Opening Game Impressions On the 2004 Tigers

Phillip Marshall gives his impressions of Auburn's 31-0 opening day victory over Louisiana-Monroe and takes a look around the SEC.

It was just the kind of opener Tommy Tuberville and his coaches wanted.

Auburn's 31-0 victory over Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday wasn't close enough to damage players' confidence and it wasn't so lopsided that it provided a false sense of security. There were parts of the game to feel good about and areas that obviously need work.

What did it tell us about Auburn's 2004 football team? Not much. With substitutes running in and out of the game almost from the start, there was little continuity. When you play 73 players, it's going to be that way. We won't have to wait long to find out about this team. Over the next two weeks, we'll know if the 2004 Tigers are championship contenders or if they're not.

Some impressions from the opener:

Safety Tony Bell and offensive tackle Leon Hart, both true freshmen, are going to be terrific football players. It wouldn't surprise me if they are in the playing rotation or even pushing for starting sports before season's end.

The offensive line, deeper and more talented than any at Auburn in years, still has a ways to go. Coach Hugh Nall has been saying that all along. Guard Ben Grubbs played on the offensive line for the first time in his college career. Center Jeremy Ingle started for the first time. Five offensive linemen have to play as one to be successful, and sometimes it takes a while for that to happen. It wasn't going to happen Saturday with substitutes running in and out throughout the game.

The three dropped passes by wide receivers were a source of concern. Quarterback Jason Campbell told the culprits that must not happen in the big games that lie ahead, and he was right.

It was sadly predictable that, instead of Brandon Cox's successful debut being celebrated as a good sign for the future, it was regarded by many as a sign that he should be the starting quarterback. The smattering of boos when Campbell threw an interception, caused when reserve offensive lineman Jonathan Palmer backed into him, was discouraging and disgusting. There's a lot more to being an SEC quarterback than a quick release and accurate passes. Cox has a chance to be an All-America caliber quarterback, but he's not ready to be the starter and won't be the starter unless something happens to Campbell. He probably won't see the field again until the Tigers play the Citadel on Sept. 25.

Highly touted defensive end Stanly McClover has amazing talent, but he is a long way from being a polished player.

Linebackers coach Joe Whitt showed again what a terrific coach he is. Starting linebackers Travis Williams, Kevin Sears and Antarrious Williams played as if it were midseason.

Safety Junior Rosegreen and cornerback Carlos Rogers played like the talented veterans they are.

The Tigers have a weapon in punter Kody Bliss. He boots them long and high and he gets them out in a hurry.

Things get tougher in a hurry. Saturday's visit to Mississippi State will be no walk in the park. Sylvester Croom has the Bulldogs playing hard, playing smart and believing in themselves. The Tigers should win, but it will take a solid performance on both sides of the ball.

AROUND THE SEC

It was an interesting first Saturday in the SEC. Nowhere was it more interesting than in Baton Rouge.

LSU coach Nick Saban seems to have a hex on opposing kickers. Georgia's Billy Bennett missed three field goal tries in Baton Rouge last season, resulting in a 17-10 LSU win. Ole Miss kicker Jonathan Nichols missed just three all of last season. Two of them came on relatively short tries in a 17-14 loss to LSU.

None of those could compare to what happened Saturday, when Oregon State kicker Alex Serna missed three extra points, including one in overtime, to allow the Bayou Bengals to escape with a 22-21 victory.

LSU starting quarterback Marcus Randall was shaky at best. Redshirt freshman Jamarcus Russell took over and, despite some shaky moments, got enough done to keep his team in the game.

In the end, though, the defending national champions won the game. That close call against a projected middle-of-the-pack Pac-10 team might have meant they're headed for some struggles this season, but not necessarily. College football teams either get better or worse. With the talent in Baton Rouge, it's reasonable to expect that LSU will get better as the season goes on.

The most impressive performance of the weekend had to be Tennessee's true freshman quarterbacks. Brent Schaeffer, who seriously considered signing with Auburn, and Erik Ainge didn't look like rookies in the Vols' 42-17 rout of UNLV on Sunday night. Of course, UNLV didn't exactly look like an SEC team either.

How bad is Kentucky? The Wildcats looked inept and helpless in Sunday's 28-0 loss to Louisville. It's hard to imagine that team winning an SEC game, even against Vanderbilt

Ah, Vanderbilt. We heard it all summer. This was the year the Commodores would break through, the year they would go to a bowl game. They had 21 starters back. Then the season started and reality struck yet again. South Carolina went to Nashville and romped to a 31-6 victory. Experience is a great thing, but unless Vanderbilt can somehow start to get the same caliber athletes it must play against, things are not going to change. On the other hand, South Carolina looked good. Maybe Lou Holtz taking over the offense provided a spark.

OK, I'll admit it. I swallowed the hook on Ole Miss. I heard that the Rebels had more talent than ever. I heard their offensive line was maybe the best in the SEC. I heard quarterback Michael Spurlock was going to be something special. It's only one week into the season and maybe all that is true, but a 20-13 loss at home to Memphis was not a good start. Spurlock completed 11 of 31 passes, raising a question about whether he really is ready to play in the SEC.

I didn't get to watch any of Alabama's 48-17 trouncing of Utah State, but it must have been fairly impressive. Saturday's game against Ole Miss is huge for the Tide. If it can win that one, it could win the next five.

Until next time...


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