While Ole Miss freshmen Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell, Tony Conner and Laremy Tunsil got much of the attention before the Auburn game when the subject of talented newcomers came up, there was no doubt who the best freshman on the field was Saturday night and it wasn't close.
Dominating the left tackle Tunsil over and over again, Auburn freshman defensive end Carl Lawson had a night to remember in Auburn's 30-22 win.
Even though he was splitting time on the right side for the Tigers, Lawson made six tackles, recorded his first two sacks of the season and finished with three and a half tackles for losses.
Nobody knows what the future holds for the group of freshmen on both teams, but for one shining moment there was no question that Lawson was the man. With fellow freshmen Montravius Adams and Elijah Daniel also showing plenty of promise, Auburn's future on the defensive line looks to be in good hands.
Auburn's defense was a stagnant group in 2012, finishing with just 13 forced turnovers, 22 sacks and 66 tackles for losses in 12 games. While the overall yardage allowed per game has actually gone up this season, from 420 last year to 444 so far in 2013, Auburn's points allowed per game is down 6.3 points. Much of the reason for that is turnovers forced and negative plays. Already this year Auburn has forced eight turnovers, including six interceptions.
Up front Coach Rodney Garner's group has 12 sacks and 42 tackles for losses. Even though they are still giving up too many chunk plays at times on defense, Auburn's defense is making big plays and that is a huge positive.
Tigers Impress Takeo
One of the most interested spectators on Saturday night was former Auburn All-American and NFL standout linebacker Takeo Spikes. After being in the locker room and on the sidelines for much of the night, Spikes said he loved the attitude and direction of the program following the win.
He especially noted the defense and the effort it put forth in the win. Coming from a guy who was as intense as any player that played the game, impressing Spikes means Auburn is on the right track.
Sooner Than Later
When Gus Malzahn took over a dispirited Auburn team many thought it would take a while for the Tigers to be a threat in the SEC again. While the Tigers still have plenty of work ahead to challenge for a title, the program has taken significant strides already in just five games.
With wins over Mississippi State and Ole Miss as part of four wins to this point, Auburn has two non-conference games left where it should be considerable favorites against Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic.
Winning just those two would ensure being bowl eligible after having just three wins last season. With winnable games against both Arkansas and Tennessee the Tigers could easily get to seven or eight wins. Throw in games against Texas A&M and Georgia, both with suspect defenses, and a rivalry game against Alabama and there's not a game left on Auburn's schedule the Tigers can't win.
While the Tigers probably aren't going to win them all, Auburn's resurgence so far in 2013 has put the league on notice that the Tigers will be back sooner rather than later.
Crowd Plays A Part
Even though much of the first half of the 2013 season has been littered with half-empty stadiums at many places around the country, Auburn fans have shown up and made Jordan-Hare Stadium a tough place to play once again.
There is no question that the high price to attend games, the lack of tailgating opportunities and every game on television has made it tougher to get sellout crowds at Auburn and many other places, the fans who have shown up at Jordan-Hare Stadium have made a positive impact. That has especially been true in SEC wins over Mississippi State and Ole Miss.
The atmosphere at times Saturday night late in the win over the Rebels was the best I have seen since 2010 and reminded me of games in the 1980s and 1990s. If Jordan-Hare Stadium can continue rocking this year heading into rivalry games against Georgia and Alabama then it could be a very interesting finish to the regular season.