Off-Week Turns Out Well For Tigers

Columnist Phillip Marshall gives his views on SEC and Auburn football.

It was a strange day in the Southeastern Conference.

There were SEC games aplenty to watch on television Saturday. It started early with Vanderbilt rolling over and putting up no fight at all in losing 71-13 at Florida. Woody Widenhofer, in his final weeks as Vanderbilt head coach, said his team didn't compete. He was right. After that is when it really got interesting.

In more than 30 years of covering SEC football, I've seen great performances, bad performances and everything in between. I've never seen anything quite like Alabama's defense against LSU. It must have seemed like pass skeleton drills for quarterback Rohan Davey and wide receiver Josh Reed.

I don't often criticize game plans or play calls, because I'm no expert. But I do believe, before I would have let Reed catch 19 passes, I would have used as many defenders as it took to at least make Davey throw it to someone else. Whatever the late, great Crimson Tide was trying to do, it didn't work. Davey and Reed broke all kinds of records and sent Alabama reeling toward its second consecutive losing season. The final score was 35-21, but in reality, the game was nowhere near that close.

More sobering for Tide fans is that it's hard to see how things are going to get much better anytime soon, especially with NCAA sanctions on the horizon.

The final SEC game of the night was one for the record books. As long as they play football at Ole Miss and Arkansas, they'll talk about Nov. 3, 2001. Arkansas won 58-56 in seven overtimes, the longest game in NCAA history. It was a sight to behold.

Both defenses were out of gas. Back and forth it went until Eli Manning finally made a critical mistake, throwing a two-point conversion pass short of the end zone. Arkansas made a play and it was over.

Arkansas, I'll admit, is apparently a better team than I gave it credit for being here a week ago. Freshman quarterback Matt Jones, goofy though he may look, is a magician running the option. In overtime, he showed he could make big plays in the passing game, too.

All in all, it was a good day for Auburn. While the Tigers took a Saturday off, they climbed back into the Associated Press rankings and saw their prospects for an SEC West Division championship brighten. The Tigers can win the West without any help by winning two of their last three games. Should they win just one out of three, things could get very interesting. In a three-way tie at 5-3, Auburn loses most tiebreakers.

Most Auburn folks, not liking the prospect of a rematch with Florida, will be pulling hard for South Carolina to knock off the Gators at home Saturday. A game against Tennessee or South Carolina in Atlanta would seem much less ominous. There could still be a four-way tie in the East. All it would take would be for Georgia to beat Auburn and Ole Miss, South Carolina to beat Florida and Florida to beat Tennessee. Likely? No, but certainly possible.

The big questions for Auburn are whether its defense can pull back together after horrendous outings against Louisiana Tech and Arkansas and just what will happen at quarterback. The defense will be healthier against Georgia than it has been in some time. For the first time since Mississippi State, linebackers Dontarrious Thomas, Mark Brown and Tavarreus Pounds should all be ready to go full speed. Defensive tackles DeMarco McNeil and Spencer Johnson should be at a level they haven't seen since early in the season. Whether that will be enough to stem the flood of big plays that has suddenly hit the proud Tiger defense remains to be seen.

Forget the talk about a quarterback race. Daniel Cobb will start against Georgia. But if he continues his trend of making costly mistakes, the hook will come early and Jason Campbell will be back.

The guess here is that, finally having had a chance to catch its breath, Auburn's football team will give a good account of itself at Georgia, win or lose. Auburn is in the home stretch now, in what former head coach Pat Dye called Amen Corner. It's going to be interesting.

It always is.


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