September 2, 2013

COLLIER: Auburn still difficult to quantify

AUBURN | Mike Leach, the gonzo pirate king of air-it-out offense, lobbied to succeed Tommy Tuberville at Auburn in 2008, only to be told (unofficially, of course) that he was too weird for the SEC. Adding insult to a now-infamous injury, Leach was himself replaced by Tuberville just a couple of years later.

I have to guess that if there had been an object on Leach's shoulder Saturday night, it would have more closely resembled a chip than a parrot. His Washington State Cougars were well-prepared for their opener, and came quite close to taking a Tiger skin back to the Pac-12 along with their impressively-large contingent of traveling fans.

When Wazzu zipped down the field for an impressive first score, followed by Auburn bumbling its way around on offense for successive possessions, it was hard not to get a sinking feeling that Gus Malzahn's "New Day" hadn't quite dawned by the last night of August. More than once, I'd wager every fan in the stands said to him or herself, "Oh, no, not this ... mess ... again."

Things did get better for Auburn eventually. An opportunistic secondary, solid special teams and a burgeoning rushing attack combined to prevent Malzahn from becoming the first new Auburn head coach to lose his inaugural game since the hapless Doug Barfield in 1976. But that first win, when it's remembered at all, will not be recalled as a thing of beauty.

Overall, Auburn just wasn't a very good football team in this first outing. Take away a bobbled pass, a kickoff return, and one fly sweep, and the Tigers are trailing 21-3 at the half. AU didn't have a sustained touchdown drive the entire night, and gave up an embarrassing 464 yards of total offense to Wazzu.

There were of course some bright spots. Corey Grant had the best game of this collegiate career with 146 blazing yards, and Tre Mason racked up 220 all-purpose yards of his own, including that game-shifting 100-yard kickoff return. Newcomer Cameron Artis-Payne added another 47 on the ground, filling out what ought to be be a three-headed rushing monster for the Tigers.

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