Just when you think mighty Alabama might be in line for an upset — like last weekend’s contest against a darling bunch from Ole Miss — the Tide rises up, once again, and hushes the critics with an impressive 25-0 shutout of the previously undefeated Rebels.
And what can you say about our own South Alabama Jags? Well, for beginners, I could say let’s work on a cooler helmet logo. I mean come on, we have all this time to build a football program, and we come up with back-to-back bombs on the glitz and glamour. The scary, ghost-white, gnarling Jag head from last season? Now the most basic of font jobs on the current headgear — JAGS? I say back to the drawing board.
But, when it comes to on the field play, which, after all, is what really matters, the JAGS put forth a great effort in what was almost a program-defining victory. Instead it turned into a teaching moment after the 31-24 near miss against SEC old guard Tennessee.
Alabama (4-0, 1-0)
The top-ranked Crimson Tide entered this game against Ole Miss with lots of questions coming from the naysayers. Most of the inquiries stemmed from Alabama looking disinterested during a 31-6 win (that was more of a glorified scrimmage) against Colorado State, coached by Sabanite Greg McElwain.
Well, after Saturday night’s 25-0 shutdown of then 21st-ranked Ole Miss in Tuscaloosa, most of those questions – I said most – were answered, and most of the naysayers, silenced, at least a for the moment.
In my opinion, the good news was that when they have to, Alabama can get up emotionally for a big game and perform at a higher level. It’s not easy doing what Alabama is doing, folks. Week in and week out you get everybody’s best shot. (After all, the Tide has won three of the last four national titles and has the inside post on this one.) You can’t expect the players to rise to such lofty levels each and every week, no matter how much you or Coach Saban plead for them to.
I have a friend who is a well-respected high school football coach. He told me one time, “You can’t lie to the boys.” What he meant, in a sense, was that the team knows who the opponent is and what they are capable of, and they know when it’s a big game or just another walk through. No matter how much coach speak, no matter how much screaming or running at practice, no matter how many times you say, “one game at a time,” he team knows the big games from the duds.
Alabama has one more big game sandwiched in between a bunch of duds – LSU at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Nov. 9.
Auburn (3-1, 1-1)
The Tigers were off last weekend, but considering the prior game was a respectable 31-24 loss at previously No. 6 LSU, most Auburn faithful are convinced they are finally on the right track. And I tend to agree. It’s the first time in a while that Auburn played the whole game and competed until the very end. I can’t believe I am writing this, but I’m starting to believe in coach Gus Malzahn.
Another silver lining I saw for Auburn is that the score was close. Yeah, at times LSU was in total control, especially running the ball, but by the final whistle, Auburn was right there in shouting distance of a team that still might end up in the SEC and national title game, despite their recent loss at Georgia.
This builds so much momentum going forward for a program that has been getting trounced over the last two seasons by the SEC’s big boys. Remember, you can’t lie to the team. Auburn’s players knew they were 16-point underdogs at LSU, and they knew that meant they were in for a possible whooping. But they went into hostile territory – the most hostile actually, Death Valley in Baton Rouge, on Saturday night – and stood their ground. The final total yards tally was Auburn 437 and LSU 459. It is certainly something to grow on, and that catfight with LSU hopefully spiked Auburn’s Gatorade with shots of enthusiasm, not only for the future, but also for this week’s clash with the Ole Miss Rebels.
Ole Miss (3-1, 1-1) will be a quick test of Auburn’s newfound zeal, especially since they just got embarrassed in the Heart of Dixie. The Rebels have to be itching to get back on the field, even if it is on the Plains of Auburn. This is just one more tough game on Auburn’s extremely difficult schedule.
A few weeks ago I would have thought Auburn had no chance here, but with a week off to prepare, the Tigers could be set up perfectly to make Ole Miss 0-for-Alabama. Which would be fine with lots of folks around here.
South Alabama (2-2, 1-0)
The South Alabama Jags continue to take major strides, not just baby steps like most fledgling programs go through. South Alabama went to Tennessee, took a 7-0 lead, then promptly gave up 31-straight points before rallying to fall 31-24. The Jags even had the ball inside the 10-yard line during the game’s final minute with a chance to tie the game. The Vols intercepted a South Alabama pass in the end zone on the Jags final offensive play with just seconds remaining.
It was the first time I’ve seen South Alabama actually play a game, and I’ll have to admit I was impressed. I was expecting to see a team that fought hard and play well, but was clearly outmanned and outsized. I couldn’t have been more off base. Most of the time, the Jags players were clearly outplaying their Tennessee counterparts. South has some big, talented players that are clearly good enough to compete with any team. The future is bright.
Despite the rosy outlook, things don’t get any easier as the Jags travel to play an always-solid Troy University (2-3,0-1), which is coming off a tough road loss, 38-31, to Duke. This is an important game because Troy is a Sun Belt Conference foe. Making thing’s even more difficult for the Jags – it’s homecoming for Troy.