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Sunday knee-jerk: 2004, 2010

We all knew it was coming. It was just a matter of when.

I haven’t written many posts that seemed sillier faster that the one I put up yesterday a few hours before kickoff, one I named “Survival” and which projected another nail-biting win for an Auburn team I expected to be tired, distracted, and emotionally drained. As we know now, the better title would have been “Flourish” or “Thrive” or something, and the better projection would have been the most dominant performance yet this season by an Auburn team fresh, focused, and emotionally sound as ever.

So not my best work, maybe. But it’s not like there wasn’t precedent for that kind of outing. The 2004 Tigers, you’ll recall, also rolled into Oxford at 8-0 and in the thick of the national title race. That Ole Miss team was a lot like this year’s; ugly losses to bad teams early on, a few decent SEC performances, a bowl game unlikely. And they gave that Auburn team a legitimate game. Jason, Cadillac, Ronnie and Co. scored just one first-half touchdown and led only 14-7 late in the third quarter before three touchdowns in the last 18 minutes put away a 35-14 victory. Total yardage: greatest Auburn team of our generation 439, 4-7 Rebels 433.

The overwhelming impression left from that game, one that still lingers six years later, was one of a great team that had simply worn down from playing nine games in nine weeks and playing several of those with the SEC favorite’s target on its back. If even that team–which I think most of us would have agreed still stood as the more complete, better all-around team entering this weekend than even the current bunch of Tigers–had exhausted itself through nine weeks that frankly weren’t as challenging from a scheduling standpoint as these past nine … then surely this team would have exhausted itself as well, right?

They are not exhausted, that much we know. In fact, they’re getting stronger; the Arkansas game was their best performance of the season given the competition and level of command, until the LSU game was, until the Ole Miss game was. For three straight weeks, Auburn has gotten better, and that’s without the benefit of a bye or a break.

So what happens now that they get a week off, mentally speaking? Or when they have a full bye? What the 2004 team when they got theirs was to bury a 10-win Georgia team under what’s simply the best game I have ever seen an Auburn team play.

I don’t know if this team is capable of quite something like that; the offense is better, and is better than either side of the ball in 2004 in my opinion, but the defense obviously isn’t even in the same ballpark of 2010’s. But for the first time, I think we can say it’s a possibility. They keep clearing higher and higher hurdles. 2004 is the highest possible one. But I’m not going to say they can’t clear that one, too, any more.

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