Bruce Pearl probably didn’t imagine it would happen like this.
But he did imagine it. A day before Auburn’s disaster loss at Alabama on Wednesday night, Pearl sat in front of the media in Auburn Arena on Tuesday and said flatly that he knew Auburn was going to get beat sometime soon.
He knew his team would lose eventually. He knew his team would get exposed. He knew that weaknesses would get attacked and that eventually his undefeated streak was coming to an end.
That’s what happened in Tuscaloosa. The question that comes now lies with how Auburn is going to brush itself off, adjust and respond.
And the answers lie on that haunting floor on Coleman Coliseum, captured on that game tape.
Auburn looks to bounce back on Saturday at Florida. At tipoff at 12:30 p.m. on CBS, Auburn (15-1 overall, 3-1 SEC) will have to go at Florida (11-5, 3-1) having learned from its mistakes made at Alabama and having shored up some of those weaknesses that Alabama exposed.
Auburn will surely study that Alabama film, re-living the one game Auburn doesn’t want to re-live, but must in order to improve. Alabama’s star Kira Lewis blew by the Auburn guards too often on Wednesday night and opened up the Auburn defense. Meanwhile, Auburn’s offense struggled without deep shooting to bail it out, as Auburn missed its first 10 3-pointers.
And before any of that even happened, Pearl knew what his team would have to do once those weaknesses were exposed. Go back to Tuesday, and Pearl wasn’t predicting a loss at Alabama, but he was freely saying that, realistically, he expected his team to lose at some point. ‘Undefeated’ just doesn’t happen in college basketball.
And Pearl, not just a student of his game but a student of plenty others, knows too that there’s value in learning from defeat and adversity.
Tuesday morning he called back to college football’s national championship game played on Monday night. In it, Clemson ran a 3-1-7 look that Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele first attacked LSU with — with success — back during Auburn’s regular-season game at LSU this past fall. Auburn’s football team held LSU to 23 points, its lowest point total all season, in part because of that wrinkle Steele put in place. Georgia soon copied Auburn’s three-man front in the SEC Championship Game, and Clemson copied it in the title game on Monday night.
Pearl used that as an example. Just as Steele exposed an LSU weakness, he expected a weakness to be exposed for his team, and he knew it was his job to adjust to it like LSU did on the way to the championship.
“Somebody’s going to beat us and do something that’s going to really bother us and then everybody’s going to pick it,” Pearl said, with words that seem almost predictive now. “Do you think that the teams played LSU weren’t watching Auburn’s defense after we held them down? They did, and then LSU had to find ways to deal with it.
“That’s obviously what happens in those matchups,” he said.
Now the blueprint is out there, laid out by Alabama, on how to beat once unbeaten Auburn.
Fortunately for Pearl, the blueprint is there for him to study too, and for him to use trying to strengthen up those exposed weaknesses.
“We’ll see how we respond to losing,” he said then, his words carrying even more weight now after his prediction came true. “We’re going to lose. And I always say adversity reveals character. And so our character will get more and more revealed once we lose.
“How do you handle it? How quickly can you bounce back?”
The world will learn Saturday at Florida.