Auburn Nation had been in desperate need of some positivity after a rough week, and the Tigers delivered right on time with an 18-13 upset win over Leonard Fournette and LSU on Saturday night in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Now, the win wasn’t pretty. In fact, the game was stressful for everyone involved. But thanks to a bombing place kicker and a little good fortune, Auburn fans can relax for now and enter Week 5 knowing their team is still in the thick of things in the SEC West.
It was a wild weekend on the Plans for different reasons, but here are the things things that stood out to me the most.
3. An inspired effort defensively
There was much more on the line for Auburn’s defense Saturday against LSU than a 2-2 record or a losing streak. After being embarrassed by Fournette a year ago, this year’s matchup was all about reclaiming their pride.
LSU’s offense was able to find paydirt in the first quarter thanks to a heads-up play by QB Danny Etling, and it initially looked like Fournette and his understudy Derrius Guice were well on their way to big nights. But after linebacker Tre Williams was ejected for “targeting” Etling, the Tigers rallied around their absent teammate in a remarkable way and kept LSU out of the end zone for the final three quarters.
Malzahn said that this is the closest group he’s been around during his tenure at Auburn, and on Saturday it got his team a win. That side of the ball has been playing lights out all year long and they deserve every bit of credit they’ve been receiving.
Auburn fans need to get use to the idea that this is a defensive team.
As for the targeting call, I don’t think Williams meant anything malicious by it —he’s not that kind of player. I don’t think he should have been ejected; he was just trying to make a play on the quarterback and got there a second too late. However, we must all abide by the NCAA’s rules for the greater good of safety, and Deshaun Davis will have to hold down the fort at linebacker during the first half of next week’s game until Williams can return.
2. Another step in the right direction offensively
There wasn’t an enormous difference in production with Rhett Lashlee presiding over the play-calling duties, but it’s fair to admit that things looked slightly more balanced for Auburn offensively with him calling the shots.
Despite ongoing red zone woes, the Tigers set the tone early and controlled the clock against one of the better defenses they will see this year — a great sign with the meat of the conference schedule right around the corner. While the tempo we saw from Auburn’s offense Saturday wasn’t Malzahn’s traditional breakneck pace, its drives were methodical — which I’m completely fine with as long as Auburn manages to put points on the board (Daniel Carlson for MVP). Overall, the entire offense appeared to be more confident in what it was being asked to do.
As expected, Lashlee continued to lean heavily on the power running of Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway, and the cruiser and bruiser didn’t disappoint even though their totals weren’t as high as previous games. Both tailbacks played a key role in wearing down LSU’s defense with 154 yards combined, setting up some advantageous situations in the passing game for Sean White who completed 19 of his 26 throws while averaging nine yards per attempt in the win (much better than his 4.7 average a week ago against the Aggies).
It’s also encouraging to see White’s chemistry with Tony Stevens growing. The Orlando, Fla., native is the biggest, most underutilized target on Auburn’s roster. If he can prove to be a more reliable threat by cleaning up his route running and minimizing drops, I think Stevens has become the ideal candidate to emerge as the X-factor for this offense. Stevens is one of the more experienced players on the team. In four years he’s barely scratched the surface of the talent his measurables suggest, and it’s about time for him to elevate his play. The potential is there, and it’s scary.
As good as Daniel Carlson’s perfect 6-for-6 performance was against LSU, I can’t imagine this team winning many games this year relying solely on his leg — there’s still more to be desired from this Auburn offense. We’re still seeing too many negative plays, too many mental errors in critical moments, and an inexcusable amount of points left on the field. Luckily for the Tigers, White’s fumble late in the third quarter only resulted in an LSU field goal.
Auburn will have an opportunity to tune up game against Louisiana-Monroe this week before traveling to Starkville on Oct. 8. With Malzahn announcing that Lashlee will call plays from here on out, here’s to hoping that unit continues to take steps forward.
It could’ve just as easily been Gus (instead of Les Miles) getting fired late Sunday afternoon.
1. A bittersweet ending collectively
The city of Auburn went from cloud nine to pure horror Sunday morning after learning that one of its beloved oak trees at Toomer’s corner was set on fire hours after football’s big win.
The Auburn Police Department quickly connected 29-year-old Jochen Wiest to the crime and charged him with desecration of a venerable object, but that doesn’t make the visual of the tree’s charred surface any easier for Auburn fans to look at.
Outsiders will say that they’re just trees, but the truth is they’re so much more. The Oaks at Toomer’s Corner are home to one of the most timeless traditions in college football, and has given Auburn University its identity for generations. They’re invaluable to me, that city and the university’s countless supporters across the country.
There isn’t anything to be gained from a senseless crime like this, and someone could have been seriously injured in the blaze — no football game is worth anyone’s safety. Experts are saying that there’s a chance the oak tree will survive, but won’t know for certain until they assess the damage over the next couple of weeks.
Regardless of if it survives or not, let the record show that Auburn nation holds you responsible, Mr. Wiest. What you’ve done is unforgivable.
To anyone else out there in America plotting to vandalize a historic landmark, please, for everyone’s sake, just don’t. Find a way to channel your frustration in a less destructive way. I can refer you to a good therapist if you’d like.