By GUERRY CLEGG
Special to the Ledger-Enquirer
AUBURN, Ala. — Evidence? The college football media have spent the last nine days dissecting the Auburn football program, scrounging for any shred of verifiable facts to support the salacious rumors.
Well, here’s the undeniable truth:
This Auburn football team is no longer just an average team with one great player and a bit of good fortune. These Tigers are a very good team — at the very least, the best team east of Oregon — with the best player in college football. Auburn’s 49-31 victory over Georgia produced enough evidence to fill an FBI vault.
Consider this: After spotting the Bulldogs a 21-7 lead in the first quarter, Auburn outscored Georgia 42-10 over the final three quarters.
As for Cam Newton, this game should ice his Heisman bid. Thirty carries for 151 yards and two touchdowns, and 12-of-15 passing for 148 yards and two more touchdowns. That’s 299 yards of total offense and four touchdowns. He’s the first player in SEC history to surpass 2,000 yards in passing and 1,000 yards in rushing.
Yeah, beating the Bulldogs doesn’t exactly move the meter in the computer rankings. Five other teams have beaten Georgia, including Colorado, which just fired its coach. But until Saturday, Georgia was a play or two away from winning any of those games.
That was not the case against Auburn. They were outscored by more points in the final three quarters than they were in the sum of their previous five losses. This was the first time the Bulldogs were just completely beaten.
“This team … this team is special,” said Lee Ziemba, a senior offensive tackle. “We just persist. We really fight hard, just keep fighting ’til the very end.”
Oh, they took that a little too literally Saturday. Michael Groggans and Mike Blanc were ejected on back-to-back plays in the final seconds before Georgia coach Mark Richt wisely instructed his offense to just take a knee. But the hostility was hardly one-sided. There were 10 personal foul penalties — five apiece.
Said Richt, “I thought that if we ran another play, things could get out of hand.”
For a while, this game was a microcosm of the season for both teams. Too often, the Bulldogs failed to produce on the most critical plays. They forced the Tigers into third-down plays 14 times but managed to stop them only four times.
Meanwhile, Auburn reverted back to its early season habit of staggering early. Yet, even when Aaron Murray connected with A.J. Green for a 40-yard touchdown late in the first quarter, there was never a sense of desperation from Auburn.
“You are always concerned when it is 21-7,” Chizik said. “But I don’t think 21-7 affects you unless you have never been there before. We have probably been there two to three, maybe more, times this year. I just think our football team has confidence, and we get things adjusted to the best of our ability, and we try to come back and just keep playing for 60 minutes. We just don’t look up at the clock. We just keep playing and when it is 0:00, we will look up and the best man will win.”
For much of this season, even as the Tigers won week after week, there were questions as to just how good they really were. The higher the Tigers rose in the polls, the more their credibility was questioned. Every week, as Oregon hung 50 points on somebody and Boise State and TCU continued to roll, it seemed as though Auburn had something to prove.
“Absolutely,” said Ziemba. “AbsoLUTEly. Every week. Every week we have to prove it.”
The evidence can no longer be considered circumstantial.
— Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org