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September 5, 2011
Cameron Newton had a season for the ages last season, accounting for 4,369 yards of total offense and 51 touchdowns en route to winning the Heisman and leading Auburn to the national title.
So who would've thought that the Tigers would miss defensive tackle Nick Fairley more than they would miss Newton? Going off Saturday's game against Utah State, which Auburn was lucky to win, it frankly won't be a contest.
Like Newton, Fairley had an excellent junior season (60 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 21 quarterback hurries) and was a first-round draft pick. He demanded a double-team on almost every play and generally wreaked havoc in the middle of the line.
Saturday against Utah State, a WAC team that was 4-8 last season and last had a winning record in 1996, Auburn had 364 yards of offense and averaged 6.7 yards per play. The biggest issue with the offense? It wasn't on the field all that much. Utah State ran 84 plays - 30 more than the Tigers. Last season, Auburn averaged 68 plays per game; with that many plays Saturday, the Tigers would've had 456 yards of offense.
Utah State had four touchdown drives of at least 14 plays. The Aggies had a combined 59 plays on those drives - five more plays than Auburn ran the whole game.
The Tigers gave up 448 yards to Utah State; the Aggies gained that much in a game just three times last season - against Nevada, one-win San Jose State and FCS patsy Idaho State.
Fairley isn't the only missing defensive starter from last season; in all, Auburn lost eight full-time starters. But he was, by far, the most important defender because of his knack for big plays. Perhaps the most damning fact from Saturday: Utah State started a true freshman quarterback, Chuckie Keeton, who didn't commit a turnover and was sacked just once.
"I'd much rather be sitting here 1-0 and talking about what we need to do to get better as opposed to 0-1 saying we played a great game," Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof told reporters afterward. "But it was not acceptable and we're going to get it fixed. There are no excuses."
Utah State was 10-of-17 on third downs, including 6-of-7 in the fourth quarter, and 3-of-3 on fourth down.
"We need to make plays and get off the field," Roof said.
That, in turn, would help the offense. Tigers offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said the biggest issue with his unit was not being able to get in a rhythm; left unsaid was that was because the defense never could get off the field.
The Tigers had better get things fixed quickly. Other than a Week 4 meeting with overmatched Florida Atlantic, the Tigers have a murderous upcoming schedule.
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First up is a visit from Mississippi State this Saturday. Given that Auburn allowed 227 rushing yards to Utah State, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has to be wide-eyed at the thought of what his power-rushing attack can do to the Tigers. In addition, Auburn's saving grace against Utah State was that its inexperienced receiving corps still was much more gifted athletically than Utah State's secondary. Mississippi State, though, has one of the three or four best secondaries in the SEC and a stout defensive line.
After Mississippi State comes a trip to Clemson, the third opponent in a row with a mobile quarterback. Following the visit from FAU, the Tigers travel to South Carolina and Arkansas in consecutive weeks, then return home to play Florida on Oct. 15. On Oct. 22, Auburn plays at LSU.
Auburn is going to improve in the upcoming weeks; there is too much talent to think otherwise. In addition, Malzahn always gets the utmost from his quarterbacks.
Still, while a 5-3 start seems likely, it's not out of the realm of possibility that the Tigers will be 2-6 when Ole Miss comes calling Oct. 29.
After all, it's not every day that you lose a player as dominating as Nick Fairley.
The new guy
Twenty-four FBS programs (20 percent) changed coaches this offseason - two have interim coaches - and 22 of them made their debuts over the weekend. Two more make their debuts tonight, when Miami visits Maryland.
Thirteen new coaches were winners (see accompanying chart) and five of those victories were over FCS foes.
The new guy, part 2
Staying with the "newness" theme, 31 FBS schools - a bit more than a quarter of the 120 - had a first-time starter at quarterback this weekend, and 18 of them won. Ten of those wins came against FCS opponents.
The winners: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Clemson, Connecticut, Iowa State, Missouri, North Carolina, N.C. State, Ohio, Ohio State, Purdue, South Carolina, Texas Tech, UTEP, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wyoming. Wyoming started a true freshman.
The losers: Akron, Florida Atlantic, Fresno State, Indiana, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Memphis, Minnesota, Ole Miss, San Jose State, TCU, UNLV and Utah State. Louisiana Tech, Marshall and Utah State had true freshmen starters.
Mostly mismatches - but also come close calls
There were 36 games over the weekend in which FBS teams played FCS opponents, and FBS teams were 34-2.
While most of the wins were blowouts - 22 came by at least 28 points - there were some mighty close calls:
UTEP needed overtime to beat Stony Brook 31-24. The Miners scored the game's last 17 points but were outrushed 231-36.
Washington CB Marcus Trufant intercepted a pass in the end zone with 20 seconds left to preserve the Huskies' 30-27 victory over Eastern Washington, the defending FCS champs. Eastern Washington QB Bo Levi Mitchell, who began his career at SMU, threw for 473 yards and three TDs.
Wyoming scored a touchdown with 22 seconds left to beat Weber State 35-32.
Iowa State scored a touchdown with 40 seconds left to nip Northern Iowa 20-19.
Kansas State scored a touchdown with 1:29 left to get past Eastern Kentucky 10-7. K-State trailed 7-0 entering the fourth quarter. Former five-star recruit Bryce Brown was a reserve and had just three carries for K-State. QB Collin Klein and TB John Hubert combined for 42 carries.
There were seven TDs scored in FIU's 41-16 victory over North Texas on Thursday night, and North Texas' defense was on the field for all of them. FIU's offense scored five touchdowns and North Texas' defense scored two - on two fumble returns - and added a safety for good measure.
Clemson signed four five-star freshmen - the most of any school - and two had auspicious debuts in the Tigers' win over Troy. WR Sammy Watkins scored on a 35-yard TD pass on his first college touch, while TB Mike Bellamy took his first college carry 75 yards for a score.
TCU's defensive performance in Friday night's 50-48 loss to Baylor was jaw-droppingly bad, especially by TCU standards. TCU had surrendered at least 30 points just six times in the past five seasons, and the Bears' point total was the highest allowed by the Horned Frogs since TCU beat BYU 51-50 in 2005.
Seven teams went into the first weekend with double-digit winning streaks in season openers, and all seven won. Nebraska now is at 26 after hammering Chattanooga. Florida has won 22 openers in a row, followed by Wisconsin at 15, USC at 14 and Ohio State, South Carolina and Texas at 12 each. Alabama joined the double-digit club, having won 10 openers in a row after beating Kent State.
California QB Zach Maynard had a winning debut with the Golden Bears, guiding them to a 31-19 victory over Fresno State. Maynard was the starter at Buffalo in 2009 before transferring. He was spotty as a passer - just 16-of-35 - but threw for 266 yards and two TDs. He connected with half-brother Keenan Allen on half his completions, and Allen had 112 receiving yards. Marvin Jones had five catches for 118 yards and two scores. Cal sacked Fresno State QB Derek Carr - David's brother - four times.
Oklahoma State scored 61 points in its opening win over Louisiana-Lafayette, but none of them came from WR Justin Blackmon. That's notable because Blackmon had at least one TD catch in every game he played last season. He did have eight receptions for 144 yards against the Ragin' Cajuns.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.