Earlier in the season, Auburn’s football program had been in the spotlight for all of the wrong reasons following a disappointing 1-2 start. Its defense had been playing lights out, but things were — to put it mildly — a mess offensively.
With both of its losses coming in primetime, Auburn’s offensive issues had been magnified, tempers were running high and Gus Malzahn found himself sitting on one of the hottest seats in America. It initially appeared that there would be a head coaching vacancy on the Plains by season’s end. But after a huge win last week at Mississippi State, it feels like Malzahn and the Tigers have righted the ship as winners of three straight.
Suddenly, the Tigers are starting to look like real contenders in the SEC West — they look completely different from the team that took the field in Week 1 against Clemson. The turnaround has been impressive and I just wanted to take some time to reflect on how far this group has come.
In that season-opening loss, Auburn didn’t have confidence in any of its quarterbacks. Sean White won the job, but still didn’t seem to be the right fit in Malzahn’s system. In each of the Tigers’ first two losses, the inconsistency showed and it cost the Tigers dearly.
Three games into the season, Auburn nation was looking ahead to next year, but hope started to creep back in after the Tigers took down LSU at home. Then, Malzahn handed the play-calling duties over to Rhett Lashlee and Auburn’s once-lifeless offense found a pulse.
Everyone felt good after a 58-7 thrashing of Louisiana-Monroe on Homecoming weekend, but I didn’t think the Tigers would be able to carry that momentum into Starkville against SEC competition. Five touchdowns later, Auburn is 4-2 and I’m starting to think that the best is yet to come.
Weeks ago, the Tigers didn’t know who their playmakers were. Now, Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway are one of the best backfield duos in all of college football. Senior receiver Tony Stevens is starting to come into his own. Auburn’s youngsters are developing faster than expected and White is the team’s unquestioned leader. Best of all, Kevin Steele’s defense continues improving each game.
When I look at Auburn now, I see a Top-25 team, and that’s saying a lot considering how the season started.
There’s still a lot of football left, and next week’s game against Arkansas will be a tough one, but if the Tigers can maintain this level of play, they’ll have a say in who’s crowned SEC champion when it’s all said and done.