Nope, still not Jerry. Yup, Auburn is still undefeated. And, hey, bowl eligible too! That might seem like no big deal, a feat far short of our expectations for 2010. But it speaks incredibly well of this coaching staff that only 22 months after the wreckage that was the conclusion of the 2008 season — which was followed by the, ahem, less-than-popular hiring of Gene Chizik — the program has vaulted to the point where being merely bowl eligible isn’t even a fact worth talking about.
Obviously, I have some gripes about last night’s game and some concerns as I look forward to the next couple of weekends. I’ll get to those in a minute. First, though, let us all bask in the glory of waking up on a Sunday after Auburn just won a hard-fought Southeastern Conference road game, stands as one of two unbeaten teams in the conference and has cleared one of the hurdles that tripped up the team a season ago. None of these is a small thing, and we fans should appreciate them greatly.
Oh, and Auburn has a quarterback legitimately in the Heisman Trophy conversation. Cam Newton is officially and 100 percent “The Man.” What a weapon. What a leader. Take a second to imagine this Auburn season without him. If that doesn’t make you say a small prayer of thanks, I don’t know what will.
I wouldn’t have guessed that at this point in the season, with all the hype he’s generated and the film on him, Newton would still be able to set a season high in rushing yards, but that’s exactly what he did, with 28 carries for 198 yards and four touchdowns. From a fan’s point of view, how nice is it to be confident on 3rd and short? On that beautiful, game-winning final drive, Auburn faced 3rd and 2. Everyone everywhere knew who was going to carry the ball, and the Kentucky defense was coming out of a timeout where surely the entire focus had been on how to stop No. 2. The result of the play? Newton carried for 4 yards and a 1st down. Crazy good, he is.
As for the part of playing quarterback that involves, you know, throwing the ball, Newton once again did better than fine — 10 yards per attempt is nothing to sneeze at, and it’s hard to quibble about the lack of touchdown passes when he took the ball into the end zone himself four times. His completion percentage (61.9 on 13-for-21) was OK. But in all, if you’re an opposing defense, you’d still very much rather see Newton throwing the ball than running with it.
A commenter last week pointed out Newton’s worrying tendency not to step into his throws. That was taken to a bit of an extreme on that second-quarter heave to Kodi Burns that Newton threw with both feet in the air. Somehow that ball wound up exactly on target, sailing over and through a crowd and landing basically between the 1 and the 8 on Burns’ jersey. So that was cool. But … I’d prefer we not see too many more of those passes. Gotta feel like most of those aren’t going to end up quite so fortunately.
Another week, another sloppy interception. This one seemed to be equal parts bad decision and bad throw, and pretty much set the tone for whole ridiculous third quarter. I never want to think about that third quarter again. That was the exact wrong corner of the Punnett Square that has been discussed on this blog before: ineffective Auburn offense, really ineffective Auburn defense.
Auburn continues to get sliced apart by the short passing game. Look, I get and respect the whole idea of never giving up big plays. Makes sense in a lot of ways (and can’t argue with the results). Auburn gave up just one play over 20 yards all game — that painful, felt-like-three-minutes-in-real-time, 26-yard scramble by Cobb that consisted of a series of Tigers defenders diving at his heels and missing. But at the same time, wouldn’t it be nice to see the defense do something that broke the opponent’s rhythm? I mean, Mike Hartline looked like Drew Brees out there. He completed his first 14 passes, and the only incomplete pass he threw in the first half was a drop by an open receiver. It would be nice to see the defense be more disruptive, more assertive, more playmaking. Get more pressure on the quarterback. Force more turnovers (one interception isn’t enough).
Auburn’s linebackers and safeties continue to struggle getting off blocks, and on all those dink-and-dunk passes it always seemed like there was just one Tigers defender in the frame. If that first guy missed the tackle, the play would go for 8 or 10 or 12 yards before anyone else got there. Just didn’t feel like guys were swarming to the ball with any kind of urgency or fire, at least not consistently. Give Kentucky’s coaching staff credit for scouting Auburn and generating a game plan aimed exactly at the Tigers’ weak spot.
Auburn outgained Kentucky 521-336, ran 73 offensive plays to UK’s 59 and actually led in time of possession for once, 31:46 to 28:14. Yet despite that kind of dominance, Auburn still needed a couple of breaks to win. If Derrick Locke hadn’t been injured, there’s a decent chance that last Kentucky drive ends in a touchdown instead of a field goal. Just as in the South Carolina game, Auburn had a potentially game-changing fumble go out of bounds just before the defense jumped on it. And that oh-my-god-what-the-bloody-heck-are-they-doing final kickoff return could have handed the game to the Wildcats on an orange-and-blue platter. Auburn also had a costly eight penalties for 87 yards, and even if the two personal foul calls against Zac Etheridge were bogus (I mean, seriously), that’s still too many penalties, too many bullets from our own guns ending up squarely in our feet.
The non-Byrum segment of Auburn’s special teams continues to be less than special. No disasters this week, unless you count the opening kickoff return by Cobb, or that near-miss on the final return, but no real positive plays, either. Kentucky’s two third-quarter drives *shudder* came on short fields after short Steven Clark punts (and one irritating illegal formation penalty). Thank goodness for Wes Byrum, though. He seems to have shaken whatever doldrums he was in earlier in the season, and it’s completely reassuring to have a kicker you can trust. It took so much pressure off Newton and the offense on that game-winning drive, knowing all they had to do was reach a reasonable field goal distance.
What a drive that was, too. A relentless, impressive, confident march to victory. Basically perfect. Auburn ate up the game’s final 7:31 and faced 3rd-and-long only once; Darvin Adams made a sweet grab to convert that one, right at the start of the drive. From that point on, the Auburn win felt all but inevitable.
Which brings us to this morning, when all these gripes feel minor in comparison to the big picture. The picture in which Auburn is in control of its SEC destiny. Speaking of the SEC, I forgot to ask: Did anything interesting happen elsewhere around the conference yesterday? Just wondering. You know, like any big upsets or anything? Like maybe a team I was calling invincible a week ago got its armor punctured in a big way? Mwah-ha-ha-ha.
Here’s the bottom line for this knee-jerk reaction: Auburn’s not a perfect team, not by a long shot, but its record remains that way. And with the big tests coming up, Auburn’s probably going to have to put together a complete game eventually, or it’ll come up on the wrong end of one of these cardiac finishes. But even though the Tigers can’t take anyone in the conference for granted, what we know today is that there is no game remaining on the schedule that Auburn can’t win.
Photos via Van Emst
Big Sexy says
whew! there were two big moments last night (in the first half, obviously) that had me jumpin’ like kriss kross. the first was that monster stiff arm that cam put in that dude’s face early in the game. obliterated that dude, with extreme prejudice. i instantly thought that that was a turning point for cam’s season, from great to super (little did i know that the pass highlight of the season was to come). the next was when dyer broke off that ~26 yard run a little later. dunno what it was about it, but i felt he had turned the same corner, and things would be different from here on.
unfortunately, the third quarter seriously harshed my buzz. i hate the soft “bend” style of defense, that’s exactly the defense that bama rode to a victory in the last drive of last year’s iron bowl. i’ll defer to the experts (roof, chizik, et al.), but i don’t like it one bit.
last point, that was an awfully poor opening kickoff. makes it pretty hard on the coverage team if the return guy catches the ball on the 20 before the kicking team has gotten to the 40. made me shudder and think of the last couple of years of kicking.
but WAR EAGLE all the way!!!! don’t mean to sound like a debbie downer – i love my auburn tigers!
Zero yards punt returns for Kentucky. Not shabby. Better to average 34.7 yards with zero returns than 40 yards with a average 10-15 yard return.
It would be worth a scholly to find a guy that can kick the ball into the endzone consistently. I’m pretty much in awe of our D and not in a good way. I don’t have anything nice to say so I’ll just keep to myself on that one. All else is right with the world. We are 6-0 with a big game this weekend. I really think the guys got that big lead at half in the UK game and started thinking about arky. Combine that with malzahn trying to protect cam and UH-OH! Let’s face it, Cam is a HUGE facet of our offense. I’d love to get the playmakers around him involved regularly, but there are times that we just have to ride him and trust that he will protect himself. We took our foot off the gas early in the 3rd quarter and it almost killed us. War Eagle and see some of you saturday. Here’s hoping for the 2:30 slot!
Darvin Adams! Darvin Adams! Darvin Adams!
Dude is unreal. Just catches everything and goes on about his business.
Big Sexy says
regarding darvin – it’s not just that he “catches” everything, that motherscratchin’ warrior will RIP the ball out of the defenders’ hands if they catch it first, as evidence by at least two plays last night. man, he’s a tough hombre and a serious asset to our offense.
Doesn’t Darvin get up alot of times holding wrists/shoulders/etc? But he just keeps bobbing that head, getting open, making catches (wrestling 50/50 balls away from DB’s on the sidelines when we need it most!!).
Goodness, he is one heck of a player.
Also, with all the love for Cam- -well documented and deserved- -how bout the OL on that last drive? I read somewhere that Pugh and Ziemba went to Malzahn before the start of the last drive and said “put it on us- -let’s run right at ’em”. Now, that should be commended- -and also give us confidence (Big Sexy) that they also have turned the corner from playing soft against Clemson. Sure, they did against USCe, but to do it on the road, when UK knows it is coming? Impressive and something to build on.
We are 6-0, have beaten some good teams (principally a team that just knocked off No. 1 at home, for the love), but also made some scrappy teams look better than they are, perhaps. But the bottom line is that we are 6-0 and still haven’t played the complete, both sides of the ball, effort that we’ve seen glimpses of. Our best game is still out there.
Motherscratchin Warrior INDEED
Cam a legitimate Heisman hopeful?
I should say so. At the halfway point of the season, he is currently on track to surpass both Sullivan and Jackson on scoring touchdowns through the air (Sullivan had 20 – Cam has 12), and on the ground (Jackson had 17, Cam has 9).
Let that sink in for a second.
If he comes even close to accomplishing that, and I don’t see him NOT, barring injury (knocking on every wooden object within 10 yards), I say hand him the trophy, and pray that both he and Malzahn stay for his senior season.
Word, word, word to all the love for Darvin Adams. He was great last night, and I was pleased that he ended up over 100 yards receiving. One of the things about the way the offense is operating right now is that it’s hard for anyone not named Cam Newton to consistently get their numbers, so it was nice to see Adams get his. It’d be nice to get him to 1,000 yards for the season (he’s at 385 right now).
Likewise, WDEwg, ditto on the praise for the offensive line. I meant to say something about that in the post, but never got to it. No sacks for UK, not all that much QB pressure, 311 yards rushing, 6.0 yards per carry — not a bad day’s work.
Sullivan013, while it would be more prestigious for Cam to pass for more TDs than Pat Sullivan, the record holder for most passing TDs in a season is fan-favorite Chris Todd. He threw 22 last year.
I know that. The point being that Cam can out score BOTH our previous Heisman winners is the point. Impressive.
Loganville Tiger says
Not to knit pick – but what happens if AU puts 4 consecutive quarters together? In the same game? The Tigers seem to have a penchant for taking a quarter off for anyone not named Monroe. That is fixable.
The most frustrating thing to me Saturday night was not the defense, but the fact that it seemed the offensive coaches made a decision to “turn off” Cam in the third quarter and “spread the ball around” a little more.
Because they thought Cam was taking too many hits? Because they thought the UK defense would come out and key on Cam, so go in the other direction?
I don’t know. The UK defense was keying on Cam *anyway* even in the 1st half and they still couldn’t stop him. And to this day I don’t see a darned thing wrong with the time-honored philosophy of “keep doing it until they stop you”. I truly think if we had kept up another full dose of Cam-time int he 2nd half (besides just the final drive), UK would have never been close.
Oh, and could we get some better refs in the SEC pleeeeeeeeeease?
Foy Onion says
Saturday’s win offered a sense of slow satisfaction to me. I was not particularly happy immediately following the game, but the more time I’ve had to think about it, the better I feel. Some observations:
– The Refs: The two calls on Etheridge were completely bogus, but what really got me was the lack of a single holding call against UK. The Kentucky O-linemen are still cleaning bits of white jersey out from under their finger nails this morning. They greatly hampered what our D-line was able to do. Zero hurries?!
– Two words regarding Steven Clark: Hang Time. Our guys had plenty of time to get downfield on punts. Cobb was completely surrounded on both of his fair catches. Sure the distance wasn’t great, but any time you negate a weapon like Cobb, that’s a good thing. I feel confident we’ll see Mr. Clark doing the same thing against LSU.
– An ugly win is just what we needed to get us focused going into the Arky game.
Who’s up for some pulled pork on Saturday?
Michiana Tiger says
Two things – I am ok with reaching 6-0 with the route we have taken rather than the route the other tigers took!!
Also, that catch by Darwin Adams on the final drive reminded me of the Courtney Taylor’s reception against LSU in 2004 (the one which he literally took it out of the defender’s hands).
A few things:
1) Foy– I agree with you and Steven Clark. They were looking for max hang time, and fair catches. Shoemaker either booms it (hasn’t been a ton of those), or hits a low liner that doesn’t allow us to cover. Agree that against LSU’s current/former track stars, we’ll see alot of this- -and I’m ok with it.
2) I almost feel like we do just enough Cam to get the job done, and no more. Makes for terribly close games, except against Monroe. But one thing I fear is if the rest of the offense thinks if their name isn’t Netwon or Adams, they stop playing hard, doing the little things. Perhaps that is where more leadership from Ziemba will come in.
WDEwg, you are correct and I have been worried that this issue will cause us to lose at some point. The rest of the players need to know that this is NOT the cam newton show, but the Auburn Tigers. Cam is A key player, we know it and they know it, but he can’t do crap without the other 10 guys on the field alongside him. So yes, at some points during the game malzahn is spreading the ball around for a variety of reasons:
1) try to get others involved and really ignite the offense
2) if a few drives trying that bust he can honestly say he tried and maybe the other guys will stay involved
3) protect/rest cam
4) let cam work on his passing- lets be honest he is average in terms of passing and decision making. locks on to a receiver early and throws into lots of double coverage. the guys that say they have confidence in their receivers are usually the ones that can’t think quick enough to find the open man or just throw it away. they just can’t or won’t admit it.
As long as cam is being humble (which all interviews indicate he is) then I don’t think anyone of the players have a problem with it. If we were 3-3 or worse then yes, people would be speaking up that if maybe they got the ball more we’d have more wins. Kind of tough to argue with 6-0.
Biggest thing is that Arky is coming to town with everything on the line. I hope we’ve been spending time thinking about them and not he fact that bama lost. Mallet is going to get his, so I’m hoping the coaches have developed a nice ball control (kind of like the last UK drive) plan to keep mallet and co off the field. That means no turnovers and limited penalties (at least not the drive killing/extending kind on 3rd down). It also means just maybe we should try a little something different on D. I know you can’t argue with 6-0. but our pass rush is becoming ineffective since people are throwing on 3 step drops. They are also torching the 10 yd cushion our DBs are giving and the DBs and OLBs have been a little lax on tackling allowing some above average YAC yards. Soooooo coach roof, how about just (humor me here) TRYING a little bump and run. Maybe we give up a big play here or there, but we have an offense to counter that. can we just try? PLEASE???
WAR EAGLE and see you all in JH saturday!