After numerous conversations with Auburn coaches and others close to the program, I have come away with some distinct impressions about what happened in last Saturday's 23-14 loss to Georgia Tech and about the future.
I'll share some of those here.
1. From head coach Tommy Tuberville down, Auburn coaches are remarkably upbeat. They believe they should have won, but they expect this team to get dramatically better in a hurry. Said one assistant: We'll be 10 times better next Saturday than we were last Saturday.
2. Despite four interceptions and a lost fumble, sophomore quarterback Brandon Cox showed he has what it takes to win in the SEC. Not all the interceptions were his fault, especially one in the fourth quarter when his arm was hit as he threw.
3. Georgia Tech was able to have some success running the ball because the defense was concerned, perhaps too concerned, about wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
4. With a plan to throw often against a blitzing Georgia Tech defense, tailback Kenny Irons didn't play a lot because he's not as solid as some others on picking up blitzes. Look for him to get a lot more action Saturday against Mississippi State.
5. The defense was better when it was simpler. The game started with cornerback David Irons following Johnson wherever he went. Things settled down when he stopped doing that and simply played his side.
6. Unlike the seemingly widespread perception, the offensive line played well. Successful blitzes are often not the fault of the offensive line. On 19 called running plays, tailbacks averaged more than four yards per carry. It would have been better if Tre Smith had not reversed field and lost 10 yards on one carry.
Brandon Cox kept busy passing the ball in his first college start.
7. Perhaps the place where departed quarterback Jason Campbell was missed most was in the running game. He was uncanny with his ability to see the defense and get his team in the right play. Cox will get there, but he's still learning. When running plays aren't checked to the proper side, they rarely succeed.
8. It's unlikely you'll see the Tigers throw 44 passes in a game again unless they are trying to overcome a large deficit. It's also unlikely you'll see another game in which just 19 running plays are called.
9. The ACC officiating crew that worked the game shouldn't expect any Christmas cards from Auburn. The holding call against center Steven Ross that wiped out a Cox touchdown pass to Courtney Taylor in the second quarter was marginal at best. SEC officials would not have called it. The SEC policy is that such holding calls are not made if they have no impact on the play, and that one clearly didn't. The interference call that came later was also viewed with disdain by Auburn coaches, who believed the pass from Tech quarterback Reggie Ball was clearly uncatchable. Auburn coaches also believed the officials ignored flagrant holding by the Tech offense and two clearly late hits on Cox.
10. Joe Cope, who played 52 snaps to Ross' 19, solidified his hold on the starting center's job. Don't be surprised, however, if Jonathan Palmer starts getting more practice time at center and eventually challenges Cope.
11. Sophomore Patrick Lee, starting at cornerback for the first time, played well.
13. In Saturday's game against Mississippi State, don't expect a blowout similar to last season's 43-14 victory in Starkville. The Bulldogs are significantly better than they were a year ago. In fact, one coach said, if the Tigers make as many mistakes next Saturday as they made last Saturday, they could lose again.
14. Don't expect to see Auburn and Georgia Tech playing anytime soon. Athletic director Jay Jacobs floated that possibility sometime back to Georgia Tech officials. They weren't interested.
16. Auburn coaches fully expected to beat Georgia Tech. But they don't see the loss in anywhere near the same light as a 17-3 loss at Georgia Tech two years ago. The Tigers played very hard, but a team with a lot of inexperience in vital positions made too many mistakes. Said one assistant: "The best thing about it is those things are all fixable, and it shouldn't take long to get them fixed. When we do, this is going to be a heck of a football team."
Until next time...