Sunday, September 20, 2009

Looking back on Auburn's 41-30 win over WVU

Auburn won a game last night that it wouldn’t have won last year. The Tigers trailed 14-0 in the first quarter. Yes, there was still plenty of time remaining, but can you imagine last year’s Auburn team thinking it could win a shootout? That seems difficult to believe.

Not only that, but Auburn fans learned QB Chris Todd can win a game. That was a huge question coming into last night’s game. Auburn’s run game didn’t get on track until the final minutes. Todd had to bring Auburn back in the meantime. He posted a career day, becoming the first Auburn quarterback since 2001 to throw for four touchdowns in a game.

Because of deadlines, I couldn’t go for interviews after the game. However, one report I read said Todd had the flu late in the week. He didn’t always look great, but threw for 285 yards and four scores. Anyone who doubted Todd’s ability to win a game was silenced last night – that group includes me. It wasn’t that I thought Todd couldn’t win a game, I just wanted to see it before saying he could do so.

LB Craig Stevens returned his interception 15 yards for a touchdown. West Virginia went to the well too many times with its middle screen and it backfired in a big way. Auburn intercepted the pass twice – once by Stevens and once by DT Jake Ricks. The last time, Stevens made it a two-possession game.

There’s little doubt WVU’s one-two punch of Jarrett Brown and Noel Devine is as good as any Auburn will face this season. That duo made the Tigers look bad, though. Through the first three quarters, it looked like Auburn couldn’t tackle. Will that tackling improve in SEC play?

The AU run game has already shown it is potent. Everybody already knows how good it can be. Now the question is can it be more effective against strong defenses. West Virginia shut down the Auburn run game for three-plus quarters. The Tigers had just 10 rushing yards until their final drive in the first half.

Where was Devine in the deciding minutes? For that matter, where were the receiver screens that Auburn struggled with all night? West Virginia was at its best when it stuck with the short game – handoffs, short flanker screens, throws into the flat. The Mountaineers went away from that strategy in the fourth quarter, likely leaving several visiting fans puzzled as to why.

WR Darvin Adams – With limited success in the run game, Auburn needed someone to step up in the passing game. Adams responded with Auburn’s first three-TD reception game since 1989. Adams has become Todd’s favorite target and seems poised for a huge season.

Stevens – Clinched the game with an interception returned for a touchdown.

CB Neiko Thorpe – Toward the end of the first half, West Virginia led 21-13 and had the ball inside the Auburn 20. With another score, the Mountaineers could have virtually buried the Tigers early. Instead, Neiko Thorpe came up with a huge interception. Auburn scored on the ensuing drive and trailed just 21-20 at halftime.

DTs Mike Blanc and Ricks and CB Walt McFadden – All three forced critical turnovers. Blanc and Ricks set up Auburn scores by earning takeaways inside WVU territory. McFadden’s interception inside the 10-yard line kept West Virginia from a field goal attempt.

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