Paschall: Auburn wins a statistical anomaly for the struggling SEC

Auburn Athletics photo / Auburn football players celebrate with their fans following the 14-10 win at California that ended early Sunday morning for East Coast viewers.

The Auburn Tigers won the latest-starting football game they've ever played.

And one of the ugliest, too.

Auburn was a statistical anomaly in its contest at California that kicked off Saturday night at 10:40 Eastern and ended Sunday morning at 1:52. Hugh Freeze's Tigers defeated the Golden Bears 14-10 with an offense that managed just 12 first downs while turning the ball over four times.

"I'm so proud of our kids and staff," Freeze said afterward in a news conference. "I don't think we could have played any uglier or sloppier on offense."

According to ESPN, college football teams the past five years that suffered four or more turnovers and failed to reach 15 first downs were 1-65 in those outcomes.

Yet the Southeastern Conference will take whatever it can get so far in this 2023 season, as Auburn's victory improved the league to 3-6 against other Power Five programs, with all six setbacks having transpired by double-digit margins. Tennessee's opening rout of Virginia and Mississippi State's double-overtime outlasting of Arizona on Saturday night account for the SEC's other two wins.

Digressing a bit here, but will regional pride even be discussed this time next season with all this ridiculous realignment? And how awkward must the Big 12 brass feel about Texas winning at Alabama?

Auburn has been very active in the NCAA transfer portal with Freeze serving as the program's third coach in four seasons, which does not include the four-game interim stint of Cadillac Williams last November.

Junior running back Jarquez Hunter is the only remaining member of the 2021 signing class for the Tigers, who have 21 new freshmen and 21 new portal acquisitions along with Freeze. Auburn's top two players against Cal were linebacker Eugene Asante and tight end Rivaldo Fairweather, who spent the past three years at North Carolina and Florida International, respectively.

Fairweather had the winning touchdown catch with 6:31 remaining and had a 28-yard reception earlier in that drive, while Asante racked up 12 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack. Eight of Cal's 13 possessions wound up in Auburn territory, with four having started there, but the Tigers yielded just 10 points.

"There was no quit in us, and I didn't hear anyone griping or complaining," Freeze said. "The defense was constantly saying, 'We've got you. We'll get you another stop,' and that's what it takes to be a really good football team.

"We're a long way from being a great football team, but we found a way to win, and we can grow from that."


Remember last year when Tennessee led the nation in yards (525.5) and points (46.1) per game?

This season's Volunteers through their 2-0 start rank No. 1 with 12.5 tackles for loss per game and are tied for first with Nebraska with 5.5 sacks a contest. Senior linebacker Aaron Beasley holds the nation's individual lead with six overall tackles for loss.


Dillon Bell was "only" a three-star receiver signee in Georgia's 2022 class, but the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder out of the Kincaid School in Houston displayed a unique versatility with 662 receiving yards and 655 rushing yards as a prep senior. He even passed for 164 yards and three scores.

With the Bulldogs low on healthy running backs out of the gate this season, Bell had three carries for 28 yards in Saturday's 45-3 drubbing of Ball State, including a 21-yard score midway through the second quarter that made it 21-0. He also had two catches for 16 yards.

"Dillon brings a different element, especially being a wide receiver," Bulldogs quarterback Carson Beck told reporters after Georgia's 19th straight win. "It gives us an opportunity to match him up on a linebacker or on a safety. Otherwise he would be on a corner when he's spread out wide. It's almost like a Deebo Samuel deal in the way the San Francisco 49ers use him."

Said Georgia coach Kirby Smart: "We didn't sign him thinking this. He came to camp and worked out at wide receiver. It's only come up because of the situation we have at running back."

The Bulldogs, incidentally, have pitched shutouts through the first three quarters in each of their first two games.


Two Septembers ago, Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher had a 29-10 record with the Aggies that included an Orange Bowl triumph over North Carolina following the 2020 season.

Fisher is 11-12 since.


Well, how are we supposed to feel?

Alabama has started a season 1-1 for the first time in the Nick Saban era as a result of Saturday night's 34-24 home loss to Texas, the largest margin of defeat Saban's Crimson Tide have suffered inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. Redshirt sophomore Jalen Milroe did plenty of good against the Longhorns but way more bad than we're accustomed to from an Alabama quarterback.

Milroe threw two brutal interceptions and was sacked five times, and Saban admitted afterward that he considered playing multiple quarterbacks.

"I did, but when he put the drive together to go down the field and score when we got ahead (16-13), I thought that gave him a lot of confidence," Saban said. "We never discussed it, but I can't say the thought never comes to mind for any player who's having a difficult time."

Saban, who referred to the loss as the midterm and not the final, slipped to 28-3 against his former assistants. That record was 24-0 at one point.


Florida won its 34th consecutive home opener with Saturday's 49-7 trouncing of McNeese, the longest such streak in the nation. ... LSU's 72-10 rout of Grambling marked the largest victory margin for the Tigers since a 77-0 blanking of Rice in 1977. ... South Carolina's 47-21 victory over Furman improved the Gamecocks to 53-4 versus teams not in the Power Five since 2000. ... Arkansas is 2-0 for the third straight season, a first since the Houston Nutt era (1998-2000). ... Ole Miss has needed less than a minute to score a touchdown on its opening possession in each of its first two games, against Mercer and Tulane. ... Vanderbilt senior receiver Will Sheppard had two touchdown catches in Saturday's 36-20 loss at Wake Forest and needs five more to match the school mark of 24 set by Jordan Matthews from 2010-13. ... Kentucky has held an opponent to 24 points or fewer 18 times in the last 19 games, including Saturday's 28-17 downing of Eastern Kentucky. ... Missouri sophomore receiver Luther Burden, a five-star signee in the 2022 cycle, amassed 117 yards in the 23-19 win over Middle Tennessee and has 213 yards through two games.

Contact David Paschall at