Lot To Like About AU's Performance On Rocky Top

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about a variety of subjects concerning the Auburn football Tigers.

Random thoughts after Auburn's 34-10 demolition of Tennessee and the future...

In more than 40 years of watching Auburn football, I'm not sure I've seen the Tigers play better than they did in the first half against Tennessee. They looked like a national championship contender, and maybe they are. Time will tell.

*Tennessee safety Jason Allen won't soon forget Saturday's game. Ronnie Brown ran over him for Auburn's first touchdown. Allen landed flat on his back, his helmet flying off. Later, Carnell Williams ran over him, too, though not quite as brutally as Brown did. "I think Ronnie softened him up," Williams said Sunday. "He kind of turned his shoulder to me."

Like some of his teammates, Allen was in no mood for giving Auburn much credit. "They are good backs, Allen said, "but I'm not going to say they are God's gift to football."

*The dumb quote of the night came from Tennessee linebacker Kevin Burnett. "The best team out there today was Tennessee,"' Burnett said. "We beat ourselves. The simple thing is that we made some mistakes, and it came back to bite us in the butt."

Whatever.

*Tennessee's freshman quarterbacks turned out to be just that--freshman quarterbacks. The overblown hype of recent weeks had reached the point of absurdity.

Ainge will probably be an outstanding player before he's done, but don't compare him to Peyton Manning as a freshman. There is no comparison. Schaeffer is a great athlete who I suspect will finish his career somewhere besides Tennessee.

Against Auburn, they played like you would expect talented freshmen to play. They made some good plays, but they made more bad plays. Ainge played most of the game and will certainly learn from the experience, but you don't win championships with true freshman quarterbacks.

*Has Auburn ever had a better pair of coordinators than Al Borges and Gene Chizik?

*There are a lot of reasons Auburn is 5-0. The Tigers are talented, well-coached and motivated. But the biggest reason might be that elusive thing called chemistry. Nowhere is it more obvious than in Williams and Brown.

Either of them could be a Heisman Trophy candidate in a different situation. Give either of them the ball 30-35 times a game, and huge numbers would be the result. But that's not why they passed up the lure of the NFL's money and returned to Auburn. They came back to win.

Williams gained 95 yards rushing against the Vols. He got the ball 13 fewer times than he got it when he gained 185 yards in last season's 28-21 Auburn victory. He didn't care. He was giddy with excitement when the game was over.

Courtney Taylor runs wild vs. the Volunteers.

*If ever there was a potential letdown game, it's Saturday's homecoming meeting with Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs aren't good enough to beat a team like Auburn playing at its best, but they could certainly be dangerous if taken lightly. Louisiana Tech's upset of Fresno State last Saturday was probably a good thing for Auburn. It got the Tigers' attention.

*Circle Nov. 13 on your calendar. A lot of football remains to be played, but Auburn and Georgia could go into their showdown at Jordan-Hare Stadium undefeated. Ironically, if that happens, it will almost certainly be the preliminary game. The main event will come three weeks later in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game.

Of course, both teams still have to navigate some shark-infested waters. Auburn must play old nemesis Arkansas at home and go to Ole Miss. Georgia plays Tennessee at home Saturday (don't be surprised if it's close) and plays Florida in Jacksonville. The Bulldogs have lost six straight to the Gators.

If Auburn beats Arkansas and Georgia beats Tennessee and Florida, the division races will be all but over.

*Listening to the radio while driving back from Knoxville on Sunday, the Georgia lovefest was in full throttle. One talk show host said it was the first time a Nick Saban-coached team had given up more than 20 points in a game.

Truth is, when Saban-coached LSU teams lose, they often lose by lopsided margins. Even last season, when they eventually won the BCS national championship, they were beaten 19-7 by Florida at home and didn't score an offensive touchdown. In 2002, they lost 31-7 to Auburn and 31-0 to Alabama on back-to-back weeks. They lost 26-8 to Virginia Tech in their opener and 35-20 to Texas in the Cotton Bowl.

In 2001, when they won the SEC championship with a huge upset of Tennessee, they lost 44-15 to Florida. In 2000, Saban's first season, they lost 41-9 to Florida and 34-17 to Auburn. They also lost 13-10 to UAB.

Saban had a huge challenge going into this season. First, he didn't have a quarterback who had proved he could win and still doesn't. Second, his players spent the offseason hearing how great they were, how great their coach was, how they'd had signed nothing but the greatest recruits. There were even newspaper stories about an LSU "dynasty."

They got a taste of reality in a 10-9 loss to Auburn. They got a bitter dose of it in last Saturday's 45-16 loss at Georgia. They might get another dose Saturday at Florida.

Until next time...


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