Not doubting Auburn again
by Johnathan Bentley
Oct 20, 2013 | 2397 views | 0 0 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Johnathan Bentley
Johnathan Bentley
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OK, that's it. I'm through.

I'm not doubting Auburn any more.

Following another pulse-pounding, down-to-the-last-play victory, I think it's time to admit one thing — Auburn's football team is pretty good.

There I said it.

It may have taken seven games to sell me on it, but Gus Malzahn has made me shake off the forgotten,  and forgettable, 2012 season under the previous coach — his name slips my mind.

Auburn's latest gut-check came in a 45-41 win over a Texas A&M team that beat the Tigers so badly last year that they looked more like a directional school — we will call them Western Auburn. In 2012, the Aggies' scored a touchdown on all six first-half possessions on their way to a 63-21 rout.

One year removed from that debacle, the Tigers have continued to improve each week and have even slipped behind Alabama in the SEC West standings. Following a Saturday full of upsets — Alabama was the only favored SEC team to win — the Tigers have a better SEC record than Texas A&M, LSU, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.

I didn't see that coming.

This is the same Auburn team that was selected to finish fourth in the West by the 700-plus media hoarde at SEC Media Days who, in its infinite wisdom, selected the Tigers to place in front of Arkansas and Mississippi State.

I recall one media member predicting Auburn to make it all the way to Shreveport for the Independence Bowl.

At the time, I said that would be an improvement.

I'm not saying that now.

Forget Shreveport, Malzahn and the Tigers are thinking big.

Quarterback Nick Marshall has proven to be one of Auburn's best clutch quarterbacks. He led the Tigers to a game-winning drive in the closing seconds against Mississippi State and followed suit with big plays down the stretch against Texas A&M on Saturday.

With the game on the line and Auburn trailing 41-38, Marshall connected with Marcus Davis on a pin-point throw that resulted in a 27-yard gain to the A&M 12-yard line on a 3rd-and-9 play.

Tre Mason scored the go-ahead touchdown two plays later.

Marshall completed just 11 passes, but made them count, piling up 236 yards and two touchdowns through the air to go with 100 yards and two scores on the ground.

Behind Marshall, the Tigers scored 21 fourth-quarter points.

The 21 points was the most Auburn had scored in a quarter against a Division I team since the Tigers put three touchdowns on the scoreboard in a win over Virginia in the 2011 Chick-Fil-A Bowl. The last time Auburn scored 21 points in a quarter in an SEC game was against South Carolina in the 2010 SEC Championship Game.

By contrast, 21 points was the most points Auburn scored in an SEC game last season. That shocking stat speaks to the ineptitude of last year's squad.

Saturday's game came down to Auburn's bend-but-don't-break defense.

The Tigers were bent to the limit only to come through when it mattered most.

Against Ole Miss earlier this season, the Tigers registered two sacks on the Rebels' final drive to seal the victory.

On A&M's final drive, Ford tracked down Johnny Manziel twice in the final three plays. He dropped the shifty quarterback for a 22-yard loss on fourth down to lock up the victory.

Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson may not be a good head coach — he went 0-12 at Southern Miss last season — but the man knows defense.

Auburn still give up plenty of yardage, but the Tigers are also forcing plenty of turnovers this season. Something the Tigers haven't done in years.

Auburn already has seven interceptions in 2013, compared to two last year.

With Florida Atlantic coming up next week before road trips to Arkansas and Tennessee, the Tigers are primed to make a strong push in the West.

No way I'm doubting this team — not again.

———

Johnathan Bentley is the Sports Editor at the Daily Mountain Eagle. He can be reached at johnathan.bentley@mountaineagle.com