Is Auburn man enough to beat UGA?November 10, 2018
I can hear Pat Dye now, the title of this column of course pays homage to the legendary former Auburn head coach when in 2002 he said on a radio show, “I don’t believe Georgia is man enough to beat Alabama.” Many believe Dye was using a little reverse psychology in an attempt to motivate his old alma mater Georgia as it traveled to Tuscaloosa to take on the Tide. It worked as the Bulldogs proved tough enough to beat Bama, 27-25.
But the same question could be asked of the 2018 version of No. 24 Auburn (6-3, 3-3 SEC) as it goes on the road to play No. 5 Georgia (8-1, 6-1 SEC) at 6:00 P.M. CST on ESPN — is Auburn man enough to beat UGA? Conventional wisdom says, ‘no.’ Georgia has certainly played and looked like the better team throughout season, but in matchups like the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, crazier things have happened.
The Bulldogs are riding high after winning two in a row and are coming off an SEC East Championship game victory last Saturday night when Kirby Smart’s squad thumped Kentucky, 34-17. The win punched Georgia’s ticket to Atlanta, as did Bama in their victory over LSU in Death Valley.
UGA fans assuredly are looking ahead to the SEC Championship Game that pits their Bulldogs in a rematch from last year’s national championship game with Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide. You’d hardly know Georgia plays Auburn today based upon the chatter this week on the tv and radio airwaves, as well as twitter and message boards. This week UGA fans have spent most of their time talking about their future matchup with Bama while ignoring the Tigers, but when talk has turned to Auburn, most UGA fans are predicting scores like 56-14, 45-7, anyway, you get the idea.
So the question begs to be asked — is Auburn man enough to beat Georgia in Athens?
The Tigers are coming off their own two game winning streak after their most recent victory came in dramatic fashion. Auburn trailed by ten points to fellow SEC West foe Texas A&M with under half of the fourth quarter remaining in the ball game, but a Noah Igbinoghene interception of Kellen Mond turned Jordan-Hare upside down igniting an amazing Tiger comeback.
Auburn’s two-minute offense suddenly looked like a well-oiled machine, helping the Tigers roar back in the last 5:14 of the game to score 14 unanswered points and capture an AU-inspiring 28-24 victory.
Remember in the preseason when Gus said that he was going to cut Stidham loose? It took nine games but the Texan finally broke free from Malzahn’s conservative lasso. Of course it took Auburn being down ten points to Texas A&M with just over seven minutes left to play before Auburn went to the hurry-up, no-huddle, air-raid approach that was similar to the old Art Briles offense that Stidham ran at Baylor. Maybe Auburn should have been airing it out all along. Imagine if the Tigers used the air-raid approach to start the season mixed in with a running game led by Boobee Whitlow, Shaun Shivers, and Anthony Schwartz on the perimeter.
And Stidham? He was playing for the love of the game. The redshirt junior was getting solid protection from his offensive line. His receivers were running crisp routes and making excellent grabs. It looked like the strength of this Auburn offense — quarterback and receivers — were finally getting the opportunity to flex their muscle even if it came by way of a magical fourth quarter comeback.
In a season that has seen calls go against the Tigers and the ball bounce the wrong way one too many times, Auburn fans surely found pleasure in something finally going their way. Then again, while there was a fraction of the fanbase that were able to find the silver lining in the come-from-behind fourth quarter victory over the Aggies, there’s the other side who seem content with griping about the Tigers not meeting high preseason expectations.
But my take away from Auburn’s last win is a positive one. While Gus Malzahn has his share of fair criticisms, one thing that you must admit about his teams is that they never quit. In his sixth season on The Plains, Malzahn has never had a team to lay over and play dead. And despite insurmountable odds late in the A&M game, the Tigers showed unbelievable heart and determination in the improbable comeback.
While everyone pats the Bulldogs on the back this week for securing the SEC East Division crown and a spot in the SEC Championship, the Tigers have dealt with the onslaught of negativity because of an underwhelming season. However, something happened in Auburn’s miraculous fourth quarter comeback versus A&M that might just be the shot in the arm that the program needed to finish the season out strong.
In the last seven minutes of the game, the Tigers finally discovered themselves and what it truly means to represent the name on the front of their jerseys – this Auburn team discovered “a spirit that is not afraid.”
Many programs would have folded after falling short of their ultimate goals by the midpoint of the season, but not this Auburn team. In a day and age where negativity surrounds us in all angles of life, there’s reason to be positive about this Auburn football team. Despite its shortcomings, the Tigers have showed the kind of heart and fight that should make all Auburn fans proud. This team hasn’t given up. They’ve kept fighting. Fighting for themselves. Fighting for each other. Fighting for the A-U. And because of their fight, they’ve embodied what it is to be Auburn men, who are certainly more than man enough to beat Georgia.