It was really unlike anything I had seen in over half a century of college football coverage. With the match ending between two teams that came with five games in a row, the fans at Jordan Hare Stadium erupted in pure joy. The Auburn players jumped and hugged each other. Temporary trainer Cadillac Williams, soaked in the ice-water bath he just got, fought back in tears.
When Williams ran into the student section, waving a towel, the noise was what you’d expect if she had just won a championship. It was a wonderful scene. It was as if no one wanted to leave. The atmosphere was really like an Iron Bowl or a game with tournament implications.
The Tigers had practically no passing game in the gale force. They played the ball three times. They’ve stopped in the red a few times. Quarterback Robbie Ashford knocked off a running back Garquis Hunter on a wheelbarrow that would have been a certain touchdown. These things do not matter. Not on this night. Auburn defeated Texas A&M 13-10 and Williams earned his first win as interim coach. That’s all that matters.
It’s not about him, Williams said, but it really was. Williams’ energy, love, sympathy and affection for all things Auburn quickly won a lot. It was the reason why Auburn fans packed Jordan Hare Stadium, why it was the biggest Tiger Walk of the season, and why the noise started early and didn’t go away.
Twelve days ago, Auburn fired former head coach Brian Harsin. Williams was surprised when he was appointed as interim head coach. Today, if you take an Auburn fan vote, it probably feels overwhelming to make him the permanent coach.
When the match ended and the match was won, Williams talked about “indulging in these guys,” making them understand that it’s okay if they make a mistake. This is a big change from the previous coach. Talk emotionally about their effort and that of the technical staff. Williams reinjected energy into a program that had had so little of it during Harsin’s unfortunate tenure.
Dozens of Williams’ former teammates returned to support him in his first game on the field as an All-American and became an Auburn icon.
“I will be forever grateful for this moment,” Williams said.
Auburn’s defense was dominant. Texas A&M had negative yardage in the second half before an 80-yard drive on its final possession that really meant nothing. Auburn could have easily won with an even bigger score. Center back Robbie Ashford ousted successor Jarques Hunter, and he was lonely for what could have been a relegation. Your sales were expensive.
What Auburn did was run the heck of the ball, for 270 yards. Hunter ran 13 times for 121 yards. Tank Bigsby had 23 buggies, also for 121 yards
Real new A&M quarterback Conor Wigman, like many quarterbacks before him, suffered the roar of the Jordan Hare stadium crowd, in one term, throwing 11 consecutive times. He finished 14 of 36 for 121 yards.
Yes, tigers 4-6. Yes, it would take something close to a miracle to get to a bowl game. But Saturday night was an occasion to celebrate.
Linebacker Cam Riley might be the best.
He said, “We’re back in being Auburn.”
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