Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Auburn-Wazzu recap

So as you’ve probably heard by now, the 2006 Auburn football season, i.e. “Death by Hype II: The Only Thing We Have to Fear is ‘Fear the Thumb’,” is now playing at your local movie theater 89,000-seat stadium. In the spirit of the JCCW’s post-mortem of the Capital One Bowl disaster (but with a much, much happier ending), here’s a blow-by-blow recap of the season-opener vs. Washington St., brought to you by the good folks at ESPN2 and my new DVR.


RON FRANKLIN: Welcome to Jordan-Hare Stadium everyone! It’s a perfect night for football and tonight you’re going to see a terrific matchup between the Auburn Tigers of the SEC and the Washington St. Cougars out of the Pac-10. I’m Ron Franklin and with me as always is my colleague Mike Gottfried. Mike, when you look at this Auburn Tiger team …
RANDOM DUDE: Um, I’m not Mike Gottfried.
RON: Oh, my mistake, with me is former Notre Dame coach Bob Davie. Bob, when you look …
RANDOM DUDE: We went over this in rehearsal, Ron. I’m not coach Davie, either. My name’s Ed Cunningham. We met weeks ago…
RON: Wait, you’re who now? Why are you up here?
RANDOM DUDE ED: [sighs loudly] I’m Ed Cunningham. I’m your new broadcast partner. Ed … Cunningham.
RON: Ed, huh? OK, well, folks I guess we’ve got Ed with me. But wait, down on the sidelines, let me please introduce the third member of our crew, Dr. Jerry Punch. How you doin’ Doc? That is you down there, right Doc?
DR. JERRY PUNCH: [in squeaky, high-pitched voice] Actually, Ronnie, thees is Lisa Guerrero, filling in for Doctoor Punch. How are you Ronnie? [Punch tries to stifle snickering ]
RON: Lisa? Lisa Guerrero? I’m … I’m honestly not doing real well at the moment, Lisa.
DR. JERRY PUNCH: [still in squeaky, high-pitched voice] Well, Ronnie, I talked to Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville before the game and he told me that as long as his team double-knotted their shoelaces and if the game was played on grass, his team would have a good chance of …
RON: All right, f*** this, I’m outta here. Lisa f***ing Guerrero, I f***ing swear. [takes microphone off ] See you later, “Ed,” hope you don’t mind flying solo …
DR. JERRY PUNCH: Ron? Ron, hey, it’s me, the Doc! Just fooling around there, buddy! It’s me, Dr. Jerry Punch!
RON: Doc, is that you? Oh thank God, thank God, Doc! …it’s so good to hear your voice … [RON weeps openly] Hey, everyone, it’s Dr. Jerry Punch! Thanks goodness. Whew. OK, so, Mike, as we get ready for the opening kickoff …
ED: I’m not Mike.

First quarter

--Hmm, Washington St. must not have read their “How To Take a Big Intimidating Home Crowd Out of the Game” pamphlet very closely, because I bet “allow sacks on first two passing plays, punt, then let home team’s star running back gallop 50 yards downfield on first play from scrimmage” was under the “Don’t” section rather than the “Do’s.” Call it a hunch.
--The Cougs hold Auburn to a field goal try thanks in part to a good first-down play by defensive end Mkristo Bruce. Ron and Ed seem to think pretty highly of him. Hey coaches, maybe we should run away from him, M’kay? (That was awful. I apologize.) Wazzu also catches a third-down break when AU’s Rod Smith decides he’d rather stop in the middle of the end zone and chill, have a nice chat with the DB, just, you know, catch a quick breather and maybe the ball will land in his hands anyway … our lives are so fast-paced these days, you know?
--John Vaughn mysteriously connects on a 31-yard field goal. 3-0 Tigers.
--On Wazzu’s next possession, Chris Browder makes it three sacks in three dropbacks for the Auburn defensive line. I dunno, too early to start printing the “Honk if You’ve Sacked Alex Brink” bumper stickers, you think?
--The Cougs’ Darrell Hutsona could grab a first down on a 3rd-and-long draw play, but instead inexplicably decides to run sideways just in front of the first-down marker, so AU’s Aairon Savage can haul him down just shy. Inspired by Hutsona’s act of charity and good will, Tiger punt returner Robert Dunn decides that he’ll do Hutsona one better and runs backwards five yards on his return.
--After a third-down scramble, Franklin actually uses the phrase “abundance of speed” in reference to Brandon Cox, and even without prefacing it with “can’t say he’s got an … ” or “if there’s one thing Brandon Cox does not have, it’s an … “ or “Prepare your bomb shelters, folks, the Apocalypse is coming, because we just saw Brandon Cox show what looked like an …” … any of which would have been perfectly understandable, of course.
--The nation gets its first look at the new “Click Clack” Under Armour commercial featuring Tubby. Near the end of the spot, we see Tubby coming out of the tunnel leading the Tigers, and like the rest of the Intense Athletes featured, he says “click clack.” Unlike the rest of the Intense Athletes, however, who say “click clack” with a quiet intensity that works with the slogan’s intent to suggest the sound of an Intense Athlete sneaking up on you in a stadium hallway (to protect his house, presumably), Tubby barks “Click Clack!” like Teddy Roosevelt riding down a Cuban hill screaming “Remember the Maine!” (Know your history, kids.) It is, in fact, the funniest thing I have seen in my entire life. “Click Clack!” … rewind … “Click Clack!” … rewind … pause for breath … “Click Clack!” I swear, only Tubby could make the words “Click Clack!” come across like “Good sweet Lord, do you see how much more bad-ass we are than your pathetic, not-in-a-national-commercial team? I pity you.”
--The mystery deepens as Vaughn kicks a career-long 44-yarder with a good 10 yards to spare. The hell?
--Punch somehow takes 10 minutes and a table with more props than Carrot Top to deliver the stunning news that Auburn will give its players IVs at halftime. He wraps up by saying one of Auburn’s marching-band drummers lost 11 pounds of water weight during a game last year, which just goes to show you that some people need to take their drumming a lot less seriously.
-- Cougars tailback Demaundray Woolridge sprints 42 yards to the Auburn 1, surprising the Auburn D (and probably many in the Auburn crowd), who believed, not unreasonably, that Pac-10 teams played without tailbacks. Wazzu takes a 7-6 lead.

Second quarter

--3rd-and-5 from the Wazzu 35, and Cox shows he’s picking up right where he left off last season … i.e. his Gabe Gross-esque performance in the Cap One Bowl. He throws well behind a wide open Cole Bennett. Fourth down. Again.
--Who are you, and what have you done with John Vaughn? Whoever--or whatever--is inhabiting Vaughn’s uniform just kicked a picture-perfect 52-yard field goal. 52 yards! Somewhere, Satan is putting on a sweater.
--Auburn gets the ball back and Cox hits Smith (who decides it’s in his best interests to finish running his route this time) with a 41-yard bomb to the Wazzu 29. Cunningham smartly points out that Wazzu’s defensive coordinator screwed up, putting his base defense on the field instead of a nickel, leaving a hapless linebacker to cover Smith 30 yards downfield, and congratulating Cox on the pickup. Ron is impressed, as am I. He’s already left Davie in the dust in my book. (The one entitled “What the JCCW Thinks about Various College Football Broadcasters,” that book. No, it hasn’t sold well to this point.)
--It’s third down in Wazzu territory, which of course means it’s going to be fourth down … now . (Via sack this time.) The alleged "John Vaughn" steps up and goes 4-for-4, connecting from 30 yards, and I’ve got a theory about this. It starts in 2004, with “Jason Campbell,” and his sudden transformation from erratic punching bag to Heisman candidate and first-round draft pick upon Al Borges’ arrival. It remains obvious to me that “Al Borges” is more likely a mad German scientist named Dr. Alfred Borg, who has perfected the process of creating perfect robot duplicates of american college football players. Borg probably had--and still has--the real Jason Campbell locked up somewhere deep in the bowels of Jordan-Hare, while the android Campbell went about smashing Auburn’s efficiency ratings records and getting drafted. But at least Campbell now apparently has some company in the dungeons, as I’m fairly certain that the real John Vaughn is down there somewhere, too. Now kicking for Auburn … VaughnBot 3000!
--Poor Alex Brink. Quentin Groves and Marquies Gunn both roar into the pocket on 3rd-and-16, and while Brink is alert enough to step up (causing Groves and Dunn to run into each other rather comically), he’s still so spooked he trips over his lineman’s foot in an attempt to scramble (also quite comical). Between this play, “Click Clack!” and a shockingly good Cunningham-and-Franklin riff on the 99-cent charge to vote for game MVP (“I’ve already spent 20 bucks,” Cunningham says), this is turning out to be the funniest Auburn game since, well, ever.
--There’s 6:10 left in the first half, and we have our first Lee Guess sighting! I’m excited not only because Guess has to be the first white Auburn receiver to make a reception since the late, great (OK, he’s neither) Justin Fetsko, but because he becomes the first and only Auburn football player (of the three) I taught during my time at AU to make any recordable impact on the field. Here’s to hoping he has a huge season, so my cocktail-party anecdotes about what papers he wrote and what grade I gave him get more interesting.
--Five minutes left in the half, and finally Auburn gets their touchdown, Brad Lester weaving his way in on a screen pass from 34 yards out. Lester has rather curiously taken advantage of Devin Aromashadu’s departure to switch to the “1” jersey, which I’m sure he’s hoping makes him look like #1 but to the JCCW, after four years of watching Aromashadu prancing about in it, just makes him look like a skinny wide receiver. A skinny wide receiver that happens to be a hell of a running back, yes, but still skinny.
--There’s a Tre Smith sighting as the half draws to a close, but like so many meaningful relationships, after four years, the thrill just isn’t there any more.


DR. JERRY PUNCH: Coach Tuberville, would you like to risk a disastrous falling-out with the college football coaches’ union by saying anything at your halftime interview that isn’t a cliché?
TUBERVILLE: No, but I will use the cliché “caught them with their pants down” to describe that screen pass, which you don’t often hear in this context.
DR. JERRY PUNCH: With good reason, Coach. Good luck in the second half!
TUBERVILLE: Click Clack!

Third quarter

--It takes all of one play from scrimmage for Irons to get his. 58 yards, touchdown. See, Brad, Kenny stuck with 23 and it doesn’t seem to hurt him. What was wrong with 28?
--AU’s Carl Stewart makes a couple of short plodding runs in the middle of the field, allowing Ron and Ed to lovingly gush about Stewart’s ability to play the violin. Apparently, if ESPN football announcers were in charge of awarding Nobel prizes, violin-playing running backs would come in somewhere behind Mother Theresa, but definitely ahead of, say, Jimmy Carter.
--Just as the game seems to be settling in for a drama-less 20-point-cushion-at-all-times second half, Wazzu brings in backup QB Gary Rogers and Auburn’s defense decides the boss won’t notice if they sneak out for a quick cig out back. Tight end Cody Boyd waltzes in from 50 yards, touchdown, 26-14, and…
-- … this is the Auburn offense’s response: rush for loss of 1, incompletion, sack. Way to seize the momentum back, guys.
--Um, OK. Will Herring runs for 40 yards on a fake punt. That’s great and all, but … with the defense Auburn’s got, do we really want to go running fake punts on 4th-and-15 inside our own 20 all the time? Isn’t this the sort of risk we ought to be labeling “not quite worth it”? And of course, worst of all, we’re about to get another season-ful of references to “Tommy Tuberville, Riverboat Gambler” every single time Auburn sends the special teams onto the field. I’d say, “Man, how quick is that going to get old?” but it’s already old by the time Ron and Ed are done with it. Blecch.
--Stewart misses Tommy Trott on a halfback pass, and Cunningham busts out with “That was a Fender [throw] when he needed a Stradivarius,” causing 3.5 million Alabamians to simultaneously go “Huh”? and the remaining 500,000 to explain, “He’s talking about a brand of electric guitar and a famous kind of violin, because, see, Stewart overthrew him and … nevermind.”
--VaughnBot 3000 decides going 5-for-5 might blow his cover, shanks a 36-yarder.
--Because apparently finishing a perfect 5-for-5 while directing a 90-yard drive isn’t good enough, Rogers is back on the bench while Alex “On the” Brink “Of Destruction” returns under center. His last six plays of the drive go incompletion-incompletion-incompletion (penalty first down)-incompletion-QB draw for no gain-incompletion. Of course. Cunningham stops short of calling the decision to reinsert Brink the stupidest idea since New Coke. But you can tell where he stands.

Fourth quarter

--Auburn takes over at their own 31, and Dr. Alfred Borg runs Irons and Lester right down Wazzu’s throat, calling rushes on eight of the drive’s nine plays. Lester caps it with a 12-yard TD. Doc Borg, as long as Auburn keeps running the ball like that in the fourth quarter, I for one don’t care how many players you abduct for your nefarious and demented experiments. Take all you want!
--Despite the new tees designed to cause shorter kickoffs and more returns, AU’s Matt Clark sends the kickoff deep into the end zone for the sixth time in seven tries, leading to this exchange between Ron and Ed:

RON: That Clark has got some leg. If you were standing 10 yards away and he kicked the ball into your head, why, I bet you wouldn’t even survive! [laughs jovially]
ED: You probably wouldn’t! That leg should be classified as a lethal weapon! [laughs jovially] Is Matt Clark even safe enough to let out on the streets? He should probably spend the rest of life in prison!
RON: Well what good would that do when he could just kick his way right through those concrete walls and continue his reign of terror, no matter what tee he was using? [Ron and Ed continue to share jovial laughter] First-and-10 for the Cougars …

(OK, I’m paraphrasing a bit.)

--Dr. Jerry Punch desperately tries to prove he’s a sportscaster AND a real medical doctor by dragging a skeleton onto the sidelines and using it to explain to viewers what an MCL and ACL are. I like you, Doc, but this is what’s commonly referred to as “trying way too damn hard.” That’s the technical journalistic term, anyway.
--Freshman AU safety Aairon Savage is called for a personal foul after the officials decide he went helmet-to-helmet with a Wazzu receiver. Seriously, it can’t help your standing with the zebras in these situations when your last name is “Savage,” can it?
--Will Herring caps a solid first performance at linebacker—and effectively ends any hope of a thrilling Wazzu comeback—by picking Brink off, somewhat surprisingly the game’s first (and as it would turn out, only turnover). Any of you still thinking about his years of experience at safety, forget it, he’s better at linebacker and the idea of playing Will in the secondary is now just a red … a red … I can’t go through with this. It’s just too terrible a joke. It’s tempting, but stopping there is what’s best for the children.
--You wouldn’t think it could be done, but Tre Smith manages to successfully encapsulate his entire four-year Auburn career in three plays. First-and-goal from the five, he squirms ahead to the 2. Second down, he launches himself airborne from the 4 when he should stay on the ground, and lands inside the 1. Third down, now that he’s close enough, he should try the “Bo over the top” method again, but instead runs smack into a wall of defenders. He wants the score so bad his legs keep churning even after he’s been turned upside-down and is sitting on his back, like a beetle or something. Now it’s fourth down, and in comes Stewart to stroll in for the TD. Ladies and gentlemen, Tre Smith: every single ounce of effort you could possibly want, but finally, when it counts, you’re going to want someone else on the field. Sad, sad, sad, but true. (Unless, of course, you’re throwing a pass to him. Then, by all means, use Tre Smith.)
--Your final score: Auburn 40, Evil Invaders from the Land of Apples, 14.

I’ll post more on this game in the next few days, but the bottom line is that despite Wazzu’s brainless decision to go back to the rattled Brink, the Cougars had one of the country’s most explosive offense last season and Auburn held them to 14 points. And despite Cox’s hiccups on third down, having 8 possessions of 11 end in points (with another ending in a FG miss) is pretty damn efficient no matter who you’re playing. There may be reason to downgrade Auburn’s massive expectations in the very near future (as in Sept. 16). But there weren’t any this week.

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