Dye-Gest: Opening Test Good for the Tigers

College Football Hall of Fame coach Pat Dye writes about the Auburn Tigers in his Dye-Gest column.

Peyton Barber (above) rushed for 115 yards vs. Louisville.

Now that Auburn’s first game is in the books, even though it got too close for comfort in the final minutes, I still believe it was good for this football team that it played a team like Louisville that was good enough to challenge the Tigers on opening day.

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Like most first games there were a lot of mistakes. The only aspect of Auburn’s play that looked polished from start to finish was the kicking game. I was particularly impressed with the job Daniel Carlson did kicking the football and the new punter, Kevin Phillips, couldn’t have done much better in his first game for the Tigers. That was a real positive for Gus Malzahn’s football team.

I saw promising things from the defense, which started strongly, but it looked like the group got a little tired in the fourth quarter chasing Louisville’s quarterback around. If the Tigers can get their containment issues fixed that allowed the quarterback to gain more than 100 yards running the football, I think this group is on the road to improvement.

It looked like the defensive front did a solid job of controlling the line of scrimmage on the inside running plays and a lot of young guys saw playing time on the front and back ends of the defense.

Another plus for the defense is that it set up the first touchdown with an interception and scored the second one on Justin Garrett’s fumble return. If forcing turnovers becomes a regular thing it will certainly increase Auburn’s chances of be an improved team compared to last year.

Offensively, the Tigers hurt their cause with turnovers and mental mistakes, particularly the holding penalties that took points off the scoreboard and stalled drives. Getting those problems corrected will surely be a major point of emphasis this week.

I think the Tigers have a perfect scenario to get better by the time they have to go on the road for the first time when they travel to LSU. This week the team can focus on correcting mistakes and give the guys who were hurt in the opener a chance to get healthy while preparing for a game the Tigers should win vs. Jacksonville State. I will be surprised if they don’t play much cleaner this week when it comes to execution and from a mistakes stand-point on offense, and the same is true defensively.

I don’t know good Jacksonville State is although I know they had a strong 2014 season and have most of their starters back. Sometimes teams like that will expose you if your guys aren’t ready to play, but I think this is an Auburn team that is hungry to improve and it will respond with a good performance in the home opener.

One of the most interesting developments to me from the Louisville game is how Peyton Barber took advantage of his first opportunity for extended playing time. I know the competition for the starting spot at that position is far from over, but we may have seen the most dependable running back emerge during the second half of the Louisville game.

I wasn’t expecting a polished performance from the Tigers in game one with a team relying on so many players who went into the contest with little or no college experience. How this group gels and comes together, and how the leadership develops, is a big part of the equation in building a successful season. To me that is just as critical as a team’s physical development. After seeing the Tigers in action I don’t feel any differently about them than I did in preseason. This is a team that has plenty of work to do, but it certainly has a chance to steadily improve each week.

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