Auburn

Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham (8) wears the old leather helmet trophy at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga., on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. Auburn defeated Washington 21-16 in the Chick-fil-a Kickoff Game.

ATLANTA — Years ago when Steve Spurrier dominated the Southeastern Conference on the field and in the news conferences, a reporter chided him at media days about his kicker making a mediocre percentage on field goals.

"I don't care about field goals. He made 71 extra points. I want to kick the hell outta them extra points," joked Spurrier, who wanted enough touchdowns that it didn't matter if the kicker could hit the broadside of a barn on a field goal.

It was hard not to think of Spurrier on Saturday. Ninth-ranked Auburn could've helped itself immensely early in its top-10 matchup with No. 6 Washington if it had traded one or two touchdowns for one or two fewer field goal tries.

Auburn won 21-16 in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but at one point when Washington held a 16-15 advantage, it looked like shorting those early drives would doom the Tigers. After a touchdown on the opening series, the next four drives went like this: field goal, missed field goal, field goal, field goal.

Heck, forget trading touchdowns for field goals — what if Gus Malzahn had tried an extra point after that first touchdown instead of going for two (and failing)? A one-point loss and today we would be roasting Malzahn over an open flame for that.

Still, substitute a couple of touchdowns, and we would be talking about how scary good Auburn looked in beating the No. 6 team in the nation by a comfortable margin.

But you know what?

For a team like this Auburn squad, maybe it's better that it turned out like it did. The TIgers' defense — with an almost new secondary — needed to prove its chops right out of the gate. The defensive front — with leader Jeff Holland having left for the NFL — needed a chance to show it could lock down an experience, quality offense.

That young, rebuilt offensive line needed the experience of driving for winning points in the fourth quarter.

Maybe it needed to see Malzahn call an aggressive game, such as going for two early and letting fullback Chandler Cox run the Wildcat late on a two-point try. (Malzahn swore that the play worked against his own defense, even though it failed against Washington.)

Nothing can take away what Auburn earned Saturday, and Malzahn realizes it.

In his postgame meeting with reporters, he said that his team didn't play any close games last year. (That's a real "ouch" for Alabama, by the way.)

After closing out Washington on Saturday, the TIgers celebrated like a young team that had proven something. After the final play ended, they sprinted onto the field. Not walked — sprinted.

They didn't look at all like one of those old, veteran teams that stalks off afterward, not smiling and grumbling about how if they don't do something to get better quickly they're going to lose a game like that one of these days.

When Auburn won its last SEC title in 2013, it beat Mississippi State early in the year with a last-minute touchdown. The Tigers also beat Texas A&M with a late touchdown and defensive stop.

Those wins boosted that team like nothing else could. The famous "Kick-Six" against Alabama was just another fantastic moment for an amazing team.

We're getting ahead of ourselves, certainly. But winning the way the TIgers did Saturday gives them a chance to build on this later.

In addition, if Auburn is trying to make the College Football Playoff at the end of the year, this win could make the difference.

We aren't going to hear a CFP chairman saying, "Well, Auburn's five-point win over Washington certainly was impressive, but they could've won by three touchdowns, so because of that, we left them out."

Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.

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