Learning from a win is better than the alternativePublished 10:04am Wednesday, September 4, 2013
By Andy Graham
The Auburn Tigers kicked off the 2013 football season last Saturday night in Jordan Hare Stadium against the Washington State Cougars, and midway through the quarter it felt like déjà vu all over again. Auburn opened the season in 2012 against Clemson with a performance eerily similar to the one Saturday night. In 2012, the Tigers gave up 320 yards rushing and 528 total yards to their opponent.
In 2013, the Tigers gave up 344 yards passing and 496 total yards to the Cougars.
Despite being gashed defensively in last year’s game, Auburn kicked a field goal with 12:50 remaining in the 4th quarter to take the lead against Clemson 19-16. The purple and orange Tigers received the ensuing kickoff and immediately drove 75 yards in 10 plays to take back the lead with a touchdown 23-19. Auburn only gained 15 yards on 6 plays on their next possession and gave the ball right back. Clemson moved the ball with ease 79 yards on 11 plays and put the game away with a field goal 26-19. The Auburn defense was out of gas and helpless to stop Clemson when it really mattered in 2012’s opener.
Saturday night Auburn kicked a field goal with 9:07 remaining in the 4th quarter to extend its lead 31-24 over WSU. The Cougars promptly drove 62 yards on 11 plays and, as though nothing had changed from last year, I was already conceding a touchdown. That’s when something happened that didn’t happen all of last year. The Auburn Tigers show some backbone and found a way. On 1st goal from the 8 yard line, Auburn’s Robenson Therezie stepped up and intercepted QB Connor Halliday’s pass in the end zone to preserve the lead. It was truly the most gratifying moment of the entire game… up to that point. I guess the Tigers wanted to make absolutely sure it wasn’t a fluke, so fumbling the ball after 2 plays may have just been strategy. However, it turned out to be even more gratifying to see the defense come back out on the field and turn Washington State over on downs at the Auburn 27 yard line. The Tigers defense got stronger and better as the game went along, and that is very encouraging.
It wasn’t a great performance on either side of the ball by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a victory, and it’s always better to learn from a win than a loss. The defense gave up entirely too many yards and the offense squandered far too many opportunities, but the resiliency shown by this 2013 team was a sight for sore eyes. While Nick Marshall’s performance left a lot to be desired, I fully believe he’ll get better and better as he becomes more and more comfortable. Auburn also needs to get DE Dee Ford and LB Justin Garrett healthy. They were the Tigers two best defensive players coming into the season and neither played a down Saturday night. I was pretty frustrated toward the end of the game, but Auburn’s final stand changed my outlook completely. In 2012, Auburn played arguably its best game in the opener against Clemson and then proceeded to get worse and worse as the season continued. The Tigers were able to reverse their fortunes in the first game of 2013. Now the challenge is to keep doing the opposite of last year by get better each week as the season goes along.
Graham is a sports columnist for The Outlook.