It wasn't so much about what we learned in Auburn's 55-23 blasting of Tennessee, but how it happened. Before the game a Tennessee writer told me the Vols defense was the slowest he had seen in covering the team and that was apparent pretty quickly on Saturday.
The difference in team speed between Auburn and the Big Orange was night and day whether it was Nick Marshall's running ability at quarterback, Chris Davis returning punts or Corey Grant taking one to the house on a kickoff return. It was was also apparent on the edge at wide receiver even though the Tigers only threw the ball a handful of times. Using their speed to get to proper blocking angles and springing long runs, Sammie Coates, Quan Bray, Trovon Reed and the guys outside made a huge difference without the ball in their hands.
Offensive Line Paving The Way
It's hard to imagine a group making more strides than Auburn's offensive line has from last season to now. Struggling with consistency in 2012 and stuck in an offense that didn't fit the personnel, the Tigers averaged just 148.4 yards on the ground with 16 rushing touchdowns for the season. This year Auburn is one of the best running teams in the country (No. 3 this week) at 320 yards per game and already has 33 scores on the ground.
There is little question that Nick Marshall has had a major impact on those stats as has Gus Malzahn's system, but the improvement of Reese Dismukes, Chad Slade, Greg Robinson, Avery Young and Patrick Miller as well as the addition of redshirt freshman Alex Kozan has been the key to success. Saturday's win over Tennessee was a prime example of that.
Setting a school record for rushing yards in an SEC game with 444, the Tigers only had to attempt seven passes in the victory. Controlling the line of scrimmage so well in the last two road games that they haven't had to throw the football, Coach J.B. Grimes' group has proven itself as one of the league's best. Special kudos go out to Slade and Kozan. Adding in more pulling against Tennessee that was reminiscent of standout guards Mike Berry and Byron Isom in 2010, the duo had their best game of the season on Saturday.
More Happy Returns
Finally getting his opportunity as Auburn's punt return man this season after begging the coaches for the chance since he arrived on the Plains, senior Chris Davis continues to show why he's worth keeping back deep for the Tigers. Taking one to the house from 85 yards against Tennessee, the third-longest punt return in school history, Davis now has 241 yards on just 10 opportunities this season. Even with such few attempts Davis is only 36 yards from breaking into the Top 10 in school history for total punt return yards in a season. Ahead of Mike Fuller's single-season best 19.05 average in 1973, Davis has finally given Auburn a weapon in the punt return game once again and that's something both Georgia and Alabama will have to be wary of in the final two games of the regular season.
Making The Seconds Count
With 14:18 left in the second quarter Tre Mason's 13-yard touchdown run tied the game at 13 against Tennessee and started one of the most amazing 15 minute stretches in Auburn football history. Before the quarter was up the Tigers would add three more touchdowns to finish the first half with 34 points in just 7:51 time of possession.
When Corey Grant lifted off for a 90-yard touchdown on first play of the second half it put Auburn up 41-20 and was the fifth touchdown in 15:05 of actual game time for the Tigers. That means Auburn averaged over two points per minute, a number any college basketball team would be proud of this season.
By The Numbers In the SEC
Rushing Offense: 1 (320.0)
Scoring Offense: 4 (38.6)
Rushing Defense: 9 (155.6)
Scoring Defense: 4 (20.4)
You can look at plenty of numbers, but those four statistics go a long way towards winning football games and that is the blueprint that Malzahn and the Tigers have followed in 2013. Offensively, the running game has been a powerful force for the Tigers, but helped out by special teams Auburn is averaging 38.6 points per game.
By comparison the defense is allowing just 20.4 points per game despite giving up 394.4 yards of total offense per game. The reason for that is red zone defense. Giving up scores just 72 percent of the time (23-32) and touchdowns on just 14-32 (44 percent) opportunities, the defense has done a good job of standing tall when their backs are against the wall.
Preparing to face the Georgia Bulldogs this weekend and record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray, another stat worth keeping an eye on is Auburn's pass defense. Just 11th in the league, allowing 238 yards per game, the Tigers are third in pass efficiency defense in the SEC trailing only Florida and Alabama. Under the direction of coaches Melvin Smith and Charlie Harbison, Auburn's 11 interceptions are fourth in the SEC behind Missouri, Texas A&M and Florida.
Enjoying The Moment
Standing at 9-1 and in the midst of the greatest turnaround in college football this season, Auburn's coaches and players have done a good job of enjoying the moment each and every Saturday and quickly turning the page to the upcoming game. Fans don't have to do that. That's why every Auburn fan should enjoy this ride with a team that has put excitement and fun back into AU football.
The turnout of Auburn fans at Neyland Stadium was as impressive and it took me back to the 2010 season when the Tigers had a formidable presence on the road. Now comes the time to turn it up at Jordan-Hare Stadium and I have a feeling the Auburn fans won't disappoint. With road trips at Arkansas and Tennessee since the last game at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the place should be rocking against rivals Georgia and Alabama. If that's the case the Tigers will have a shot to win both and continue to shock the college football world.