Sep 2, 2013
AUBURN, Ala. – What were reasonable expectations for Auburn’s season-opener against Washington State? What is reasonable to expect going forward?
Here’s what I expected last Saturday when the Tigers beat Washington State 31-24 in Gus Malzahn's debut as the Tigers' head coach, and what happened.
I didn’t expect Auburn’s football team, coming off a 3-9 season, to be a juggernaut in the first game with a new staff.
I didn’t expect Nick Marshall to be a polished quarterback in his first college game as a quarterback.
He wasn’t, but he got better as the game went on. After completing two of his first eight passes, he completed eight of his last 11.
I expected Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne to carry the load at tailback.
Corey Grant was the leading rusher with 146 yards on nine carries and had a 75-yard touchdown run.
I expected Auburn’s secondary to be much improved over last season.
It was even better than I expected. Don’t take my word for it. If you missed it, here’s what defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said: “I thought our secondary played outstanding. You can’t believe how many snaps of man coverage we played. With 92 snaps, I thought they were unbelievable.”
I expected Washington State to score three or four times.
It scored four times – three touchdowns and a field goal.
I expected Washington State to have 400-plus yards offense.
It had 464.
I expected Auburn to have 400-plus yards offense.
It had 396.
I expected the game to be close.
I expected H-back Jay Prosch and tight end/wide receiver C.J. Uzomah to be major factors in the passing game.
They weren’t. Neither caught a pass.
If any freshman defensive linemen made major impacts on the game, I expected they would be ends Carl Lawson or Elijah Daniel.
Defensive tackle Montravius Adams made a major impact on the game, single-handedly forcing bad plays by overpowering offensive linemen and getting pressure on quarterback Connor Halliday.
I expected the Tigers to intercept some passes.
They intercepted three and could have/should have had more.
I didn’t expect Auburn linebackers to have a lot of tackles.
They combined for five tackles. When a team throws the ball 65 times, that’s not the kind of game in which linebackers are the centers of attention.
I thought the Tigers would run 75-85 plays.
They ran 65 plays, but you have to remember that they lost an offensive possession because of a touchdown kickoff return and had a one-play possession on Grant’s 75-yard touchdown run.
I expected Auburn defenders to have two or three sacks and no more than that.
They had two, partly because they didn’t have a good enough rush, partly because defensive ends were frequently dropped into coverage and partly because Washington State used a lot of three-step drops and got the ball out quickly.
I thought it would be a fourth-quarter game and Auburn would win.
Auburn’s defense turned back two Washington State threats in the fourth quarter and won the game.
I expected the heat to get to Washington State players by the fourth quarter.
If it did, you couldn’t tell it.
I expect Auburn to be in a dogfight with Arkansas State next Saturday.
The Red Wolves have won nine straight. They will be more than excited about playing against Malzahn, Rhett Lashlee and J.B. Grimes.
I expect this Auburn team to have good days and bad in Malzahn’s first season.
Who knows which days will be good and which ones want? We shall see.
And now to some things I know and don’t know:
I don’t know what any player’s assignment is on any call. Therefore, unless I’m told by one who knows, I will not say anyone was out of position, blocked the wrong person, ran the wrong route, should have done what he didn’t do or shouldn’t have done what he did, because I don’t know.
I know it is as classless as can be for any fans – students or otherwise – to boo their own players.
I don’t know how good Washington State is. I suspect it’s more like the team that beat Washington in the final game of last season than like the one that lost nine of its first 11.
I know there is a far more positive vibe around this Auburn football team than last season’s Auburn football team.
I don’t know how that will affect the final record.
Until next time …
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: