Monday Morning QB Column: A Different Team

Auburn's big road win at Texas A&M, a year after a dreadful loss to the Aggies, shows the progress Coach Gus Malzahn's Tigers are making.

What A Difference A Year Makes

The last time Auburn was on a football field with Texas A&M it was one of the most disheartening performances in school history. Getting beat 63-21 the Tigers allowed 42 points in the first half and the Aggies could have scored 100 if not for Coach Kevin Sumlin calling off the dogs early.

There would be none of that this time around. Sure, Auburn's defense gave up a ton of passing yards to Johnny Manziel (454 to be exact), but the Tigers took the battle to the No. 7 ranked team in the country from start to finish.

It started on the opening possession for both teams. After the Aggies marched right down the field for the early lead Auburn didn't blink an eye. There was no panic or thoughts of last season. Instead, the Tigers matched the score and it was game on. That was fun to see out of Auburn once again.

Beating Mississippi State and Ole Miss were important confidence builders early in the 2013 season, but Saturday was a true measuring stick of just how far Auburn had progressed in one season. It's still too early to give this year's team an A+ for its turnaround, but with a little extra credit in the next five weeks that is not out of the question.

Tre Proving He's One Of The Best

It's hard to put into words how impressed I was with Tre Mason's 1,002 yards last season. Playing for one of the worst offenses in modern Auburn football history, the Palm Beach, Fla., native was able to grind out yards without much threat of a passing game. Showing the will to lay it on the line every week, Mason has carried that over into 2013, but this time around he's got plenty of help.

Back in the offense he was recruited to play in, Mason is thriving for the Tigers as they lead the league in rushing at 300.1 yards per game. That is just five yards less than Auburn averaged in total offense last season.

On Saturday the running back was outstanding in the win over Texas A&M, carrying the ball 27 times for 178 yards and one touchdown. It was his sixth career 100-yard game and gives the junior 693 yards on the season and eight touchdowns.

Making his numbers even more impressive is the fact that he has only had six games of 20 or more carries in his college career. In those games he has averaged 118.5 yards and has scored six touchdowns. While Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant will continue to get touches, Mason is quickly moving up the list of top Auburn running backs.

Smoke And Mirrors

A lot has been made of Georgia's injury situation this season, but the Bulldogs aren't the only team that has been impacted in a major way by the injury bug this year. Staying pretty healthy on offense for the most part, Auburn has been hit hard time and time again on Ellis Johnson's defense.

It started before the season opener against Washington State as perhaps the top two players coming out of spring practice (Dee Ford and Justin Garrett) went down in preseason practices and missed time to start the season. Throw in the loss of safety Demetruce McNeal because of off-the-field issues and senior defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker because of a knee injury and it was a rough beginning for the Tigers in 2013.

Since that time Auburn has lost cornerback Jonathan Jones with a broken bone in his ankle. He has returned to action and should factor into the rotation this week, but now fellow sophomore Josh Holsey will be lost for the rest of the season after injuring a knee last Thursday in practice.

The injuries have continued to pile up, but despite that the Tigers are getting better defensively. While they are still prone to give up the big play, Johnson has the defense playing strong in the red zone and in the fourth quarter. With young players stepping up on the line and veterans like Ryan Smith and Ryan White finally getting a chance to shine, Auburn's defense has improved and the best could still be yet to come.

Coming Home

When Rodney Garner and Dameyune Craig decided to come back and coach at Auburn, one of the reasons both gave for their decisions was to help get their alma mater back on top in the college football world. Already established coaches at Georgia and Florida State, respectively, they didn't need to return to the place they played, but it was more than just a professional move for them. It was about the love of the university and a place both wanted to call home once again.

Following Saturday's win over Texas A&M you could see that love for Auburn coming out of them as they celebrated with their fellow coaches and their players. It's that kind of enthusiasm and love for Auburn that has carried over to the players and should be a huge building block for Malzahn's program moving forward.

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