Looking At Auburn And SEC Football

Columnist Phillip Marshall analyzes the football Tigers and other happenings in Southeastern Conference early season action.

Impressions from Auburn's 31-6 victory over Vanderbilt:

*Poor Vanderbilt. What does it say for the Commodores' program that they can lose 31-6 and feel like they gave a good account of themselves? They don't have more than a handful of legitimate Southeastern Conference players, and most of the ones they have are seniors.

*Daniel Cobb played his best game as an Auburn quarterback. The numbers weren't spectacular, but he was clearly in control and confident in what he was doing. The game would have been decided at halftime if Ronnie Brown had not fumbled at the Vanderbilt 4.

*Freshman Marcus McNeill has a chance to be an All-American. He has the physical tools to be one of the better offensive linemen at Auburn in recent years.

*Anyone who doesn't list Carnell Williams among the top running backs in the country either hasn't seen him play or doesn't know anything about football.

*SEC officials are still making strange calls. The pass interference penalty against Auburn's Carlos Rogers in the third quarter was comical. Replays showed Rogers never touched the receiver. In the interest of fairness, Auburn coaches said tape showed that Brown did indeed fumble in the second quarter.

*I don't know if Damon Duval is the best punter or the best kicker in the country, but he surely is the most athletic. He made a spectacular play in the fourth quarter after dropping a snap from center, sprinting to his right and punting the ball dead inside the 10. He saved a long kickoff return by using his speed to make the tackle.

*Tight end Robert Johnson dropped another pass. He has so much talent, but you can't help but wonder if he is ever going to harness it. He shows flashes. If he can ever play consistently at the level of his talent, he'll make a lot of money in the NFL.

*How in the world did Jason Campbell not see Montae Pitts running uncovered for what would have been a sure touchdown in the fourth quarter?

*Karlos Dansby might be the best defensive player I have seen live or on television on any college team this season. He certainly is the most spectacular.

*If Auburn doesn't tighten up against the option, it will have a hard time staying in the game with Arkansas and quarterback Matt Jones.

*Does any team have two better backup tailbacks than Brown and Chris Butler?

*Vanderbilt wide receiver Dan Stricker is a great player who could play for anybody, but he sure does whine a lot. Then again, if I was a great player stuck playing for Vanderbilt, I'd probably be in a bad mood, too.

*The Commodores seemed to be well-coached and to know what they were doing, but it's hard to see them beating any SEC team.

LOOKING AHEAD
It's a big game, a very big game. Auburn doesn't have to beat Mississippi State on Thursday night to have a good season. It doesn't even have to beat Mississippi State to win the Southeastern Conference West Division championship. But a loss would certainly make the climb much longer and more treacherous.

It would be wildly optimistic to believe Auburn can come out of the coming four-game SEC stretch that includes Arkansas, LSU, Florida and Ole Miss without at least one, maybe two, losses. Under normal circumstances, I would say Auburn should win Thursday night. The reason is simple enough. Auburn has better players and more of them. Trouble is, this isn't a normal situation. Auburn coaches and players have done a good job of not dwelling on it, but playing a fourth game in a 17-day period will be a large order. Mississippi State has had an open date already. It had an easy win over Jacksonville State on Saturday.

My guess is this one will go down to the final minutes and the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win it.

AROUND THE SEC

You have to feel good for Kentucky and nice-guy coach Guy Morriss. The Wildcats are off to a 3-0 start and figure to be 4-0 after this Saturday's game against Middle Tennessee State University. But it's a little early to be proclaiming the Wildcats a Cinderella team. Their schedule is set up in a strange way. Saturday will be their fourth nonconference game, meaning they have eight straight SEC games, starting with Florida. They'd probably be well-advised to enjoy the good days while they can. They aren't likely to last for long.

Arkansas has been extremely impressive in blowing out Boise State and South Florida, so impressive that some are touting it as the best team in the West. That may be premature, but then again, it might not. The Razorbacks have lots of weapons.

A lackluster win over Ohio University didn't do anything to quiet the unrest at Florida. First-year head coach Ron Zook lost a lot of good will last week in a 41-16 rout at the hands of Miami. He has an opportunity to get some of it back Saturday when the Gators go to Knoxville to play Tennessee. If the Vols win easily--as I suspect they will--things are going to get really hot for Zook in Gainesville.

There has to be massive frustration at South Carolina. The Gamecocks did everything but beat overrated Georgia on Saturday before losing 13-7. Andrew Pinnock lost two fumbles inside the Georgia 5. The last one came in the game's final seconds. On the game-deciding play, Pinnock dropped a perfect option pitch from quarterback Corey Jenkins. Replays indicated Pinnock would have scored easily, leaving the Gamecocks needing only an extra point to win the game.

Until next time...


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