January 12, 2014

COLLIER: The new level of expectation

Add in a promise that neither of the losses would be against Alabama or Georgia and you'd have an inaugural season for Gus Malzahn that would be, by any measure, nearly faultless.

So why, just a week after the end of that magical season, with the second loss coming in a hard-fought game against an undefeated team, does it feel so incomplete?

Because, of course, Auburn ought to have won that last game and the title that came with it, but let it get away. It would feel different; not better, but perhaps less disappointing, if the Tigers hadn't been competitive against heavily favored Florida State.

But that wasn't the way this one unfolded.

If that fictional guarantor of football outcomes had also offered rolling up 31 points, allowing only 27, out-gaining the Seminoles by a considerable margin and not giving up a score on a turnover play, everybody in orange and blue would have taken those conditions and figured they had the final BCS Championship in the bag.

For all the pregame speculation about how FSU would run up points on Auburn's defensive secondary, the Seminoles only managed three touchdown drives and tallied a pedestrian 235 passing yards, none of which came on long bombs. Florida State converted exactly two third downs for the entire game and had to settle for field goals on two scoring drives.

While FSU did do a good job of stuffing the middle of the line on running plays, their touted defense gave up 485 balanced yards, 232 rushing and 217 passing, to a team that allegedly can't throw. Tre Mason gashed the 'Noles for 195 of those yards, mostly on the outside against the "team speed" that was said to make such runs impossible.

No, what made this loss so galling was that it came at the expense of what had been a strength for the rest of this great season: Special teams.

Florida State was on the verge of being blown out when they lined up to punt, down 21-3 with over four minutes left in the half. "Watch out for the fake," I muttered before the snap. "That'd be a total Bowden call." It was. Jimbo Fisher, after all, was trained by both Terry and Bobby Bowden. The fake worked and subsequently yielded a touchdown that let FSU back in the ball game.

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