent. It was great to win our first rivalry game in almost three years, and there’s no doubt that Auburn and A&M will be quick yet respectful rivals. I’ve heard only good things about the Aggie fan base, either last year or this one. I’d love for somebody that made the trip to College Station to leave some comments below. We’re kindred spirits–Ag schools with great tradition and a huge showboat in-state rival that garners most of the attention, but we’re still respectable programs in our own right. This was game four in the all-time series so we haven’t had the pleasure that often. Here’s to looking forward to a long tradition of hard-fought games. Glad we could earn some respect after that debacle last year.
Don’t feel bad if you weren’t sure our Tigers had a prayer of slowing down Manziel and company. Having watched the Aggies play Alabama in week two and seeing that score fest, it simply wasn’t going to happen. Aggie wide-out Mike Evans had a career day and already has over a 1000 yards receiving for the year–more than half of that coming against the two teams from Alabama. But while our defense did step up and contain the damage to only those two, it was our offense stepping up that provided the biggest surprise, with the greatest balanced attack we’ve seen from them yet. We went head-to-head with the greatest offensive attack in the conference and actually out-gained them.
Nick Marshall proved he’s the undeniable leader of this team and he’s gained the confidence of our receivers with his throws and earned the respect of opposing defenses with his legs. Our zone read and quick paced attack kept A&M reeling all afternoon and their defense was completely gas-piped at the end. As the pedantically superior Gary Danielson pointed out, the wheel route was open to us all day, including a 56-yard catch by Jay Prosch, a few by Sammie Coates, and the final drive third down grab in the sun by Marcus Davis. Is it just me, or do you think our team somehow gains validation if we’re able to attract some measure of approval from Danielson? I know he can sometimes be the guy you love to hate, and his criticism can be relentless when you’re team isn’t on it’s game, but his analysis is consistent and his praise rare.
And speaking of smug, I know I’m not the only one who wanted to see Johnny Football get knocked out. Not just because he was killing us. Okay, yes, because he was killing us. He is without doubt the most elusive college QB I’m ever seen, and he gets away with more back-foot and side-arm throws than anyone. Even Gary Danielson wasn’t afraid to criticize the Heisman winner for that. With a possible knee injury a week or two ago, I knew Manziel wasn’t invincible like Cam Newton, and one juke too many in the waning minutes of the third quarter proved to be too much as he got his shoulder pounded. Look, I didn’t want to see the kid seriously hurt– just get rattled a bit. Auburn was getting to him–literally and figuratively.
Being a vet school, I think the Aggies had some horse tranquilizer laying around the sidelines for him. That’s about the only way he could have been able to get back in there and start throwing again. How dorky looking were the trainers trying to shield him on the sidelines by holding up towels? Finally someone with a TV screen could see that they couldn’t escape the watchful eye of the cable cam and they took him under the stands to give him an injection of something. In that one hit, the momentum of the game changed permanently to Auburn. While Manziel was able to come back and direct a quick TD drive, two sacks in the final four downs was the exclamation point on Auburn’s miracle day.
Auburn proved again this season that they’re a second half team, vastly outscoring their opponents. We saw this in the LSU game and the A&M game followed suit. Plus, we finally heard the announcers give a stat that Auburn fans have always known: if we score at least 30, we’re going to win. This game marked the 82nd straight time we’ve done that, surely going back to the early Pat Dye days.
Saturday saw the SEC flip midseason in a way with most of the higher ranked teams in the conference losing to the lower ones: the Vols over the Gamecocks. Vandy beating Georgia. Mizzou over Florida. The Rebel Bears of Ole Miss knocking off LSU for us. And us finding redemption in College Station. As Acid Reign alluded to, it’s basically a two-horse race left in the west with Alabama and us, and it’s Missouri’s to lose in the east. All the highly touted teams from preseason are done and simply playing for a Florida bowl game. If you would have told me that each division’s cellar-dweller from last year had a chance to go to Atlanta this year I would have punched you in the mouth. Auburn controls its own destiny, and while that’s pretty easy to declare, it’s a bit harder for it to become a reality.
This team needs to build on Saturday and not look past anyone. Arkansas in Fayetteville is always a trap for us. Tennessee could be finding their way. Georgia is all banged up but dangerous and still in possession of our number for the past few years. We still have work to do. We can’t think that we can simply cruise leading up to the Iron Bowl. Most of the polls realized our plight and gave us respect, including jumping to 11th in the AP and 11th in the first BCS rankings. These are great but we can’t think about that now. We’ve been able to sneak up in the polls because expectations were low. Now the spotlight is swinging back our way and for hungry Tiger fans, the expectations are sky-rocketing.
If Auburn were to run the table, could a one-loss SEC team be left out of the BCS title game if there were an undefeated PAC 12 (Oregon) Big 10 (Ohio State) and ACC (FSU or Miami) teams left? It’s possible, but none of them would have played the schedule Auburn did. We’ll cross that bridge if we get to it. Right now the possibilities are endless and we are high just thinking about it. It’s great to be back. Back in the high life again.