Marshall: AU's Offense a Work in Progress

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the Auburn football Tigers and pics this week's SEC winners and losers.

It was obvious in the spring. It was obvious in preseason camp. And it's obvious now.

Auburn's offense, particularly the passing game, is a work in progress. To have expected anything else was to be unrealistic. Gone are two four-year starters at offensive tackle, one of whom starts now for the San Diego Chargers. Gone are three wide receivers who were four-year regulars.

You might replace the talent of players like Marcus McNeill, Troy Reddick, Ben Obomanu, Devin Aromashodu and Anthony Mix. You don't replace their experience, at least not overnight. And that's not to mention replacing tight end Cooper Wallace and fullback Jake Slaughter.

If the 2006 Tigers are going to be champions, they are going to do it by running the ball, playing defense, being physically and mentally tougher than their opponents and with a kicking game that might be the nation's best.

It won't always be pretty or flashy. Fans who wish for it to be like 2004, when most games were out of hand by halftime, are probably going to be disappointed.

But when you play defense like Auburn has through four games, have a kicking game like Auburn has and have a tailback like Kenny Irons, you are going to have a chance to win any game against any opponent.

That's where the Tigers are today. They can beat anybody on their schedule, but it's often not going to come easily. And I don't expect it to come easily Thursday night at Williams-Brice Stadium against South Carolina.

For Auburn, ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press poll and No. 3 in the coaches' poll and Harris poll, it's a chance to show off on national television, maybe even pick up a few more votes.

For South Carolina and Coach Steve Spurrier, it's a chance to go to 4-1 on the season and crack the Top 25. The Gamecocks have some issues, but underestimating Spurrier is always a mistake.

Turn the clock back to Oct. 1 of last year. Auburn demolished South Carolina 48-7 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. There was nothing to indicate the Gamecocks' season was going anywhere.

What did they do? They won five consecutive SEC games, including victories at Tennessee and over Florida at home. They narrowly missed squeezing into the SEC Championship Game.

That's why it would be dangerous to assume that anything that has happened in the first four games is necessarily going to mean anything Thursday night.

Spurrier, as was his way in his halcyon days at Florida, didn't stand pat after an 18-0 home loss to Georgia on Sept. 9. He made wholesale changes, particularly on offense. He, no doubt, has a vivid memory of what happened last season.

Auburn has better players and more depth, but the Gamecocks have some weapons of their own. Auburn should win, but only if it is at the top of its game. Look for this one to go into the fourth quarter before it's safely in hand.

My guess: Auburn 24, South Carolina 13.

Your fearless picker was 7-2 a week ago, including nailing the 38-7 score in Auburn's victory over Buffalo. For the year, the record is 28-5.

Alabama (3-1, 1-1) at Florida (4-0, 2-0): The Crimson Tide ought to be 4-0 today, but it isn't. Leigh Tiffin suffered through a day he'll never forget, missing three field goals and an extra point as Alabama lost 24-23 in double overtime at Arkansas last Saturday.

And Arkansas is no Florida.

Alabama gave Florida coach Urban Meyer a harsh introduction to life in the SEC with a 31-3 romp at Bryant-Denny Stadium last season. The Gators are itching for some payback.

I'm still not sold on Meyer or his gimmicky offense, but I'm sold on the fact that he has lots of talent, significantly more than Alabama. Florida 28, Alabama 14.

Georgia (4-0, 1-0) at Ole Miss (1-3, 0-1): The Bulldogs narrowly escaped with a 14-13 win over hapless Colorado last Saturday. One would think they'll be a lot more focused this Saturday.

Ole Miss, meanwhile, was beaten 27-3 by Wake Forest in one of the more humiliating losses suffered by any SEC team in recent years. The Demon Deacons threw just five passes in the game. Second-year coach Ed Orgeron's program is in a downward spiral that seems to have no end. Georgia 35, Ole Miss 6.

Mississippi State (1-3, 0-2) at LSU (3-1, 0-1):Sly Croom's Bulldogs got a badly needed win, beating UAB 16-10 in overtime. That one might need to last them for a while. After Saturday's trip to Tiger Stadium, they return home to play West Virginia.

Coach Slyveser Croom's team got its first victory of the season last week in overtime vs. UAB.

Mississippi State's defense might give LSU's offense some trouble, but it will be an upset of the Bulldogs score. LSU 38, Mississippi State 0.

Tennessee (3-1, 0-1) at Memphis (1-2): Memphis is coming off an open date and has fired defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn. If the Tigers were any good, this could be a trap game for Tennessee. They aren't. Tennessee 31, Memphis 14.

Temple (0-4) at Vanderbilt (1-3, 0-2): Vanderbilt has been known to find ways to lose games like this one, but the Owls have pretty much laid claim to being the worst team in Division I-A. Vanderbilt 42, Temple 10.

Central Michigan (2-2) at Kentucky (2-2, 1-1): The Wildcats gave a good account of themselves for a half before falling 26-7 at Florida. This one could be dangerous if they aren't ready. Kentucky 28, Central Michigan 17


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