Was it the dominance of Reggie Torbor at defensive end? He had three sacks. He stripped the ball from Mississippi State quarterback Kevin Fant, then fell on it to set up an Auburn touchdown.
Was it the much-maligned offensive line knocking Mississippi State's defense all over the place?
Was it Carnell Williams running like an All-American again?
Was it Anthony Mix reaching over a defender to catch a touchdown pass?
Was it Marcel Willis dragging a would-be tackler into the end zone?
Was it Ben Obomanu running off and leaving a defender to catch a 45-yard touchdown pass in the final seconds of the first half?
Was it Damon Duval's terrific punting? He averaged 48 yards a punt despite getting just 22 yards on his first one?
Was it the remarkable job done by Tommy Tuberville and his staff to keep the team mentally and physically fresh through a stretch of four games in 18 day?
Was it the defense forcing six turnovers?
All those things were impressive, but the most impressive thing I saw in Thursday night's game was the courage and competitive spirit of quarterback Daniel Cobb. Yes, that's the same Daniel Cobb that was booed by some of his own team's fans less than two weeks ago. Cobb had an absolutely awful first quarter Thursday night. He was 1-for-9, and a lot of the incompletions came when he missed open receivers. He threw a perfect strike to a defensive tackle on a screen pass. Fortunately for him, one of his offensive linemen had jumped prematurely and the play didn't count.
In the press box, I was wondering why Auburn's coaches didn't give Jason Campbell a crack at it. Tommy Tuberville and Bobby Petrino said they never considered taking Cobb out. That's why they coach and I write.
Cobb came back to play, in my mind, his most effective game as an Auburn football player. He was 9-for-12 after that horrid start. He threw three touchdown passes in the second quarter. He led six touchdown drives. He was knocked out of the game late in the third quarter with Auburn leading just 21-14. Mississippi State players and even coaches celebrated as he laid on the ground. He came back to lead his team to three more touchdowns.
I thought Cobb's college career was over at the end of last season. After he won the job by leading an upset of No. 1 Florida, he lost it again. But instead of giving up, he fought back and won the job again. Along the way, he earned the respect of his coaches and, more importantly, his teammates. If he didn't win the respect of those who cheer for Auburn on Thursday night, I don't know what it will take.
The rout of Mississippi State wasn't the first lopsided road victory over an SEC team in Tuberville's tenure at Auburn, but it was perhaps his most impressive. When the Tigers crushed LSU 41-7 in Baton Rouge in Tuberville's first season, it was a matter of LSU playing an unsound defense and a woeful game all the way around. The same was true at Georgia that same season. But this one was different. Auburn beat Mississippi State by four touchdowns because of superior athletes. In the end, Mississippi State was beaten down by a more physical and more talented team. Not since the glory days of Pat Dye in the 1980s have I seen as many talented athletes on an Auburn team as on this one.
Will that mean a big year? Maybe and maybe not. There are still questions that must be answered. Next season, really, should be the year the Tigers and Tuberville's program grow into maturity. But that doesn't mean it can't happen early.
Syracuse shouldn't pose much of a threat at Jordan-Hare Stadium next week. There is an open date after that, then things get serious with a four-game stretch that includes Arkansas at home, Florida on the road, LSU at home and Ole Miss on the road. It is there that the fate of this team will be decided.
Thursday night's game was so big in so many ways. If Auburn can win its three remaining SEC home games and just one more on the road, that will probably be enough for a trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. It was a happy football team that boarded a charter flight back home Thursday night. They'd won three games in less than two weeks. And they had done it in style.