I’m still not sure how it managed it, but Auburn remained undefeated on Saturday after a 14-10 victory at California.
The Tigers rode an opportunistic defense to improve to 2-0 for the 3rd consecutive season. That defense came up big when it counted, and 2 TD drives, one of 3 plays and 17 yards, proved to be enough to subdue the homestanding Golden Bears.
But it wasn’t easy.
In 8 of its 13 drives, California reached Auburn territory. But out of those drives, the Bears missed 3 FG attempts, lost a fumble, tossed an interception and turned the ball over on downs.
Bottom line: The Tigers did just enough to score more points than their opponent, and that’s the name of the game. Here’s a stock report after Week 2 for the unbeaten Tigers.
Player of the Week: LB Eugene Asante
The Tigers’ senior LB was everywhere. He was a major reason that the Auburn defense was able to keep California in check and allow the Tigers to survive the West Coast trip and come away with a victory.
Asante led the Tigers with 12 total tackles, including 9 solo stops, 1 sack and 1.5 tackles for loss. In addition, Asante registered 1 pass breakup and 2 QB hurries.
Freshman of the Week: RB Jeremiah Cobb
The 5-11, 191-pounder from Montgomery touched the ball only 3 times but made the most of his opportunities. He ripped off a 24-yard run on his 1st touch that was reduced to a 9-yard gain by a holding penalty.
No matter. Cobb came back with key 4th-quarter runs of 6 and 5 yards to finish with 20 yards for the game and a team-high 6.7 yards per carry.
Biggest surprise: A win is a win
That Auburn won a game in which it had 2 drives beyond 5 plays and only 3 of more than 20 yards (just 1 of more than 30 yards) is beyond surprising.
Only a defense that bent but didn’t break kept the Tigers in the game. The defense came up with 3 turnovers of its own — 1 fumble recover and 2 picks — and also forced Cal to turn the ball over on downs. It produced just 2 3 and outs, and the Bears put together 3 drives of 10-plus plays, but miraculously none of those drives ended in points. They ended on downs and a pair of missed FGs.
Biggest concern: Turnovers
The Tigers had trouble holding onto the football. They turned it over 4 times and really had no business even being in the game. But it was an outstanding defensive effort that even kept them within reach.
Auburn fumbled the ball away 3 times, including the opening possession, and also gave it up with an interception in addition to turning it over on downs. Only through an outstanding defensive effort were the Tigers able to overcome such futility on offense. That has to be cleaned up in the future. That kind of defensive game can’t be expected on a regular basis.
Developing trend: Dual QBs
Robby Ashford and Payton Thorne shared QB duties, and neither was able to generate any consistency. The offense sputtered all night until late in the game. A 10-play TD drive to open the 4th quarter was the Tigers’ longest of the game and put them ahead 10-7. Until then, the longest drive had been only 5 plays.
The rotating QBs seemed to handcuff the Tigers’ offense, which never got into any kind of rhythm.
Key stat: 3 missed FGs
California missed 3 field goals that could have given the Bears the victory. California kicker Michael Luckhurst was successful on the Bears’ opening possession, giving them a 3-0 lead. But he missed from 42, 42 and 44 yards.
Luckhurst made a long field goal just before the half that was wiped out by a penalty, and the Tigers were able to come away with a 4-point victory.
First impression about Week 3: Another cupcake
The Tigers return home next Saturday for a 6 p.m. game against Samford at Jordan-Hare Stadium. It’s their final tuneup before SEC play begins — a last chance to work out the kinks, infuse a little more offense and get ready for Texas A&M on Sept. 23 in College Station.
By that time, will Ashford and Thorne continue to share QB duties, or will Hugh Freeze look for more continuity in his offense by choosing 1 over the other? Should be an interesting proposition to follow.