Retooled Gus Bus Cruises into November Undefeated
Destination: Iron Bowl 2015
If the overblown hype in Hoover pumping off the pens and microphones at SEC Media Days were true, Auburn would be undefeated, Jeremy Johnson Heisman trophy frontrunner, and a Gus Bus cruising toward Iron Bowl 2015. But that’s not exactly what happened. The tires on the Gus Bus were punctured with an overtime win over a paid-to-play JSU, the engine overheated in 100 degree loss in Baton Rouge and the offense blew a belt in a home field loss to Mississippi State. With a quadruple overtime loss to Arkansas, 4 – 4 win/loss start to a season full of distorted expectations, the Gus Bus was completely out of fuel, on the side of the road being passed by one SEC team after another. Even the flashy blinking lights on the new $13.9 million AubieTron Video Board couldn’t attract any help.
That was before November, where the Auburn Tigers are undefeated.
The first game of November, Auburn retooled the Gus Bus for a convincing win over top 20 ranked Texas A&M. The Gus Bus finally got cranked up and heading in the right direction, in a season that was beginning to have too many similarities to a 2012 team that finished 3-9, without one win over an SEC rival. That’s not where the Gus Bus is headed any more.
In College Station with starting QB Sean White injured, former starting QB Jeremy Johnson, was given a second chance on a season that most thought he had run out of chances to lead. Johnson started the 2015 season as the starter until he threw 6 interceptions in 3 games, which was the beginning of the Gus Bus breakdown.
The win over Texas A&M is one game, sure, but that’s the wonderment of college football. A season can pivot on a game. A game can pivot on a handful of plays. A play can pivot on a couple of players and a players’ success or failure can pivot on a split second. It was six of those split second decisions poorly made by Jeremy Johnson, which caused him to throw six interceptions and lose his confidence and ultimately the starting role as Auburn quarterback.
During the Texas A&M game, Jeremy looked comfortable driving the Gus Bus this time, the weight of the world was off of his shoulders, he played relaxed confidently completing 13 of 17 passes for 132 yards, helping his team get the season back on track. Malzahn, in his postgame press conference said of Johnson,
“He did a very good job, proud of him to come in here and get the victory on the road.”
The Quarterback position was not the only engine part recalled while the Gus Bus was in the shop. There were three more.
Carl Lawson returned to the defense after recovering from his hip injury sustained in the first game of the season. Lawson energized a previously sputtering defense that gave up 430.6 yards per game, last in the SEC. In the trip to College Station, Lawson’s second game back from injury, his presence throttled up the defense for one of its best performances of the year. Auburn snatched 3 interceptions and held a Texas A&M team that averages 30 points per game, to only 10 points, fewer than Alabama did, which allowed 23 in that game.
Wide receiver Duke Williams, whose talents never emerged or fit the program was ultimately booted from the team after being given many chances. Williams out of the picture, senior wide receiver, Ricardo Louis stepped up to fill the void with 36 receptions for 563 yards on the season, tenth best in the SEC. Jeremy Johnson had five able targets for 132 yards passing, one TD and zero interceptions in the Texas A&M game.
Previously injured running back, Jovon Robinson, back on the field, turned in Auburn’s biggest rushing performance so far this season with 159 yards against Texas A&M. He and Peyton Barber give Auburn a dual threat at running back previously not seen in 2015.
During the Texas A&M game Auburn players appeared loose and happy as if they were having a good time imitating a team that was in the argument for an SEC Title, instead of one that is stressed to become bowl eligible wondering how they could manage to get one more win over the next three weeks and worried if even that was possible.
Is this a team with loftier goals than simply going to a bowl game?
Getting a win over a wounded Georgia team seems a lot more feasible now than it did just a few short days ago. The Bulldogs running back Nick Chubb was sidelined with a knee injury in the first series against Tennessee and without him, the Dawgs lost to Tennessee and Florida. His backup Sony Michel is also injured, but playing with a fractured hand. A win over Georgia and Idaho would send an improved, 7 – 4, Auburn team into Iron Bowl 2015 with one mission.
The second best thing to playing for a Championship is stopping your biggest rival from competing for one.
Auburn is on a mission to take down the mighty Crimson Tide and spoil their dreams of SEC and National Titles as they did in 2013, with the “Kick Six.”
Is the Gus Bus as good as new when it rolled off the showroom floor in 2013?
Most would say this team is not anywhere near the level of the 2013 Auburn team that pulled off the biggest Auburn victory in the history of the Iron Bowl rivalry and went on to win the SEC Championship and played for the final BCS National Championship.
Seen clearly through the Gus Bus windshield, the final three games of the Auburn regular season are inside Jordan-Hare Stadium, Georgia and Alabama, and one stop for an Iron Bowl 2015 warmup game against Idaho between the two SEC matchups. Two SEC games that three weeks ago seemed like sure losses.
But fresh out of the shop with refurbished parts and an undefeated November, if Auburn can beat the Georgia Bulldogs at Jordan-Hare, Auburn rolls straight into Iron Bowl 2015, undefeated in November and with all the confidence in the world.
Can they do it?
As offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn was called “The Mad Scientist.” Now head coach a better handle, Gus Bus Mechanic, will have his Auburn Tigers believing that they can. Anything is possible on November 28th, with a team that is playing with the swagger of the 2013 Tigers. After the Texas A&M game, Malzahn said,
“We played good in all three phases really for the first time all year”
“We played our best game tonight.”
The retooled Gus Bus hitting on all cylinders is on the home stretch undefeated for November.
This year, Iron Bowl 2015, Auburn will have nothing to lose.
Everything to gain.
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