O Defense, Where Art Thou?

“ I am a man of constant sorrow.”

Surely you remember that great song, done by the Soggy Bottom Boys, from the movie whose name spawned the title of this piece.

The opening line of that traditional American folk tune surely seems to ring true for the Auburn family, and particularly where defense is concerned.

Just when things began to appear to take shape… BOOM! … Coach Will Muschamp is named head coach at South Carolina. And, he takes defensive back coach, Travaris Robinson, with him. Good for them. Godspeed and good luck!

But that leaves Auburn back at square one… Again.

This will be the eighth defensive coordinator change on the Plains since Gene Chizik left, after the 2004 season, to take the same position at the University of Texas. That’s more turnover than the apple pie variety at a 24 hour diner. But not as tasty.

David Gibbs, Will Muschamp (round one), Paul Rhoads, Ted Roof, Brian VanGorder, Ellis Johnson, Will Muschamp (deux), and, fill in the blank, compose the merry-go-round that has been churning at Auburn during that time span. Auburn has not, truly, had a salty defense in the Auburn tradition since Tommy Tuberville made his exit following the 2008 campaign.

Speaking of Tommy Tuberville, he was also, in good part, the inspiration for this humble column.

I was in Atlanta, this past weekend, soaking in the SEC Championship Game festivities in and around the Georgia Dome. I was joined by four Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity brothers from my days at Troy University, circa 1974-76. One is a Gator (the gracious brother who pulled this all together). Another is a Georgia Bull-DOGGIE. The third, a Bama fan, and I pulled up the rear as the representative War Eagle.

To say a good time was had by all would be a gross understatement. More on that later over coffee, of the Irish sort, if any one of you so desires.

Back to Tubby.

After we brothers parted ways I made my way down to the College Football Hall of Fame, which is right there near CNN Center and the Dome. I am ashamed to say I had never been there prior to to this time. And let me say that it is a MUST, A+++, Five star, whatever. Go! Now! Drive! Fly! Just do it!

I upgraded to a season pass after I completed my, four hours of bliss, visit.

And, you don’t have to be a rabid fan, like myself, to enjoy the experience. Casual fans and non-football fans should enjoy it immensely. Everyone should enjoy it.

Enough of that endorsement. Let’s try again to get back to Tubby.

My host guided me through the sign-up process and my Auburn helmet lit up on the gargantuan wall in the spacious entry area of the Hall. I was then informed, by another host, as I was looking lost while gawking at the splendor of it all, that coaches David Cutcliffe, Bill Curry, and Tommy Tuberville were seated nearby. They were signing autographs before they were to participate on a panel for an event that takes place, weekly, on the “field” in the adjacent room.

That was the jolt to my system that I needed after two nights of revelry in downtown Hotlanta!

I made my way to the table and chatted, briefly, with each coach. Hog Heaven!

My conversation with Coach Tuberville consisted, partially, of thanks for his time in The Loveliest Village. I told him that we miss him, and what we really, REALLY miss is his defense. ( He brought up the six-game winning streak over Alabama). 😉

The fact-of-the-matter is, we haven’t had a good defense since Thomas Hawley Tuberville patrolled the sidelines at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Humor me. Here are the the defensive stats, total yards and points per game, since Tubs departed Auburn.

2010 368.4 ypg and 24.07 ppg (and remember, Auburn won the National Championship Game that year with Nick Fairley and company on D)
2011 408.0 ypg and 28.9 ppg
2012 420.5 ypg and 28.3 ppg
2013 420.7 ypg and 24.7 ppg (played for the Natty)
2014 398.8 ypg and 26.7 ppg
2015 421.8 ypg and 27.3 ppg

That’s grim, folks.

But take heart! We’re not Kansas! (561 ypg and 46.1 ppg) Mercy!

Tuberville’s best D was in 2004 with Gene Chizik as defensive coordinator-273 ypg and 11.3 ppg.

Yes, O defense, where art thou?

So, where do we go from here? First of all is the hiring of a good defensive coordinator. One of the first names to surface is Charles Kelly, the DC at Florida State. He played for Auburn and finished in 1990. He would be a good one. We shall see.

And then there’s the matter of the upcoming bowl game. It ain’t far folks! Get your tickets and head to Birmingham to support the Tigers! Gus Malzahn is at a critical juncture in his tenure at Auburn and needs all hands-on-deck.

Auburn’s opponent, as most of you know, is Memphis. Tigers vs. Tigers. It should be a dandy! (We miss you, Keith Jackson!)

The practice time Auburn gets to prepare for this contest is valuable. Muschamp will not coach the defense, obviously, as he has taken the head coach position at South Carolina. It would be nice to get someone on board to familiarize himself with his future talent on defense.

One reason Auburn struggled on defense in 2015 is the offense. It was nowhere near Gus Malzahn standards. That HUNH has not been hurrying and, last season, it didn’t score points as it has in past years under Malzahn. THAT MUST CHANGE!

I wrote, a couple of weeks back, that these are the times that try men’s souls. They absolutely are that.

The past is the past.

It is what it is.

The time is now.

And now is the time for all good fans to come to the aid of their football team.

Stay tuned, folks. Good, bad, or indifferent, there are some interesting times in front of us.

But, in closing, let me say this. If the other team can’t score, they have no chance to win the football game. That 11.3 ppg would be fantastic, but those days are a distant memory. Gone with the wind, if you will. I will “settle” for something under 20 ppg. 😉

O defense, where art thou?

Auburn vs. Ole Miss: Glancing Back and Peering Forward

My first recollection of an Auburn vs. Ole Miss game is the Liberty Bowl of 1965. The two teams had not met since 1953. This was the first time the Liberty Bowl was played in Memphis. It was held in Philadelphia from it’s inception in 1959 through the 1963 season. In 1964 the game was played in Atlantic City.

Ole Miss escaped that 1965 game with a 13-7 win. Tailback Tom Bryan scored Auburn’s only touchdown on a 44-yard scamper. He was named the game’s Most Valuable Player and its Outstanding Offensive Back. The Tigers’ Robert Fulghum was selected as the Outstanding Defensive Back.

IMG_23831973 was the season that I attended my initial Auburn-Ole Miss brawl. And that it was, a defensive battle.

The game took place on October 6th of that year. That was the day old Cliff Hare Stadium was dedicated as Jordan- Hare Stadium.

Coach Jordan was, of course, humble in his receiving this honor and his Tigers responded with a 14-7 victory.

Halfback Rick Neel broke a 7-7 tie with a 33-yard touchdown burst with just over one minute remaining in the game.

One of the most exciting games of the series occurred on January 2, 1971 in the Gator Bowl. Auburn was led by junior quarterback, Pat Sullivan. Ole Miss also had a decent signal caller heading up their offense that day. His name was Archie Manning.

Auburn broke out of the gates with a vengeance by rolling to a 21-0 lead before the Rebels roared back to cut the lead to 21-14 at halftime.

The teams battled fiercely for the remainder of the game, several Gator Bowl stats were broken, with Auburn finally securing a 35-28 win.

And, probably, THE most exciting game of the series took place in Oxford in 2014. Click below:
Now, for those of you who love numbers and history, here are some more. The last six Auburn coaches’ records versus Ole Miss:

Shug Jordan, 4-3

Doug Barfield, 2-0

Pat Dye, 4-1

Terry Bowden, 6-0

Tommy Tuberville, 7-3

Gene Chizik, 3-1

Gus Malzahn, 2-0

The meetings between the two schools had been sporadic until divisions were created in 1992. Auburn leads the series with a 29-10-0 record against the Rebels.

The first time the schools met on the gridiron was in Birmingham in 1928 with the Tigers taking the win, 19-0.

The largest margin of victory came in 1985 when Bo Jackson ran for 240 yards on 38 carries to lead Auburn to a 41-0 victory.

The longest winning streak stands at nine, with Auburn taking games interspersed between 1971-1991.

Auburn vs. Ole Miss 2015

Last year’s contest was an elimination game, of sorts, and the same holds true for Ole Miss this year. The Rebs control their own destiny but if they lose they can more-than-likely kiss any chance to win the SEC West goodbye.

The 2015 Auburn Tiger football season is at a critical juncture. The same could have been, and probably was, said about last Saturday’s tough loss in Fayetteville. It rings ever more true with each succeeding game.

If Auburn fails to win, then any chance of a very good bowl game will disappear with the breeze which will waft away from Jordan-Hare Stadium around mid-afternoon this coming Saturday.

IMG_2329The Rebels had an impressive, 23-3, win against Texas A&M last Saturday night at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Quarterback Chad Kelly had a big night throwing for 241 yards and two touchdowns. Laquon Treadwell was on the receiving end of five of those passes. They totaled 102 yards.

Laremy Tunsil, star left tackle on the Ole Miss O line, returned to the lineup after completing a seven-game NCAA suspension for receiving illegal benefits. It appeared to have rejuvenated their ground attack as they rushed for 230 yards. They only ran for 40 yards the week before at Memphis.

I’m not going to rehash the details of Auburn’s excruciating loss, in four overtimes, at Arkansas last week. If the Tigers hadn’t dropped eight passes and two interceptions it would have been, truly, a different story. Hey! It would have been a different story if Tiger receivers had caught only HALF of those whiffs. SIGH.

But take heart Auburn fans! Redshirt freshman quarterback, Sean White, is getting better each week and it appears he could be a star for the Tigers sooner than later.

Here is a look at some of his numbers.

White completed 19 of 32 passes, in the Arkansas game, for 254 yards and zero interceptions. Add back only half of the eight drops and you have a completion percentage of .719, and many, many more yards. Probably well over 300 and, possibly near 400.

On the season he has thrown 97 passes and completed 62 for 805 yards. That’s over 200 yards per game. He has one interception. That came in the Miss State game.

And hopefully it’s going to get even better for the young QB.

Now, forget the numbers. The thing that impresses me most about Sean is his competitive spirit, his confidence, and his leadership. The kid LOVES to play and he gives it 110%.

He comin’!

Peyton Barber. Another baller. The guy really has a nose for the end zone. He found it four times against the Razorbacks. And he’s rushing for 110 yards per game.

And… AND… Carl Lawson practiced for the first time Tuesday! Will he play Saturday? We don’t know yet, but that is very encouraging!

Also, Auburn’s defense played better. After garnering 14 first quarter points, Arkansas scored only 10 points in the last three quarters of regulation play.

If defensive coordinator, Will Muschamp, can get similar results as those this Saturday, the Tigers will have a solid chance at winning the football game.

So, Auburn is playing to get better. They’re playing for pride. They’re playing for the opportunity to continue toward a 9-3 regular season record and a very good bowl game.

Ole Miss is playing for an opportunity to continue toward an SEC West Championship and, potentially, a College Football Playoff berth.

This is a HUGE game for both teams. A loss, for either squad, effectively ends the realization of lofty post-season goals.

Auburn has not committed a turnover in its past three games. That is a very good thing. If the Tigers can again protect the football, improve on both offense and defense, and get its expected high level of play from special teams, they have a good chance to win.

This game should be a Battle Royale. I expect Auburn and Ole Miss to come out breathing fire and leave everything on the field.IMG_0546

It should come down to the fourth quarter and whoever wants it most should win.

Here’s how I see it.

Ole Miss, trailing 21-20 late, gets a long TD pass from Kelly to Treadwell. 27-21, Black Bears.

Auburn, in an effort to salvage its season, gets a kickoff return of 87 yards from Rudy Ford. This puts the ball at the Rebel 13.

White hits Kamryn Pettway, coming out of the backfield, for a 12-yard gain.

Peyton Barber hammers it in from the one. The PAT is good. Auburn up.

Blake Countess then intercepts a late pass from Kelly and Auburn holds on for a 28-27 win!

You heard it here first!