Call it luck, point to whistles, but Auburn just knows how to win close games
Analytics are the latest trend of 2020. Coaches are becoming more reliant on statistics and facts when it comes to going for it on 4th down or opting for a 2-point conversion rather than the extra point.
In Auburn’s case, Chad Morris finally woke up to the realization that rushing the ball 47 times and asking Bo Nix to throw no more than 30 passes is the magic formula for success. Tank Bigsby ran the ball more than he ever had in his short collegiate career. He also became the first Auburn tailback to record 3 consecutive 100-yard games since Kerryon Johnson did so in 2017. He’s only the 3rd freshman in program history to reach that mark 3 times, joining Bo Jackson and Michael Dyer.
Nix had his most efficient passing performance arguably of his entire career – his 76.7 completion percentage and 7.9 yards per attempt were career-highs away from Jordan-Hare. He looked much more comfortable staying in the pocket and was an effective rusher averaging 5.2 yards a carry.
Yet, even with all of those numbers going in Auburn’s favor, by surrendering the most rush yards an Auburn team has allowed since 2018 (283), the Tigers still found themselves with the ball, down one score and fewer than 3 minutes remaining for the 3rd consecutive week.
Nix rose to the occasion as a passer when Auburn needed him most, connecting with Seth Williams on a 58-yard catch-and-run for the game-winning touchdown. The Tigers scored a season-high 35 points for their 3rd win to return back to the right side of .500.
Opposing fan bases will be quick to point to a theme in all 3 of Auburn’s wins this season: a highly-debatable officiating decision.
In the latest edition of potential referee blunders, Auburn appeared to benefit from a missed fumble that could have potentially changed the outcome of the game.
After Ole Miss scored to take a 28-27 lead, Auburn returner Shaun Shivers seemed to touch the ensuing kickoff with his left hand as the ball continued to roll into the end zone where Rebels special teamers recovered it for a would-be touchdown.
Instead the play was deemed a touchback. Auburn went 3-and-out on the ensuing possession, but on the following drive the Tigers took the lead with a touchdown pass from Nix to Williams with just over a minute to play.
This week’s call was apparently not close enough to warrant an official statement from the SEC, but it did instigate a certain retweet from Lane Kiffin.
If y’all want to just keep gifting Auburn wins, just say it. pic.twitter.com/LJ01avk5ZI
— Breck Jones (@BreckJones_) October 24, 2020
Razorback fans needn’t be reminded of the blown call that did in fact merit a response from the league in Week 3. Nix’s spike on the game’s final play should have been deemed a fumble after the QB muffed the snap and threw the ball backward. It wasn’t, and Anders Carlson went on to kick the game-winning field goal, spoiling Sam Pittman from recording back-to-back conference victories, a phrase rarely spoken in Fayetteville the past several years.
Finally there’s the hindsight of Auburn’s opening game against the Wildcats. A touchdown that wasn’t in the waning seconds of the first half removed any momentum Kentucky could have taken into the locker room, and what could have been a 14-8 lead for the Wildcats spiraled into a 29-13 win for the Tigers in a game the Mark Stoops would love to have back.
Auburn fans couldn’t care less about other fans’ whining about calls.
The Tigers are 3-2 with 3 winnable games approaching.
Auburn fans have a better explanation for Auburn’s wins that may be more qualitative than quantitative, less insinuation of referee tampering.
Maybe there’s something to be said about Gus Malzahn led teams in the closest of games. His Tigers are 5-1 in the last 6 games decided by 6 or fewer points dating to 2018. Perhaps the coach knows a thing or two about performing under pressure from incessant calls for his job.
Texas A&M is the only team in the SEC that has won more games since 2018 decided by 6 or fewer points. The Aggies are 7-2 in such games, while Auburn is 6-3. The next closest program is Tennessee, which has played in 7 close games, winning 5 of them.
The Tigers travel to the bayou on Halloween, to play an opponent that always keeps things tight. Each of the past 4 games against LSU have been decided by 5 or fewer points.
No team allows more passing yards per game in the SEC than Bo Pelini’s defense, so it will be interesting to see if Morris tries to replicate the success he had on the ground with Bigsby in Oxford, or reverts back to Nix throwing the ball 40+ times in a game.
Regardless of whatever script Morris writes for his offense in Week 6, Auburn fans better hold on tight because seemingly every game comes down to the final whistle.