Auburn has defeated Utah State by the score of 42-38. It took a furious comeback from 10 points down in the final four minutes.
Read those two sentences again. Everyone figured Auburn was going to fall back from its national championship level of a year ago, but no one thought they'd start 2011 like this. Auburn had only two leads in this game; both were by four points, and neither lasted all that long.
Utah State was up 21-7 at the half if you go by offensive points alone, with a Tre Mason kickoff return touchdown the only thing keeping the margin within a score. Utah State held edges in first downs (15-3), plays run (42-16), total yards (215-117), and time of possession (20:07 - 9:53). Those Aggies just plain looked like the better team for much of the afternoon. Auburn's athleticism and an incredible onside kick won out in the end, but Utah State was right there on a down-by-down basis.
The most remarkable aspect of the game was that Auburn's ground game was ineffective. They managed just 3.3 yards per rush, and the Michael Dyer wildcat was just about useless. Barrett Trotter's passing was sharp for about 75% of the game, and his 211.5 rating (17/23, 259 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT) is the sole reason the Tigers pulled this one out. Gus Malzahn's refusal to lean on the passing game until the final four minutes was puzzling to say the least, given that the run blocking was horrendous.
Speaking of horrendous, the AU defense misses all those guys who departed from last year's line. Nick Fairley is the name everyone knows, but the entire defensive line got pushed around by Utah State's offensive line. The secondary was particularly flammable, but it was last year too when the line failed to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The front seven of Auburn needs to improve in a hurry.
Auburn begins 1-0, but not all 1-0 starts are equal. The team (and conference) avoided a major black eye by pulling this one out, but there is not much reason to celebrate this outcome.