Auburn has been the SEC’s version of Dracula, really going back to last season.
There’s just no killing these Tigers, even when they appear to be at their most vulnerable state.
And if you get them in a close game, forget about it.
That’s when they’re at their best, or in keeping with the Dracula theme, when they’re the most dangerous.
If you go all the way back to the Outback Bowl to end Gene Chizik’s first season at Auburn, the Tigers have won 11 straight games that were decided by eight points or less. Six of those games were decided by three points or less, including the 16-13 win over South Carolina last week in Columbia.
By now, it’s become a habit and one that has permeated itself throughout the program.
When a game is waiting to be won in the fourth quarter, the Tigers are there to pounce on it the way the Lord of the Undead would one of his helpless victims.
“If you’re going to be able to do that, you’ve got to have some roots, a background of being able to do that,” Chizik said of the Tigers’ penchant for winning close games. “It’s got to start somewhere. It started for us last year, maybe even the year before in a couple of different games.
“The bottom line is that our kids do believe in the fourth quarter, when the games are tight, that it’s our game. We’ve certainly been able to look back in the past and reflect back on how we’ve been able to do that, and that helps us. When you’ve done it as many times as we have, you can say that when that game gets close in the fourth quarter, that it’s our game.”
Auburn, which reappeared this week in the Top 25 polls at No. 15, travels to No. 10-ranked Arkansas on Saturday in what Chizik says will be the Tigers’ biggest challenge to date.
There really hasn’t been anything spectacular about this Auburn team this season other than the fact that it keeps on winning.
The Tigers (4-1, 2-0) have won 19 of their last 20 games. That’s despite being on the ropes in the opener against Utah State and surviving thanks to an onside kick in the final minutes.
That next week, Auburn stopped Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf on the one-inch line as time expired, and then came the only loss since the end of the 2009 season in Week 3 to a Clemson team that’s now ranked in the top 10 nationally.
Following a ho-hum win over Florida Atlantic, Auburn held on to beat the Gamecocks on the road last week with Mike Dyer carrying the ball 41 times and the defense turning in its best performance of the season.
Now, it’s on to Arkansas in the second leg of a grueling four-game stretch that will make or break the Tigers’ season. Florida comes to the Plains on Oct. 15, and then Auburn pays a visit to LSU on Oct. 22.
Since the preseason, the Auburn players have been hearing about how this was supposed to be a transition season and how the Tigers were going to take their lumps with so many first-year starters.
In a lot of ways, that kind of talk has fueled their run, and it doesn’t matter that 27 of the 44 players on Auburn’s two-deep are sophomores or younger.
“This is Auburn, and the way we look at it is that tradition never graduates,” sophomore defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker said. “Yeah, we lost a lot of good players, but we didn’t lose our edge, and we didn’t lose our belief that we’re going to go out and win football games.
“That’s something we’re never going to lose.”
Sort of like a close game.