Cautiously Optimistic About Auburn Football
Auburn's offensive line gives Jarrett Stidham time to pass against Miss State Saturday Sept. 30, 2017 (photo: Julie Bennett/al.com)
In the wake of a dismal offensive showing against Clemson and homecoming foe Mercer, many questioned whether Auburn could win its SEC opener against Missouri. The Tigers answered with a 51–14 beatdown of their conference opponent. But the resounding defeat of Mizzou was tempered by the fact the Tigers from Columbia are not a good measuring stick.
Surely the No. 24 Mississippi State Bulldogs would present a bigger challenge. The opponent was different Saturday, but the result was the same—Auburn 49, Mississippi State 10.
Those 10 points allowed are special because Auburn remains the only team in the nation to surrender no more than 14 points in a game this season. The defense kept dual threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald contained most of the night, harassing him and sacking the signal caller twice—a feat that had only been accomplished one time this season. But for the second week in a row, this night also belonged to the offense.
What is the reason for the apparent turnaround on offense?
The question may have multiple answers. To begin, is there any doubt that new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey is running the show? He demonstrated aggressive play calling, taking chances such as calling for a 57-yard bomb to Eli Stove with his quarterback standing in the end zone. I can’t imagine his predecessor living on the edge like that.
Then there is that quarterback, Jarrett Stidham. It looks like it took the gunslinger a couple of games to shake off the rust from his 20-month layoff from playing football. The sophomore has been on fire the last three games, completing more than 80 percent of his passes. He completed 13 of 16, passing for 264 yards and two touchdowns. And his 261.1 efficiency rating for the game is the highest by an Auburn quarterback since Cam Newton did it against UT-Chattanooga in 2010.
However the real reason for the offensive renaissance may be the play of the front five. The offensive line seems to be playing at a more consistent level since Casey Dunn was put at center and Austin Golson moved out to left tackle.
The former starting five gave up 23 tackles for a loss, including 14 sacks in the first two games. The new-look line has only surrendered one sack against two good SEC defensive fronts. That says a lot about the Tigers’ success the last two weeks. The last two wins mark the first time in 30 years that an Auburn team has had back-to-back SEC victories with at least 30 point margins.
Running back Kerryon Johnson gained 116 yards against the Bulldogs and gave credit to the big uglies. “They all seem to be operating as one unit, and that goes a long way for any offensive line … they’re all thinking the same, they all block the same, getting hats on hats, and that makes my job a lot easier.”
With an offense clicking on all cylinders and a defense that ranks ninth in the country in total defense, the Tigers just may be on their way to a special season. As a fan in the stands Saturday night, it surely felt that way. However, I remember a six-game winning streak last season so I won’t allow myself to get too excited. Until the Tigers play the same way in the upcoming three-game road series, I remain cautiously optimistic.
One game at a time folks … one game at a time.
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