Marshall Column: Tigers Play Like Top 10 Team

Phillip Marshall gives his assessment of the Tigers and other football teams as the SEC season moves into high gear.

Thoughts and impressions from the first weekend of college football...

Auburn's 40-14 rout of Washington State was, without question, the most impressive season-opener in Tommy Tuberville's eight seasons.

Was it without warts? Of course it wasn't. Opening games never are. Few games at any point of the season are, for that matter.

But from start to finish, it was obvious that the Tigers had come to play in this one.

The highlights: *First-year coordinator Will Muschamp's defense, for the most part, lived up to its billing. We all heard about quarterback Alex Brink and wide receiver Jason Hill. Brink, who passed for more than 2,800 yards last season, passed for 67. Hill, supposedly a future first-round draft pick, was held to 18 measly yards on four receptions. It should have come as no surprise that Washington State had some success running the ball. Auburn played with five or six defensive backs for most of the game, playing just four snaps with three linebackers in the game. The Cougars aren't going to beat you by running. If they are going to beat you, it will be through the air.

*If there's a better tailback in college football than Kenny Irons, I want to see him. And Brad Lester isn't far behind.

*The offensive line, with new starters at the tackles, got stronger as the game wore on, particularly in run blocking, and wore down Washington State's defensive front. Joe Cope is one of the top centers in the SEC by the sheer force of his will.

*Senior Will Herring, after starting at safety for three seasons, played like a veteran at linebacker. Some guys are just football players.

*Quarterback Brandon Cox did a terrific job of running the show. He didn't have a big game passing. He didn't need to.

*The defensive line, with new starters at tackle and noseguard, tormented the Cougars all night. It took noseguard Josh Thompson, T.J. Jackson's understudy for three seasons, one play to show he belonged. He sacked Brink on the game's first play.

*Tuberville reverted to his past and called a fake punt at just the right time. Like all such decisions, it's brilliant if it works and boneheaded if it doesn't. It worked to the tune of a 42-yard run by Herring that essentially ended whatever hope Washington State had.

*The kicking game could be as good as Auburn has ever had. John Vaughn's four first-half field goals, including a 52-yarder, were obviously significant. Kody Bliss showed why he is the SEC's best punter. Matt Clark was sensational on kickoffs, putting eight of nine into the end zone. Look for Tristan Davis to go the distance with at least one kickoff return this season.

*For Washington State to have a realistic chance, Auburn had to turn the ball over. It didn't happen. The Tigers, who gave away last season's opener against Georgia Tech with five turnovers, didn't have any against the Cougars.

*Other than Cope being called for a slap to the head, Auburn didn't have a single offensive penalty. There were no false starts, no delay penalties. For a season-opener, that's remarkable.

The lowlights:

*The game could have been over at halftime, but the Tigers settled for field goals four times after going deep into Washington State territory.

*Redshirt freshman safety Aairon Savage busted a coverage that allowed the 50-yard touchdown pass that gave Washington State hope in the fourth quarter.

*Though Auburn coaches were pleased with their play, no wide receiver stepped forward as an obvious complement to Courtney Taylor. That needs to happen soon. The Tigers won't run against the likes of LSU like they did against Washington State.

All in all, it was a performance worthy of the nation's No. 4 team. Whether this team can make a run at a championship will be decided down the road against the likes of LSU, Florida and Georgia, but it is clearly headed in the right direction.

Elsewhere...

Tennessee joined Auburn in exposing the Pac-10 for what it is--a one-trick pony. The Vols were extremely impressive in blowing out California 35-18 in a game that wasn't even as close as the score indicated.

Of course, Southern California showed there is still one dominant power in the Pac-10 with its 50-14 victory at Arkansas. That loss had to be sobering for the Razorbacks. No matter the opponent, good teams don't get beat like that at home...

Notre Dame had to have a huge assist from Big Ten officials to escape Grant Field with a victory over Georgia Tech. Had it not been for a controversial personal foul call, the game at least would have gone to overtime.

The Irish didn't play like the nation's second-best team because they aren't the nation's second-best team. They'll be exposed soon enough...

I was surprised that Alabama linebacker Juwan Simpson didn't have to sit out a single play after his arrest during the summer. Arkansas running back Darren McFadden started against USC despite having injured his foot kicking someone during a fight outside a bar in the wee hours of the morning. Auburn linebackers Kevin Sears and Tray Blackmon, in Tuberville's doghouse for alcohol-related offenses, watched from the sideline. The difference in responses by Tuberville, Alabama's Mike Shula and Arkansas' Houston Nutt speaks for itself...

Was I hearing things or did Lee Corso really say Cal could still win the national championship?

Whatever.

Until next time...


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