OK, I tried to stir the pot. One of the two players Auburn made available Tuesday was a defensive back, a one-time Georgia Bulldog until Mark Richt expelled him, Tray Matthews.
Here in advance of the big game against Georgia was certainly a prime candidate to tell us all what a noodle arm Jake Fromm possesses, and what a dink and dunk, thoroughly beige passing attack it is that he commands. Other defenders this season have been unable to suppress such views – and they still can’t lose the aftertaste of crow, no matter how much they gargle.
So, we put it to Matthews: Some of your predecessors at Florida and South Carolina have questioned the Bulldogs passing abilities. Would you care to join the chorus?
“We’re not going to downplay them,” Matthews said, forcing the assembled media to go searching elsewhere for their headlines. “They’re a very talented bunch. They have a good, young quarterback. Some elite receivers on the outside.”
Mind you, he didn’t exactly fit Fromm for a Heisman Trophy, but neither did Matthews, with his tempered praise, supply any of the explosive verbiage that has served the Bulldogs so well this season: “He has a real solid arm. Some pretty good accuracy. He loves the quick slants and like that. He’s a very intelligent guy. He loves ball.”
Auburn has not come this far, rehabbing its status after difficult losses to Clemson and LSU and rejoining college football’s top 10, just to throw it away from behind a podium.
As Auburn coach Gus Malzahn put it, explaining his 7-2 team’s current frame of mind: “When you go through tough times as a team, you either take the next step forward or you take the next step below. You see it every week in college football. Our team has taken the next step (forward).
“I like the fact that we’ve had some tough times. There are a lot of teams that haven’t experienced a lot of adversity yet (like, maybe Georgia?). I like where we’re at.”
What the Bulldogs and their young quarterback face Saturday is nothing less than the most difficult assignment yet in this charmed season. Yes, more difficult even than the early September travel to Notre Dame, since it’s unlikely a third of the Tigers fans will value profit over brand loyalty and sell their seats to Georgia people as did those in South Bend.
With games remaining against No. 1 Georgia and No. 2 Alabama, Auburn still possesses big plans. And the Tigers this week have demonstrated a quiet yet quite sincere confidence that they have the team to strew chaos all along the path to the playoffs.
And none of them seem particularly shy about admitting, after some galling losses to Georgia these past couple of years, that even in the one-game-at-a-time culture, this is a date that has been long-circled on the schedule.
“This is one we’ve been waiting on,” Malzahn said.
“It’s going to be a lot of motivation. We really want this game. With the opportunity we have in front of us, it only makes us want it more,” running back Kerryon Johnson said.
“We have to play Saturday like this is our last game. We got to keep this thing rolling,” he said.
Desire is no issue. And the players seem fairly certain the fans are just as geeked. Jordan-Hare Stadium is being fitted for one of its more crazed Saturday afternoons.
“This is going to be one of the top (game-day atmospheres),” Johnson promised. “In my three years, this is probably going to be top three. Last year’s Clemson game is up there. Last year’s LSU game is definitely up there. This is definitely top three. I’m definitely ready for it to be here.” Definitely.
Auburn is just not going to offer the least little bit of aid and comfort to Georgia. For the Bulldogs, the biggest installment payment yet on a special season comes due Saturday afternoon.