In this college football season where much of the mystery is dying before the leaves change, Auburn showed Saturday that not everything in Big 3 country is settled.
The Tigers showed they can compete against elite teams, taking then-No. 2 LSU to the limit before losing 12-10.
The “then” before “No. 2 LSU” also shows that Auburn (1-3) had an impact on this college football season. Just as the rest of the nation began discussing possibilities for another Alabama-LSU rematch in the BCS final, Auburn knocked LSU out of the No. 2 spot in the Associated Press and USA Today polls.
So, even as we again take the mercurial Nick Saban’s temperature after another blowout for top-ranked and unbeaten Alabama, 40-7 over Florida Atlantic, we’re reminded there’s still a reason to watch on fall Saturdays.
Even as Jacksonville State’s chances to win the Ohio Valley Conference took an all-but fatal blow in a 51-21 loss to league favorite Eastern Kentucky in the Gamecocks’ OVC opener, we see that team and big-picture narratives can still shift.
Speaking of the big picture, RIP to Auburn student assistant Joe Bagwell. His death before Saturday’s game comes just three months after former Tigers Ladarious Phillips and Ed Christian were shot to death at a pool party.
Whatever happens on the field this season, the Tigers have endured more than any team’s fair share of loss.
Alabama: Just in case
Just in case Alabama ever plays a game where it matters, good to know that the Tide’s field-goal kicking appears more reliable this season.
Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster delivered twice apiece Saturday. Shelley, the short-and-medium-range guy, hit from 26 and 30 yards. Foster, the long kicker, hit from 52 and 46.
Foster also delivered six touchbacks on nine kickoffs, but kicks between the uprights put mystery into Alabama’s 2011. Field-goal misadventures doomed the Tide in its only loss, a 9-6 setback against LSU that threatened to derail Alabama’s national-title hopes.
A season later, the same two kickers are a combined 7-for-9, and Foster is 3-for-5 from 50 yards or longer.
There’s bad news in the fact that Alabama needed its field-goal kickers four times against a team like FAU, but good to know Shelley and Foster are true … just in case they’re needed in a close game.
Auburn: Major strides
There’s plenty to be said about the struggles in quarterback Kiehl Frazier’s “journey,” as Auburn coach Gene Chizik has termed it, but there’s a big picture in light of Auburn’s performance Saturday.
The Tigers were competitive against an elite team, something that hasn’t happened much since 2010.
The biggest reason why is they were good on defense, something that hasn’t happened much in three years.
It helped that LSU has a straight-forward offense that runs between the tackles and tries to throw deep.
The season-ending injury to left tackle Chris Faulk also helped, making it hard to block Auburn end Corey Lemonier. Concerns on quarterback Zach Mettenberger’s blind side limited what LSU could do in the passing game, and that problem has down-the-road implications for LSU.
But we saw encouraging things for Auburn, like linebacker Jake Holland making plays on the sideline and in pass coverage.
We saw Jermaine Whitehead and Joshua Holsey defending deep passes that could have been touchdowns.
Defense kept Auburn within arm’s reach. The mystery becomes whether Auburn can develop an arm.
First of all, don’t tell folks in Arkansas how Eastern Kentucky matched or even bested them against JSU. They’re already on the ledge out there.
The troubling thing for JSU is how the Gamecocks got manhandled up front by OVC competition. The numbers say it, and JSU coach Jack Crowe said it time and again in his postgame comments.
“By far, that’s the most physical we’ve been dealt with by anybody,” Crowe said. “I don’t think anybody’s rushed for that many yards against us — anywhere I’ve ever been.
“There was no consistency, and there was no physicalness. We got, quote-unquote, physically whipped. That has not happened since I’ve been there — ever.”
Crowe also said “it was a little bit like man to boys.”
He said getting too cute with schemes played a role, but let’s remember that JSU wasn’t playing Arkansas. The Gamecocks were playing a team from their own conference.
Just a year ago, JSU was beating EKU by 24 points with seven minutes to play.
The Gamecocks are young, which had something to do with their not being picked to win the OVC this season. Any remaining mystery as to why just got solved.
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.