Football Tigers Get Physical

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the Auburn University football Tigers.

Football is actually a pretty simple game. For all the formations and schemes that coaches come up with, most games still come down to the same things they came down to when the helmets were made of leather. They come down to blocking and tackling.

Auburn had heroes aplenty in its 31-7 rout of LSU at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday. But Auburn won because it dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Auburn won the physical battle. It wasn't close, and when that's not close, the score usually isn't close either. For the last six quarters, since going to halftime trailing 17-7 at Florida, Auburn has been as good as any team in the Southeastern Conference. Adding it up, not counting overtime at Florida, Auburn has won the last six quarters 47-13.

What does that mean for the rest of the season? Lordy mercy, who knows? If one thing has been made clear in the SEC this season it is that what happens one Saturday doesn't necessarily have anything to do with what happens the next Saturday. Auburn will certainly be favored in this Saturday's game at Ole Miss, loser of two straight on the road. But Ole Miss beat Florida the last time it played at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and looked for the only time this season like it could actually play defense. What if the Rebels look that way again? What if Eli Manning has a monster day throwing the ball? Anyway, that's jumping ahead. Here are some thoughts and impressions for what was, in my mind, the most impressive victory of Tommy Tuberville's Auburn career:

*I don't buy the idea that Auburn is somehow better off without Carnell Williams. It just isn't so. There seems to be a line of thinking that he was being overused. Much of that feeling seemed to come from his 40 carries against Syracuse. Truth is, before his injury, Williams was averaging barely 20 carries a game. Ronnie Brown is a fine back in his own right and the Tigers have done a good job of pulling together and going on without Williams. But they'd surely be better off with him.

*The offensive line is rapidly coming of age. True freshmen Troy Reddick and Marcus McNeill played significant roles against LSU.

*The much-maligned defensive line is growing up, too. Tommy "T.J." Jackson is fun to watch. DeMarco McNeil is playing like an all-star again. Redshirt freshman Wayne Dickens is showing why he was highly recruited out of Lakeland, Fla. Jay Ratliff is getting better every week. He'll be a dominating end before his career is over.

* Forget the "Tuberville on the hot seat" talk. It's over, or at least it should be. Tuberville had the support of the people he needed even before Saturday's victory. He was never on the hot seat anyway, but he certainly isn't now.

*Jason Campbell is going to yet prove why he was ranked one of the nation's top quarterback prospects coming out of Taylorsville, Miss., High School.

* Daniel Cobb had already earned respect before Saturday. Now he's earned even more. He was a visible and vocal Campbell supporter throughout the game.

*Tre Smith will probably never be a back who carries the ball 20 times a game, but he sure is exciting to watch. He showed great speed on his touchdown run in the second quarter and great balance and toughness on the fourth-down run to the two-yard line in the final minutes.

Tailback Tre Smith is taking on an expanded role following injuries to Carnell Williams and Chris Butler.

*If I'd been Tuberville, I'd have tried to score a touchdown once Smith got the ball to the two. I'd have done it just because of the ridiculous uproar that came from LSU two years ago when Rudi Johnson scored in an almost identical situation to make the sore 31-7. Tuberville told Campbell to take a knee this time, which was probably the best thing, but I have a problem when SEC coaches whine about someone scoring a late touchdown. If you don't want them to score, make a play and stop them.

*I received more than 50 emails from LSU fans because of a piece I wrote last week in the Huntsville Times about the events of Auburn's visit to Baton Rouge last season. Not many were complimentary. Some called me names not used in polite company. Virtually all expressed intense dislike for Tuberville. But if you think LSU fans don't like him, just wait until the Ole Miss fans weigh in this week.

*LSU, in my mind, is still the favorite in the SEC West. The Bayou Bengals have SEC games remaining against Alabama and Ole Miss at home, against Kentucky in Lexington and Arkansas in Little Rock. I don't think they'll lose more than one of those, meaning Auburn would have to win out to make the trip to Atlanta. Ole Miss only has two SEC losses, but the Rebels have given up 40 or more points in their last two games and three times this season. It's hard to imagine a team with a defense like that winning any kind of championship. Alabama, of course, could end up with the best record but won't be able to go because of NCAA sanctions. Will that cheapen it for whoever does go? I don't think so. I don't see an asterisk beside Alabama's 1993 division championship, won because Auburn was on probation.

*Freshman Devin Aromashodu is the most exciting receiver I've seen at Auburn since Frank Sanders. With his size and speed, he'll have a chance to make a lot of money playing on Sundays. Ben Obomanu, another freshman, isn't far behind, and I hear whispers that Courtney Taylor, who is redshirted, might be the best of the bunch.

*Karlos Dansby might be the best defensive player I've seen this season. It took Michael Clayton, an LSU receiver with sprinter's speed, 50 yards to chase him down after an interception Saturday.

*If tight end Robert Johnson could harness his immense talent and perform on a consistent basis, he could be the best tight end ever to line up at Auburn. He seems to be getting closer to that as the season goes on.

*I thought Saturday's victory was more impressive than last season's victory over No. 1-ranked Florida. The Tigers didn't dominate Florida. They dominated LSU.

Until next time...


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