Sep 7, 2013
AUBURN, Ala. - Arkansas State isn't Alabama or even Mississippi State, but that really didn't matter on the second Saturday of Auburn's football season.
The Red Wolves, coached last season by Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, came to Jordan-Hare Stadium on a mission. They desperately wanted to win. They believed they could win. To hear them tell it, they believed they would win.
But what happened on Pat Dye Field was that the stronger team played like the stronger team, albeit with some mistakes of omission and commission thrown in, and won the game like a Southeastern Conference team should against a Sun Belt Conference team.
Auburn's 38-9 victory had its share of good things and bad, plays to celebrate and plays that won't look so good on video come Monday. But the Tigers' defense didn't let Arkansas State get into the end zone, and the last time that happened against anybody was when Florida visited Jordan-Hare on Oct. 15, 2011.
Auburn's defensive line shut down Arkansas State's running game for the most part and harassed quarterback Adam Kennedy. Almost half the Red Wolves' 150 rushing yards came on plays when Kennedy broke contain when he was under pressure.
Nick Marshall, in his second game, looked like the multi-talented quarterback he was expected to be. Running backs ran hard and fast. Receivers made catches. Linemen blocked. It was that kind of night.
And in the fourth quarter, Arkansas State had been beaten down by the team with more strength, more athleticism, more depth and more of just about everything.
Arkansas State players, like all players in similar situations, wanted to make a statement to their former coach. Those emotions are part of the game, but they aren't always helpful when it comes to winning the game.
"They were unbelievably hyped at the start of the game," one Auburn player said. "Too hyped. When you get like that, you can wear down quicker."
For the second consecutive Saturday, Auburn players and coaches sang in the locker room. That never did happen on consecutive Saturday's last season. In fact, the last time it happened was when the 2011 team got back-to-back wins over Florida Atlantic on the last Saturday in September and South Carolina on the first Saturday in October. If you're marking the calendar, that's almost two years.
Mississippi State comes to town next Saturday, and the moment will be big. It's an SEC game, and Auburn hasn't won one of those since beating Ole Miss in 2011. It's another home game, another chance to signal to all who are paying attention that Auburn football is back again, that last season was an aberration.
Auburn is not a great team. It was a better team Saturday than it was in a season-opening 31-24 win over Washington State. For another week, football was fun. A new week and a new challenge beckon.
And these Tigers go toward it with growing confidence and belief in themselves.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: