Picking up the Pieces.
War Eagle, everybody! It’s hard to believe that we’re gearing up for the first football game of November! I’d like to say that the season has flown by, but it seems more like a long, slow funeral procession to me. I’m looking forward to seeing my Tigers win, this week. It’s been a long road since the bowl game last year.
What are Auburn’s chances against New Mexico State? Preseason prognostications are of little use, after nine weeks of play. I doubt that any sages saw Auburn sitting at 1-7 and giving up more points than a Ted Roof defense. Auburn may well be shell-shocked when they see New Mexico State running onto the field. These Aggies wear nearly an identical uniform to the ones Texas A&M uses!
However, this team does not have Texas A&M’s record. New Mexico State has the dubious distinction of blow-out losses to Ohio, Utah State and Texas-San Antonio. They’ve also lost to UTEP and Idaho. Last week, the Aggies showed a few signs of life at homecoming against Louisiana Tech, holding the Tony Franklin offense to just 28 points in a 28-14 loss. Still, that game wasn’t as close as the score indicates. The Bulldogs squandered numerous red zone opportunities, including three missed field goals.
The key for this game is for the Tigers to play with a little more emotion than in past weeks. These Auburn coaches are fighting for their jobs, and each week the Tigers look listless increases the chances for being unemployed at Christmas time. The main mission this week for the Auburn coaches is to find some players who want to do more than stand around on the football field. I’d start with the defensive line. This unit was supposed to be the strength of the defense, with quality depth. Instead, week after week, they get pushed around. Find the ones who want it most, and start ’em. Make those who won’t work run gassers till they can’t stand
Starting Jonathan Wallace at quarterback is the right move. For the first time all season, we saw drives started and finished with confidence. He’ll get a nice tuneup from a defense that’s allowed 33 points per game out west in the WAC. When Wallace was in the game against Texas A&M, one thing that was nice to see was less complication out of the offense.
Over the past 25 years or so, we’ve seen coordinator after coordinator come into the SEC and promise to run a sophisticated, pro-style offense. Very few have been successful. What usually happens is that they bring in a 500 page playbook, and the team can’t execute any of it consistently. It’s very difficult to teach a complex offense with only a handful of practices in the spring, and 20 hours a week during the season.
Scot Loeffler is just the latest in a long line of NFL pedigreed offensive coaches who’ve not lit up the SEC consistently. There are guys like Rod Dowhower, Brad Scott, Lou Holtz, Bruce Arians, Sylvester Croom, Woody McCorvey, and Mike Shula, just to name a few. It takes players several years in such a program just to be able to execute. Auburn tried a sophisticated offense back in the mid-2000s with Al Borges. He happened to hit a team loaded with future NFL players, who’d already seen a lot of SEC football, and the result was spectacular early on. Being able to bring in top-level talent and tell them that they are going to sit on the bench with a clipboard for three years, is an entirely different thing, as Tuberville and Borges found out.
Auburn has only played the New Mexico State Aggies twice, all-time. First time was for homecoming in 1993, coming off the snow-bowl in Arkansas. James Bostic fumbled early on, setting up an easy Aggie touchdown. Auburn struggled in the first quarter, finally driving for a field goal late, and trailed 7-3. In the second period, Stan White lit up the Aggie secondary with 16 straight completions, the Tigers scored five touchdowns, and Auburn led 38-7 at half. There was a bit of controversy late, as Terry Bowden called timeout to allow the 3rd team offense to punch in another touchdown in the 55-14 win. Aggie coach Jim Hess was livid
The teams met again in Auburn, in 2007. Auburn was coming off back to back losses to South Florida and Mississippi State at home. The Aggies were led by former Kentucky wonder-boy Hal Mumme, and his air-raid offense. Kodi Burns got his first start at quarterback, and three straight keepers failed to produce a first down. Auburn scored off a sack-fumble, then NMSU drove the length of the field to tie the game. Kodi completed his first pass for a touchdown to Rod Smith, but didn’t complete a pass after that. The Aggies took advantage of Tiger turnovers to build a 20-14 lead, before Auburn turned the offensive game over to running backs Ben Tate and Mario Fannin who ran out the first half clock and gave the Tigers a slim 21-20 lead at the half.
In the second half, defensive coordinator Will Muschamp went away from his usual blitzing tactics, and went to an array of coverages. New Mexico State did not score again, and turned the ball over six times on the evening. Auburn cashed those turnovers for five second half touchdowns, and cruised to a 55-20 win. This set the stage for a trip to Gainesville, Florida, and a crack at the defending national champion Florida Gators. No one expected much of the Tigers, but a last-second Wes Byrum field goal stunned the Gators, and turned an Auburn season around!
This week’s game will be a bright and early kickoff, at 11:00 AM Central Time, on CSS. We’ll have our usual open thread and play-by-play going, cheering our Tigers on. War Eagle, everyone, and let’s beat the Aggies!