Tigers Enter Most Important Game of Malzahn Era (This Week)
Do you really believe that?
Lots of people do. But they felt that way against Tennessee. Then they felt that way against Ole Miss. Completely different outcomes, but yet the importance of each of those games goes away and is replaced with the next game on the schedule.
Let me rephrase. If Auburn wins, how do you, the fans, feel? What if they lose? Will anyone’s opinion be changed?
If Auburn losses to Texas A&M, the only chance Malzahn has at winning back the fan base would be wins against Georgia and Alabama. Conversely, if Auburn gets a win inside Jordan-Hare against the Aggies, the next game rolls over into being the most important game of Malzahn’s tenure. And so on and so on.
It’s beginning to have a similar feel to the end of the coach Gene Chizik era. When was the defining moment when everyone knew it was over? Was it a loss to Vandy? A beatdown suffered at the hands of Alabama?
That moment was likely different for every fan, and no one will ever know when Jay Jacobs decided to pull the plug.
For me, it wasn’t really the loss to Vandy. Sure, that loss was really bad and certainly a low for an Auburn fan. But it was already obvious that James Franklin was doing special things in Nashville, and Auburn was already reeling from having to go to overtime at home to get a win against Louisiana-Monroe. That moment came a week later when Johnny Football hung 63 points on Auburn in Jordan-Hare. It was 42–7 at halftime, and Auburn somehow managed 14 points under Johnathan Wallace after Kiehl Frazier and Clint Moseley were unable to get anything going for the Tigers.
Why was it against Texas A&M? Was it because most SEC fans had scoffed at the idea of the newly minted SEC members, Missouri and TAMU, as being competitive? Was it because of the magnitude of the beatdown?
For whatever reason, that was the moment it was over for Chiz.
The A&M game also been the defining moment for Gus Malzahn, who went to College Station a year later and brought down Manziel and the Aggies, kicking off an astounding run to the last BCS Championship game.
Along the way, it has been the defining moment for every season under Malzahn.
2014 saw Auburn fumble the ball twice in the waning moments of a 41–38 thriller of a game. That kicked off a four-game slide (excluding the win against Samford).
The win in College Station in 2015 was the lone “feel good” win in 2015. Sure, beating Kentucky in Lexington was great, but beating the Aggies was easily the highlight of the year.
Losing to the Aggies in 2016 kicked off a six-game winning streak. Auburn found its offensive identity in the loss and rode the tandem of Kam Pettway and Kerryon Johnson. After 2016’s beginning, Malzahn desperately needed wins, and the loss against the Aggies was how he got back on the right path.
Last year’s win didn’t start or end any streaks, but it showed just how good Jarrett Stidham could be. It was the high-water mark for Stidham, who hasn’t matched his 194 QBR since. Taking out the wins against Missouri and Mississippi State earlier that year, where he had 200-plus QBR simply due to his efficiency, this game saw him throw for 284 yards, three TD’s and no interceptions. Stidham became a game-breaker instead of a game-manager, and Auburn went on to beat two number-one teams.
The visiting team has won every matchup in this series since it began in 2012; a crazy stat considering that each team prides itself on utilizing home-field advantage. The Aggies come to the Plains after a bad road defeat at the hands of the Mississippi State. Just a week after it looked as if Nick Fitzgerald’s career as a starter was over, he responded with a massive game, throwing for 241 yards and two TD’s and running 88 yards for two more scores. The once promising year for Jimbo Fisher’s squad hangs in the balance with this weekend’s game.
While LSU and Alabama are the class of the SEC West, and likely the country, the second tier in the SEC West is still up for grabs. That typically means a lucrative bowl game. At this point, that’s really all these two teams are playing for, anyway. Sure, both teams can get to 10-win seasons, but that path looks impossible for Auburn. Texas A&M has to go through LSU, but that seems much more doable than Auburn beating both Georgia and Alabama as well as a bowl opponent.
The Aggies still have a potent offense with passing and rushing both ranking in the Top 50, nationally. Their points per game rank 69th, but they’ve also played Alabama and Clemson. Kellen Mond leads a balanced attack. However, the young QB who was a preseason dark horse to be a dual-threat scoring machine hasn’t lived up to the billing. He’s turned the ball over a good bit and hasn’t been the rushing threat most expected. In addition, Auburn’s defense has done a fine job under Kevin Steele playing against dual threat quarterbacks.
On the other side of the ball, the Aggies have done a decent job at limiting offenses. However, other than Alabama’s offensive juggernaut, they haven’t played a quarterback quite as talented as Stidham. The game rests with Stidham, and by proxy, Malzahn’s offense.