They said the offense would take a giant step backward. They said it was impossible to replace three first-round draft picks. They said the Tigers just wouldn't be able to score enough points.
They underestimated Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges. The Tigers offense is actually slightly more productive than last season and it showed Saturday in a dramatic 31-30 win at then-No. 9 Georgia. The victory kept the No. 11 Tigers in the SEC West title race.
The Tigers racked up 506 yards of total offense - nearly 150 more than the Bulldogs allowed to anyone else this season - on a defense that was giving up an average of 288 yards and 14 points a game. The performance earned Borges Rivals.com's Coordinator of the Week.
Borges' game plan was centered around the running game and getting Kenny Irons as many carries as possible. The offensive line dominated Georgia's front four, constantly blowing defensive linemen off the line of scrimmage and creating big running lanes. Irons responded by running for big chunks all night and finishing with 179 yards on a career-high 37 carries. It was the third 30-plus carry game of the season for the junior.
But, as great as Irons' performance was, the 109th version of the Deep South's oldest rivalry will be remembered for a play called "Smash Bender." Trailing 30-28 with two minutes left and facing a fourth-and-10 from their own 34, Borges made that play call, designed to get Devin Aromashodu open over the middle.
It worked even better than Borges could have imagined. Brandon Cox connected with a wide-open Aromashodu in stride at the Bulldogs 35 and the lanky receiver cut across the field and down the right sideline.
Georgia's Paul Oliver met Aromashodu near the goal line and managed to knock the ball loose. Tigers receiver Courtney Taylor recovered it in the end zone, and the play was initially ruled a touchdown. But, a ball that is fumbled forward on fourth down can only be recovered by the player who fumbled the ball.
The ball was placed at the 3-yard line, the spot of the fumble, setting up John Vaughn's 20-yard game-winning field goal with six seconds left. Vaughn missed five field goals in a 20-17 loss at LSU.
Cox's 62-yard completion to Aromashodu - the Tigers' longest pass of the season - will go down as one of the greatest plays in school history.
But, Borges deserves to be remembered for more than just calling one great play or great game. Despite losing star running backs Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams and quarterback Jason Campbell - who were taken in the first 25 picks of the 2005 NFL draft - the Tigers are averaging 34.8 points and 442.5 yards per game. Through 10 games last season, the Tigers offense was averaging 34.2 points and 431 yards per game.
A handful of other coordinators did extraordinary jobs this past weekend:
• Oklahoma State's defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and offensive coordinator Larry Fedora both put together great game plans that led to the Cowboys' 24-17 upset of Texas Tech. Bedford focused on shutting down running back Taurean Henderson, the key to the Raiders' high-powered offense. Henderson had minus-6 yards on eight carries and 23 yards on eight catches and the Raiders managed just three points in the first three quarters. Fedora helped to keep Henderson off the field for a large part of the game as the Cowboys ran for 303 yards and finished with nearly a 9-minute advantage in time of possession.
• Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker found a way to shut down Heisman candidate Brian Calhoun on the ground. Wisconsin's star running back finished with a season-low 18 yards on 15 carries - numbers that led to the Hawkeyes' 20-10 upset at Camp Randall.
• Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock has to be one of top candidates for the Frank Broyles award - which is given to the nation's top assistant coach every year. The Buckeyes made a strong case for having the nation's best defense by holding Northwestern's explosive offense to 251 yards and Brett Basanez to 121 passing yards in their 48-7 win.
• LSU's defense played its best game of the season when the team needed it most. With defensive coordinator Bo Pelini making the calls, the Tigers gave Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle plenty of problems and sparked a 16-13 upset in overtime in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Tigers held the Tide to a three-and-out in overtime, which led to a field goal, and Croyle was 19-of-40 for 187 yards and an interception.
• Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning played a big role in the Tigers' 35-14 win over Florida State. The Tigers didn't give up an offensive touchdown and held the talented 'Noles to 226 total yards, including just 3.1 yards per pass and 3.2 yards per run.