Auburn: Midway Musings

Last week we took a look at the Gus Bus at the halfway point of the season. The emphasis was what lay ahead for Coach Malzahn and his Tigers. This week will feature a potpourri of stats, past years at this stage of the season and a prediction for the upcoming South Carolina game.

A comparison of a few stats from this year vs. the 2013 season:

2014 Offense
Yards rushing 1572
Yards passing 1355
Total offense 2927
Average per game 487.8
Points per game 38.8

2014 Defense
Rushing yards allowed 724
Passing yards allowed 1278
Total yards allowed 2002
Average per game 333.7
Points allowed per game 18.3

2013 Offense
Yards rushing 1724
Yards passing 1123
Total offense 2847
Average per game 474.5
Points per game 34.3

2013 Defense
Rushing yards allowed 878
Passing yards allowed 1517
Total yards allowed 2395
Average per game 399.2
Points per game 18.8

So… This year the Auburn offense has more passing yards, total offensive yards, yards per game and points per game than in 2013.

The defense has allowed less rushing yards, passing yards, total yards, yards per game and points per game. Rushing yards is the only area where the 2013 team exceeded the 2014 team output, and that is only by 152 yards.

From looking at these statistics and watching this year’s team perform, I think Auburn is improved over last year. The Tigers also have more experience, talent and depth. The coaches and players are also more comfortable with each other and the system.

Those numbers being what they are, and with the 2014 team passing the eye test, we must ask ourselves some pointed questions.

How is team chemistry compared to 2013? Is the hunger and desire at the same intensity? What about all the intangibles that really cannot be measured like numbers can be measured? And last but not least… What about good old fashioned luck?

As far as the record goes, this year’s team and last year’s team both found themselves at five wins and one loss after six games. Now let’s take a look back at what past Auburn squads were 5-1 and what transpired afterward. We will begin with Shug Jordan’s first season on The Plains, 1951. You will find below the final record for each season, followed by the SEC record including bowl games:

1951 (5-5, 3-4) 1959 (7-3, 4-3) 1960 (8-2, 5-2) 1962 (6-3-1, 4-3) 1970 (9-2, 5-2) 1972 (10-1, 6-1) 1979 (8-3, 4-2) 1982 (9-3, 4-2) 1983 (11-1, 6-0) 1985 (8-4, 3-3) 1988 (10-2, 6-1) 1996 (8-4, 4-4) 2000 (9-4, 6-2) 2001 (7-5, 5-3) 2005 (9-3, 7-1) 2006 (11-2, 6-2) 2009 (8-5, 3-5)

It is somewhat intriguing that Auburn found itself with the exact same record, and a darn good record after six games, nineteen times since Ralph “Shug” Jordan prowled the sidelines.

If I could compare AU’s 2013 contingent with any team on that list it would be the 1972 group, The Amazins. And it is no small wonder that these are my two favorite Auburn teams EVER.

How about the 2014 Auburn Tigers? What team, from years past, do they most resemble? Well, regular season, record wise, we will know by the evening of November 29th when the Iron Bowl has been completed. But what do we see when we gaze into the crystal ball?

When one considers ALL factors it appears, from this angle, that the 2014 Auburn Tigers might align themselves somewhere just north of the 2005 and 2006 teams and just south of the 1983 and 1988 squads. Let’s hope they are very close to those great ’80s teams at season’s end. BOTH of those units were SEC Champions. Both played in the Sugar Bowl. In 1983 Auburn was proclaimed national champions by the New York Times. In 1988 they missed playing for the national title due to a crushing 7-6 loss to LSU down in the Red Stick. The ‘Earthquake Game’… SIGH.

If I have any pulse on this year’s Tigers it is this… I believe they have taken the off week to iron out the kinks from the first half of the 2014 campaign. I believe they have recommitted themselves to finding that elusive 13 seconds. I believe they have refocused on their master plan. I believe they have found their best 11 players on each side of the ball. I believe they have focused, not on the BRUTAL schedule that lies ahead, but on improving and beating the South Carolina Gamecocks.

That brings us to the task at hand. Auburn vs. South Carolina. The old ball coach finds himself matched up with someone who admires him greatly, thus Malzahn’s visor, and can stay with him calling plays. Yes, Steve Spurrier, as good as he is, finds himself in the unenviable position of having to face a very, very good football team coming off a painful loss and looking to redeem themselves. They will do just that.

Auburn 45, South Carolina 13

College Football Playoff – Round One – Auburn vs. Ole Miss

It’s on!!! The College Football Playoff committee released it’s first poll last night and the Auburn Tigers find themselves locked into the number three spot. Yes, it’s on! If Auburn wins the remaining games on their schedule they WILL participate in the playoff. The schedule is brutal, we have discussed that here before, but it can be done.

The strength of schedule is an important component in deciding which teams finish where. The stronger one’s schedule, the greater the opportunity to advance and entrench oneself in a favorable position. Auburn is in a VERY favorable position.

Now the REAL fun begins.

November should be about as interesting a month of college football as we have EVER seen. This thing is beginning to shape up like March Madness.

Saturday’s game vs. Ole Miss pits your number three Auburn Tigers and you number four Ole Miss Rebels. This is an elimination game. Mathematically that is not the case but realistically it is the case.

If that don’t get your fire started then your wood’s wet!!!

My wife, Melodye, and I will begin our trek to Oxford bright and early on Friday morning. We will set up camp in downtown Memphis and make the commute, Saturday, to northern Mississippi. It will be All Saint’s Day Eve there on the banks of the Big Muddy.

That should provide a terrific jump start to a memorable weekend!

I have been beyond fortunate to have experienced countless such weekends centered around college football and my beloved Auburn Tigers. Considering the opponent this weekend is the Ole Miss Rebels, I would like to take a look back at a few of the games pitting these two SEC West division foes.

A fitting place to start would be the 1965 Liberty Bowl game. It was the first time the game was played in Memphis after six years in the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. Despite the heroics of the game’s MVP, quarterback Tom Bryan, the Tigers fell by a score of 13-7.

One of the most memorable and exciting games between these two squads came in the Gator Bowl following my freshman year at Auburn, 1970. Auburn was led by junior quarterback Pat Sullivan, and Ole Miss legend, Archie Manning, was under center for the Rebels. The Tigers jumped out to a quick 21-0 lead but the Rebels fought back to pull within seven at the intermission. The high scoring game ended with the Tigers pulling out a 35-28 win.

The first game I ever attended in the series was on October 6, 1973. It was an historic day on the plains of east Alabama. Auburn’s Cliff Hare Stadium was renamed Jordan-Hare Stadium in honor of longtime head coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan. With less than two minutes remaining in the game, halfback Rick Neel scored on a 33 yard run to give the home team the victory.

In 1985, soon-to-be Heisman trophy winner, Bo Jackson, ran for 240 yards and three touchdowns propelling the Tigers to a 41-0 demolition of the visiting Ole Miss team. Auburn wound up with 606 total yards that day while the visitors could manage only NINE.

The 1995 game wasn’t close as Auburn won 46-13. BUT Ole Miss had a new head coach. He was the former defensive coordinator of the Texas A&M Aggies, Tommy Tuberville. You know the rest of the story.

On October 30, 2004 the undefeated Auburn Tigers traveled to Oxford, Mississippi. They had played nine straight games without a break, and now Auburn head coach, Tommy Tuberville said, “We were running on fumes.” In spite of that, Auburn, led by senior quarterback Jason Campbell, pulled out a tough 35-14 win by scoring 28 second half points. And on that night, the Tigers clinched the SEC West division title. They went on to become SEC and Sugar Bowl Champions and were, arguably, the best team in the country.

Enough of the past. The future is now. The College Football Playoff committee has released its historic first top 25 poll. They have spoken and it is my opinion that they got it right…

1. Mississippi State
2. Florida State
3. Auburn
4. Ole Miss

It was the bold and proper move to place the Rebels at number four. They have a played a typically brutal SEC West schedule and they defeated the number six ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. Hotty Toddy!

That brings us to the de facto elimination game pitting number three against number four.

It appears that it will be unseasonably cold Saturday night in the land of Faulkner and Grisham. The winds will be howling and the Tigers will be growling. After spending all day in The Grove, the fans fervor will be at a fever pitch. The home team’s faithful is being exhorted to wear red. Miss LeCroy and I will counter with navy blue attire.

Good friends, Gus Malzahn and Hugh Freeze will concoct a Strange Brew (RIP Jack Bruce of Cream) on this All Saint’s Day evening. This one promises to be a true donnybrook.

Auburn 31, Ole Miss 23

Survive and advance.