The Good, the Bad, the UGAly
Courtesy of United Artists
As the leaves fall and the weather cools, with only two more games to go in the regular season it’s time to look back before the finale and see how far we’ve come since those first weeks of September. Before my final Café Malzahn post of the year, we’ve got a special treat of a pre-dinner theater. It’s a gorgeous cinematic classic landmark in filmmaking with a rich blend of breathtaking visual and musical presentation that energized a bored public and created new fans for a genre of film that seemed to be on the verge of dying out.
In many ways, Auburn’s season mirrors this film’s impact. Just when many Auburn fans had all but given up on achieving Tiger defenses of yesteryear, Kevin Steele and the student athletes in in his charge have transformed the Auburn defense into a new force on the landscape of the Southeastern Conference.
Likewise, despite some troubling recent setbacks, on the whole the Auburn offense has revived under a sophomore single signal caller whose overall efficiency rating is in the top tier of the conference, and whose passing efficiency is in the top 20 in all of college football. Another sophomore on the team leads the conference in rushing yards, despite having only played in eight of ten games. That very same running back was third or fourth on the depth chart in the spring, but his numbers when healthy have been outstanding.
Auburn is currently in the top 10% in the nation in rushing offense and the top 25% in total defense for the year. The Tigers came within a single interception of having a chance to enter the Iron Bowl with the prospect of going to the conference championship with a win. This despite the pre-season judgment that the team would be lucky to have a .500 season and attend any bowl game.
The only limitation for this team seems to be the number of injuries sustained over the last two months, severely limiting the play of some key contributors to the lineup and has hampering the team in this last stretch. But even that has its own storyline.
Across the team roster, the most striking feature one sees is the youth spread across multiple positions. Underclassmen fill the ranks of Auburn’s depth chart, sometimes two and three deep in either redshirt freshmen or true freshmen. In nearly every respect this team seems to be overachieving against the cream of the Southeastern Conference, winning five of seven contests, losing one because of a single untimely turnover and playing until the very end of the fourth quarter in the other, down only a touchdown. In the out-of-conference loss, Auburn played to the very last second with a dropped pass in the end zone being the difference against the current number-four team in the nation.
In nearly every respect, this team has overachieved on a tremendous scale, despite low pre-season expectations and early season losses. The youth across the depth chart means that Auburn’s potential in coming years will be off the charts. We’re witnessing the development of what looks like a very special bunch of players who likely will vie for championships in the coming years.
So what is the reaction of the Auburn fan base to this turn of events?
Framing our expectations properly is a challenge, especially when perspective is everything
Surprisingly, there has been severe criticism of the team, the offensive coordinator and the head coach. In the harsh light of expectations over this season, somehow this level of achievement doesn’t meet the criteria of what the fans want to see. Those same fans weren’t anywhere near such expectations at the start of the season or even after the first month.
So what has caused this reaction? It;s the quality of play of this team against SEC West competition in the month of October. When healthy, this group of underclassmen and the sprinkling of veterans has the potential to flip any team on its head and seemingly score with abandon from any part of the field. This defense seems to have the ability to stop anyone from scoring and make life hell for quarterbacks of every level of ability.
This is a special team. These are good young players, a great offense and a terrific defense when everything is clicking. Despite their youth and inexperience, they have special drive and capability, given the obvious talent across the roster. That same youth and inexperience has played into the game decisions of those players to push themselves further and harder than a more practical and rational decision that would be made by more mature players to let the coaches know when they’ve hit their limit and need to be replaced in a game.
But you know, I can’t bring myself to find too much fault with this.
Rather than viewing this as a failing in a single game, I see this rather as an indication of the dedication that each of these players is bringing to his play on the field. Poor judgment, possibly, but certainly not a lack of passion, intensity or drive to succeed. Of all the possible player reactions and decisions, I find that this is the least of my worries for this team.
This is exactly the type of spirit I like to see in players. This is a truly special and inspired group of student athletes playing like a team of veterans. That doesn’t happen by accident. To achieve this level of play at such a young age is a mark of not only talent of the athletes also of but the quality of the coaching staff that chose, trained and leads them.
Far from changing any portion of the coaching staff, I think it’s time we pay attention and give tribute to what is really happening on the field before us. Our very high expectations are a product of what these men achieved with these young men in every position in the organization, from new contributors such as Kodi Burns to the Old Guard such as Kevin Steele, in an extremely short time span.
Well done, gentlemen. Looking forward to what these young men achieve this season and in the coming years. I think they’re on the verge of greatness.
Take care of Angel Eyes and Tuco at the end, and all will be forgiven
Especially Tuco. That guy needs be taught a lesson.