Upon Further Review: Too Little Too Late for Gus?
Many Auburn fans were ready to turn the page on Gus Malzahn on the last play of the first half of last Saturday’s win over Texas A&M. Some fans across the nation had already all but moved on. Some of them moved on early this season. Others after Tennessee came into Auburn and ran the Tigers off the field. The dwindling few probably had that defining moment with 1:09 left on the clock in the first half.
After the Aggies took the lead with another Trayveon Williams TD, a catch and run from 14 yards out, Auburn had a little over a minute and all its time outs to drive the field and try and answer the bell.
TAMU was set to get the ball back to start the second half, and it felt like it was now or never. Surely, given the situation, the vaunted offensive genius could work some magic. Even if it meant chunking the ball around and possibly turning it over, at least he would show some sort of killer instinct and willingness to adapt.
Jarrett Stidham was sacked.
Boobee Whitlow went up the middle for six yards.
End of half.
TAMU promptly came out of the locker room and went eight plays and 75 yards for another Williams TD. 24–14. Texas A&M and the two touchdowns started to feel like we might be witnessing 2012 déjà vu when Johnny Football ran Gene Chizik out of Auburn.
After Williams’ last TD the Tigers responded with five plays and a punt, followed by three 3-and-outs.
Yet, Auburn fans stuck around inside the stadium. The fans at home didn’t turn the TV off, including yours truly. Why? Because it would be a totally Gus thing to somehow pull this off, and he did just that.
With seven minutes left, a beat up and tired defense that has been relied on far too much this season came up with an interception. It was a gamble for young Noah Igbinoghene to undercut the route on the sideline. He baited Kellen Mond on the throw, and when Mond let it fly, Iggy made the best catch of the season, a toe dragging snag on the line with full fingertip extension.
Stidham and his men marched down the field like they were suddenly the offense they were supposed to have been all along. He tossed a 21-yard strike to Darius Slayton to get to the one before Chandler Cox took it in on the next play. Truth be told, I am not sure that Slayton didn’t score.
Now, think about this for a second. The team that had just one first down all half, that had more three and outs than first downs, suddenly righted the ship and managed to go to second down just twice and third down just once while picking up four first downs. Just when you thought you had seen it all, they did it again.
The team that seemed so far out of it suddenly made a furious comeback and won the game.
This game, as you recall, has been the turning point for every Malzhan team. Except now, we have a slightly different flavor. To begin with, it’s the first time the home team has won a game in this series, which is significant. Secondly, the Tigers won’t turn this win into at least being in the hunt for the SEC West. That ship has sailed.
Even after many Auburn fans had let go and bailed from the Gus Bus, he does something to make people at least turn back and look at the taillights. “Won’t Adjust Gus” was gone at halftime of this game, make no mistake. However, he may still be a lame duck coach.
But even the staunchest of Gus detractors has to admit that for once Gus did what he should have done all along and something he’s not done since 2009. He let the offense dictate the play-calling and not the other way around. He let Stidham chunk the rock around the yard.
It showed some growth as a coach and adaptability he hasn’t shown since becoming the head man on the Plains.
Will that work against Alabama and Georgia? Probably not. Was the win this weekend, considering how it was won, be sufficient to buy back trust? Many fans will say it won’t be enough. Some might even wish Auburn had lost, so that Malzhan’s fate would be sealed, but that takes the joy out of this win. That’s an interesting thing too, because isn’t it about winning?