The bad news for Auburn comes in the form of the large numbers attached to its defense.
Mind you, these are all numbers from the conference the Tigers won, one that supposedly puts a premium on rock-ribbed D: Last (14th) in pass defense in the SEC; 12th in total defense, 10th in rushing defense; sixth in scoring defense.
The good news for Auburn — or at least a handy spin when contemplating an upcoming game against Florida State’s Jameis Winston — is that no team has more experience dealing with the top-flight quarterback. It has not always been pretty, but the Tigers have faced the two other Heisman Trophy finalist quarterbacks — Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Alabama’s AJ McCarron. Manziel and Georgia’s Aaron Murray both threw for more than 400 yards against the Tigers. Missouri’s James Franklin went for 303 yards and three touchdowns in the SEC Championship game.
Bottom line: Auburn somehow won every one of those episodes.
The Tigers can only hope they gain by having been lit up by these various luminaries.
“We have faced some dynamic quarterbacks,” said a coach who knows a little something about the topic, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn. “They’re all a little bit different, but they all have won a lot of games. Hopefully that will help us. Any time you play good quarterbacks it’s got to help.
“We’re playing the Heisman Trophy winner, the best player in college football, so we have our work cut out for us.”
Defensive end Dee Ford has chased all these quarterbacks with varying degrees of success and offers a quick comparison between them and FSU’s Heisman winner: “All of them are different. Jameis is probably a little bit a mixture of Aaron Murray and Manziel because he can move around in the pocket. Probably not as well as Johnny Manziel, but he can really move his feet, and he has a rocket (for an arm). It has really prepared us. We’ve played some of the best quarterbacks consecutively throughout the year.”
For said the solution to Winston is, “to pressure him. Pressure makes any quarterback pretty average.”
Noles fans, get off the ledge: Take any speculation over coach Jimbo Fisher leaving Florida State for Texas any way you want. His quarterback laughs it off. Winston said Friday that he even jokes with Fisher about it, going so far as to offer to transfer and follow him west.
Seriously, he said he and his teammates have not concerned themselves with the reports about Fisher being a candidate to replace Mack Brown at Texas.
He added, jokingly: “Even if coach Fisher goes to Texas, I’m going to ask him can I go with you? Yeah, I’m serious. He’s my coach.”
Winston also said he was a fan of former Texas quarterback Vince Young and wanted to play for Texas.
A big smile accompanied each word.
In defense of the ‘D’: Count Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson among those who do not know exactly what to make of the Tigers’ defense.
“The whole thing has sort of confounded me,” Johnson said Friday.
“I’ve coached defenses that were extremely dominant — making big plays at big times, looking sexy in the stats. Sometimes that’s because of who you’re playing. And I have coached defenses that are not real good.
“This bunch has been different. We have terrible-looking overall statistics, and some of them are not misleading. But we make critical stops at critical times. We’re good on third- and fourth-down percentage and good in the red zone and good in the fourth quarter.”
The bear necessities: Florida State tight end Nick O’Leary is not a fellow of many words. A shame, since as well as being a significant part of the Seminoles’ offense, he also is Jack Nicklaus’ grandson.
Friday was more about mining tidbits than scooping up large amounts of family detail from O’Leary.
Any discussion about what it would be like to play Ohio State, granddad’s alma mater, in the BCS Championship game? “Between me and him there wasn’t anything. He thought it would be cool. I thought it would be pretty cool. But I’m glad we’re playing Auburn.”
How often does O’Leary play golf? “Three times a week when the season is over. I play a lot.”
What do you shoot? “When I play a lot, I’ll shoot 74-76.”
Ever want to pursue that sport? “No because football and golf are the same season in high school.”
Remember the last time you hit it by your grandfather? “The last time we played.”