Putting the fun back in Auburn football


By: Kevin Strickland

It seems like its been a long, long time since Auburn football was fun.

New offensive coordinator Gus Malzhan is well on the road to changing that dynamic. In his first two games with the Tigers, Malzhan has helped shred the team’s offensive record books, sent the scoreboard pinwheeling and put the Tigers at as solid a 2-0 as could have possibly been hoped for.

To say that Malzhan’s offense has so far exceeded expectations is like saying Kate Beckinsale is sort of pretty.

The evolution of that offense and the potential it brings to a Tiger team that has watched numerous seasons bog down with offensive ineffiency, adds a whole new dimension to fun at Jordan Hare Stadium.

How fun was Saturday night’s 49-24 demolition of Mississippi State?

It was mascot Aubie dancing with the band fun.

In the game’s final five minutes, fans were watching a play-by-play yardage total on the Jumbotron, urging the second team to gain a few more yards so Auburn could top 600 total on the night.

The Tigers didn’t quite get there, finishing with 589. Still, it was the second straight 500-plus yard outing for a Tiger offense that had difficulty gaining any yardage a year ago. Through two games, the Tigers amassed a school record 1145 yards.

Auburn didn’t break the 1100 yard mark as a team until the fourth game of 2008.

Ben Tate and Onterrio McCalebb both topped the 100-yard mark for the second straight time. It’s the first time in school history two backs have gone over 100 yards in consecutive games.

Tate finished with 157 yards and didn’t play a single snap in the first quarter. McCalebb added 115 on just 15 carries. Both Tate and McCalebb averaged more than seven yards per attempt.

Tate finished 2008 with 664 yards, even after rushing for 117 in the season opener. The Tiger senior has racked up 272 already in 2009.

Kodi Burns ran for three touchdowns and passed for another on a well executed run fake that drew the entire Mississippi State defense in.

DSC_0661ResizeAuburn put up 49 points — and should have had more — against a Mississippi State team traditionally known for its defense.

Auburn scored more than 40 points only once in the last three seasons — a 55-20 win over New Mexico State in 2007.

The combined total of 86 points through two games is the best since Auburn put 63 on Ball State and followed that with 37 against Western Kentucky in 2005.

Auburn’s two-game total margin of victory, 49 points, is the widest of any two consecutive games since Auburn blasted Washington State 40-14 and then hammered Mississippi State 34-0 in 2006.

Last season’s well-chronicled 5-7 debacle aside, Auburn won a lot of games over the last few years. The Tigers posted nine wins in 2005, eleven in 2006 and nine more in 2007.

So many of those were gut wrenching, close ball games where the Tigers relied on their defense to hold the opposition at bay while the offense did just enough to win. The record is littered with 23-17, 22-15, 17-3 type scores.

Former head coach Tommy Tuberville, despite a reputation as a riverboat gambler, grew increasingly conservative over the course of his ten year Auburn tenure.

The 2009 edition of the Tigers under new head coach Gene Chizik seemingly has no such conservative bent.

Case in point: Mississippi State blocked a second quarter punt to take a 17-14 lead with just 4:44 remaining in the first half.

In previous seasons, the Tigers might have been content to play it safe, run out the clock and plan for the second half.

No longer. Auburn roared 80 yards in just five plays, burning a mere 1:36 off the clock to retake the lead. McCalebb covered the final 48 yards on a charge around left end.

When the defense held Mississippi State to one first down on its ensuing possession, the Auburn coaching staff judiciously used its timeouts to preserve the clock.

Auburn got the ball back at its own 22 with just 1:29 remaining.

Sit on the ball and protect the lead? No thanks.

Todd hit Darvin Adams for 21 yards on a third and eight.

DSC_0584ResizeAfter a five yard bullrush by Tate, Todd and Adams connected again for 28 yards. A 20-yard Todd to Adams completion moved the ball to the Bulldog one with 21 seconds still remaining.

Burns plunged in from there for one of his three touchdowns on the night.

Instead of taking a 17-14 deficit and a basket of questions to the halftime lockerroom, the Tigers posted two scores in the final 4:44 and carried a truckload of confidence to the break.

The Bulldogs were never a factor after that.

Yes, it’s only Louisiana Tech and Mississippi State. Tech may struggle this season as evidenced by the 32-14 thrashing administered by Navy on Saturday. MSU may not win a single conference game and most observers peg the Bulldogs as the league’s worst team.

But the Auburn of the last five years didn’t beat the Louisiana Techs and Mississippi States as thoroughly as this Auburn team did. Those Auburn teams won more than their share of games.

It’s too early to begin building the Gene Chizik pedestal. It’s not time to start minting the Gene Chizik coins. Unless you live in Iowa where that was already done, that is.

It is time to recognize that if nothing else, Chizik and his staff have found a way to make football at Auburn fun again.

Now it’s time to see if they can make the Tigers relevant. The road to relevance starts with 2-0 West Virginia on Saturday.

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