Life in the Fast Lane
photo: Todd Van Ernst
As Aaron Murray exploded in triumph after a review failed to negate his then seemingly game-winning touchdown run, it was as if the Auburn Family had been handed a cannonball right to the gut – one that they had just been able to put down after almost a year of suffering with its mass. A loss to Georgia would not have spelled disaster in and of itself, but the fashion in which it was about to take place was impossible to comprehend. Auburn had been cruising not even a full quarter previously and suddenly, after three quick strikes from Georgia, they found themselves down by one point and watching what was once a surefire victory transform into a nightmarish loss.
Auburn’s first three plays failed to deliver and left them facing a 4th and 18 situation with under a minute to play. The seats had begun to empty slightly, but as the Auburn offense readied itself for what was likely its final play, nearly all of the Auburn fans had remained to support the team in the painful final seconds of the game. Their dedication was not in vain. As Nick Marshall’s final desperate pass deflected off of colliding Georgia defenders and settled into Ricardo Louis’ arms, the “Miracle in Jordan-Hare” was complete and the Auburn Family had exorcised some painful demons.
‘Cautiously optimistic’ is a term that has become far too commonly associated with the football program in recent years. After the painful rollercoaster ride suffered under the previous coaching staff, fans have had a difficult time knowing or even guessing what to expect from Auburn. Gus Malzahn has done a wonderful job since returning to The Plains, but there has always been an underlying worry that he might possibly be delivering more of the same disappointment. That was largely eliminated long before the Georgia Bulldogs came calling, but last week’s victory brought the Gus Bus Masterpiece to the edge of what looks to be a stunning crescendo in the Iron Bowl against undefeated and #1 ranked Alabama.
Many coaches find it difficult enough to get their first win over an SEC opponent, but Gus Malzahn went so far to force the road to the SEC Championship to go right through Jordan-Hare. What he has been able to accomplish can’t simply be defined as fast. It is ridiculous. The most intriguing part is the way Auburn has been able to slowly and methodically build momentum throughout the season almost as if it is play penned by Malzahn himself.
Act One (Weeks 1-6) – A stretch that many felt would forecast the remainder of Auburn’s schedule. Washington St. provided a dangerous threat in the first game of the season considering Auburn’s dreadful pass defense from the previous two seasons. Mississippi St. almost pulled off a big win in Jordan-Hare, but Nick Marshall emerged somewhat and made one of his first major impact plays of the season by connecting with tight-end C.J. Uzomah for a game winning touchdown pass. The lone loss suffered here (and thus far this season) against LSU is one that becomes more frustrating the farther away it gets on the calendar. Predictions of an Auburn victory in Baton Rouge were few and far between and many thought it was an ambush in the making. Looking back now, it provided a vital clue regarding just how much fight this young team had and their potential to do big things in the future.
Act Two (Weeks 7-11) – Here we see the Gus Bus begin to get on the fast track. October 19th was a date many had hoped Auburn could exact a little revenge on the Texas A&M Aggies for an embarrassing loss at home to them in 2012. Auburn got its payback and officially served notice to the SEC and the nation that it was capable of competing with any given team on any given day. One final reprieve against Florida-Atlantic gave way to possibly one of the most daunting stretches a first-year coach could ever imagine. Consecutive road games against Arkansas and Tennessee respectively, followed by Georgia (and Alabama). The Tigers seemed to be propelled by the momentum gained in their victory over the Aggies. On top of that, a running game that had been solid all season but had struggled finding true rhythm began to click and Auburn was able to move the ball on the ground at-will against opponents. Auburn’s only major letdown of the entire second half of the season thus far has been a nearly disastrous 4th quarter against Georgia.
What comes next is the toughest challenge of them all. Act Three (which is of course unwritten) could quite possibly be one of the most momentous stretches in Auburn Football history. For the first time ever, the winner of the SEC West will be decided in the Iron Bowl. Never has there been more at stake, and never has the Auburn Family been riding such an electric wave of emotion into the Iron Bowl. There is a sense that this game was meant to be the juggernaut it has turned into – as most recently evidenced by last week’s victory over Georgia. Not only are Auburn fans excited about the opportunity that awaits in this year’s Iron Bowl, but they believe that the Tigers have what it takes to come away victorious.
If it all seems to be coming a little too fast, get used to it, the Gus Bus only knows one speed.