Last season, by the end of the year, Auburn's defense began playing with confidence and that was a key reason the Tigers won the national championship. In the opener this season vs. Utah State with the Tigers having eight new starters in the lineup it looked to me like there were players who were not confident in what they were doing. It looked like some of the players were thinking too much, trying to make sure they did the right thing, and that took away some of the aggressiveness needed to play on that side of the ball.
That would certainly explain the kind of play we saw in game one. I think we will see more growing pains with the Auburn defense this season. It isn't easy to be successful in the SEC as a young player, but I think somewhere down the road we will see these guys grow up and turn into confident, aggressive defenders who will be able to take advantage of their outstanding athletic ability.
Auburn got through the opener vs. Utah State with a win, but just barely. What we saw was a perfect example of the problems an experienced offense can create for a defense that features a lot of inexperienced kids in key roles. Utah State's offensive players didn't have as much ability as Auburn's defensive players, but the Aggies could have very easily won that game because of how aggressively they played while avoiding turnovers and not making many mistakes.
Turning our attention to week two of SEC play, there are a couple of big games on the schedule, one in the SEC West and one in the SEC East, that will get two teams off to good starts in their divisional races.
Auburn and Mississippi State open league play Saturday morning at Auburn. The rebuilding Tigers will be trying to make some kind of statement after their disappointing start while also trying to grow as a football team. This game is very, very important to them to build the type of confidence this team will need to face a very challenging schedule.
Mississippi State is an opponent the Tigers ought to be able to match up against. The Bulldogs will have more experience than Auburn, but they shouldn't have more talent. For Auburn to win this game the Tigers will have to find a way to overcome the inexperience factor. They will also have to find a way to deal with an opponent that is likely going to be several touchdowns better than Utah State.
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen is 0-2 in games vs. Auburn.
It is an important game for Mississippi State, too. The Bulldogs could have easily spent a lot of time in preseason preparing for Auburn instead of Memphis State, a team they were able to defeat with ease last week. Mississippi State may have even been preparing for Auburn back in spring training so you can expect the Bulldogs will be ready to play this Saturday.
Mississippi State has high expectations for its veteran team and played with confidence in its opener so Auburn needs to be sure it brings its best game to the stadium on Saturday.
The big game in the SEC East this week is Georgia vs. South Carolina. A lot of people are saying Mark Richt's job is on the line this week depending on the outcome of on Saturday. I don't necessarily agree with that. I like Mark and I hope his job is not on the line.
South Carolina is counting on Stephen Garcia to lead the offense.
With the struggles Georgia has had I don't see the Bulldogs beating Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks unless Spurrier plays his backup quarterback the whole game, which I don't see happening. I think Stephen Garcia regained his starting job last week vs. East Carolina.
South Carolina looked a little shell-shocked early in the opener, but was a different team on both sides of the football when Garcia came off the bench to lead the Gamecocks to a victory.
Garcia not only picked up the offense, he picked up the defense, too. That is not surprising with him being a senior. Even though he has had a personality conflict with the coach and had a lot of problems since he got to campus, it looks like Garcia's teammates like him and respect him as a player.
I think South Carolina has got too much going for it now to lose this game, but in the history of this series there are a lot of examples of games going down to the very end before a winner is decided. It probably will go that way again this Saturday.
I don't know if Georgia is as bad as Boise State made them look last week or if Boise State is that good, but I will say I was impressed with the Broncos.
The top out-of-conference game for the SEC this week is Alabama traveling to Penn State. Alabama's team appears to be solid about everywhere although it must be concerned about the offensive line because the coaches are moving people around there trying to get the right combination.
I know Coach Saban can't be happy that his quarterbacks threw four interceptions and the team turned the ball over five times in the opener. I can assure you he is deeply concerned about the turnovers because he has a defense that can help them win any game on the schedule if the offense doesn't beat them.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)
Editor's Note: This is part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn who was also head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming, Dye participates in the Legends Poll, a Top 25 rating of the best teams in college football as determined by a panel of all-star former head coaches. Dye also writes the Dye-Log and Pat's Picks columns for AUTigers.com.