Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sunday headlines

Quickly breaking down the Sunday college football headlines from the great state of Alabama …

Auburn has to break sweat to defeat Buffalo; sky somehow remains in place

Why did I wake up this morning approximately 100 times more concerned with whether the half-gallon of milk in the fridge had gone Bobby Bowden than the fact that Buffalo hung with the Tigers for three quarters? Let me count the ways:

1. Auburn was coming off of the most intense, physical game they’ve played since the same match-up in 2004. Unless you’re drawing on the frustration of a loss, or you’re getting experimental Crazy SuperJuice injections, there’s no way to summon up the kind of energy and emotion necessary to dominate a DI team only a week later.
2. Auburn’s got a road game against a team coached by Steve Spurrier this Thursday. But sure, Tubby and his staff spent just as much time preparing for a home game against the guys who needed overtime to beat Temple. They did. They respect everybody. Also, the moon is made of creamy Velveeta.
3. No Irons. No Dede. No Wilhite. No second leg for Brandon Cox. That Auburn couldn’t effortlessly replace all those missing parts and win by more than 31 points is a clear warning sign … that they’re not actually the 1986 Chicago Bears.
4. For all of the Bulls’ first downs and Cox’s iffy decisions and the Tigers’ injured players and everyone on the Auburn sidelines and bleachers’ general malaise’ the Tigers still won 38-7. 38 … to 7. Buffalo was never closer than two scores in the second half. The Tigers had to break a sweat, but it wasn’t ever the kind of sweat that had Tubby nervously dabbing at his forehead with a handkerchief, either.
5. It’s not going to hurt Auburn in the polls. The national response was way too concerned with Ohio St., USC, and West Virginia’s various “Hey…that game’s actually still close” travails to notice anything besides “38-7.”
6. I really felt like a big bowl of Golden Grahams.

Remember, this was hardly the first time a terrific Auburn team limped their way past an overmatched opponent, as 1993 Samford (35-7 hangers-about) or 2004 Louisiana-Monroe (31-0 losers to the best SEC team this century) will tell you. I would contend there are more positives than negatives from this game: we saw that Ben Tate will almost certainly be able to take over the 21st-Century Tailback U mantle when it’s time. We saw that J**n V****n’s psyche is at least intact enough to continue his A-Rod-esque success against the Buffalos of the world. We saw a rushing attack that collected 7.2 yards a carry, a solid enough average if Auburn had been playing the Alabama School of Math and Science. I’ll get worried when Auburn tries and fails, rather than not trying and still halfway succeeding.

Following 2005’s V****n-induced glee, karma bites Tide fans squarely in the ass

The story of this game is not Leigh Tiffin. The story of this game is why, while Mike Shula is a nice-enough guy who will be successful and will likely coach a string of winning seasons once the last crumpled chip-wrappers of probation have been swept away, Alabama will never reach capital-G Greatness under their current coach.

Why? It’s the fourth quarter, 1st-and-goal from the 9. Tiffin has already honked one easy kick. One flukish fumble aside, J.P. Wilson has looked like the second coming of St. Brodie. Given that Mustain is a walking train wreck, a touchdown guarantees victory while a field goal leaves the door ever so slightly cracked open. Whose hands—or feet—do you put the game in? Shula chose Tiffin’s.

Now it’s overtime and Tiffin has honked two kicks. His confidence, as anyone who watched V****n’s meltdown last season knows, is surely shot to hell. There is no way Shula can ask Tiffin to try an even longer field goal instead of letting Wilson drive for the game-winning TD … and he does. Twice, a touchdown would have won the game. And twice Shula chose to make no attempt whatsoever to score one despite the fact that his kicker was shakier than your average African government.

True, Wilson might have thrown a pick, or fumbled, or what have you. Shula made the “safe” call. But sometimes the “safe” call is also the “just-plain-wrong” call, and Shula has yet to learn that in his three seasons at the helm. Unless he does, until he has his team play to win rather than hope to win, his program is always going to be second-best in the state.

2 comments:

Newspaper Hack said...

There's a billion ways you can second guess a single-point loss (but I'm looking squarely at Tiffin, missing two close game-winning FG attempts). Those who don't like Shula can pin it on him. Or Dave Rader. Or Li'l Tiffin.

In the end, it's like Gore losing to Bush by 573 votes in Florida. Anything that close has a myriad of things that could have been done differently, and doesn't change the fact that it should have never, ever been that close.

Jerry Hinnen said...

That's certainly true. If Darby doesn't spend half the game hopping around like he's jumping rope, things are very different down the stretch, for example. But I'd choose to pin it on Shula (not because I don't like him, mind you ... it'd be like disliking, say, after-dinner mints) because it's lack of the proverbial killer instinct that drives these kinds of late-game collapses. This is only the latest example.