Rapid Reaction: Injury-ridden Auburn avoids massive upset in win over Vandy
Here are some quick thoughts on Auburn’s near undoing in a 23-16 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday.
What it means
Auburn moved to 7-2 and held onto its opportunity to win the SEC West. The Tigers also got the reality knocked back into them in this narrow victory. If they thought Alabama was their only obstacle left, they were wrong, and now they know. And now they have to get past Georgia and Alabama A&M before they put all their effort and focus into the Iron Bowl.
To be honest, Vanderbilt — now 1-4 in the SEC — had very little to lose in this game, but that didn’t make the loss itself hurt any less. That’s especially considering how close the Commodores came to one of the biggest upsets of the season.
What I liked:
- Auburn starting QB Sean White got banged up in the Tigers’ win over Ole Miss in Week 9, and he didn’t see any playing time against Vanderbilt in the first half. To be clear, it’s not the injury I like. What I like is Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn’s decision — and ability — to keep White’s injury and status out of the news. It was a great strategic move, because it meant the Commodores were preparing for White when it was actually backup QB John Franklin III who would be behind center. Unfortunately, Franklin was mostly ineffective against the Vandy defense, so White took the field in the second half for damage control.
- The opening drives were strong for both teams. Vandy had the ball first and went hard, coming away with 3 points on K Tommy Openshaw’s 52-yard field goal. When the Tigers got their turn, Franklin, RB Kamryn Pettway and RB Kerryon Johnson zoomed down the field, ending the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run from Johnson.
- Vanderbilt’s defense never stopped scrapping against what has become the top rushing offense in the SEC this season. Both Pettway and Johnson have been stars for the Tigers this season, but Vandy held them to just 45 combined yards in the first half. Even when the game was all but over, Vandy LB Zach Cunningham leaped over the Auburn line to block a field goal. And that Dores offense? Yeah, it played decent, too, with QB Kyle Shurmur playing pretty soundly for much of the game.
- You know that White has really made a name for himself in Auburn when his mere appearance on the field can electrify a crowd, amp up a team and change the entire course of the game. That’s exactly what we saw on Saturday. When White stepped onto the field after the break, the crowd went nuts, Johnson and Pettway couldn’t be stopped and even the Auburn defense overcame its first half struggles.
What I didn’t like:
- The Tigers’ defense was sluggish. It had trouble stopping the run, and the secondary simply could not cover the Vanderbilt receiving corps, which spread the love and had 10 different guys catching passes. It picked things up in the second half, but it wasn’t enough, and it didn’t look like the Auburn defense we’re used to seeing.
- Sometimes a player is called for targeting and you feel for him because it looks like it was incidental. That was not the case for Auburn LB Deshaun Davis, who was ejected for targeting early in the game. Remember, targeting doesn’t always involve a defenseless player. Davis was penalized for leaving his feet and hitting a player who wasn’t defenseless with the crown of his helmet. It’s not the way good football players are taught to hit, it’s dangerous for the defender and the target, and it was entirely unnecessary and avoidable on the play.
Who’s the man:
Auburn QB Sean White was the difference-maker in this game. White didn’t step foot on the field in the first half, but in the second half, he lined up behind center and the crowd was electrified. He was 10-of-13 for 106 yards and 1 TD, and he breathed new life into the Tigers’ offense after a terrible first half.
Both teams will remember “The Fumble That Wasn’t” after today. The Vanderbilt defense forced an Auburn fumble early in the first half, but after review, it was overturned. Then, the Tigers scored and never looked back. If the fumble had stood, we could be looking at a very different outcome.
The Tigers will head to Athens next weekend to take on the Georgia Bulldogs. But the bigger test comes two weeks later in the Iron Bowl, which will likely decide not just the SEC West champion, but it will also be a good indicator of who will represent the SEC in the College Football Playoff.
Vanderbilt will face off against the Missouri Tigers in Columbia next Saturday, and it will likely be the favorite over the home team.