Marshall: Reflecting On Tuberville's Success

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the Auburn football Tigers.

The stadium and an Auburn road are named for Shug Jordan. The field at Jordan-Hare Stadium is named for Pat Dye.

Someone at Auburn should be thinking about what one day is going to be named for Tommy Tuberville.

In his eighth season as Auburn's head football coach, Tuberville is on a run like no other coach in school history. He has put himself with the likes of Steve Spurrier (in his Florida days), Bear Bryant and Robert Neyland among the Southeastern Conference's coaching greats.

Consider:

*Auburn is one made field goal or one broken up pass in Baton Rouge last season from winning 20 consecutive games against SEC opponents. Instead, the Tigers are "only" 19-1 since November 2003.

*Tuberville has won seven of his last eight games against opponents ranked in the Top 10 and is 13-10 overall against opponents ranked in the top 10. No previous Auburn coach had a winning record against Top 10 teams.

*Despite taking over a program riddled with problems in November 1998, Tuberville has an SEC championship, two trips to the SEC Championship Game, a 13-0 season in 2004 and has won or shared the West Division championship five times in seven seasons.

*Against his biggest rivals, Tuberville is at his best. He has a 5-2 record against Alabama, including a four-game winning streak. He is 5-2 against Georgia. He is 5-3 against LSU.

You get the point. Though it has, for whatever reason, been difficult for some on the national stage to admit, Tuberville has made Auburn a national football power.

In a league that is clearly the strongest in college football, only Georgia's Mark Richt, with two championships in the last four years, can come close to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Tuberville. And even he comes up short. In head-to-head matchups between the two, Tuberville leads 3-2.

Tuberville and his program stood tall again last Saturday.

LSU came to Jordan-Hare Stadium for a game of immense significance. It was a game that won't soon be forgotten by those who were there. Pat Dye Field was a place for men only.

Auburn won 7-3 to put itself squarely in the race for another SEC championship and the national championship that eluded it in 2004. It was a joy for a football purist to watch. It wasn't about finesse or fancy schemes. It was blood-and-guts football, a test of wills, survival of the fittest.

Tuberville has mixed and matched until putting together a staff that is the equal of any in the college game. Offensive coordinator Al Borges has shown his worth since 2004. First-year defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is on the fast track to coaching stardom.

Tuberville and his staff have recruited talented players who work hard and do things the right way. Auburn won the nation's biggest game last Saturday with more graduates in uniform than any team in Division I-A.

When Auburn players don't do things the right way, the price is high (see Kevin Sears and Tray Blackmon).

It's far too early to guess how this season will end. There are plenty of potential pitfalls. Maybe the Tigers will be champions. Maybe they won't. But they have a chance. And they'll have a chance next season and the season after and the season after that.

That's the kind of program Tuberville has built.

Moving on...

For all the difficulty Auburn's had moving the ball against LSU's powerful and speedy defense last Saturday, the offense did its part to help win the game. And it wasn't just scoring the game's only touchdown.

On their last drive of the second quarter and first drive of the third quarter, the Tigers ate 15:15 off the clock. That's more than an entire quarter of football that LSU's offense spent on the sideline watching Auburn's offense...

Kenny Irons' stats weren't eye-popping against LSU. He was held below 100 yards rushing for the second consecutive week, gaining 70 yards on 25 carries. But I don't know that I've ever seen him run better or harder.

Tuberville said after the game that those 70 yards were like 150 against anyone else. Without Irons' fierce determination, Auburn might never have scored...

Anyone expecting a sharp performance against Buffalo on Saturday will probably be disappointed. The Bulls are where they are on the schedule for a reason.

With a Thursday night game at South Carolina looming, Auburn's starters will play no longer than necessary. It is not realistic to believe they will be on an emotional high for a team generally considered one of the weakest in Division I-A.

Just take a look back at 2004. The week after a heart-stopping 10-9 victory over LSU, the Tigers went through the motions in a 33-3 win over The Citadel, a Division I-AA team.

Until next time...


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