Archived Story

Tigers’ turnaround across the board nears historic level

Published 9:08pm Wednesday, November 13, 2013

By Andy Graham

The Auburn Tigers improved their impressive record to 9-1 as they ran by, around and through would be Tennessee tacklers on their way to 444 rushing yards and a 55-23 final score.
To be honest, that rushing total could have been significantly higher had the Tigers not selfishly scored two touchdowns on a punt and kickoff return.
Ladies and gentlemen there are turnarounds, and then there is what Gus Malzahn and this Auburn team is doing in 2013. When you start to look at the numbers the Tigers are compiling this year and compare them with the previous season, it borders on the ridiculous.
What am I saying? It aggressively crosses the border into the absolute absurd.
Junior quarterback Nick Marshall has made an enormous difference with his ability to run the read-option, and several freshman players have made immediate impacts. However, at its core, this is the same team as one year ago.
I know I’m running the risk of excessive abuse of a deceased equine, but this story has the makings of one of the greatest in college football history. In 2012, Auburn finished the season (12 games) ranked No. 115 in total offense (305 yards) and No. 112 in scoring offense (18.6 points).
Through 10 games in 2013, Auburn ranks No. 14 in total offense (493.3 yards) and No. 17 in scoring offense (38.6 points). That’s almost 200 more yards per game and 20 more points.
Of course, everything’s always easier when you protect the quarterback. Auburn gave up 37 sacks last year in 12 games. This year,  they have given up only 10. I think that’s considered a little more than a turnaround.
It’s an about-face, and all this has taken place in less than one year.
The difference hasn’t just come on one side of the ball either. Ellis Johnson has taken what previous coordinators called untalented players and put a respectable defense on the field.
In 2012 the Tigers ranked No. 79 in total defense (420.5 yards) and No. 66 in scoring defense (28.3 points). Through 10 games in 2013, the Tigers rank No. 66 in total defense (394.4) and No. 22 in scoring defense (20.4 points).
It’s no secret how this Auburn defense has made so much improvement.
They’ve gone from No. 70 in the country in tackles for loss in 2012 to No. 19 in the country in tackles for loss in 2013. The defensive line’s ability to get into the backfield to disrupt plays and pressure the quarterback makes all the difference.
That’s why Auburn has 11 interceptions this year as opposed to only two last year.
In the words of Marv Albert, “it has come down to this…” Auburn will now play a two-game season in the next three weeks.
There’s no doubt Georgia and Alabama present a monumental challenge to the Tigers. Auburn has obviously struggled with both the last several years, but the Tigers control their own destiny – win two games and they’ll play for the SEC championship.
The fact that’s merely a possibility means Auburn’s season is already a success, but why stop now?
This fairytale season wouldn’t seem right without a happy ending.
Graham is a sports columnist for The Outlook.