Friday, the night before Auburn’s game with Mississippi State, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes left the Tigers with a bible verse to ponder before Saturday’s slugfest.
Grimes reminded the young Tigers of 1 Timothy 4:12, which addresses youth and not allowing it to be a deterrent. Grimes instructed his players to embrace their youth and overcome their inexperience with smarts and instinct.
Auburn used that tactic, and while it endured a back-and-forth shootout with the Mississippi State, the Tigers prevailed with a last-second goal-line stop that sent Jordan-Hare Stadium into a frenzy and Auburn to 2-0 on the season.
The Tigers know they are young and they know that they’ve squeaked by in the first two games, winning by a combined nine points, but they also know they’re winners, leading sophomore defensive end Nosa Eguae to say that this youth talk is overrated because the heart of this team is overwhelmingly strong. There are veteran attitudes inside these young bodies.
Eguae went as far to say that since his arrival in 2009, he hasn’t seen a team strive to improve like this one has -- and last season’s squad won it all in perfect fashion.
He saw it on the faces of his teammates after Saturday’s win. Players were second-guessing plays, criticizing routes they took to the ball and trying to figure out better ways to get open or block. That, beyond the wins, is what really impresses one of Auburn’s top leaders.
“I see guys that just want to get better,” said Eguae, who was third on the team with nine tackles and had two quarterback hurries Saturday. “I haven’t seen it in my two years here, guys that are all on the same page of getting better.”
Auburn opened the Mississippi State game with seven underclassmen starting on defense. That youth definitely showed with the 531 yards of offense and the 27 points the Tigers surrendered. But when it came to being more physical and having the endurance to last four quarters, the young cats did it.
“We played with a big chip on our shoulder,“ said sophomore safety Demetruce McNeal, who returned a Chris Relf pass for a touchdown Saturday. “We came out to get some things off our chests and show that we can still do it. Even after everybody we lost from last year, we’ve got heart. We’re going to bring everything we’ve got to the table -- every week. We’re just going to ball out and show everybody that we’re Auburn and we can still do it.”
But can this young group keep up the act of taking games down to the wire? It’s only inevitable that this approach catches up with it, no matter the energy it possesses, and Auburn coach Gene Chizik didn’t deny that.
He knows his team is playing with fire, but he also knows that no matter the average age of his players, he sees a group figuring out ways to win. It might not be the most favorable style of winning, but the Tigers will battle and that says a lot about the youth of this team.
“They are young, but they want to be good,” Chizik said.
“Are we a great football team right now? No. Not even close. But the identity of the team is starting to form week by week because they will fight. They will not look at the scoreboard, and that’s been one of the trademarks that we’ve really tried to instill in these guys that we are not looking for the scoreboard until it says 0:00, because everything else in-between does not matter.”