Auburn 2015: Whispering Hope

When I sat down at my computer to do this column, I began the process of doing some last second research to help firm up my ideas. I am THE Eternal Optimist and I can spot a silver lining in a dark cloud quicker than you can say, “Damnit! Another interception!” #!@#*!%!

I was prepared to do the ultimate Realist piece and just get right down to the nitty-gritty of how this Gus Bus ran off in a ditch, and Auburn’s call to AAA to pull her out. It was not a column I was looking forward to putting together. I was going to throw my sunshine pump deep into the woods behind our house and muse upon what I perceived to be the, seemingly, fatal flaws that exist within the 2015 edition of the Auburn Tigers football team.

I was going to re-live bits of the 1975 and 2012 seasons, as bad as I hated to.

The 1975 Tigers opened to much fanfare with another group of Tigers, these from Memphis. Phil Gargis, Mitzi Jackson, Secedrick McIntyre and company were picked to finish near the top of the polls en route to a magical season, Shug Jordan’s last… no dice.

Memphis 31, Auburn 20 (and it wasn’t that close).

Game two… Baylor 10, Auburn 10.

Game three… Tennessee 21, Auburn 17

Game four… Virginia Tech 23, Auburn 17 (and this was a mostly inept gang of Gobblers. No Beamer Ball here.)

Auburn wound up with a 3-6-2 record, that year, and ended Coach Jordan’s tenure on a very sour note.

And the 2012 campaign? My intention was to focus on the Texas A&M debacle as an example of the agony suffered those three short years ago, a 63-21 total embarrassment. A microcosm of the season. My wife and I left that no-contest with 1:51 seconds remaining in the FIRST QUARTER, and Auburn trailing 21-0. And it’s not that it was 21-0. The problem is WE HAD NO HOPE. We were beaten. We knew it. And we, simply, could no longer bear it.

NCAA Football: Rice at Texas A&M

This past Saturday afternoon I was having flashbacks, as I cringed, while watching Auburn being manhandled in Baton Rouge. No, not the residual psychedelic kind of flashbacks from the years of 1973-1975. I was having a much more painful, and much less enjoyable, type.

My mind was swirling with the tattered and broken images of the 1975 and 2012 (3-9, 0-8 in the SEC) Auburn Football seasons. It hurt. It was hellish.

“How can this be?” I thought. I am no coach and I certainly am no expert. I have no earthly idea how one could fix the problems that had beset the 2015 Auburn Tigers, but I had a great many questions. I’m sure most of you had, or are still having, similar questions.

We now fast forward back to me at the computer. Today.

A “twitter” notification appeared to me in the top right hand corner of the screen of our iMac as I prepared to type. It was from our executive editor at Campus Pressbox, Damien Bowman.

“auburn going with Sean White this week. wow.”

I happened to be on the auburn.scout.com site at the time. I had actually begun to read the beginning of notes from Coach Malzahn’s presser this morning. I went back to the master board of topics and found it. Redshirt freshman, Sean White, was to start Saturday.

Now, hear me on this. I have nothing against Jeremy Johnson. I love him as I do all of the Auburn team. I think he is a tremendous talent but, for some reason, that talent has not been in evidence thus far during the 2015 football season. It has been quite the opposite. He and the entire team have, collectively, performed abysmally. And I had begun to lose hope… rapidly.

No “joy in Mudville.” Casey had whiffed, big time, down in Death Valley. And not only that, things had been looking grim since the second half of the Louisville game.

But now… HOPE. Maybe just a glimmer but, nonetheless, HOPE.

Just that one sliver of information changed my perspective on Saturday’s upcoming game vs. Miss State.

Maybe Auburn is righting the ship! HOPEfully they are piecing this thing back together!

Somehow, Auburn had been installed as a 4 point favorite over the Bulldogs. Now, mind you, that only means that the odds-makers had come up with a number to induce betting on BOTH Auburn and Miss State. It doesn’t mean that Vegas thinks Auburn is 4 points better than State. And if the betting goes heavily on the boys from STARK-Vegas then that line will drop to reflect so, and to create more wagering on Auburn. State would then become only a 3 or a 2 point underdog. Or it could have gone all the way to a “pick ’em.”

(Photo Credit: Rogelio V. Solis — AP Photo)
(Photo Credit: Rogelio V. Solis — AP Photo)
Bird-Vegas had made State anywhere from a 7 to 10 point favorite. I didn’t see how Auburn could contain Dak Prescott, play hard-nosed on BOTH sides of the ball, and triumph in the end. Based on what we had seen so far in the season I could not see Auburn prevailing. I said as much during our current SEC 411 podcast. I picked Mississippi State to win.

How was I to write this, put it in black and white? I would rather have a root canal than to pick against Auburn in my weekly column.

That is no longer an issue because of… HOPE.

Yes! It springs eternal!

Whispering Hope

Soft as the voice of an angel, breathing a lesson unheard.

Hope with a gentle persuasion whispers her comforting word

Wait till the darkness is over, wait till the tempest is gone

Hope for the sunshine tomorrow, after the shower is gone.

Whispering hope, oh, how welcome thy voice

Making my heart in its sorrow rejoice.

If, in the dusk of the twilight, dim be the region afar

Will not the deepening darkness brighten the glimmering star?

Then when the night is upon us, why should the heart sink away?

When the dark midnight is over, watch for the breaking of day.

Whispering hope, oh, how welcome thy voice

Making my heart in its sorrow rejoice.

Hope as an anchor so steadfast, rends the dark veil for the soul

Whither the Master has entered, robbing the grave of its goal

Come then, oh come, glad fruition, come to my sad weary heart

Come, O thou blest hope of glory, never, oh never depart.

Whispering hope, oh, how welcome thy voice

Making my heart in its sorrow rejoice

Making my heart in its sorrow rejoice.

The words from that old hymn now resonated in my heart.

Why do I have now have more HOPE in Auburn’s chances under the lights of Jordan-Hare Saturday night?

For one, I have heard there have been some serious “come to Jesus” meetings in the Auburn Athletic Complex, and on the practice fields, this week. I have also heard that if you were a defensive player and sat in defensive coordinator Coach Will Muschamp’s meetings this week, that your young ears have been permanently blistered.

This man is a college head coach. Seriously.

But that happens often in football complexes across the country each and every week.

I also think that, as a result of these meetings and practices, that the AU coaching staff will find 22 players who really want to lay it all on the line Saturday.

Furthermore, I DO think that Sean White will provide the spark that the Tigers have been needing, desperately, in this, still young, 2015 season.

[Ostendorf: Auburn to start Sean White over Jeremy Johnson at QB]

So what does this all mean?

This means that Auburn will start playing AUBURN football at 6:30 PM CDT on Saturday. They will play with promise, passion and precision.

AND…

They will win.

Auburn 31, Miss State 24

Whispering hope, oh, how welcome thy voice

Making my heart in its sorrow rejoice.

Advertisements

Auburn vs. LSU; Game. Set. Match.

The only time I’ve ever cried after an Auburn loss came on October 11, 1980. Now I’ve cried tears of joy after an Auburn win, most notably would be January 10, 2011 when the Tigers nipped Oregon, 22-19, on a last second field goal from the foot of Wes Byrum. The other would be following Chris Davis’ 109 yard run on November 30, 2013 in Jordan-Hare Stadium. That was night of the renowned “Kick Six”, as all of you well know.

Auburn punt returner Chris Davis runs back a short field goal attempt for a game-winning touchdown last year against Alabama that became known widely as the “Kick Six.” (USA Today Sports)
Auburn punt returner Chris Davis runs back a short field goal attempt for a game-winning touchdown last year against Alabama that became known widely as the “Kick Six.” (USA Today Sports)
October 11, 1980 was the first time I had the pleasure of listening to to Auburn play LSU in Death Valley at night. I had tuned in to, seemingly, countless LSU games from Tiger Stadium over the years. Most of these games I listened to with my daddy. Some of those were from the back seat of our 1963 Plymouth Fury as we made our way home from, what was then, Cliff Hare Stadium in Auburn.

But on that evening in 1980 I was listening to the Tigers vs. Tigers matchup on my stereo radio from our living room in Burnsville, AL.

I was the pastor of the Shady Grove Baptist Church back then and my Sunday duties, obviously, would not allow me to make the trek the Baton Rouge that Saturday.

Auburn entered the game with a 3-1 record while the Bayou Bengals stood at 3-2.

There were several controversial calls that went against Auburn on that misty evening in the Red Stick, and I was attempting to maintain my religion as my frustration continued to build.

LSU lead, 7-3, at intermission. They maintained their lead, 14-10, after three stanzas.

Both teams scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter to make the score 21-17 LSU.

James Brooks ran for well over 200 yards that night and I could picture him gashing the other Tigers’ defense.

As the game wore on and time tick, tick, ticked away, LSU had the ball with an opportunity to run out the clock. But they didn’t. Auburn’s defense was savage and they forced a punt with very little time remaining.

James Brooks was back to receive the kick. LSU was mired deep in their own territory. The snap, the kick… BLOCKED! BLOCKED!

Auburn recovered the ball at LSU’s 10 yard line!!!

My hopes soared at the prospect of a victory I could now smell!

On the first play from scrimmage a blue and white clad Auburn receiver was WIDE OPEN in the end zone… DROPPED!

That’ was ok, we had three more downs, and James Brooks at our disposal, and I knew the men from the Plains would get it done.

It was now fourth down. I don’t remember if the quarterback was Joe Sullivan or Charlie Thomas, but whoever it was threw another pass into the end zone and it was… INTERCEPTED! AND it was almost run back for a touchdown.

Game. Set. Match.LSUvAuburn

I could hear the roar of the crowd blaring through the speakers from Death Valley, and now I truly understood that term.

I had been standing and cheering and jumping up and down in our living room; and now I crumpled to my knees, covered my face with my hands… and wept… profusely.

I simply refused to believe what my ears had just heard. NO! NO! NO! It can’t be!

It was.

Final score, LSU 21, Auburn 17.

That was only the beginning of the “Voodoo” my beloved Tigers have been the victim of from that venerable old venue.

I know how the Ole Miss fans felt when Billy Cannon ran that punt back, 89 yards, for a touchdown in 1959 on Halloween night. As an aside, most people don’t know that Ole Miss dominated that game and were stopped on the LSU one yard line as time expired. BRUTAL!

As I stated, just above, Auburn has been victimized or “Voodoo-ized” several times in Tiger Stadium.

In my column’s primer for last year’s game, I recounted the story of my first visit to Tiger Stadium. It was on October 8, 1988, the “Earthquake” game. I’m not going to re-tell that story again and put myself through the hell of that memory. You may if you like. Just click here!

But… I will mention that a drunk, female LSU student got nose to nose with my dear wife, Melodye, that fateful evening and screamed “GO TIGERS!!!!” repeatedly, as our wounds were still fresh and raw. I will also mention that our children, Luke (10) and Leah (5), were with us; and I suspect that had they not been, that the nameless coed might have received a severe, old-fashioned butt-whipping, or at least a tongue-lashing, on that hot and humid night.

Oh! But there’s more!

September 16, 1995. My son and I made our second trip to Louisiana to take in an Auburn-LSU clash. This was the night of the famed “Phantom whistle”. Auburn quarterback, Patrick Nix stood, defenseless, in the end zone as he, and many us us sitting in those north end zone stands, heard a whistle. Nix was tackled and LSU was awarded two points for a safety.

Trailing 12-6, Nix threw into that same end zone on the game’s last play. INTERCEPTED!

Game. Set. Match.LSU Auburn Football

Later, Auburn head coach, Terry Bowden said that he outsmarted himself on that last play and ran that slant instead of a fade, which would have almost certainly been completed and Auburn would have emerged victorious.

And even to this day, whenever one of us “outsmarts” ourself, say taking an alternate route or shortcut, which does NOT turn out to be the wise move, we say we “Bowden ’95-ed”.

How about 2005 when OUR Tigers beat the snot out of THEIR Tigers, “physically” (as former Auburn coach, Doug Barfield, used to say when AU whipped their opponent everywhere except on the scoreboard)?

Auburn pounded LSU on October 22 of that year. Kenny Irons ran RAMPANT over THEIR Tigers for well over 200 yards, just as James Brooks had done, 25 years prior. Unfortunately, AU’s highly reliable place-kicker, John Vaughn, was one for six on field goals.

Auburn lost, in the midst of swirling winds in overtime, 20-17, as the final field goal attempt hit the right upright and bounced, harmlessly, to the turf of Death Valley.

Game. Set. Match.

More! Do you want more?

Two years later Auburn travels to Baton Rouge and plays the home team off their feet, as head coach Tommy Tuberville’s teams could do back then.

Auburn scored a TD and led, 24-23, with 3:21 remaining; and for some reason squibbed the ensuing kickoff and LSU set up shop at their own 42 yard line.

They began the march toward the visitors goal line but time was fast running out.

The clock was under 40 seconds, with LSU at the Auburn 22 yard line. They appeared to be setting up for a field goal. BUT Les Miles, inexplicably, eschewed the 39 yard attempt and Matt Flynn lofted a pass in the direction of wideout Demetrius Byrd, who was covered, in the end zone with one tick left on the clock.

Byrd later claimed he never saw the ball but it, somehow, stuck in his arms as he fell to the purple and gold painted grass.

Game. Set. Match.LSU Football

#!%#>(!@ VOODOO!!!!!!!!!

And, FINALLY!

Two years ago, first year head coach, Gus Malzahn, took his 2-0 Tigers into the monsoon ravaged Red Stick. They fell behind, 21-0, in the first half.

LSU’s second touchdown came when Auburn punter, Steven Clark, mishandled a wet ball and the punt was blocked.

How long, oh lord?

But… But… BUT!!! This edition of the Auburn Tigers exhibited great resiliency and played with tremendous effort in the second half. They lost, 35-21, but used that second half intensity as a springboard to win the rest of their games enroute to the BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena, CA.

So, that brings us to the 2015 square-off between these two teams of Tigers.

What on earth could possibly transpire Saturday AFTERNOON on the Bayou? Yes, it’s a 2:30 CDT kickoff on CBS.

Auburn hasn’t won in Tiger Stadium since 1999. Sixteen LONG years. Motivation, you think?

I almost don’t want to look. Auburn ‘s trips down I-85 to I-65 to I-10 have been plenteously painful.

Les, or More, Miles pulled another rabbit form his hat, this past Saturday, as LSU thwarted Mississippi State, 21-19. The Cowbellers missed a 52 yard filed goal as time expired in Starkville. SIGH.

I don’t know what to make of the 2015 Auburn Tigers. They have looked ragged but right. They’re 2-0!

Obviously, quarterback Jeremy Johnson needs to get his act together, and I think Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee will “coach him up” and get him ready.

I expect that the coaching staff will also utilize their first two games as great teaching tools and the talented Tigers will play well.

Will that be well enough to win? I don’t know. But if this team does not play with the same fire and intensity that the 2013 team did, then I will be sorely surprised.

I think this will be, yet another, of those crazy games from Tiger Stadium. But, again, it will NOT take place at night.

In a turn of fortune, Auburn drives the length of the field and Jeremy Johnson scores on a zone read, from the one yard line, with less than a minute to play. The defense holds on, this time, and the AUBURN Tigers come away with a VERY hard fought victory.

Auburn 24, LSU 21

Tiger Takes and Fowl Play

On September 27, 1969, Auburn sophomore quarterback, Pat Sullivan, led the Tigers into Knoxville to take on the Tennessee Volunteers. The visitors slipped and slid all over the newly installed, artificial tartan surface of Shields-Watkins field that afternoon. They returned home, battered, with turf burns and bruised egos.

The Vols humbled the Tigers, 45-19, and intercepted young Sullivan FIVE times.

It was one of the future Heisman winner’s worst performances of an otherwise stellar career.

This scenario was one of the first things that crossed my mind, Sunday morning, following Auburn’s 31-24 win over Louisville the day before.

I left the Georgia Dome, Saturday night, far too focused on quarterback Jeremy Johnson’s 3 interceptions, which could have been FIVE, instead of the fact that Auburn had just beaten a very good football team. I was able to view the previous evening’s events with a much clearer perspective following a good night’s sleep and the memory of that debacle in Tennessee which occurred to me, soon after awakening, on Sunday morning.

We all know how things turned out for Pat Sullivan, and I don’t think things will turn out all too differently for Jeremy Johnson. He has the skills, and the surrounding cast of players and coaches, to evolve into one of the best signal callers to ever grace the grassy turf of Pat Dye Field.DSC02280

Auburn and Sullivan regrouped nicely in 1969 to go 8-2. They ended the regular season with a 49-26 shellacking of the Alabama Crimson Tide, and an invitation to play in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston, TX.

My guess is that the 2015 edition of the Auburn Tigers will have success to a greater degree than that group who proudly wore the orange and blue 46 years ago. They came out victorious, and they did some impressive things in the process. Let’s take a gander at a few of those who stood out.

Daniel Carlson and Kevin Phillips – Special Teams

Louisville did not return one one kick the entire afternoon! That includes both kickoffs AND punts. Daniel Carlson was 100% on touchbacks, perfect on extra points, and nailed a 56-yard field goal. Kevin Phillips averaged 47 yards on two punts. BOOM, huh?

Peyton Barber and Ricardo Louis – Offense

Barber, the sophomore from Alpharetta, GA, rushed for 115 yards on 24 carries in relief of starter Roc Thomas. He also caught one pass for 15 yards. Barber was the trooper that many of us have been expecting him to be. Louis, he of ” The Miracle at Jordan-Hare” fame, had one of his best games as a Tiger. The senior receiver scored on a pass reception of 33 yards in the third quarter and a run of 8 yards in the fourth quarter. His three total receptions gained 54 yards and his four rushes netted 21 yards.

Tray Matthews and Montravius Adams – Defense

Matthews, a baller, picked off a pass on the initial offensive play from scrimmage for the Cardinals. He returned it for 35 yards. He also had eight tackles and was a man to be reckoned with before leaving the game with an injury.

Adams might have had his best game yet as an Auburn Tiger. He was a disruptive force throughout the entire game and it appears that he has gotten his game to the point where his coaches have been pushing him. This does not bode well for the remaining eleven teams on Auburn’s schedule.IMG_2272

Ok, that’s a brief look at the past, both distant and immediate, now how about the future?

The immediate future holds the 2015 season’s home opener. The opponent is the Jacksonville State Gamecocks. Auburn should be able to get people healthy and utilize the game just played as a great teaching tool. Mistakes were plentiful but correctable. If it’s true that a team’s biggest improvement typically occurs from game one to game two, then this should be a tremendous opportunity to really launch the Tigers forward toward a monstrous showdown with LSU the following week.

Beyond that, the schedule sets up about as well as one can hope for in the SEC West. You gotta play the other six. There is no way to avoid that, but Auburn gets Miss State, Ole Miss, and Alabama in the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium. SEC East rival, Georgia, also has to make the trip to the Plains as do San Jose State and Idaho.

Besides the trip to Baton Rouge, Auburn travels to Lexington, Fayetteville and College Station for games with Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas A&M. Those are some truly tough tests for these young Tigers but, again, it’s the SEC where there are NO easy schedules and there is nowhere to run and hide. Man up! Play ball!SEC logo2

So what does this mean for the remainder of the 2015 campaign and beyond?

Auburn now has a team with a lot of talent, the most in many years, but lacks experience in some areas. If they keep their nose to the grindstone and improve each week they could have a special season.

Also, if they continue to stockpile talent and keep their focus, they could be very, very good for years to come.

And that brings us back to the business at hand.

Auburn vs. Jacksonville State

Jax State is an D1 school and should be a strong contender for the FCS Championship. They made it to the playoffs last season. The Gamecocks defeated UT-Chattanooga on Saturday, by a score of 23-20. They rode a punishing ground attack to a net total of 298 yards rushing. Troymaine Pope, a senior, accounted for 173 of those yards on just 15 carries. The Moccasins only had 196 total yards, so the Gamecocks can play a little D, as well.

That’s all well and good. Jax State is no match for Auburn and will not beat them on Saturday.

I expect the Tigers to make great strides in practice this week and show up ready to play. Look for Jeremy Johnson to perform more like the all-star candidate that he is. I think Auburn will exhibit a balanced attack, on offense, and pile up a lot of yards, while limiting the Gamecocks’ rushing attack to far fewer yards than they ground out in their opener.

Auburn scores early and often before the starters give way to the reserves who will be anxious to show what they’ve got.

Auburn 49, Jacksonville State 10

Let’s Tee It Up!

The wait is almost over. FINALLY! In just over 24 hours we will have some FBS football to feast our eyes upon, sports fans! And for those of us who reside below the Mason-Dixon line, we will have SEC and ACC football as the South Carolina Gamecocks, and their Head Ball Coach, will take on the North Carolina Tar Heels in Charlotte, NC. A nice little bonus game will pit the Vanderbilt Commodores against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.

And… AND… TCU’s highly ranked Horned Frogs will pay a visit to the not-yet-frozen state of Minnesota to do battle with their Golden Gophers.

More? Yes! The Michigan Wolverines, now under the leadership of favorite son, Jim Harbaugh, will face the Utah Utes in Salt Lake City, UT.

There are several other games on tap Thursday, such as Duke and Tulane, but the games mentioned above are the nationwide biggies slated for Sept. 3.

September 3rd is also significant to me, for another reason, as Braxton and Edwina LeCroy, along with brother Jerry, welcomed Braxton Jr. to the world on that date in 1952. You good folks have come to know me as “Bird.” I’ll get into the origin of that nickname, that stuck HARD, later… maybe.

Bottom line? Some hootin’ and hollerin’ will take place at 116 Sundown Way in Acworth, GA on Thursday. But… BUT! That will be small potatoes compared to the noise generated from the Georgia Dome in Hotlanta on Saturday afternoon at 3:30 PM ET. For it is at that time that the Auburn Tigers will take on the Louisville Cardinals in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic!

Let’s tee it up!

Sixth-ranked by the Associated Press voters, Auburn has been installed as a 10.5 point favorite in another battle between SEC and ACC teams.

Opening games almost always tend to generate a great deal of excitement in their fan bases and rightly so. All of us have waited, quite impatiently, for this day to arrive. And for me, it is a day to reflect back on openers past.

I have had the privilege of attending 30 opening day tilts which involved my Auburn Tigers. My record stands at 24-6 in these games. Hey! That’s an .800 winning percentage. I’ll take it!

Now I would like to provide a brief take on a few of these ‘first game of the season’ brawls.

Auburn vs. Baylor – 1965

My first one and also the first time I had seen Auburn lose at Cliff Hare Stadium. My record at home, prior to this day, was a sterling 5-0. Neither team scored until quarter number four and the Bears struck first. They went up 14-0 and Auburn scored on the last play of the game on a pass from Alex Bowden to Freddie Hyatt. They tacked on a two point conversion to make the final score 14-8, Baylor.

Auburn vs. Southern Mississippi – 1970

My first as a student, an awkward freshman from Lower Alabama. Pat Sullivan began his best statistical season, on the Plains, and the Tigers handled the Golden Eagles, 33-14. Sullivan found Terry Beasley twice for touchdowns that afternoon. The game may not have been the biggest event of the day for me. I went to the late showing of ‘Woodstock’ that night, and the rest, as they say, is history. I found my calling. 😉

Auburn vs. TCU – 1981

This was Pat Dye’s opener as head coach of the Auburn Tigers. The field is now named after him. Ron “BBQ” O’Neal blasted in for two TD’s as the home team disposed of the Visitors from Ft. Worth, TX by a score of 24-16.

Auburn vs. Wake Forest – 1982

A true freshman running back from McAdory High School in McCalla, AL scored on runs of one and 43 yards to lead Auburn to a 28-10 win over the Demon Deacons. His name was Vincent “Bo” Jackson. You know the rest of the story.

Auburn vs. Miami – 1984

Auburn entered the game ranked number one in both polls on that balmy night in the Meadowlands of New Jersey. Miami was the defending national champion. This was an “extra” game dubbed the Kickoff Classic. Jimmy Johnson was the new head coach of the Hurricanes and his quarterback, Bernie Kozar, helped lead his team to a 20-18 “upset” of the Tigers.

Auburn vs. Virginia – 1997

My son, Luke, and I made the trip to Charlottesville, VA for the christening of the 1997 campaign. It was a great road trip and a big win for the visitors. Dameyune Craig and Karsten Bailey were electric, in this Thursday night clash, as they hooked up four times for 151 yards and the Tigers downed the Cavaliers, 28-17.

Auburn vs. Appalachian State – 1999

Tommy Tuberville’s debut as head coach. Auburn had dropped Florida State from it’s schedule and replaced it with the Mountaineers, and this one turned out to be far too close for comfort. Ben Leard had replaced Gabe Gross at quarterback and it took his 33-yard pass to Ronney Daniels with 38 seconds to play to pull out the victory.

Auburn vs. Louisiana Tech – 2009

Another head coaching debut with Gene Chizik at the helm. Derek Dooley was coach of the Bulldog’s at the time and was seen as one of the young “up and comers” in the coaching ranks. Auburn had one of these young “up and comers” as their offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn. It didn’t take long for his team’s record setting offense to get cranked up. Chris Todd hit Terrell “T Zac” Zachary on a 93-yard pass which helped the Tigers secure the win, 37-14, and this was the longest TD pass in Auburn history at the time.

Auburn vs. Washington State – 2013

Malzahn was now the head coach at Auburn and this was his coming out party. It was a very hard fought game but the Tigers managed to hold off the Cougars, and head coach Mike Leach, 31-24. Much to the surprise of the college football world, Auburn went on to, incredibly, win the SEC Championship and play for the BCS National Championship in Pasadena, CA.

That brings us to the 2015 opener for the Auburn Tigers…

Auburn vs. Louisville

Folks, I think this one is going to be a real dogfight. Bobby Petrino will bring his Cardinals to the Georgia Dome solely focused on one thing, beating Auburn. His team is not to be underestimated. They will play with great intensity for 60 minutes. Auburn had better be prepared to do the same or they will find themselves on the losing end of this matchup.

This ball game, as is the case in most any, will be won at the line of scrimmage. I like the way Auburn’s D line matches up with Louisville’s O line. Look for Carl Lawson, Dontavius Russell, Montravius Adams and DaVonte Lambert to win this battle of the trenches.

I really like the potential of Auburn’s linebacking corps, as well. Kris Frost, Justin Garrett, Cassanova McKinzy, Tre Williams and JaViere Mitchell should makeup the backbone of a formidable group.

Louisville hasn’t named a starting QB, yet, but I think whoever it is may be running for his life most of the afternoon.

The Cardinal’s defense was very tough last year. They lost seven starters but have three transfers coming in that are very good and will play a big role in solidifying their D.

But I LOVE Auburn’s O line! This group has a chance to be the best since the 2010 group and they were one of the best in school history. And there is quality depth here also.

The Tiger offense should be very, very explosive with Jeremy Johnson at QB and a plethora of skill position players at his disposal.

The wide receivers are talented and deep. They will feature all-star candidate, Duke Williams, along with Ricardo Louis, Melvin Ray, Marcus Davis, Tony Stevens and Stanton Truitt. One guy to pay attention to here is number 4, Jason Smith. The former QB could turn out to be a true weapon for the Tigers in a variety of roles.

Running backs? LOADED! Former Alabama Mr. Football and 5 star recruit, Roc Thomas, appears to be just a nose in front of Peyton Barber and Jovon Robinson. Look for all three to play Saturday. Another guy to watch, here, is true freshman, and also another Alabama Mr. Football, #21 Kerryon Johnson.

Now, you can expect a Petrino coached team to score some points. He is a great game day coach. He will find a way to get his playmakers the ball and they could put up some big numbers. But Auburn defensive coordinator, Will Muschamp, should find a way to limit those numbers somewhat.

The numbers that matter most are to be found on the scoreboard. I expect the first half of this one to see a change of leads and very close at the break. I also think that Auburn is more talented and deeper than Louisville and that will tell the tale in the end.

The bottom line…

Auburn 38, Louisville 24

Let’s tee it up!