The game itself was two thirds positive and one third negative. One positive was that our offense is still clicking without Cam Newton, the second positive is that we keep winning no matter what, but the negative is that our defense is improved, but not where we want it to be. I don't want to take away the feel good factor from this game because I thought Auburn played very well, but I don't want to sugar coat the performance either. They put up 333 yards on the ground against us, and everyone knows that isn't good enough. To win in the SEC you have to stop the run, which Auburn was able to do last year. Whilst there was clear improvement seen on saturday there is still that nagging issue which will cost us some games.
The game itself was a shootout, as Auburn was able to put up 41 points including an interception return by DeMetruce "Meat" McNeal. I've always rated him as a player, and should be a solid safety for us this year.
Stopping Chris Relf was the real issue in this game, while he's no Cam Newton he was used in a similar way as Cam was used last year. With how frustrated us fans got at Relf running all over us, they were the same frustrations opposite fans had with Cam last year, albeit Cam is a much better passer than Chris Relf. Luckily, the only thing close to Relf that we will face again this year is Jordan J...wait, never mind.
Whilst we did get stops on 3rd down that area still needs improving. First and second down defense was not as much as an issue but getting the key stops will be big for us if we can get them more consistently. We seemed to always be bringing the linebackers to the line leaving the middle wide-open for Relf to run through. But like I said, we won't face many good scramblers like Relf again this year, so this game-plan may change depending on who we face.
Offensively we are still sound, Dyer is turning into one of the best backs in America and Blake is turning into a major threat at wide-reciever. The offensive line is slowly getting better and Trotter is impressing me more than most. Dyer breaking those long runs are big momentum shifters and you can clearly see he is developing into a fantastic running-back. The only thing we have yet to see yet from Barrett is his deep ball. Cam had the cannon-arm that we missed with Todd, but can Barrett make that throw? Do the coaches trust him to make that throw? Benton is supposed to be our deep threat at wide-reciever and if he can be developed into a big deep threat alongside Blake, Reed and Stallworth our receiver corp should be nothing less than outstanding.
The final drive was hard to watch until the very end. Ballard was burning us on the run which allowed State to literally walk down field. With how little we contained Relf through the game I was sure he was going to tumble into the end-zone and tie the game up. When it came down to the last play Ryan Smith came up and made the huge stop and won us the game. As I watched the replay I thought Relf could have stretched his arm out for the score, instead of face-planting it. It baffled me to say the least, but that's not my problem, nor Auburn's.
It would take me too long to go into mass depth and analyse this game from start to finish but overall it was a much better performance from last week. The team is young and should show this continual improvement every week. Saturday, we saw much more fight out of Auburn and that is a very very positive thing when dealing with a team this young. Some say Auburn are still lucky to be on this 17 game win streak but the fact that it's happening this often can't be chalked up to luck anymore. Chizik is a great motivator and coach and the staff have installed this never die attitude into the team (as I have mentioned before), which is incredibly valuable.
Next week we face Clemson on the road at 11am (again) and it should be another good game. Don't chalk this up as a win because it's never easy playing on the road, and even with Clemson struggling to beat Wofford don't think Dabo hasn't game-planned this one weeks ahead. He may not be a great coach but he isn't a moron either.
Is this Auburn team flawed? Absolutely, but good teams don't give up until the very end no matter what.
It wouldn't be Auburn otherwise.