Tag Archives: Jeremy Johnson

Auburn: To Be Or Not To Be… Consistent

The 2015 regular season is now in the books for the Auburn Tigers. It was a disappointing one, but the problems and inconsistencies did not begin on September 5, 2015, when Auburn played Louisville in the Chick-fil-a Kickoff Game. They began, at a minimum, on November 8, 2014, when Auburn played Texas A&M at home. At least that’s when the problems reared their ugly head.

Since that fateful afternoon on The Plains the Tigers’ record stands at 7-10. The SEC record is far, far worse. It stands at 2-9. 2-9!!! Chew on that for a moment. Two and NINE.

Prior to kickoff on January 6, 2014, when Auburn was about to play Florida State for the final BCS National Championship,  everything appeared to be bright and “Rose-y”.

Since then, and in the aftermath of The Tigers’ gallant, but sobering, loss in the 2015 Iron Bowl… not so much.

Even the most pessimistic of Auburn fans could not see coming what has, since, transpired.

That would be a 14-11 overall record and 6-10 in the SEC.

I have mentioned before, in this slot, that the 2015 edition of the Auburn Tigers is not ‘2012 Deux’. Obviously. But let’s hope they respond to adversity as the 2012 team did in 2013.

The 2015 group that left EVERYTHING on the field this past Saturday is to be commended for a great effort against what appears to be the best team in the country. The “best team in the country?” did have able assistance from an acutely inept Tom Ritter SEC officiating crew. No holding calls? Seriously? Look at the tape.

That’s not the first time that Ritter and his gang of blind mice have been accused of being less than efficient. The groans and complaints on Mr. Magoo’s gang resonate loudly, from Columbia to Gainesville to Baton Rogue to Knoxville, each and EVERY autumn.

http://www.foxsports.com/college-football/story/alabama-tennessee-sec-officiating-replay-review-102514

But that is not the point. Alabama was the better team and they deserved to win. Good for them.

And Florida, don’t think that you have a snowball’s chance in the bowels of Hades in the SEC Championship Game, you don’t. Not that you haven’t overachieved and had an SEC East best season, you  have.

But there is not a remote possibility the the SEC powers-that-be are going to stand by twiddling their thumbs and allow their best shot at a Natty go by the wayside. They won’t.

Alabama has a very, very good football team and has every opportunity to become a great one. They could. They should beat the Gators, handily, under any circumstances.

But you can bet that if, somehow, the SEC Championship Game turned out to be a nail-biter, that the crimson and white could very well get close, and/or, questionable calls.

No, this is not sour grapes. This is the reality in which Auburn and the other twelve SEC participants live. I have watched it with my own eyes for the past fifty-five years. “If you need a yard against Alabama, you’d better get three.” That, according to Pat Dye.

And, let me reiterate, The University of Alabama has an excellent football team and I consider them the premier program in the country. They have the most talent and the best head coach in college football today.

I congratulate them on that and I wish them good luck in the future.

I digress.

Let’s get back to the Auburn Tigers and the reality of the universe in which the Tiger faithful live here on December 1, 2015.

But first we will take a look at the Auburn program since Pat Dye retired in 1992. (And Dye’s record in HIS final two years were 5-5-1 in 1991 and 5-6 in 1992).

Terry Bowden

1993  11-0

1994  9-1-1

1995  8-4

1996  8-4

1997  9-3

1998  1-5

(Bill Oliver went 2-3 after Bowden’s departure in the ’98 season)

Tommy Tuberville

1999  5-6

2000  9-4

2001  7-5

2002  9-4

2003  8-5

2004  13-0

2005  9-3

2006  11-2

2007  9-4

2008  5-7

Gene Chizik

2009  8-5

2010  14-0

2011  8-5

2012  3-9

Gus Malzahn

2013  12-2

2014  8-5

2015  6-6 ( to this point)

So, what’s the take on all that?

There have been some good years, some very good years, some great years, and some phenomenal years (’93, ’04 & 2014). But the one thing that stands out to me is inconsistency. Auburn simply has not been able to put together consistent stretch runs as it did, however briefly, during the Pat Dye Era when they won 4 SEC Championships from 1983-1989. ’87-’89 saw them win three-in-a-row.

Up and down and mediocre has BEEN the consistent theme.

Auburn is going to have to somehow develop that consistency that has eluded them over the past twenty plus seasons. How do they do that?

Well, you start with recruiting. Recruiting has been quite good for the past five or six classes but it does appear that they have whiffed on a few prospects that were hoped to be dynamic and impactful players. And two of those players were quarterbacks, Kiehl Frazier and Jeremy Johnson.

That hurts. It really hurts.

Again, I’ve quoted this before, Pat Dye (yes, quoting him again and with good reason) once said that, “It all starts at quarterback.” It does. And missing, for whatever reason, on that critical position has been, IMHO, one of THE most damning issues Auburn has had in attempting to put together a great program that wins consistently.

Certainly there have been other issues such as developing players, injuries, and just plain bad luck, but much of the problem in 2011, 2012, and 2015 was the play at the quarterback position. And Auburn is, at some point, going to have to recruit AND develop quarterbacks and not keep bringing in JUCO talent. The best they have done, lately, is with Cam Newton and Nick Marshall… JUCO players.

So what about defense?

I think Auburn has their man in Will Muschamp. The defense has begun to really turn it around under his leadership. They are communicating much better. They are tackling much better. And they are playing with that ferocious intensity that you would have expected them to develop under Muschamp.

The defense really got after it in the Alabama game. The overall effort in the Iron Bowl was superb. I think the team really grew up this past Saturday. Now, going into bowl season, they truly have something to build on as they approach the 2016 season.

2016 will be a pivotal year. Make no mistake about it. Gus Malzahn, and his staff, might or might not be coaching for their jobs in the next campaign. I hope they are not. But if the team does not show marked improvement next season there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Of that, you can be sure.

6-6. 2-6 in conference play. Last place in the division. What team would you have attributed those stats to prior to the 2015 season? Vanderbilt? Kentucky? Mississippi State? It sure as hell would not have been the Auburn Tigers.

But, I have faith in Gus Malzahn. I have faith in Will Muschamp (No, I don’t believe he’s going anywhere). And,  I have faith in the players that will return in 2016. They became men in the Iron Bowl.

Also, there is some great looking talent coming in the next recruiting class. That group may wind up as another top ten class.

I can see the pieces falling in place for Auburn, much as they did prior to the 1993 and 2004 seasons.

No, I’m not suggesting that the 2016 Auburn Tigers will go undefeated. But next season could go a long way in propelling the program toward consistency that is long, LONG overdue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gut (Gus) Check Time

What if I told you, before this season started, that Auburn would, essentially,  be without Duke Williams, Jeremy Johnson, and Carl Lawson? That, by and large, is what has occurred to this point in the 2015 campaign. Yes Jeremy, Duke, and Carl have played, but very little.

And what if someone told you that Auburn would play Ole Miss off their feet with a redshirt freshman quarterback, with one leg?

What if you had known that Auburn’s defense, with Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator, would be at, or near, the bottom of the league in total yards (14th), passing yards (13th), and rushing yards (12th)?

What would you have thought Auburn’s record would have been, under these circumstances?

Auburn  finds itself at 4-4 with a 1-4 record in SEC play. That is where the Tigers stand, and that is the cold, harsh reality here on November 4, 2015.

Who’d a thunk it?

NO ONE.

SO… where does it go from here?

It seems like just the other day Auburn was playing Florida State for the BCS National Championship under first year head coach Gus Malzahn. Consensus Coach of the Year, Gus Malzahn. And offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee was nominated for the Broyles Award as the top assistant coach in the country.IMG_1332

Wot hoppened?

Many people picked Auburn to win the SEC West, the SEC Championship, and play in the College Football Playoff.

Whew!

Here is a snippet from Pat Dye’s weekly column which appears on Inside The Auburn Tigers (ITAT).

“I know there were questionable decisions in the Ole Miss game, but I believe they were made based on the knowledge the coaches have about their team and the desire to give their team the best possible chance of winning–even the fourth down call in the second quarter that didn’t work. I have done it myself and I have seen great coaches over the years in close games make decisions that if they work are going to help their teams win, but if they don’t work they are probably going to cost you the game.

You have to be thick-skinned to do it. You can’t make those type of calls if you are scared of the outcome because then you are making a decision for a negative reason rather than doing what you think gives your team the best chance to win.”

It’s not that our coaches can no longer coach or were struck dumb, although many of us feel that way. The brutal circumstances, mentioned above, along with more to come, below, have combined to put the Auburn Tigers in an almost unfathomable position considering what preseason expectations were.

Now here’s some more fodder to mix into the equation.

Auburn has 15 rookies on NFL rosters this season. THAT IS MORE THAN ANYONE IN THE SEC.

Included in that group are Nick Marshall, Reese Dismukes, Robenson Therezie, Cameron Artis-Payne, Sammie Coates, Quan Bray, CJ Uzomah, Gabe Wright, Chris Davis and Corey Grant.

That’s some SERIOUS offensive production and a few defensive talents. Take that, along with the defensive stats cited earlier, and you can truly get a sense of “Wot hoppened”.

If you consider that Auburn could have won any of the games they’ve played in, except for LSU, then think where they could have been without the negative waves that have washed over them like some relentless sea of doom.

Where does that leave us?

“And I never lost a minute of sleepin’ worryin’ ’bout the way things might have been.” All of you are familiar the that John Fogerty penned CCR song.

Or maybe Willie Nelson would be more appropriate. “Whiskey river take my mind, don’t let ‘er mem’ry torture me. Whiskey river don’t run dry, you’re all I’ve got take care of me. I’m drowning in a whiskey river…”

However. Whatever. It is what it is.

So here we stand. The  present. A trip to College Station looms large on the horizon.

This game has been a critical one the past two seasons. Two years ago, ah yes, two short years ago Auburn roared into Kyle Field. They defeated Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel, and the Texas A&M Aggies and utilized that victory to propel them to an SEC Championship and a berth in the BCS National Championship Game.

Last year, you know the story, a huge upset at the hands of the Aggies in Jordan-Hare Stadium was the beginning of a bitter downward spiral that has seen the Tigers go 1-7 in SEC play since that fateful day.

A win, Saturday, could jump start Auburn on a three game winning streak. They could, certainly, beat the free falling Georgia Bulldogs, who have more problems than a math book. And they WILL beat the Idaho Vandals.

That would leave one game remaining on the 2015 schedule.

You know who the opponent is in that one game.

I know who that opponent is in that one game.

We shall not speak of it here today. There is far too much ground to cover in the interim.

Auburn vs. Texas A&M. It’s large, folks. It’s large.IMG_1559_2

The whole nation, yea the whole world, will have its eyes squarely focused on what transpires in Tuscaloosa, AL, Saturday. That is a monster game.

But for those who love and support the men who proudly wear the burnt orange and navy blue of Auburn University, what takes place in the wide open space, north of Houston and east of Austin, Texas, is of paramount importance. Every game now becomes a season in itself.

What will happen out there in Tejas? I don’t know. But, I suspect that this group of Auburn Tigers will be ready to rumble. I suspect that they will be “scratchin’ and clawin’ and fightin’ “, as Coach Pat Dye once said. That’s what they’ve done thus far this season, and I have no reason to think they won’t continue to play with great effort at 6:30 Saturday night.

I’m not going to venture a prediction, in this slot, on the game. But I will say that I think Auburn will give the Aggies all they can handle and more.

And so, if you aren’t making the trip to the Lone Star State on Saturday, then fire up the grill, pour yourself a beverage, and get ready for some great SEC football!

Damn It Anyway

Coach Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers will open the 2015-16 men’s basketball season on November 13th versus the UAB Blazers at Auburn Arena.

Here is a projected look at the starting five which includes four who did not start last season for the Tigers:

1. Kareem Canty  2. T.J. Dunans  3. Danjel Purifoy  4. Cinmeon Bowers  5. Tyler Harris

OH WAIT!!! It’s not basketball season just yet, DANGIT!!!

Ok folks, just a feeble attempt at humor during a time when it is much needed, especially with the position the football team has now found itself in.

Now, let me pose a few questions to you. What if you knew, before the season began, that neither Carl Lawson nor Jeremy Johnson would be in the starting lineup? What would you have thought? What would your projection be as far as wins and losses after five games?

And how about these stats?

*After five games last season the Tigers were averaging 268.0 rushing yards per game and 229.2 passing yards while posting a 5-0 record. This season the numbers are 190.0 rushing yards per game with 153.8 passing.
Defensively, after five games last season the Tigers were allowing 100.2 rushing yards per game and 206.4 passing yards. This season the averages are 209.6 rushing yards allowed per game and 202.4 passing.
Last season through five games the offense made 21 trips into the red zone and scored every time with 17 of those touchdowns. This season the Tigers have scored on 13 of 17 red zone trips with 10 touchdowns.

*Taken from Inside The Auburn Tigers at Auburn.scout.com

Chew on this for a bit:

SportSourceAnalytics ‏@SportSourceA
With Duke Williams’ dismissal, @FootballAU now only has 16.6% of their offensive production back from 2014. Lowest in #FBS. #Auburn

“Sobering is probably not the right word, because alcohol may be the only solution for remainder of season.” (Author’s comment from the above which was taken from Twitter.)

And my reply which is taken from Willie Nelson:

“Well I gotta get drunk and I sure do dread it, ‘Cause I know just what I’m gonna do, I’ll start to spend my money callin’ everybody honey and wind up singin’ the blues, I’ll spend my whole paycheck on some old wreck, And brother I can name you a few, Well I gotta get drunk and I sure do dread it, ‘Cause I know just what I’m gonna do…”

Well there you have it. Thank you for reading the the column! Tip your waitresses! See you next week! Drive safely! We love you!

Noooooooo… but LAWD, ain’t it tempting?

Auburn now stands at 3-2 and 0-2 in the SEC.

That’s where we are. Where do we go from here? Will the Tigers win even ONE conference game? Will they make a bowl? Can they right the ship?

Here is the ONLY thing that I know for sure. And this is guaranteed. AUBURN WILL NOT LOSE SATURDAY. It will not happen. Bet the farm on it.

And most of you are already quick onto this ruse. Auburn cannot lose Saturday because they have an open date.

Ok! Let’s dig for that silver lining I mentioned in a previous column.

In spite of what you’ve heard, Auburn won last Saturday. Yes, the opponent was San Jose State but I will sure as heck take it. SJS had more first downs, more yards rushing, and more yards passing; but Auburn had more points. It’s a place to start. It’s something to build on. The Tigers also ran the ball well, with Peyton Barber doing the most damage. It’s something to build on.

Sean White didn’t exactly air the ball out, he was 6 for 10, but he had ZERO interceptions. He made some good decisions and he seemed to provide some spark and leadership. It’s something to build on.

Also, Auburn gathered four turnovers and had ZERO themselves. Yes, they put the ball on the ground but they did not LOSE a fumble. It’s something to build on.

Auburn may not have looked like the Packers of the 60’s but they WERE opportunistic. It’s something to build on.

Now, back to the present and the immediate future. Auburn, mercifully, finds itself with that open date. Talk about something that was needed. Hallelujah!

In practice the team has gone back to the basics. They are working on fundamentals. They are doing some one on one work. It appears that the coaches and players have turned up the intensity and focus. That is what they’d better be doing because, if they don’t go all in and improve from week to week, then we’re all looking at a record of 4-8, most likely.

People, Gus Malzahn, Will Muschamp and the rest of the coaching staff did not suddenly turn stump dumb. They did not forget how to coach. There have been circumstances, both within, and without, and beyond their control, that have brought them to this point. They are doing everything possible to get this thing turned around. You can bet on that.

Earl Brown was the head football coach from 1948-1950, just prior to Shug Jordan’s hiring. He won a total of three games in those three years. His final season saw the Tigers go OH and TEN. OH yeah. he was quoted as saying Auburn was, “a graveyard for coaches.”

And then along came Ralph “Shug” Jordan.

Shug, himself, was quoted as saying something to the effect of, “Auburn’s worst enemy is Auburn.”

I couldn’t agree more.

AND the ONE thing that the Auburn Family does not need to do is become fractured, frustrated and forlorn. There does not need to be in-fighting. Or people screaming for the coaches heads (and I have heard some of this already).

Auburn, and her Family, don’t need to be thinking about their final record and what bowl they, may or may not, go to. They need to be focusing on the here and now and getting better. The Auburn Family needs to unite and get behind these coaches and this football team.

This football team will, hopefully, harken back to the aforementioned Shug Jordan’s Seven D’s of Success:

1. Discipline  2. Desire to Excel  3. Determination  4. Dedication  5. Dependability  6. Desperation  7. Damn it Anyway

And I will quote coach Jordan’s elaboration on point number seven.

“When you have done everything you can do and things still seem to be going against you, you have to reach down, get something extra from your innerself, forget the adverse circumstances and do something anyway. Someone once put it, ‘Do something–right or wrong–just do something.’ One thing for certain. You are not going to win by accepting the overwhelming odds.”

Amen.

Auburn Tigers 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!”  #[email protected]#*!%!

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.

E-mail Bird at [email protected], follow him on Twitter @Autull or visit his personal website at BirdLeCroy.com.

What’s Up With Jeremy Johnson?

The status quo for the SEC used to be winning games with a hard-hitting defense (you know, that thing that “wins” championships) and scoring just enough points to get by week by week. The status quo slowly changed into somewhat of a primary offensive league with top tier quarterbacks escalating expectations for the conference’s offensive production with more spread schemes and aerial attacks. Having recent quarterbacks with the caliber of Aaron Murray, AJ McCarron, Johnny Manziel, Nick Marshall, and Zach Mettenberger SEC fans were spoiled with productive and potent quarterback play and this season feel naked not having at least two to three players behind center that they can hang their hat on.

Now before I tend to go off on a tangent and start ranting/venting it is week three and most coaches will tell you that the transition of week two to week three is when you figure out where your team is and what they can be capable of going forward. The disappointment of poor quarterback play comes mostly from preseason media overhyping players in a way to say, “I told you so!” when that passer becomes an all-conference performer at season’s end.

Just on the topic of preseason rankings and why not to put all your coins in them can be a full article on its own, but here more focus will be attributed to the underwhelming play of quarterbacks and how the extraneous predictions put an unfair and ridiculous amount of pressure to perform and excel immediately with style points.

This week’s focus: Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson.

There’s no sugar coating Johnson’s first two performances. They weren’t very good. His decision-making has been very poor by continuing to throw into congested areas with two to three defenders in his line of vision. He has not looked anything like the player we witnessed a year ago as backup to Nick Marshall and has yet to even show consistent glimpses of that superstar status many built him up to be this preseason.

Is all hope lost? No.

Jeremy Johnson still has that potential to become that gamer he was projected to be for the Tigers. I think.

I never try to criticize coaching because I feel I am in no way in that position to judge, but I think I feel comfortable enough to at least tweak some of the schemes teams are running for the better of their team. Seeing Johnson as this pocket passer in a run heavy offense, the Auburn coaching staff has embraced that by giving Johnson diverse and complex routes to deal with. What happened to easing the quarterback in to get comfortable?

Louisville was a good example of that forcing Johnson to make big throws early putting even more pressure on him to make something happen. Last week versus Jacksonville State the play calling paved way for Johnson to get comfortable running early screen passes and short slants with out plays and nothing over ten to fifteen yards. It worked well for a while, but there is only so much coaches can do from the sideline. Johnson continued to make boneheaded errors that almost led to a potential historic loss in college football history.

So before the questions get asked, no I am not blaming the coaching staff for Johnson’s constant errors. Heck, why would I criticize a play caller that coached Cam Newton to a Heisman and national championship in 2010 and Nick Marshall running one of the best zone-read options we have ever witnessed? And let’s not forget the transformation of a very mediocre Chris Todd in 2009 going from a 55% completion percentage 903 yard with a 5-6 ratio 2008 campaign to a 60% completion percentage 2,612 yard 22-6 ratio 2009 season with an Outback Bowl victory.

It’s Johnson’s problem(s) to fix and he knows he is one of the reasons to point fingers at for a couple of close calls early in the Tigers’ season, but his confidence is not shot as he knows he can’t hang his head on a few bad throws heading into a tough defense in LSU.

When asked about LSU: “I have to be mentally ready.” (al.com)

Johnson has taken a trip to LSU before though not playing, so he knows the atmosphere that is awaiting him in Death Valley and knows what to expect from a fast and physical defense that will have his number on Saturday.

(Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
(Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)

My advice or my game plan with Johnson is to take baby steps and take what the defense is giving him. That sounds too simple, but simple is the best strategy for Johnson and the Tigers this weekend. Slowly implementing Johnson into the game Saturday is Auburn’s best option to find success. Johnson and the Tigers know they need to start off fast but efficiency is what should be the goal initially.

The monstrous expectations Johnson received this preseason have hung with fans all over college football and it’s easy to look down on a quarterback that has underachieved mightily in his first two starts this season. The expectations come from Johnson’s skill set being a physical specimen in a Gus Malzahn offense with the ability to be mobile in the pocket (have yet to see that) and possessing a strong-arm. It’s the mental game that analysts overlooked this preseason. Which is probably the most important attribute to a quarterback’s game.

It’s simple, right?

Johnson fixes his errors and Auburn is “on to victory!”

Maybe it is that simple.

Maybe it is not.

Trying to fix mental errors in a quarterback’s game, internally or advising from the sidelines, is not something that can be changed overnight or even within six to seven days.

So with all that said I cannot decipher if Johnson fixes his issues and becomes that elite quarterback we have expected to see and get the chance to say “FINALLY!” or “What took so long?”

Because he may not.

That’s just football.

Five You Must See: Week 3

It’s week three and the matchups are getting more interesting.  Here are your five must-see games on this weekend’s schedule:

#11 Clemson at Louisville, Thursday 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN

Photo: Bart Boatwright/ Staff - Greenvilleonline.com
Photo: Bart Boatwright/ Staff – Greenvilleonline.com

This game will go a long way in determining who will win the ACC.  Clemson will obviously be the favorite considering they’re the ranked team and Louisville has struggled with consistency in both of their games.  The Cardinals were picked by some to be a possible dark horse in this year’s ACC race.  So far, that hasn’t looked like a smart pick, but a win here would make people forget all about their two losses.  It would also mean they’ve cleared one of the two giant hurdles in their way with a trip to Florida State looming.  It’ll be interesting to see how Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson plays in his first real challenge this fall.  If he and the Tigers win the turnover battle they should have no trouble winning this one.

#14 Georgia Tech at #8 Notre Dame, Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC

Notre Dame lost their running back in week one and their quarterback in week two.  Not having Malik Zaire for the rest of the season will really hurt the Irish offense.  It will likely take some time for everyone on that side of the ball to get back on the same page.  Georgia Tech is not the opponent against whom you want to start that process.  The Yellow Jackets, led by Justin Thomas, are the best in the nation at running the triple option.  The Irish defense has their work cut out for them and needs to come up big to give their team a shot at winning this one.

#18 Auburn at #13 LSU, Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS

Auburn hasn’t looked good at all.  That’s mostly because Jeremy Johnson, a guy who most thought would be at least solid, has been solid at best.  Auburn might be able to beat weak teams without good quarterback play, but when facing SEC competition they’ll need Johnson to perform far better than he has.  LSU already has a conference win, but we don’t know much about them other than their running back Leonard Fournette is a beast.  Both these teams will show us what they’re made of in this game.  I guarantee the Tigers win.

#15 Ole Miss at #2 Alabama, Saturday 9:15 p.m. ET on ESPN

This is a rematch of last year’s classic that saw the Rebels score 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to topple the Tide.  Tuscaloosa hosts College Gameday this go-around and the home fans are craving revenge.  Nick Saban is the richest man in coaching, both in terms of money and available talent.  He has the winning formula hidden in a secret compartment in his desk.  This will be a good game until the fourth quarter when the Tide pull away.

#19 BYU at #10 UCLA, Saturday 10:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1

Photo: Gary A. Vasquez - USA Today Sports
Photo: Gary A. Vasquez – USA Today Sports

Everyone is setting themselves up for disappointment by rooting for BYU here.  It’s hard not to because of the way they’ve won their first two games, but they’re overmatched in this one.  UCLA’s first ever true freshman starting quarterback Josh Rosen is the real deal.  He makes all the throws with ease.  Head coach Jim Mora is building something special while everyone’s attention is directed at his crosstown rival.  The distance between the established tenth-ranked Bruins and the newly-ranked #19 Cougars will be painfully obvious.

The ‘Better as a Basketball Game’ of the Week

The Florida Gators travel north to Lexington for a game against the Kentucky Wildcats this Saturday.  It took triple overtime for the Gators to edge the Cats 36-30 in last fall’s tilt.  This will be another good football game.  Recently though, when these two have met on the hardwood it’s been for control of the SEC.  Watching Billy Donovan try to match John Calipari is entertaining.  You’ll have to wait a couple more months for that.  In the meantime, enjoy watching two programs aim for their first 3-0 start in years (2012 for Florida, 2010 for Kentucky).  Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. EST on the SEC Network.

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

#!%#>([email protected] 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

Game. Set. Match.auburn-football

“Guys, that was embarrassing”: Week 2 in SEC Football

“Guys, that was embarrassing…”

Those words have been torn apart by Florida Gator fans and sports journalists for the past few days. I stand with Florida Coach Jim McElwain on this one; Florida may have won, but that was an “embarrassing” effort by the Gators. Unfortunately, this same embarrassment seemed to be prominent in about half of the games that SEC football teams played in last weekend. Some of the winners put forth an “embarrassing” effort, even though they did manage to secure a win. And obviously the big losers just put forth an outright shameful performance on Saturday.

GUYS, THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS. This mortifying weekend for SEC football came right after a record-setting poll vote last week. The SEC entered the weekend with ten ranked teams. They exited the weekend with only seven ranked teams. It’s awful for me to have to relive this weekend of SEC football, but I’ll be glad to put all the underperforming teams on blast for your enjoyment. Maybe I’ll even get a kick out of it too.

The Losers

The worst loss suffered by an SEC football team this weekend belongs to Bret Bielema and the Arkansas Razorbacks. Arkansas somehow managed to lose to Toledo…in Little Rock, Arkansas. I’m still not 100% sure how this even happened. Even looking at the statistics for the game, it just seems incredible that Arkansas found a way to lose this game. The Toledo Rockets came into this game as 21-point underdogs and left this game victorious. Performances like this one from Arkansas are the reason people are saying the entire SEC is overrated this year. Arkansas was one of those ten ranked teams from the SEC, but now they’ve become the laughing stock of SEC critics everywhere. Thanks, Arkansas. I’m sure Toledo enjoyed their “borderline erotic” win against and overrated SEC football team.

This second loss is actually painful for me to write about. I watched as the Vols jumped out to an early 17-0 lead over the Oklahoma Sooners. I watched that lead turn into a 17-3 lead, but still wasn’t concerned. I saw the Oklahoma offense really start to warm up in the fourth quarter, and then I was nervous. Somehow the Vols managed to let a 17-point lead turn into a game that was tied at the end of regulation. In the first overtime period, both teams scored touchdowns. But in the second overtime period, Oklahoma’s offense moved the ball and Tennessee’s gave up the ball. What was once an impressive 17-point lead at home had become a gut-wrenching double overtime loss. What does this mean for Tennessee heading into the rest of the season? I have no clue. Maybe they just had an “off” half. Clearly they are capable of dominating a strong opponent for one half. But it takes two good halves of football to win the game, not just one. So can the Vols finally get it done this season? After Saturday, I really don’t know.

The Winners That Also Lost

Auburn…what was that? I really am at a loss for words about Auburn’s home game against the Jacksonville State Gamecocks. I’m starting to think Will Muschamp just tries to lose to FCS opponents. The offense struggled behind QB Jeremy Johnson and his two interceptions. Johnson was supposed to be a Heisman Trophy candidate but now he’s literally throwing away his chances of receiving that honor. On top of a weak offense, the Tigers gave up 438 yards on defense…to an FCS team. I just don’t get it. If the Tigers hadn’t pulled together for that last-minute score, then they would’ve never taken the game to overtime. But even winning in overtime is embarrassing against a team like Jacksonville State. I don’t know what’s going on, but please just get it together Auburn…please.

Missouri also had a scare against Sun Belt opponent Arkansas State, a team that had just been absolutely crushed by the USC Trojans during the opening weekend of college football. If it weren’t for Maty Mauk and Kentrell Brothers, the Missouri Tigers definitely would’ve suffered an embarrassing loss to the Arkansas State Red Wolves. The Tigers actually went into the second half down 17-10 and somehow managed to fight back and win 27-20. How did they do it? In the second half Missouri’s defense, led by Kentrell Brothers, only allowed 37 yards and 3 points for the Red Wolves offense. Meanwhile, QB Maty Mauk put the team on his back and ended the game with 3 passing TDs as well as 75 rushing yards. Heading into conference play, the Tigers need more players than just Mauk and Brothers to actually show up to the games. SEC opponents aren’t quite as forgiving as Sun Belt opponents.

And now we finally get to look at the game that gave me this week’s article title. The Florida Gators played a humiliating game at home against the East Carolina Pirates. Just like last season, Florida’s kicker Austin Hardin proved to be anything but clutch, missing two field goal attempts that were both under 40 yards. QB Will Grier still looked like the Will Grier Florida fans were so excited about recruiting, but his rhythm was interrupted as he still shared playing time with Treon Harris. And even though the Gators held the Pirates to negative rushing yards (I know, shocking), they were unable to stop their passing game AT ALL. Not to mention, the Gators also racked up all sorts of penalties throughout the game. It went down to the wire, but Florida managed to get a crucial fumble recovery to seal their victory. Coach Jim McElwain was anything but impressed by this lackluster performance and had some choice words for his team throughout the night. At the end of the day, yes…Florida did win. But McElwain was definitely correct when he highlighted selfish mistakes and called their overall performance “embarrassing.”

“You guys should be embarrassed having to write about it!”

I am embarrassed…thanks for validating that Coach McElwain. I actually almost feel like this was a therapy session, during which I could air my grievances with SEC football teams. That’s how bad last week was for SEC football. Hopefully throughout the coming weeks, these teams can get their acts together and start playing like they belong in the best conference in college football. I’m just so tired of hearing all the doubters say the SEC isn’t the best conference anymore. But after last week even I am starting to think the doubters may be right. By the way, does anybody know if Georgia left their passing game in Athens last week? I couldn’t find it when they were in Nashville.

Sometimes I tweet about football…follow @OGKristenB!

Week 2 Rundown: O-ver Ra-ted….O-ver Ra-ted

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-O5YzwFfVo

First off, I have to apologize for exposing you to what may be the worst TV viewing out there. Listening to those two is the worst, and I think I’d rather root for my team’s most hated rival than watch 10 minutes of those two blowhards go on and on to defend their steadfast biases. But the topic is fitting considering the weekend we just had in college football. After the bowl season most of the nation wondered if the daunted SEC West of 2014 was overrated. The same question isn’t even a question two weeks into the 2015 season. It’s already been proven that the SEC West was overrated to start this year.

Where to begin? The Tennessee Volunteers rolled into 2015 with as much momentum as anyone who finished the year 7-6 under the premise, are they about to be back? For 3+ quarters it looked that way as the Vols led Oklahoma 17-3 in the 4th quarter at home. After all the talk through the week about the Sooners disrespecting vaunted Neyland Stadium, surely the Vols could close out a two touchdown 4th quarter lead at home right? They proceeded to give up both touchdowns, then lose the game in overtime, ultimately seeing their bandwagon ran off the road by the Sooner Schooner. But losing to a Top 15 team in OT shouldn’t darken the Vols fans’ spirits as much as it has, and Tennessee still has as good a chance as anyone to make it to the SEC Title game out of the East.

The Volunteers are still in a much better spot than that SEC West I referenced in the intro. After running his mouth about the lack of ranked opponents on Ohio State’s schedule, Bret Bielema managed to lead his team to a stunning home loss to Toledo. Arkansas, the SEC West version of Tennessee, basically ran their hype train into a brick wall on Saturday in losing to a team that was probably the 3rd easiest on its schedule. But that loss might not even be looked upon as bad as what popular playoff pick Auburn managed to accomplish. Winning in OT against an FCS team not named North Dakota State is nothing to be proud of. It would be tough for most contenders to allow Jacksonville State to take them to OT if they were trying to lose. Normally early in the season you say ‘a win’s a win’ and move on, but the Tigers have to be worried about what they’ve seen out of quarterback Jeremy Johnson. It’s not just the number of interceptions he’s thrown, but the types of interceptions. Badly misreading coverages and making terrible throws outnumber the positive plays he’s made. Or at least that’s how it has felt. But don’t worry, all Johnson has to face this Saturday are the LSU Tigers, who merely went on the road last week and defeated 2014 Heisman contender Dak Prescott and the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

All in all we’ll probably be wondering if (or how much) the SEC is overrated until a team steps up and gets on a roll against quality competition. That could start this Saturday when Ole Miss travels to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama. The Rebels have been doing their best Oregon Ducks impersonation, scoring more points in consecutive games than they have in school history. Don’t think you’ll see this ole’ guy doing pushups after every score anytime soon though. Another team that scored at will Saturday was TCU, who bounced back from an ugly early season win against Minnesota to put up 70+. Granted it was against Stephen F. Austin, but it’s nice to see them start to get that offensive magic going that they had rolling last year. They’ll need it down the stretch against the likes of Oklahoma, Baylor, and Texas. Ok not Texas, but definitely the other two. In the Horned Frogs win, Trevone Boykin steadied his spot as a Heisman contender.

One quarterback who won’t have a chance to be in New York anymore is Notre Dame Quarterback Malik Zaire, who is out for the season after breaking his ankle. This is obviously incredibly disappointing not just for Zaire, but for an Irish team that had playoff aspirations. They should still have a quality season because of the overall team strength, but it’s hard to see them surviving a schedule that includes Georgia Tech, Clemson, and USC, with a backup quarterback. Both Georgia Tech and Clemson are teams that have rolled against soft schedules the first couple weeks, but get a chance to prove themselves a little more this week with the Yellow Jackets facing Notre Dame and Clemson hosting Louisville. Because of the Zaire injury and Louisville’s loss to Houston on Saturday, neither Georgia Tech nor Clemson will get the respect they hoped to get from these games when the season began. I’m guessing no ACC team will get much national respect or recognition unless one starts at least 9-0.

The Michigan State Spartans are a team that certainly doesn’t have to worry about respect after defeating the Oregon Ducks in a nail-biter on Saturday night. In a matchup that will definitely be looked back on when the playoff field is announced, the Spartans were able to hold off the Ducks for a 3 point victory and held Oregon’s offense to 21 points, an impressive feat in this day and age. Michigan State should be able to coast for the next 9 weeks, which is how long it is until they face Ohio State. That game is likely to decide a playoff spot.

The playoff race is wide open. While that seems obvious seeing that we’re only two weeks into the season, normally there are a couple teams who are at least viewed as a step ahead of the pack. Not so this year. Any of the Top 12 teams could be viewed on the same level as each other, which will make it interesting to see which of these teams begins to separate from the rest over the next few weeks. Matchups that will give teams a chance to do just that on Saturday? Georgia Tech at Notre Dame and Ole Miss at Alabama.

Top 4

Ohio State

Ole Miss

Michigan State

Baylor

 

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 Prayer 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