A weekly update on how Auburn’s future opponents are faring and where Tiger fans’ worry level should be headed.
Week 7: Kentucky. It’s been hard to get a read on Kentucky all season long. They’re the only school in the league who’s faced both of the league’s current 800-pound gorillas, putting up one encouraging performance (vs. Alabama) and one discouraging performance (vs. the Gators). They’d pasted atrocious Miami OF OHIO and wheezed past iffy Louisville. And until Saturday’s trip to Columbia, that was it.
After their 28-26 defeat to South Carolina, in which a failed two-point conversion with 4:34 to play was all that stood between the ‘Cats and overtime, it’s tempting to say that the ‘Cats are, in fact, not that bad. This is their second straight week playing up to the level of their competition, it came on the road, and there was nothing fluky about the scoreline–the ‘Cats gained exactly one yard less and one fewer first down than their hosts. Randall Cobb continued to cement his big-play reputation with 151 total yards on just 15 touches, and Derrick Locke added 109 for good measure.
But I still can’t get a bead on how confident Auburn ought to be about Saturday, because for all the good vibes Kentucky ought to have coming out of what I think is pretty definitively their best outing of the year, there’s this:
Kentucky will challenge Auburn this Saturday with a new starting quarterback after Mike Hartline sustained a serious knee injury in a 28-26 loss to South Carolina over the weekend.
A Lexington television station, WHAS, says he’s out for the rest of the season.
Kentucky’s options in Hartline’s absence being with backup Will Fidler, who 1. was the backup to Mike Hartline 2. went 2-of-8 for 16 yards after coming on for Hartline. For the year, he’s 5-of-13 for 45 yards. Not much to get excited about there if you’re a Wildcat fan, which is why I’m sure many of them were hoping to see Cobb recreate some of his heroics at QB from last season, when he nearly led the ‘Cats to an upset of Georgia. But aside from what I’m sure will be fairly frequent Wildcat looks, Cobb’s reportedly not taking over quarterback full-time. (HT: aSoB.)
Even with Fidler taking over most of the QB snaps, though, I don’t think the win’s going to come as easy as Auburn fans would like. The resilience Kentucky has shown the last two weeks after both the Florida debacle and losing All-American corner Trevard Lindley is worrying, and Joker Phillips is showing an aggravating insistence on putting the ball in the hands of his two stud skill guys. Any team that can go without their starting QB for a big chunk of the game and still come closer to winning in Columbia than Ole Miss did is one Auburn is going to have t take very, very seriously indeed.
Worry Level: Up.
Week 8: LSU. So Auburn’s going to have a second road trip to a team that Florida dominated statistically but only ended up beating by 10. The box scores between the Gators’ trip to the bayou and their home date with the Vols are really similar, actually–though the Vols were a little better and, of course, didn’t have the advantage the Tigers did of playing a home night game.
Which is not to get all crazy and say Auburn’s going to roll into Baton Rouge and do to LSU what they did to the Vols. There’s a reason it’s been forever and a day since Auburn won down there. But LSU also didn’t offer any reason against Florida to think Auburn won’t be just as competitive as they were on their last two hair-raising trips to Death Valley.
Worry Level: Down.
Week 9: Ole Miss. Ye gods: I know Alabama’s defense makes for some seriously rough offensive sledding, but 212 yards and 5 turnovers at home? Four picks and a 4.1 yards-per-pass average for Jevan Snead? One first down in the entire first half?
Both Kentucky and Ole Miss have gone to South Carolina and hosted the Tide, and in both cases Kentucky was the more impressive team. Maybe that’s a function of the Rebels’ hype leading to better focus for their opponents–OK, it almost certainly is–but still, until Snead wakes up and Ole Miss starts playing like something than just another SEC team, they’re just another SEC team.
Worry Level: Down.
Week 10: Furman. Paladins had a bye this weekend. BOOOORING.
Worry Level: Flatlined.
Week 11: Georgia. There’s not a whole lot to add to “45-19 Tennessee” or “Jonathan Crompton, 20-of-27, 310 yards, 4 TDs” or–holy hell, man–3.8 yards-per-pass for Joe Cox. But I’ll add this anyway: this score should have been worse. The Dawgs scored on a kick return, a special teams safety, a deflected interception return, and a 52-yard field goal. Not one of those 19 points came by the sort of method you’d want to, you know, rely on. There’s a reason the Dawgs are pulling out the World War II disaster metaphors this morning.
Worry Level: Down
Week 12: Alabama. So … Arkansas’s defense, the one that made Joe Cox look like the second coming of Johnny U., shut Auburn flat down for a half. ‘Bama’s defense, meanwhile, was doing that … that thing, that they did to Ole Miss. Sure, McElroy didn’t have his best game (two straight now, not entirely surprising given that there was no way he could keep up his previous ridiculous pace), but when you look at the Tide’s D, you have to
Sorry. Not sure where that came from. But I think I’m going to just leave off here anyway, thanks.
Worry Level: Bunny.
Not a bad week on this front for Auburn, since that Tennessee win looks like it should pick up some juice in the coming weeks if Crompton can keep even the slightest glimmer of Saturday’s lightning in his bottle. West Virginia, meanwhile, took a 27-0 lead into halftime in the Carrier Dome and dispatched the Orange with all appropriate ease. (Still going to be a while before the ‘Eers make any national headway: they’ve got Marshall this week and UConn after that before finally battling another Big East heavyweight with a Friday night trip to USF Oct. 30.)
The news wasn’t as good for the rest of the Auburn’s victims, though: snake-bitten Mississippi St. watched a fourth quarter touchdown that would have tied their game against Houston at 24 negated by a phantom holding penalty, then fumbled the ball away one play later to set up Houston’s icing TD. La. Tech got mauled at Nevada and faces an uphill struggle to get bowl-eligible, while Ball St. remained winless after falling at Temple. Bleah.
Kentucky proved their mettle and the Tide looked as invulnerable as ever, but LSU, Ole Miss, and Georgia combined to score all of nine offensive points. Nine. Even after the implosion in Fayetteville, if Auburn can avoid too much more injury trouble and can get past Kentucky, it seems less likely than ever that an eighth win isn’t out there somewhere.