COLLIER: Step forward but more work to be done

Will Collier, Columnist
Auburn Sports

Long before the University of Missouri made its improbable jump to the SEC, the state’s name was a buzzword among Auburn fans, in reference to its age-old motto:

Show Me.

After two years of on-and-off offensive frustration and a pair of pitiful offensive performances in early 2017, Auburn at large was not in the mood for another struggle to score in the conference premiere against a lightly-regarded Mizzou team.

The familiar promises of improvement had been dutifully trotted out since the Tigers’ embarrassing display facing an infant Mercer program, a game in which the AU starters were forced to play wire to wire and still only managed 24 points. Few if any took the routine coach-speak that followed seriously.

Show Me.

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Todd Van Emst/Auburn athletics

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Even with the unfailingly amiable fans of The Other Other Tigers (shortened from here on out, without malice, to TOOT) earnestly promising an easy AU victory, Auburn fans ambling about Columbia on a blazing-hot Indian Summer Saturday had a hard time shaking their glass-half-full mentality.

“Mizzou is treating this like their biggest game of the year,” the feeling went. “It’d be just like Auburn to come out here and blow it.”

Show Me.

For whatever it will wind up being worth, Auburn not only showed up, the team finally showed something of what they’d been expected to be since the spring. The SEC’s elder Tigers scored early and often and stifled Mizzou for as long as it mattered.

Shortly after halftime, the large Auburn contingent far outnumbered the tiny remnant of Mizzou diehards left at Faurot Field. When the clock ran out, the biggest-ever Midwest Auburn Club Festival was celebrating a 51-14 cake walk.

The Mizzou game wound up being everything the previous week’s Homecoming contest should have been: a merciless dispatching of an outmanned opponent, with everybody but the managers and cheerleaders getting playing time in the second half.

And yet, the refrain remained, Show Me.

Auburn cleaned up a lot of prior bad habits against TOOT. They never turned the ball over, and the only sack given up came late against a mostly-freshmen and scout team lineup.

Gus Malzahn made up for giving Kamryn Pettway 100% of the running back carries last week by giving him 0% of them this week, while spreading the ball around to the full compliment of backs, all of whom played well.

Based on his five straight touchdowns to start the game, I’m guessing Kerryon Johnson is somewhere reasonably close to full health. Based on Pettway’s disappearing act, it appears he’s still struggling with injury, but nobody expects to learn anything meaningful about either’s actual status anytime soon.

The magnificent Auburn defense of 2017, even playing without two of its starters, turned in another stellar game. The only thing Mizzou could get going while the game was remotely in question was one pace-driven drive, something that Auburn ought to take a note from for future reference on both sides of the football.

It’ll be a truly terrible thing if the Auburn offense can’t manage to keep up the momentum it recovered against TOOT, and this defense becomes a historical footnote.

There was a lot to like out in that sparsely-populated stadium on the SEC’s outer rim if you’re an Auburn fan. Receivers got open and quarterbacks made nice completions to them. Running backs found running room, and defenders feasted on every variety of TOOT from beginning to end.

And still, this was one game, against an epically-terrible opponent. Mizzou’s own local radio hosts were speculating before kickoff that TOOT is at best a 3-10 team this season. Mizzou was already infamous for having a weak defense before 2017; this season seems to indicate that Barry Odom has also lost the surprisingly-potent offense that kept his program’s head barely above water the previous season.

There were plenty of plays Auburn made Saturday that could have and very likely would have gone quite badly against a more capable foe, particularly one that registers a pulse on defense.

So let’s neither dismiss out of hand an old-fashioned butt-kicking, nor take too much away from this odd-in-many-ways SEC opener.

Contrary to a lot of popular opinion (no little portion of it previously printed in this space), Auburn isn’t dead yet.

But that doesn’t change the fact that many if not most of the AU fanbase remains spiritually back in Missouri, repeating until they’re given reason not to the same mantra:

Show Me.

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