AUBURN — Players wanted to spend at least some time celebrating Auburn’s 52-0 demolition of Samford on Saturday.
The defense pitched its first shutout since this time last season against Liberty. “That’s really something in college football” no matter who the game is against, head coach Gus Malzahn said. And the Bulldogs are no slouches on offense — they had scored in 213 straight games dating back to 2000.
The offense, for the first time in more than a month, wasn’t the subject of question after question about its viability. It gained 544 yards and scored on eight of its first 12 drives.
The lopsided margin gave the starters a chance to rest and the reserves a chance to play. And while the rain that drenched Jordan-Hare Stadium probably wasn’t fun for the fans who braved the elements to watch the game, the players actually seemed to enjoy it.
“It's not something you do all the time, just being out in the rain,” wide receiver Seth Williams said. “Being out there and being wet, throwing the ball in the rain, sliding around in the mud and stuff, just being with your friends.”
Still, it was hard to ignore the elephant in the room, the crimson and white one from across the state that took care of its own business Saturday — it beat Western Carolina 66-3 — and will make the trip to the Plains for the Iron Bowl next week.
Auburn typically has a 24-hour rule, meaning the team can take that much time either to revel in victory or dwell on a loss before moving onto the next opponent. But with Alabama looming, you can’t blame anyone for not wanting to wait that long.
“This is the one,” freshman linebacker Owen Pappoe said. “I’m fixing to go watch film when I get to the room, so yeah, I’m going to be ready.”
This Iron Bowl will be different from most during the last decade. It’s the first time since 2011 that the winner of the annual rivalry game won’t also win the SEC West — LSU, which boasts wins over both teams, locked that crown up Saturday with a bludgeoning of Arkansas.
But the game still has plenty of stakes. Alabama still has a chance to make the four-team College Football Playoff, even though it doesn’t have injured quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and has no chance to win its own conference or even division. The Crimson Tide was ranked No. 5 in the latest rankings. No. 6 Oregon lost at Arizona State on Saturday, and No. 4 Georgia still has to go through LSU in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 7 in Atlanta.
Auburn, on the other hand, has a chance to play spoiler. But that’s only part of it. A win next Saturday would also keep alive the team’s goal of winning 10 games this season, which it would be able to do at a bowl game (somewhere in Florida against a Big Ten opponent feels like the likeliest outcome right now). That would mark the third time the program has done that in seven seasons under Malzahn and just the eighth time in the last 30 years dating back to 1990.
“We’re excited,” Malzahn said. “We’ve got the Iron Bowl at home. It’s as good as it gets.”
It’s also a chance for to exercise some demons, particularly on offense. The reason Auburn can play only spoiler and not for its own place in the SEC and playoff pictures is because of three losses to three of the program’s four biggest rivals — Florida, LSU and Georgia — which has not helped how a segment of the fan base feels about Malzahn in the second season of a seven-year, $49-million contract after the 2017 campaign.
“A win in the Iron Bowl solves a lot of problems,” quarterback Bo Nix said. “It'll be a great win emotionally, too. We'll do whatever we can to win the game and get our spirits up.”