Sep 4, 2013
In 2010, Auburn started its run to the national championship and Cam Newton started his run to the Heisman Trophy with a 52-26 victory over Arkansas State at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The victory wasn’t necessarily as impressive as the score. Arkansas State passed for 323 yards and moved the consistently throughout the game. Newton had 171 yards rushing, but 71 came on a scramble when the field opened up in front of him and he ran untouched to the end zone. Arkansas State scored first on an 88-yard drive.
All in all, it was a good opening game for Auburn. But there was no real hint of the championship to come.
Auburn plays Arkansas State again on Saturday, this time in the second game of the season. The circumstances are very different. Auburn isn’t likely to win by 26 points. Winning the game at all won’t be easy. Gus Malzahn last season and Hugh Freeze the season before put together an Arkansas State program that is far more talented and more confident than the one that visited in 2010.
As much as Auburn fans want to see a juggernaut of a football team running through opponents in Malzahn’s first season as head coach, one that looks like LSU or Georgia or Texas A&M or South Carolina or Alabama, that’s not in the cards. Not yet.
That’s why last Saturday’s 31-24 victory over Washington State was a big one, regardless of how much prettier it could have been, how many chances were wasted or how scary it got down near the end. It was a win, and that is what this Auburn team needed.
The circumstances won’t be a lot different this Saturday. A win will be worth celebrating, regardless of how it happens or how close it is. Auburn coaches want to see improvement. That’ll be their goal throughout this season, to be better than the week before.
It was only last December that Auburn players left the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium on the bad end of a 49-0 loss. It could have been much worse. It ended a three-game stretch of SEC games in which the Tigers were outscored 150-21 by Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama. All three called pulled back early in the second half.
Auburn finished 3-9. Of those nine losses, six were by 17 points or more. It was the worst Auburn season in 60 years. That’s the circumstance Malzahn and his staff inherited.
Auburn has enough talent to win games. But coming back from a disaster like the season of 2012 is a multi-faceted challenge. The Tigers have depth at some positions, but they’re thin at others. They have elite talent at some positions and average talent at others, experience at some positions and not much experience at others.
There will come a time when Auburn will again look the best in the game in the eye. There will come a time when complaints about uneven performances, even in victory, will be reasonable. But that time is not here yet. Will it be here before this season is over? That would be quite an accomplishment.
Malzahn says that, to beat Arkansas State, Auburn will need to play better than it did against Washington State. I don’t believe that to be coachspeak. I believe that to be true.
Malzahn’s building job is under way. It won’t be finished overnight and it won’t be finished without some painful Saturdays along the way.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: