Earlier in the week I watched the Auburn programming day on the SEC Network and really enjoyed the 2004 LSU game at Jordan-Hare Stadium. That contest featured Auburn’s new linebacker coach, Travis Williams, lining up for the Tigers and the type of quarterback play the 2016 team needs.
Having a quarterback who will make positive plays when games are on the line is so critical to giving a college football team a chance to compete for championships. With Jason Campbell playing so well in 2004 those Tigers finished the season unbeaten and probably should have been the national champion.
Against LSU, when the game was on the line on that fourth down and 13 pass to Courtney Taylor, I can’t remember seeing a quarterback make a better play. Jason Campbell couldn’t have been under more pressure with three LSU defenders ready to annihilate him as he completed a pass his team had to have or else that game was going to be a loss.
He then calmly threw the winning touchdown pass to Taylor that put Auburn on top and set the stage for the Tigers to go undefeated.
This is an area in which the 2016 Tigers need to improve. In my opinion the reason Auburn lost so many close ones last year is that nobody stepped up to make a winning play at the end of games despite the Tigers certainly having their chances.
I also watched the re-broadcast of Auburn’s 2013 victory over Alabama and what stood out to me were all of the plays Nick Marshall made to help the Tigers win that day. The quarterback got the 45-yard run for the first score and produced a great run down to the one-yard line to set up another touchdown. His read option touchdown pass to Sammie Coates with time running out was another great play and the Tigers wouldn’t have won without Marshall leading the way.
Other people certainly played a critical role in that victory over Alabama because there were a lot of great plays made on both sides of the ball, but it really came down to the quarterback making plays when he had to make them. That is just the way the game of football is and I really believe the destiny of the 2016 Tigers will hinge around that position.
Just as important as making good plays will be avoiding ones that put the defense in bad positions. If you look at the history of college football, teams with quarterbacks who make a lot of unwise decisions have a tough time winning, especially against strong competition.
As practice starts next week it looks like there is a three-man race for Auburn’s starting quarterback job. I am not counting out any of them.
Jeremy Johnson, the senior, could surprise everybody on the good side just like he surprised everybody last year on the bad side. Sean White might be able to stay healthy all year and be the guy or it might be that the junior college kid, John Franklin, has grown enough between spring practice and fall practice to be the guy. Whoever ends up being the QB will be holding the keys to the car and will determine how far this team can go.
I also want to use this column to write about Zeke Smith, one of the best football players in Auburn history, who passed away this week.
The 1958 Outland Trophy winner, Zeke was a great football player and a better man. I played against him, but didn’t play in front him because he played left guard and I played left guard. When Auburn and Georgia played in those years both teams ran six-man fronts on defense so I didn’t have to block him and he didn’t have to block me. I might have trapped him a time or two, or trapped at him, but two things I know for sure is that Zeke Smith was a great football player and he is going to be missed by the Auburn Family.