Friday, December 28, 2007

Wish List for Clemson

Enjoy the ride, Thompson: you've earned it.

All right, first off, here's to hoping all 11 of you in JCCW readership-land had a very Merry Christmas, full of honey-roasted cashews and Best Buy gift cards and maybe one of those "Beers of the World" samplers, if you were an especially good guy or gal this year. (If you were one of those Auburn fans who booed Brandon Cox in the Mississippi St. game, I hope you enjoyed your lump of coal.)

The clever thing to follow up with would be "I'd wish you a Happy New Year, too, but I guess we'll find out how happy Auburn fans will really be Monday night in Atlanta" ... except that, honestly, I'm not sure how much I really care about the outcome. Oh, I know that as soon as Auburn kicks off I'll be in my usual UNSPEAKABLE DEATH TO THE NON-AUBURN INFIDELS mode, but right now, nothing that happens Monday is going to change 2007 as one season-long yo-yo between smashing success and blankest defeat ultimately redeemed in whole by the Iron Bowl. Unlike last year, when the win over Nebraska finally sealed the "Holy crap, I can't believe that team just went 11-2!" celebrations and "best Tubby coaching job yet" hyperbole, a 40-7 win Monday won't add much to this year nor will a 40-7 loss detract much from it. The story--from the USF loss through the Florida upset and the LSU heartbreak and the see-saw on Amen Corner all the way to Cox and Borges riding into two differently-colored sunsets--is already written, already done and dusted*. Monday isn't this team's final chapter; that happened at the Iron Bowl and in the coaching aftermath. Monday is merely epilogue.

But doesn't mean I don't care at all. I want to see the seniors offer us one last reminder of why they never lost to Alabama. I want to see the cavalcade of returning studs show us why there's bigger and even better things in store for next year. Like everyone else, I want to see the Spread Eagle take its first few tentative flaps outside the practice field's nest. If Auburn adds another W to Tubby's and Cox's totals, all the better. If they don't, I don't think I'll be any less stoked for 2008.

So, the wishes:

When Auburn has the ball

1. That Auburn throws caution six yards downfield to the wind and lines up in Franklin's five-wide. Saying "it remains to be seen" if Tubby is actually going to let Franklin operate the Mumme-fied offense he did at Troy is a colossal understatement, and I'm honestly a little hesitant at the moment about a system that might put James Swinton on the field in exchange for Mario Fannin, but in this game? Screw it, let's see what Franklin's been able to hustle together in two weeks. And besides, let's be honest, hitting timing routes of 10-yards-or-less is what Cox is most physically capable of doing anyway, right? Next year I'd like to see balance. In the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, I want to see what this offense might look like if, well, Franklin had these same players at Troy.

2. That Carl Stewart scores a touchdown. The problem with that approach is that it might squeeze Stewart off the field, and if anyone graduating from the Auburn offense deserves one last burst of glory, it's Stewart. He's become such a complete, all-around professional at fullback it's been easy to forget that he came to Auburn as a tailback prospect before the switch and, hell, could have had a gripe that when Lester sat at the start of the year, it should have been him toting the rock over Tate or Fannin. Instead Stewart just got better and better at what he did at fullback, a blessing for which Auburn fans really shouldn't take for granted. I'd like to think most of us won't take his usual flattening blocks and steady pass catching for granted in his final game for Auburn, but just for those that would, here's to hoping Stewart reminds them by finding the end zone. (Also, and I'm not sure if any TV announcers ever mentioned this, he plays the violin.)

3. That Cox keeps it together. Again, I'm not sweating the final score. Cox can fire off a couple of his patented "Lord, as a show of faith, I'm just going to heave the ball that way and trust you to deliver it into the arms of an Auburn receiver" passes if he wants, can take a couple of his trademarked wait-half-a-nanosecond-before-tucking-and-ducking sacks if he feels so moved. He's beaten Alabama three times; his legacy is far too secure to be that damaged by what he does against Clemson. But another meltdown a la his final two performances against Georgia or the South Florida debacle and, well, it's going to be a nasty, tugging reminder that, well, he had those last two performances against Georgia and the South Florida debacle. In the end, the impact of Good Brandon has far outweighed the impact of Evil Brandon; it would just be nice if Cox's final game reflected that.

When Clemson has the ball

4. That Tuberville casts some sort of bizarre magic spell that makes it appear to potential employers of Will Muschamp that the Tiger defense is giving out points like a drunken pinball machine while actually giving up very few. By which I mean to say, I'm hoping Muschamp somehow looks less appealing as a hire even as his defense succeeds. I'm not sure if that's actually possible, but as long as we're wishing ... and actually ,what I'm wishing for isn't about the Clemson game: I just selfishly want Muschamp back for at least another season on Auburn's sideline.

5. That Quentin Groves finishes his career with one his patented sack-and-strips. It just hasn't been the bed-wetting-terror-inducing year we all imagined for Groves, has it? From the "Oops, I wasn't playing the run" admission to the dislocation injury to being denied more than a few memorable sacks by random last-second throwaways (Tebow still owes him one) to the record hanging around all season like the last guy to leave the party, it's seemed like if it hasn't been one thing for Groves, it's been another. It's too bad, what with Groves being a likable guy who could have gone pro after--even more importantly--serving as Auburn's runaway MVP in the 2006 Iron Bowl. A flashback to those heady days (or even to the kickoff of this season) would be nice even if it wasn't so richly deserved at the end of yet another killer Auburn career.

6. That Walt McFadden gets some time--and looks good. Tubby's mysterious neverending supply of defensive linemen and linebackers (Groves underperforming? Why, here's Antonio Coleman! Blackmon dinged up? Come on down, Chris Evans!) mean I'm not sweating any losses in those two units, and the safety spots should be good to go with Etheridge, McNeil, et al. But at corner we're saying goodbye to Lee, Wilhite, and Zach Gilbert. Not a deathblow, but from this ridiculously early viewpoint, it looks like corner is going to be Auburn's thinnest position on what should be an otherwise impregnable 2008 defense. McFadden looks like the heir apparent opposite Jerraud Powers, and if he can hold his own in his limited action against some good Clemson receivers, things will look all the brighter.

*Yes, I've got more thoughts on that final chapter, on Borges 'departure, Franklin's hiring, Tubby's candidate dance ... all of that stuff I missed while working my fool head off. It's coming.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Open letter to Terry Bowden he will not read

Hilariously awesome image from a West Virginia message board via MGoBlog.

Terry:

Hi, my name is Jerry Hinnen. I write an Auburn football blog called the Joe Cribbs Car Wash.

I'll get right to the point: I'm writing to ask you to please stop debasing yourself in your pursuit of the West Virginia head coaching position. You have acted, well, desperate and needy throughout the season, but issuing a statement through a publicist (why a "publicist" and not an agent? Are you this devoted to publicizing yourself?) that WVU is your "dream job" before Rodriguez's seat had even cooled, before the Mountaineer administration had even drawn up their preliminary list of candidates, is outright groveling. Get off your knees, Terry. You are begging like a dog at the dinner table, and not even a dog that belongs in the house but a dog brought over without invitation by rude, aggravating Aunt Gertrude. Even if you got the job, aren't you going to be more than little bit shamed it took father cold-calling the WVU decision-makers on your behalf for it to happen? Stand on your own two legs, Terry. Show some dignity.

You may be wondering why I, as an Auburn fan, care in the first place. You know as well as I do you've become the easiest, quickest punchline in the Auburn fan's book of jokes. I've made my share at your expense, no doubt. Auburn fans are supposed to be indifferent at best and cruelly pointing and snickering like eighth-graders at lunch at worst, right?

Well, it's true I don't have a certain level of concern purely out of the goodness of my heart. You coached at Auburn for several years. Despite your TV and Internet writing work and famous Daddy, you are seen, first and foremost, as Auburn's former coach. I remember, clear as the conversation I had over lunch today, the clip of you turning to the jubilant locker room behind you after polishing off the Tide to go 11-0--with Pat Dye just behind you--and saying "Today, I became an Auburn man." That status got revoked on both ends a while back, but I would still prefer it if those individuals who had ever been the face of our program--anyone who had ever been "an Auburn man"--refrained from the kind of undignified "Hey guys! Look at me! Remember me? I can coach, too! Hey, hey guys!" chirping you've been engaged in lately. It does not reflect well on the choices made by the Auburn program.

But there's more than that. Me personally, I'd honestly like to see you do well, Terry. Just for your sake. Yep, I would.

As always here at the JCCW (or at least, as usual), I speak for for no Auburn fan but myself. But I haven't forgotten 1993. I haven't forgotten being in the stands for the Florida upset, still easily one of the two or three most exciting Auburn games I've ever seen in person. Haven't forgotten James Bostic pulling free on fourth down, haven't forgotten Etheridge's kick sailing through. Haven't forgotten Reid McMilion rumbling past the Hogs, or Corso picking the Dawgs that year, or sitting a foot away from my parents' old stereo and fiddling with its ancient tuner as Nix came in stone cold to save the Iron Bowl on fourth down, as Bostic broke free to cinch it. That remains the best team on radio, forever.

I haven't forgotten '94, either, Nix-to-Sanders and Darth Visor's invincibility in the Swamp vanishing in a puff of orange-and-blue smoke. Or the Interception Game against LSU. Or Dameyune Craig, who you recruited, dragging our team single-handedly into our first-ever SEC title game, one we would have won if our receivers hadn't suffered a fatal case of the dropsies.

I remember all these things, and I am still grateful to you for them. It is true, without argument, that the glories of '93 and '94 were accomplished with Pat Dye's players. But Pat Dye's players went a combined 10-11-1 in '91 and '92. So I still think fondly of you, Terry, and still wish the end of your tenure--while inevitable, while without question for the best of the program, even you can admit that, surely--had arrived without the acrimony, without all the unsightly, um, hullabaloo ... basically, with a lot more of (again) that dignity stuff for everyone involved.

I remember the other stuff, too, of course. That, Terry, you expected the likes of Markeith "the Lizard" Cooper and Demontray Carter to become successful SEC running backs. That Stephen freaking Davis carried the ball what seemed like six times a game as that uber-talented '95 team disappointed. That it took years for Tubby to undo the recruiting damage. That--let's face facts, Terry--you are short and squeaky and have the face of a baby, and that it is written into our genes that it is difficult to respect the short, squeaky, and baby-faced.

For all of that, it was you squeaking in that Auburn locker room in '93. No coach who coached their way into that locker room should ever have to wander around the media with their hat in hand hoping for a charity job. Even now, Terry, I think you're better than that.

So start freaking acting like it.

Sincerely,
Jerry Hinnen

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Fear the Index Finger on the Opposite Hand: the Iron Bowl recap, half the second

Picking up where we left off ...



Third quarter

--The second half kicks off with a Tide squib that gets picked up by Tommy Trott and returned 13 yards to the Auburn 41. Putting aside for the moment that "Tommy Trott returns the kickoff 13 yards" is every bit as unlikely as the "Tommy Trott seals off his man to create a 28-yard run" Sign of the End Times from the first half, did the Tide not realize that Tristan Davis's season was the football equivalent of a mayfly life span? Auburn hasn't returned a kickoff for TD since 2005 (Lester vs. Ball State, thank you game notes and the guy who got that one isn't back there. Why are they squibbing? Not that I'm complaining, mind you.
--Speaking of reasons to start saving up canned goods and bottled water for the shelter, Cox ducks under a sack attempt on Auburn's first drive and scrambles away before making a completion. Blackledge calls Cox "not the most elusive guy" in an instant nominee for "Understatement of the Year." But hey, Auburn's moving.
--Blackledge informs us that in the Iron Bowl, the team ahead at halftime wins 73 percent of the time, which is a great surprise since in most college football games, the team ahead of halftime loses 73 percent of the time, right? He adds that he provides the stat for those viewers "into numbers" and implies that Patrick is one of them ... and in fact implies it in a manner that suggests Patrick's significant other reads books of statistics to him in a husky voice in bed. Patrick only eggs him on, of course. Todd, don't encourage him.
--Lester's good work gives Auburn 2nd-and-9 on the Tide 26, and an ingeniously designed play sees Stewart pop wide open over the middle of the field with nothing but wide open spaces in front of him. All Cox has to do is AAAARRRRGGGHHH. Seriously: AAAARRRRGGGHHH. Cox misses the sure TD by yards. Brandon, please, please find a way to win this game. Because otherwise we're all going to remember this play for a lot longer than we like ...http://www.blogger.com/post-create.g?blogID=20559458
Blogger: The Joe Cribbs Car Wash - Create Post
-- ... especially when Byrum misses from 43. DAMMIT. Oh well, bright side, after the slippery-slope way the first half ended Auburn's at least regained their footing.
--Hoo boy, it's time to break out the evilly satisfied cackles, because this is the sort of sequence I love to see from the Tide: 3rd-and-2, they hand off to Coffee, who trips and falls a half-yard short without so much having been looked at crossly by anyone in navy. Then King Crimson decides that his offense isn't to be trusted to try and pick up even the pittance required for the fourth and punts like the NFL-bred, risk-makes-me-break-out-in-hives coachbot he is. Yes, it's on the Tide 36, but it's not like Auburn's offense has been a machine and more importantly, you would think four straight losses this year and five straight in this series would call for just the slightest bit of aggression, the smallest what-have-you-got-to-lose gamble. But no. It's a determinedly Shulaesque call for what has been a Shulaesque season, and I can't say I've been more confident about how this game will end at any point as I am when Saban sends the punt team out here.
--Not that I'm terribly fond of the decision-making on Auburn's sideline on their ensuing possession. On 3rd-and-2 they motion the backfield empty and have Cox roll out immediately, not even making a pretense the play might be a run. Predictably, Cox's two options are both blanketed and the pass falls incomplete. If you're going to throw on short yardage, why not at least make the defense worry about the run? As sharp as Borges' call as the shoulda-been-TD was, that's how dull this one was. Auburn punts.
--If there's any condolence to Cox's flip-of-a-coin consistency, it's that Sarah Jessica Parker Wilson has devolved into more than his match. Bama takes over at their own 25 and a perfectly thrown third-down out by Wilson to Stover gets them to midfield. On Bama's next third down, on Auburn's 41, Wilson has an open Hall on a crossing route and throws it a full yard both behind him and over his head. As an Auburn fan, I have to offer my sympathies as Hall flails for the pass, gets upended by Wilhite in the effort, and hobbles off. (Of course, said sympathies are delivered with a hearty LOLZ. Mmmm, schadenfreude.) Bama skillfully punts the ball out-of-bounds at the Auburn 7.
--Auburn looks as though they'll get out of the hole when Cox finds Billings in space on 3rd-and-6. Billings crosses the marker with ease. Then Billings hops backwards to the other side of the marker in an effort to get to the corner. Then Billings gets tackled a yard shy of the first down. Then Auburn fans everywhere call Billings a variety of unfortunate names. Honestly, Montez, what the hell? WHAT THE HELL?
--Oh well, the Tide run into Shoemaker to return the "stop deep in opponent's half guaranteeing good field position undone by moronic mistake in ill-advised attempted punt block" favor Auburn handed them in the first half. Tate rushes for 18 on the next snap and even though the drive ends on a pass to Billings for 6 when Auburn needs 7, Shoemaker punts from the Auburn 48 rather than the 16 ... a difference that becomes even more significant when Caddell (filling in for the injured Lowe) decides it's a good idea to prove his worthiness for the job by catching the ball on the Tide five. It squirts out of his hands and goes out at the 1. Fortunate as the Tide are it doesn't roll out on the other side of the goalline (there by becoming a safety), this is a 92-yard switch of field position. In a game where the two teams combine for only 507 offensive yards ... yeah, that's a big, big deal.
--Still, the nerves are starting to wear a bit thin, as it's the ...

Fourth quarter

--and the Iron Bowl is 15 minutes away from being decided and it's still a three-point game. Auburn has been better. But better means nothing if it comes down to a single play. C'mon, Tigers. Let's get this done. You've got to.
--Holly reports that Hall is not taking the field for this Tide possession due to not being "full speed," the Tide coaching staff's polite way of saying that this game he has not been "any good." Bama doesn't get past the six and punts.
--Over the break we're treated to Todd's Taste of the Town, which I'm sort of interested in for the first time this season, as I'm curious to know what they picked out to represent Auburn. Todd ends up at Byron's Smokehouse, which isn't a bad choice at all, though I'm partial to Niffer's myself, having waited tables there for a while and selfishly hoping my little duct-taped covered fish would sneak into the camera over Todd's shoulder. (Assuming the fish are still hanging there at all. For all I know it's been turned into a Ruby Tuesday's by now. Sigh.) What little good will I have for the feature vaporizes anyway as we get a clip of Todd chewing and mumbling "this is how we roll" before coming back to the game and finding we've missed an entire play. Die, ESPN, die.
--Auburn takes over at their 46 and picks up one first down before two Cox incompletions force a punt from the Bama 37 Shoemaker can't pin any deeper than the 12. Bah. Three plays later Bama's got a first down out at their 43. Double bah.
--Fortunately, it just wouldn't be the Iron Bowl these days without Quentin Groves mauling some hapless Tide lineman and storming in to cause havoc. He doesn't get the sack here, but he forces Wilson into a no-hope pass on 3rd-and-12, giving Auburn the ball again. (Note that the 3rd-and-12 was created by a) Sims forcing Andre Smith into a hold, no mean feat and b) a daring, damn-the-torpedoes run up the middle on 2nd-and-16 in the fourth quarter of the biggest game of the year.)
--Hard to say Dunn has had much of a year returning punts, but--yes! Go, Dunn! Go!--he picks out the best possible time to uncork his best return of the year, going 31 yards to the Tide 44. Hooray for timing!
--44 yards to go to what ought to be the death blow, with just 8:48 left at the drive's start and the Tide still having yet to put together a single scoring drive that hasn't been aided by a 2006 Wake Forest-level of luck. So: Lester for five. Lester for one. 3rd-and-4 ... and Lester apparently had Plastic Man for a grandfather or something, because he squeezes through a crease so small on a sweep left it makes sense now he went with that nice, skinny "1" rather than sticking with a two-digit jersey number. Anyways: seven yards! First down!
--An offsides (LOLZ) and a one-yard plunge bring Auburn to the 25, where it's time for another Cole Bennett Sighting (!), to the tune of 11 yards. Tate loses two on the subsequent first down, though, and on second Cox is flushed and throws incomplete ... but there's a flag? Roughing the passer! The replay shows that, um, well, Keith Saunders did make some contact with Cox well after the pass was thrown and did lower his helmet a bit as he approached ... but yeah, Cox made the most of it, yeah, it's soft. But yeah, after the Tide's touchdown drive, I don't think the other side have any room for complaint. Regardless, it's first down. 8 yards to go.
--Lester for 6. Lester for two, TOUCH- ... wait, under review, and it's not even close. Ball correctly on the half-yard line and you know what? I think that's a blessing in disguise as it lets Auburn run another 35 seconds off the clock before Cox sneaks over the for the TOUCHDOWN! 17-7 with only 3:58 left and it's going to take one hell of a collapse for Auburn to lose this one.
--A successfully executed squib kick from Byrum (well, Wes, better late than never, for sure, but you really couldn't have pulled this off against LSU? I promise I'll let it go one of these years) puts Bama at the 27, so that's one bullet dodged. --Wilson's coin comes up heads for a few plays and he finds Hall of all people on three straight completions. Sims doesn't help matters by jumping offsides, but at least he gets hims money's worth by dumping the Tide's Cardwell directly on his ass. It's an almost irrelevant play--5 yards when the Tide need two scores in less than four minutes is inconsequential--but to me, this is the game in a nutshell. Neither side has been precise; neither side has equaled its performances from earlier this season. But Auburn has at the very least been physical, been aggressive. Even when they've jumped offsides, they've made sure Alabama's suffered something for it. And it's been enough to lead 17-7, and looks very likely to be enough to win a sixth straight ... you know what, best not to jinx it just yet.
--Bama ekes out a first down on a 4th-and-1 at the Auburn 32. D'oh. On first down Wilson goes deep over the middle, it's incomplete, and yes, this is the dog play. It's all been said by now, but the idea that a dog of that kind of WHERE'S SOMEBODY TO BITE GIMME SOMEONE TO BITE HEY YOU temperament should be anywhere near a college football sideline is absolutely freaking ridiculous. I hope its handler gets phone-answering duty back at the office during every game at Jordan-Hare for the next 10 years. Unbelievable.
--Auburn forces two more incompletions as Groves breaks in again and Wilson comes up tails. Seems a good place to note that Auburn's front seven has been tremendous all game: Groves, Marks, Sims, and Thompson have been close to unstoppable and Blackmon has been the all-over-the-field terror we imagined him being all season. Major, major kudos.
--I know the Tide have to get points, but I'm still stunned Saban sees them as more likely to come via a 49-yard Tiffin attempt than a potential conversion on 4th-and-10. I mean, 49 yards! Tiffin shows me, though, nailing it down the middle.
--So will the Tide kick away or go onsides? With 2:11 to play they choose the latter and it's the best Cole Bennett Sighting! yet as he covers it up with ease. One first down and it's over.
--Lester for 3. (More evidence Auburn's been the more intense team: Cox jumps up in Rolando McClain's face when he damn near pulls Lester's head off trying to cause a fumble after the whistle.) Lester for 5. Stewart for 1. 4th-and-1, and rather than try to pin Bama deep, Auburn hands it to Lester for the win. He's got the first, he's got seven, he pushes forward for 12! That's it!
--Six in a row! SIX! War Eagle!
--Cue the requisite shots of everyone's six fingers in the air, Tubby celebrating with Nall, pandemonium in the stands. Cox kneels, the seconds tick off ... it's over! Pardon the liberal use of exclamation points in this post, but these are the sort of moments that demand them. The Iron Bowl is Auburn's for another year, the sixth straight one.

WAR DAMN EAGLE!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Fear the Index Finger on the Opposite Hand: Iron Bowl recap, half the first

First: I apologize for the hiatus.

Second, yes, I know we were just a couple demons short of all hell breaking loose since the last time I posted anything of any length--thank goodness Crowley set his alarm for p.m. instead of a.m.--but there's already well-written opinion out there on all of that. There's no JCCW-style snarky recap of the Iron Bowl, though, is there? So now that I've finally managed to crawl out of the rubble of the past few weeks and dust myself off a bit, that's what you're getting. "Playing to my strengths," and whatnot. Enjoy.




Pregame

--Mike Patrick's wretched and unholy rasp welcomes us to Jordan-Hare. Goodness gracious sakes alive, I cannot stand this man. You know the old line about, um, not relieving one's self on a given person if they were on fire? It's close, but I wouldn't say that about Patrick. I'd gladly relieve myself on him, actually.
--ESPN's intro features a pair of "House Divided" couples who robotically "trash talk" each other about former Iron Bowls as a way of showing all the usual requisite series highlights ("Punt Bama Punt" is of course still goose-bump inducing and should be watched once a day by everyone everywhere, while Van Tiffin's kick is more played out than "Let Her Cry" was in the summer of '94). Unfortunately, ESPN doesn't show us the outtakes, which I imagine would have gone something like this:

HUSBAND: Hey, remember 2003, when Cadillac went crazy?
WIFE: Actually, I remember 2003 quite clearly. You had those idiot frat friends of yours from school over, you all got piss drunk, and at the end of the game they threw our new deck furniture over the rail in "celebration" and the table smashed. 500 bucks down the tube, Ray. 500 bucks. I'm serious, I'd give my left arm for an Alabama win tonight, Ray, just so I'd have the satisfaction of knowing those losers would be crying into their Bud Lights tonight. I can't believe you still talk to those guys. God, don't, don't even look at me.
HUSBAND: *long pause* ... um ... hey, remember 1993?
WIFE: *tears "House Divided" flag down, attempts to shove it down HUSBAND's throat*
ESPN DIRECTOR: Cut!

--Patrick asks Blackledge to comment on the emotion of rivalry games, which he says Blackledge knows all about from playing in the Penn St.-Pitt series, a rivalry so intense and important to both schools it hasn't been played since 2000. Way to work your audience, Patrick.
--I will never, ever get tired of Tubby linking arms with the players and walking out of the Fog of Intimidation. It perfectly straddles the line between being gag-inducingly corny and the very best kind of earnest, unironic gesture, all while doubling as charming bread-and-circuses spectacle. Kind of like all of college football, really, not to make too much of a big deal about it.
--ESPN decides the best way to get their viewers pumped for kickoff is to show us Perry Farrell, Kelly Rowland, and 50 Cent singing "Celebrate" on a glammed-up New York stage. Because if there's anything that screams "it's time for the biggest college football game of the year in Alabama," it's definitely Perry Farrell, Kelly Rowland, and 50 Cent singing "Celebrate" on a glammed-up New York stage. (And while we're here, it seems like just yesterday I was jamming to my "Pets" cassingle in my bedroom ... what the hell happened, Perry?)
--Patrick says the War Eagle circling the stadium is the SEC tradition that "touches him the most." That should be endearing, but instead I just find myself thinking "Well, at least something's willing to touch him."

First quarter

--One of the few players on the Tide's offense I'm genuinely worried about is D.J. Hall, who's an All-American talent when he has his head screwed on straight. Fortunately, based on the evidence of Alabama's first pass--a third-and-short dart Eric Brock deflects away after Hall never even turns his head, apparently deep in contemplation of the Monty Hall paradox--Hall's head has apparently been screwed on haphazardly. Goodie. Bama punts.
--It takes precisely one Auburn snap (Lester off-tackle for five) for Alabama to see one of the starters on their depleted defense limp off the field, in this case Rashad Johnson. Yes, I think it's safe to say that the game could have started just a wee bit brighter for them, especially after ...
--a Cole Bennett sighting! On back-to-back plays, no less! It's like watching the offense I imagined in my head in the pre-season. That gives Auburn a 4th-and-inches at the Bama 30, and Cox sneaks across for the first as Patrick calls him "Casey Cox" without correction. (Though somewhere Courtney Taylor is saying "You know it could be worse, right?")
--Alabama might have more success trying to stop Chinese contributions to global warming than they've had stopping Auburn on the sweep right this drive. After Cox's sneak Lester and Tate go right three times to put the ball on the Tide 11 and two Tae runs up the middle later it's an Auburn TOUCHDOWN! That was suspiciously like the offense we saw against Florida and LSU, which makes me suspiciously optimistic for the remainder of the game.
--ESPN gives us a satellite shot of Auburn and Alabama fans watching the game while stationed at the same military base in Iraq, which is a great move to begin with, but I can't help but get a kick out of the guy holding up a sign reading "www.jodyfuller.com." I'm a total sucker for stunts like that, so I log on after the game to find out Fuller's a stand-up comic from Opelika in the National Guard whose routine is based around his struggles with a stutter. Whoa! Let's get Holly Rowe on that story, huh fellas?
--Bama gets one first down on their next possession, but then Marks flattens Wilson as he throws incomplete on 1st-and-10 and on 3rd-and-eight Marks and Sims bury Wilson beneath, like, 500 pounds of angry Tiger. I'm confused ... aren't aging hippies and the like always saying that flashbacks are a bad thing? Because I'm totally flashing back to 2005 right now and I'm enjoying the hell out of it. Weird. Anyways, Bama punts.
--Cox throws an out-and-out strike over the middle to Smith for 32 yards. Seriously, to this point this game has been like injecting a liquid distillation of "Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows" directly into my veins. I've loved every second.
--Of course, three plays later Cox throws it right in Simeon Castille's hands and Fannin has to make a great play to disrupt the interception. I swear, remember when Spurrier was rotating two QB's in and out every play? I think Good and Evil Brandon have been somehow doing the same thing this season without anyone noticing. The incompletion leads to a Byrum field goal, and the good news is that it's 10-0 and Bama has 11 yards in two possessions to this point. w00t.
--Of course, whenever things are going well for 2007 Auburn, we know what's coming, don't we? Javier Arenas is out injured, thank the heavens, and Auburn still gives up a 41-yard kickoff return by Lowe to midfield. Because we really wanted to give a sputtering Tide offense that kind of kickstart. Cripes.
--It's 3rd-and-3 for Bama on the Auburn 46 and Groves and Blackmon are breathing down Wilson's neck when he tosses it in Hall's general direction and Wilhite is handed an interference flag I'll be generous and call "questionable." As Patrick and Blackledge debate the call an angry voice on the Auburn sideline comes across yelling "That ball's uncatchable! That ball's uncatchable!" clear as an invisible bell. ESPN gets off profanity-free this time, but you'd think they'd have learned their lesson about mics near the Auburn sideline, no?
--Bama false starts for what seems like the fourth time already and Blackledge says the Tide needs to "hold their water." Hey Todd, Driving Miss Daisy called, it said it wants its vaguely racist anachronisms back. (ZING!)

Second quarter

--Wilson rushes for seven yards on 3rd-and-8, fumbles, and then recovers two yards downfield for the first. The Tide then grinds Coffee (sorry) for three rushes down to the 1. On fourth down Wilson bobbles the snap and sort of leans into the line. His forward progress appears stopped almost immediately. The bodies are squeezed around him like sardines playing a game of "Sardines." God and God alone knows whether the ball has crossed the plane. And then approximately six minutes later, the line judge comes in to call it a touchdown. Whatever. Between this call, the bobble that could have sprung free, Wilson's fumble-for-a-first, and the Wilhite flag, it's safe to say there are teams made up exclusively of leprechauns that haven't had drives this lucky. The breaks will come back the other way.
--Sure enough, during the official review of Wilson's sneak, ESPN mics pick up someone (possibly the same guy) on AU's sideline scream "What the f***!" a couple of times. It's not like they haven't been warned. Sic 'em, FCC!
--As Alabama prepares to kick off, Holly Rowe tells us about aging Alabama superfan Dick Coffee, who's attended every Alabama game since 19-dickety-two. No word from Holly on whether Glen Coffee is his long-lost illegitimate grandson and whether they're going to have a tense and ultimately teary reunion afterwards, which is too bad.
--Tommy Trott seals his man perfectly on Auburn's first play of their ensuing possession, springing Tate for 28 yards to midfield. When Tommy Trott is making perfect seal blocks for 28-yard gains, yes, it's fair to say things are going well for this offense. It's also fair to say the area's farmers should start checking their hogs for wings and any evidence of flight. Despite Cox missing a wide-open Hawthorne down the sideline, the Tigers churn their way down to the Tide 26.
--Of course, as soon as I dare think the word "churn" or praise Trott's blocking, two hideous sacks perfectly emblematic of the last two seasons of the Cox era bump Auburn back to the 44. Then Shoemaker "skillfully" "pins" Alabama "deep" with a 22-yard "punt" at the ... 22. Four yards from Auburn's deepest penetration. What a waste.
--A discussion of the nation's top rivalries has Blackledge call Ohio St.-Michigan the best rivalry in "the Northeast." Yes, because when I think of the "Northeast" and its preppy boarding schools, lobstermen, Revolutionary War history, and Ivy League schools, the first state that comes to mind is Ohio.
--After the "punt," Wilson apparently mistakes his receiver for Bill Brasky on third down and fires many, many feet high. Fortunately for the Tide, Fannin runs into punter P.J. Fitzgerald. Four plays later, the Tide's Nick Walker gets popped and drops a 20-yard pass. But fortunately for the Tide, he drops it directly onto his foot, enabling him to corral it before it hits the ground. Surely, surely, Alabama has already exhausted their quota of plays that cause me to write "Fortunately for the Tide," right?
--Yep, the pendulum finally swings the other way as Leigh Tiffin honks a 44-yarder after Blackmon had made a couple of good plays to stop the drive. HA-ha! Still, I'm nervous: Auburn's been the better team, but it's a three-point game, Alabama's started moving the ball, and they have the momentum.
--Which is why when Auburn faces a subsequent 3rd-and-8 with 1:10 left in the half, the one thing they cannot afford to have happen here is a Cox interception. I'm begging you, Brandon: check down, take a sack, throw it away, whatever you do, don't throw an interception now.

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He throws an interception. DAMMIT TO HELL, COX. He's also hurt, which tones down the anger from "murderous rage" to "rage" but also makes me even more fearful for the way this game is progressing. "Hurt's" in the IV now, and I don't like it at all.
--D.J. Hall and Jerraud Powers to the rescue! Wilson tosses it up nicely into the end zone on 3rd-and-2 and it looks like an easy catch for Hall, who bobbles it just long enough for Powers to grab it and get his feet in for the pick. YES! Whew! At first it looks like a straight-up drop from Hall, but on super-slo-mo I think Powers reaches and gets just the slightest fingertip on the ball as Hall tries to bring it in. Nonetheless Hall should have made the play and after feeling resentful not very long ago that Bama was as close as 10-7, I now feel very fortunate Auburn's even going in at the half with a lead. Quite the momentum swing there.
--Before Auburn runs out the clock, ESPN's crack research team provides the answer to the AFLAC Trivia question, "Name the only Auburn quarterback to beat Alabama three times." The answer is "Jason Campbell -- 2003, 2004, 2005." Campbell graduated in 2004, guys.
--Have I mentioned that I have ... well, it's not really a crush on Holly Rowe. I wouldn't call it that. Nope, not a crush. But I think she'd be cool to hang out with. Let me explain: as Tuberville comes off the field he says that the offense "shut it down" in the second quarter. Most sideline reporters would leave it at that, but Holly asks Tubby "How did you shut it down?" and he explains that they struggled with corner blitzes and makes another couple of brief points. And voila, it's a sideline interview that didn't completely suck. See, I think if you're at a dinner party or you're with a big group of people hanging out at a bar, you want Holly Rowe there. Someone would make some off-hand comment about, say, being embarrassed in seventh grade, and Holly would go all professional and get them to open up about it, and the next thing you know everyone's sharing funny stories about stupid stuff they did in school and laughing and having a good time and hey, it's thanks to all ace sideline reporter Holly Rowe. Also, I think if she'd had a few you might get some good dirt on Patrick we could use to blackmail ESPN into getting Ron Franklin back for these games. Of course, maybe all of that's just me. OK, it's just me.

Coming soon: half the second. And yes, I really do mean it's coming soon. I'm back.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Still on the hamster wheel

So for the last several days it's felt like my legs have been spinning like freaking Scooby Doo's--seriously, like, I've been working hard enough that I sort of drift backwards before suddenly spurting forward, or something--and to be honest, I'm not sure it's going to be much better until the weekend. If anything massive happens on the Tubby front, there will be a quick post a la last Thursday's (which, aside from neglecting to clarify that I still do expect Tubby to be on Auburn's sideline next year, I stand by despite its unpopularity in the comments and elsewhere), but otherwise, it'll be Saturday at the earliest.

Which sucks, sucks, sucks. To baldly understate things, the weeks following the Iron Bowl and during which our coach and administration appear to be squabbling like nine-year-olds in the back seat of a long car trip ("Mom, Coach Tuberville's making faces at me! Make him stop!") are not the time to go AWOL. I know that. I apologize to all the nice people who have supported this blog this season (or ones who have just started stopping by recently) who I know have been checking in only to repatedly see no new content. But it can't be helped.

One thing I will say before going: I'm happy to have Auburn in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, if for no other reason than because there's no possible way I can watch that many ads for Chick-Fil-A and go without eating about three-and-a-half Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwiches, no pickle. It's not gonna happen. The closest Chick-Fil-A to Ann Arbor (I have it on good authority) is in Toledo and I've been mulling over a run down there for months ... and now I finally have the perfect excuse to do so. I will have to have Chick-Fil-A during the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. It's that simple, thank goodness.

If you'd gone more than a year without one of these, you'd feel the same way.

Friday, November 30, 2007

BLEARRGGH

So I have another long day at the job in a week full of them, come home to have one beer and watch just a bit of hoops and do my usual quick sweep of the college Interwebs before hitting the sack, and AW DAMMIT NOT THIS AGAIN, DAMMIT TO HELL.

Major tip of the hat to commenter Lovecrafty for the pic, a response to this post. I'm still in love with it, but boy, that "kthxbai" has taken on a sudden new twist in these last few hours, huh?

Seriously, WTF? The Arkansas media say it's a done deal and the Auburn media aren't even really trying to hide the fact they think the other side's full of it.

I've already said I don't fault Tubby for treating the AU gig as, well, a gig, and applying a little bit of Sexton-fueled leverage in the "Look at me! I'm the prettiest girl at the cotillion! Now, which of you dashing young suitors would like to buy me a drink?" vein isn't too far out of line.

But now, now I'm pissed. Whatever the good soldiers at al.com might say and whatever the ultimate outcome is--no one but Tubby and the dead animal he's going to whisper the truth to in the Arkansas woods tomorrow morning are going to know for sure until he's at a press conference podium--there's way, way too much smoke here for there to be no fire whatsoever. Tubby's talked to Arkansas. There have been discussions of a serious nature. I would guess he's gone far enough to get an offer he's going to bring home to wave in Jacobs face and say "You gonna match this or not?" I don't think Tubby's gone home with Arkansas just yet, but it looks to me he's been accepting their drinks, laughing too hard at their dumb jokes, and dragged them onto the dance floor for a song or two. If he comes back, I'm sure Tubby will tell us he's just having a bit of fun, just picking up a raise and some facility promises, that's all. It don't mean nothin', baby. Arkansas's just some team that happened to be there.

And in the meantime we Auburn fans are sitting on the couch at home with our laptops, checking our watches, brushing our teeth, telling ourselves we'll wait up one more hour and see what happens. It's 11:53 in Ann Arbor. I'm kinda nervous and it's going to take a while to go to sleep. If this is the way it's going to be, if this is how Tommy Tuberville's going to treat an Auburn community that's demanded multiple times he get whatever he feels is coming to him, I'm not sure any more how much I even want him to come home.

(Also, it has to be said, screw Bobby Lowder for making Auburn the sort of place Tubby would consider leaving in the first place.)

UPDATE: If it's true neither Tubby nor Sexton nor anyone associated with our coach has had any contact with the Hogs, as he claimed via Marshall's cell this a.m., then consider this post redacted. But I doubt that's been the case. He played with fire in this case and his program's taken a serious burn. We'll see.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bad day

For starters, the number of legit threats in the SEC West now equals those in the East, minimum. And if Sylvester Croom's apparent investment in rabbits' feet, horseshoes, and leprechaun detectors pays off for a second year (despite evidence that his offense still isn't nearly good enough for long-term progress) and Bobby Johnson continues to inspire posts like these, perhaps there's more, in fact. A wizened scrapper like Nutt in charge of the talent Coach O assembled in Oxford is not good news for Auburn, not good news at all. Nutt's a gas and all, but I wanted him coaching someone on Auburn's schedule Never rather than friggin' yearly.

Har har har, isn't he crazy, ho ho ho, that Nutt's so funny, yuk yuk yuk ... Look, it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye gets run over by the likes Matt Jones or Cedric Cobbs or Humanity Advanced to the tune of 700 yards or so.

So that was disappointing. Today has also, again, been sadly less than fruitful in the blogging-about-the Iron Bowl arena and I ask for your patience. Things will be done when they're done, I guess. I'll try to make it worth the wait.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Much ado about substantially less than nothing



So how determined was the Texas A&M administration to corral their reported "No. 1" candidate, Tommy Tuberville, for their football coaching vacancy? So determined, bound, heels-dug-in, won't-take-no-for-an-answer that they waited an entire weekend, like 36 whole hours, begging Tubby to come and save the Aggies before, faced with no other choice, they had to mournfully settle for "second" option Mike Sherman.

Cripes. What a tempest in a teapot small enough to fit inside a second, normal-sized teapot. (See, making the first one ... you know what, that wasn't my best analogy ever, let's just move on.) A&M committed so fast they should have held their press conference at a Las Vegas wedding chapel (ZING!). Bottom line: they never really gave a crap about Tubby and Jimmy Sexton has been laughing his gold-plated ass off for weeks watching the media follow his trail of bread crumbs. Spencer Tillman and Spencer Tillman's eyeshadow must be so embarrassed right now. Of course, he can always just start making up houses for Tubby outside of Fayetteville now. Maybe he'll give one of them some nice hand-painted shutters. I bet Tubby'd appreciate that.

All right, obviously I've still got a book to write on the beautiful, beautiful game Auburn played last Saturday (including a recap, scheduled for late this week) but it'll have to wait. Life, etc. Back tomorrow.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Won



Fear the Index Finger on the Opposite Hand.

Honestly? After the debacle against Georgia two weeks ago, I wasn't expecting it to feel this good.

But oh, for now, all is forgiven. Give Tubby whatever he needs and a pony. Ready the bronze for the Cox bust and the marble for the pedestal and square off the necessary area in Foy. Someone send Lester and Tate each one of those baskets of sausage and cheese, like, the hugest ones in the world.

Auburn has defeated Alabama six times in a row, six straight years, six consecutive seasons. Every way you say it is poetry.

War Damn Eagle.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Win

Go Tigers. Beat Alabama. Win, Auburn.

Please. Win.



Win, because my grandfather and so many other grandfathers have waited a lifetime, waited so many long years in orange-and-blue sweatshirts and Auburn caps with flat bills, waiting to watch Auburn defeat Alabama for a sixth consecutive year.

Win, because all things long to become something more than they are, even toilet paper; it dreams of flight.



Win, because there are children old enough to care who have never watched Auburn lose the Iron Bowl and their innocence is beautiful.

Win, because I want so badly to remember Brandon Cox as a quarterback made of heart who fought a debilitating muscle disease step-by-brutal-step all the way to three victories over the Crimson Tide, and as nothing else, nothing.



Win, because after you had torn Alabama to quivering pieces in 2005, the man with the crimson tie in my office told me with an utterly straight face that if the early second-half safety the officials could have called had been called, Alabama would have won the game; win because the Auburn fans still working in that office and in so many other offices should not be left to work alongside such willful, delirious ignorance given over to celebration.

Win, because while other mascots paw restless in cages and or lie fat on the ground or fail to exist, ours soars across the blue sky underneath the orange sun and reminds us all of what glory looks like, and that should be worth something, damn it.



Win, because the people of the state of Alabama should not be taught again that $4 million will buy happiness.

Win, because when Quentin Groves and Cole Bennett and Eric Brock and King Dunlap and Patrick Lee and Josh Thompson and Jonathan Wilhite and God bless him Carl Stewart leave the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium for the final time, they deserve to leave winners, leave without knowing the worst defeat, leave with a clean table in the restaurant's corner and a free cold beer on top of it waiting for them forever.



Win, because idiots root for our team, too, idiots who will otherwise tell Tommy Tuberville not to let the door hit him and no one should have to listen to them, least of all Tommy Tuberville.

Win, because our side has won 32 times; their side has won 38 times; and another victory means our side is six wins from telling their side all their trophies and all their rankings and all their bygone glories are mere pleasant consolation prizes to being the second-best college football team in their own great state.

Win, because I am a thousand miles away from my mother, my father, my brothers, and if we all share the joy of a victory over Alabama all those miles will feel like a walk to the corner.



So win for us.

Win for the 87,451 present whose hearts you hear.

Win for the countless elsewhere whose hearts go with you regardless.

Win for Auburn, power of Dixieland.

Win. Please. Win.



Go Auburn. Beat Alabama. Win the Iron Bowl.

WIN.

War Eagle!

Keeping Your Enemies Closer: a Q n' A with RollBamaRoll

Out-of-date, yes, but this is the "cooler" one if you ask me, not that it's cool or anything.

You may have heard from some of your Auburn friends that Alabama fans are all worm-eating Neanderthals without the slightest shred of intelligence and are incapable of making meaningful contributions to civilized society. Not true! Many of them can, with time, learn to walk upright, speak English, and even eat soup at high-society functions in a hilariously awkward manner.

I turns out a few of them can also write one of the SEC's and college football's flagship blogs, the indispensable RollBamaRoll. RBR is essential daily reading and the JCCW owes them a great big whopping debt for their consistent support of this site from damn near its get-go.

So it was the proverbial honor and privilege to exchange Q's and A's this week with RBR's Todd and OTS. Here's their Q's to my A's with my A's to their Q's coming later today over there. Enjoy.

1. Last year, as he carved up more than a few good defenses, I was genuinely frightened of what John Parker Wilson might become. Now, um, I think its the fans on your side who he's frightening (to say the least). Who or what do you blame for the regression? Coaching staff? Wilson himself? Voodoo curse? El Nino?


Todd: I'm sure it's a combination of the new staff, the new schemes, the notoriously mental nature of QBs, and a talented yet underachieving receiving corp not helping him with that last bit. Yeah, he looked good last year, but those schemes were idiot simple and all he had to do was go out there and run the play that was called by Shula. Now, with the new staff and new offense, he has a lot more responsibility. He's looked good in at times, and after his pretty good performance against Ole Miss and then the UT domination Applewhite made the comment that he had finally turned a corner in regards to understanding the offense and what they were doing with it.

Of course, he hasn't looked good since so, and I'm just guessing here, they probably put in more of the offense than they have before after the UT game thinking he could handle it, and he hasn't been able to really get it yet and either is too afraid to say so or the staff is willing to sink or swim believing he'll finally get it over the course of last few games.


OTS:

The regression, I hypothesize, is largely the result of two factors: (1) Wilson wasn't that good to begin with, and (2) the current offense is much more complicated than the scheme used by Shula and company. To expound upon that, Wilson got a lot of talk as being a "record-breaker" and while he was playing well in that sense -- throwing for a lot of yards, touchdowns, etc. -- it was because he was throwing a ton of passes (he shattered the Alabama single-season record for passes in 2006) and not necessarily because he was playing particularly well. Even though he was breaking records, he was still near the bottom in the SEC in terms of passer efficiency statistics, and that essentially tells the tale in that regard. The second part is that the current offense we have is much more complicated than the one from a year ago. In the Applewhite scheme, quarterbacks have much greater pre-snap responsibilities, and that is something Wilson has obviously struggled with. A year ago under Shula, Wilson did little more than run the play that was called, and those plays generally came out of run-heavy formations. This year we're spreading the field a lot more, giving him more pre-snap reads, making him responsible for audibles at the line of scrimmage, etc. The increased responsibilities has made his life much tougher.



2. Which of the 37 different tailbacks used by the Tide this season do you see getting the lion's share of carries Saturday? Which one would you personally prefer to get the most?


Todd: At this point, there's just no way to tell. Glen Coffee comes back from suspension, and he's a much better interior runner than either Grant or Lowe (Upchuch is injured, and Johns made an appearance against ULM, only to put the ball on the ground and end a promising scoring drive). Plus, he's a bigger, more physical back and therefor a better pass blocker, so he'll probably see more snaps than the others, though that's not to say the carries won't be a little more evenly split. It all really will come down to the game plan the staff has for the game, really. We haven't seen a lot of outside runs/tosses since the opener, and that's the kind of thing that both Grant and Lowe can excel at. They're both small, shifty guys, and running between the tackles just isn't something they can do, so if they want to get them outside or run more screens, then they're the guys. But since we're also getting a couple of good linemen back to aid in the power run game, they might just keep pounding the ball and in that case, Coffee is the man.


OTS:

I suppose I would go with Coffee simply because he gives you more of an inside presence than Grant or Lowe, but honestly it's hard to say. None of the tailbacks are particularly special, and honestly they are all pretty similar players. Again, I would go with Coffee, but really it's a difficult choice and there is no clear-cut favorite.


3. A freak Ouija board accident ends with you channeling the spirit of Daniel Moore for a few days. What Alabama play/scene/whatever do you choose to illustrate? (Preferably something he hasn't illustrated already, though I know that limits your choices severely.) And why?


Todd: I'll limit myself to this season, and considering there haven't been a whole lot of highlights, I'll go with Matt Caddell's game winning TD catch against Arkansas. I'm sure he'll beat me to it, though.


OTS:

I would paint one of the scenes from the early Rose Bowls. That would be very unique and something quite different from what you usually get. Don't get me wrong, I love Daniel Moore but he gets a bit repetitive at times, and that would certainly fix that problem. If not that, I would love to see something that -- somehow, and I don't know how -- would capture the history of Legion Field.


4. Lost in the offense's Keystone Cops routine is that the Tide's defense has seemed to play over its head in several games this season. Give us Auburn fans a couple of unsung guys who are playing well on that side of the ball Borges will need to keep his eye on.


Todd: I was thinking about this the other day, about how the D seems to have really bought into Saban and the new staff's philosophy and played way above the level we thought they would while the offense, which we all expected to be explosive, has floundered, and I think it does come down to the idea that our players just don't have the kind of character it takes to do what they are supposed to every day, be it going to class and practicing hard, or playing every down like it's the game on the line no matter what the situation. Of course, the defensive players were almost exclusively the province of Joe Kines last year, and they understandably loved and respected him, while the offensive players were noticeably disrespectful and disdainful of Shula as the season wore on. That being said, I think anyone on the defense is someone that is capable of making a play and Borges needs to be aware of the group as a whole. They do play above where they should, and even though there have been some serious lapses over the course of the season, mostly those are due to the complexity of the defense and not guys taking plays off. If you press me for a name, though, I'd say Ali Sharrief, who moved to DB from RB this season and has seen a lot of time as a nickelback. He's athletic, runs to the ball, and he can tackle.


OTS:I'm not sure we really have any "unsung" guys per se, simply because we don't have that many great players on the defensive side of the ball. Zeke Knight and Wallace Gilberry have played very well this year, but no one is surprised by them any more, and the same thing largely goes for Rashad Johnson. It's a tough question because anyone truly that good is not usually unsung, but if I were pressed I would likely say Kareem Jackson. He was a lightly recruited military school graduate who has really came in and played great football all year long. The truth of the matter is that Jackson is the best cornerback we have on the entire roster -- sorry, Simeon, it's true -- and you should keep your eye on him. He just doesn't get much attention because he was lightly recruited and because he is a true freshman.


5. The effect of the U-LM loss on the Tide has been sort of indirectly debated amongst Auburn bloggers this week. (I don't see it making any difference, the only potential exception being in the event the Tide fall behind big and decide they're best off letting the season die a natural death.) What sort of impact, if any, do you see it having on the team's preparation and performance Saturday?


Todd: You know, I just couldn't say right now. I want to believe that this is the kind of humiliation and kick in the pants these guys needed and it will turn things around enough for them to go out and play like they can, but on the other hand, the issue of character has really raised it's ugly head and this game is kind of a referendum on what kind of kids we have at Alabama.


OTS:This is, of course, the $64,000 question, and I'm not even going to feign that I have a legitimate answer to it. Logically speaking, of course, the ULM loss should piss off our guys to no end, and they should show up ready to play and earn some redemption. That said, the harsh truth is that we have a lot of guys on our team that, being quite frank, don't seem to care and aren't apparently willing to put in the work needed to win. So, I think, valid arguments can be made either way that we will pack it in or that we will come out fired up and ready to play. One way or the other, we just don't know. We can debate this one until we're blue in the face, but until the ball is put into play on Saturday night, you just don't know.


6. Do you see any huge go-for-broke surprises from Saban and Co. this game? He doesn't seem the type to bank on trick punts and flea flickers or, I don't know, coming out the locker room with white helmets with crimson numbers or something, but this would seem to be the time.


Todd: I highly doubt it. If the staff sees something in the film of Auburn that they can take advantage of like the onside kick against UT, then they'll try it, but as for crazy new formations we haven't seen before and trick plays, that's just not Saban's personality. He's the type of guy that wants to line up and beat you with fundamentals and conditioning, and the idea of resorting to "trickery" to win ball games probably rankles the man's nose.


OTS:You may see something, but I doubt it. As you correctly observed, trick plays are not generally something Saban uses, though he has used it at times in the past. I say you see a conventional attack from us, no tricks up our sleeves for the most part. I know it's the Iron Bowl and we need a win, but that doesn't mean you change your preferred method of attack just to mix things up.


7. My brilliant--brilliant!--insight tells me this game hinges on which team can get the run established and keep from having to lean on their "quarterback" to complete their "passes." Quickly size up which side is more likely to move the ball on the ground consistently.


Todd: I think both teams are going to have a hard time in this game. We don't move the ball well against good d-lines (though with Glenn Coffee returning and the return of a couple of starting o-linemen we might change that), and we've got both speed and size in the linebacking corp to stop Auburn's rushing attack. This could very well be the sloppiest, boringest Iron Bowl we'll all ever witness (No way it's worse than the 9-0 slog in 2000, please pretty please?--Ed.), but I do imagine that Brad Lester will probably come out pretty well in this one.


OTS: Auburn is traditionally a very good running team under Tuberville, but they haven't been all of that great this year, and the talent level seems to have dropped off both up front in the big uglies and in the backs as well. On the other hand, Alabama counters with a very stiff run defense -- largely in part to the smallest linebacker being around 240 pounds -- and only Darren McFadden has been able to have success running the ball on us this year. On the other hand, Alabama doesn't have great tailbacks and has struggled to run the ball as of late, but we do get two starting linemen back and the team's best interior runner, so that should help things. Of course, though, Auburn counters with a very stout run defense that will make life difficult for my beloved Tide. In all honesty, I see both teams struggling to run the football, and weird as it may be -- and the weather may change this -- I think it may come down to which quarterback can most efficiently throw the football.


8. How much does both a) you b) your average rational Tide fan really want this one? I realize it's been a rough couple of weeks and a win would help immensely, but given that tons of Shula's guys clearly aren't getting on board with Saban, the recruiting class he's got coming in, the Vols' pelts already on the wall, and that the Music City is the best possible bowl scenario, I have to think the focus is somewhat already on next season. Then again, it's Auburn.


Todd: Yeah, sadly we're all looking forward to next season already (God I can't wait 'til that changes), but it is the Iron Bowl, and we want a win. We want to see if these kids took a lesson from ULM, we want to solidify a bowl bid, and for God's sake we want a year of blessed peace from our Auburn fan friends and neighbors.


OTS:You definitely want to win for a variety of reasons, but I'm not going to freak out if we lose. As you correctly pointed out, we have a lot of the Club Shula guys not buying in, and it will take time to sort those out. This is Saban's first year, and if we go 6-6 then so be it. I definitely want to win, of course, but it's ridiculous to let some first-year losses cloud the picture for what undoubtedly seems to be an extremely bright future under Saban, as you yourself admitted. I just hope we can win and hopefully we can get some momentum going into the 2008 season. But if not, oh well, we all knew it was going to be a long rebuilding process. I think after the Arkansas and Tennessee wins that some people felt that was less true, but it's going to be a long, hard road.


9. At least with Cox's struggles we can console ourselves with the fact that Rod Smith and Robert Dunn, while solid guys, aren't All-American receivers who Cox is hanging out to dry. (In fact, they could have done more this year to help him.) On the other hand, supposedly the understandable frustration between the Tide's clearly excellent receiving crew and Wilson isn't helping team chemistry right now. Any truth to that and do you blame Hall and Brown if that's the case?


Todd: You know, right now I'm not feeling all that sorry for DJ. This is a kid with all kinds of talent, but he's had off the field issues (suspended for the Cotton Bowl, last year's opener, a couple of times this year), has clearly given up on routes and taken plays off when he thought the ball wasn't coming his way, and has really let the team down when we needed his leadership on the field. As for the rest of the bunch, they've made some great plays, and I can understand their frustration at Wilson when they are wide open and he's throwing into triple coverage, but at the same time, they aren't perfect, and they haven't been as reliable as Hall in making great catches and generally being playmakers. So it's a two way street, really. Yeah, Wilson hasn't gotten the ball to guys he should have, but at the same time when he has gone their way they haven't been reliable about making those plays.


OTS:I doubt there is a whole lot of truth to that, honestly. The receiving corps, while very talented, has had some problems with suspensions and lack of effort, and it's not like Wilson has been the poster child for the ideal football player either. At this point, I think everyone is just frustrated that the production hasn't been there since the end of the Tennessee game. No one is perfect, and on the other hand no is completely innocent either. Wilson has been the major problem the overwhelming majority of time, but at times the receiving corps certainly hasn't helped.


10. So I made it pretty clear in a post this week I don't think a lot of Saban as a person--I think he's devoid of personality, not a nice guy, and a symbol of college football's increasing similarity to professional ball--though I should have clarified that I still fully believe he's a terrific college football coach who's going to have 'Bama competing for SEC West titles again soon. Do you care that Saban is, in the words of a Tide fan in that SI cover article, "a son of a bitch"? (Whoops, I relied on my memory of the article and screwed this up a bit. It's the LSU fan who calls him that initially.)Or about the 9-11 and Pearl Harbor references? Feel free to add any other responses to my post (if you feel it's worth responding to, that is).


Todd: You know, I have to object to your characterization of Saban as "devoid of personality." This is the guy that introduced "I don't have time for this shit, a'ight?" into the college football blogger lexicon, after all. I personally think of him as a sort of the loveable curmudgeon, the kind of guy that wants nothing more than to be left alone to coach football and yet there's always a reporter or a booster playing Dennis the Menace to his Mr. Wilson. And I kind of like that. We need a guy like that right now, someone who has a singular focus on building a great football team and program and could care less about what anyone else thinks or says about him. And really, I don't think that makes college football more like the pros. Yeah, his salary is more in line with an NFL coach than a college coach, but in reading interviews with him about why he came back to college, I liked his talk about how, in college ball, you can control your destiny better. If you have needs, you go out and recruit them, and you take those guys and you build them into great players and good people, and then you give them a reason to go out and play their hearts out for you and for their team. In the NFL, everyone's a hired gun and it's far more difficult to motivate players when they know they're going to get their paychecks and can always enter free agency if they don't like the staff. I like that kind of perspective on the differences between the two.


OTS:I didn't read your article, and without trying to be rude, I don't particularly care to do so. I really don't see how you can say that Saban is a bad person, especially considering that no one really knows the guy personally. Sure he's tough on the media, but to be quite frank I feel sorry for anyone who has to deal with reporters on a daily basis, and sports reporters are the worst of the worst. Aside from that, what has the guy done wrong? Sure, there was the whole "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach" thing, but that is something that nearly every major coach in the country has done at one time or another in their career. Fran said he wasn't leaving Alabama, Tuberville said he would only leave Oxford in a pine box, Miles adamantly denied meeting with LSU officials while he was in the middle of, you know, meeting with LSU officials, etc. Hell, Tuberville has again done the same thing for the past six weeks now with his coach-speak non-denials on rumors for the Texas A&M job. So what's wrong with Saban doing the same thing? At worst, he merely did something that happens all the time in the coaching profession, and it's wrong to single him out for criticism. What else is there to complain about? The "coonass" remark or the 9/11 "comparison"? Oh well, so the guy doesn't go nuts over trying to be politically correct, what of it? If being politically incorrect is the worst you can say about somebody, you don't have much bad to say.


The bottom line on Saban is that he is a tough and demanding disciplinarian who is not particularly fond of the ineptitude of reporters. I know we live in an age where everyone falls head over heels in love with the "player" coaches -- i.e. guys who let their players get away with damn near everything -- who constantly line up to kiss the media's butt with a smile, but simply because you do not fit that mold does not make you a bad person. He's tough, demanding, and he can be harsh at times. So be it. That doesn't make you a bad person. Far from it, most of the comments I've ever read from former players and coaches under Saban all say that while he was tough as could be on them, he was nevertheless a positive influence in their life and their career. That doesn't make him a bad person in my book, or anywhere near it.

So, I guess that's a "No?"

----------------------------------

Two very quick clarifications I think maybe should be made in this space: First, you can read more of Todd's thoughts on the 9/11 comments in an excellent post here, where my Saban post is described as an Auburn "rallying cry" which, yes, it is. But just for the record, it's not the 9/11 comments themselves that have me fired up; I just see them as the latest evidence Saban lives in a football-shaped bubble he'd like to keep the rest of the world out of. Todd would, evidently, agree with me on that point. To the Alabama blogger, this makes Saban lovable Mr. Wilson; to the Auburn blogger, it makes him an unfeeling coach-bot. Which is understandable and right, right?

Second, in the interest of full disclosure, I do take Saban's treatment of sports reporters seriously in part because, um, my day job is "sports reporter." I do my best to be rational and even-handed, but there's no use pretending that doesn't color my perception of Saban at least a little bit.

So, anyways, massive thanks to Todd and OTS for participating and best of luck to the Tide on Saturday. (By which I mean "May they have the maximum amount of luck necessary to lose by only 70 points," but you knew that.)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Tubby



Have to say, it's been an interesting few weeks watching Auburn's head coach perform the "Dance of the Reluctant Candidate" (one of the least popular and most rarely performed ballets of Tchaikovsky, a diehard Spartak fan), and by "interesting" I mean "increasingly troubling and depressingly predictable." Nothing that's happened so far in this saga has been surprising. Of course the national media plays the major coaching move card as often and as clumsily as possible; of course Tubby issues the classic "If you're asking whether I'm going to take that other job, why, I don't even know what you're talking about I've been so focused on beating Tennessee Tech" dodge in his effort to keep leverage; of course Auburn fans want the coach who just put together the best three-year stretch in program history to get his due; and of course just days later the combination of Tubby's continued let's-change-the-subject non-denial denials, demon in he shap of a pine box hanging over his left shoulder, and 25-point loss in a situation (road 'dog) he historically thrives in leads many of those same fans to angrily wish Tubby the best of luck in his new position if he wants it so friggin' bad. Jerk.

That talk has calmed down over the past few days with Tubby and Jay Jacobs apparently getting together to duet on REO Speedwagon songs and share a milkshake ... and with the focus naturally shifting from the coach involved to the game of some importance said coach will coach tomorrow.

The question is what prompted Tubby's change of tune, what took him from wriggling away from every attempt to pin him down like a wet bar of soap to saying the words "We're going to be at Auburn" in his press conference. None of this is accidental. Tubby didn't suddenly wake up at the beginning of the week and say "Oh, I thought I'd made myself clear about all that already. Guess I'd better just be a bit more straightforward."

Jay G. Tate called it PR-conscious "damage control." It's reasonable to think maybe Jacobs (or certain ethically-questionable trustees with their fingers on the pursestrings) let Tubby know through whatever channels get used for these things that his conditions are going to be met. It doesn't strike me as likely, but perhaps Tubby never really had the stomach for a battle, went ahead and threw in the towel, and added the "as long as they want us" as a qualifier in case Auburn stiffed him completely.

But the JCCW's take is that Tubby's new leaf is about his team. It's about this game, the one I feel he's had circled on his calendar since the day fall practice opened. He let his players twist for a while, trusted them to walk around for a few weeks getting asked "Hey, does your coach even want to stay here?" and stay focused enough to get it done in Athens. Maybe that had nothing to do with what happened there; maybe it did. With the Tide and the media's pre-season Chosen One now looming only a few days away, perhaps Tubby simply decided he couldn't hold out any longer, couldn't risk it having any bearing on Saturday.

I'm certain many Auburn fans would have preferred he didn't take those chances with the Georgia game, either. When Auburn is winning, it doesn't matter, but after a loss it comes down to the question Jay asked last week: does Tubby see Auburn as his final stop, the position and program that defines his career, as the job ... or just a job?

Honestly? I think it's somewhere in between. I think Tubby is happy. I don't think he wants to go anywhere for a while at least. But he's going to listen to other offers. He's going to angle for raises. He's going to consider leaving from time to time. To answer Jay's question, it's a job Tubby likes ... but yes, it's a job.

And I'm fine with that. I don't blame him for not wanting to get too attached to a program still lorded over by the same guy who provided the plane that flew to Louisville. I don't blame him for necessarily pushing for a salary closer to that of coach across the state. Don't blame him when no more than five or six of the top-25 have coaches committed and established enough that they couldn't/wouldn't dance the dance we've seen from Tubby.

So no, I don't care if it's just a job Tubby likes. All I want is for Auburn's coach to conduct himself and his program properly, show a little bit of a human side, and win.

That's the rub: at what point does Tubby treating it like a job hurt his ability to win? At what point is he putting his own concerns above those of the team? Because that's the point where I bail.

But based on Tubby starting this week--the most important of the season for his team--the way he did tells me we're not at that point yet. It will be nice to have Tubby around for another year (something I feel exceedingly confident saying we'll have), but it's even nicer having a coach who's not going to screw around, even if he might like to, with a game as like Saturday's, the one that colors and shades how we judge all the rest of them.

And it would be nicest having a coach who's beaten Alabama more times in a row than any other coach in Auburn's history. Go get 'em, Tubby. We're behind you.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Help out the actual Joe Cribbs



So many weeks ago, I got a very interesting e-mail. Turns out the good people at the Joe Cribbs Youth Foundation had stumbled upon the blog here.

Which I was glad for, of course, but at the same time was always something I'd felt a tad nervous about, to be perfectly honest. As long as I remained an upright blogger who wasn't posting the addresses of coaches with suggestions of things to do to their mailbox or ladies without their underclothes or ridiculous things like "I always root for Alabama whenever they're not playing Auburn," and made perfectly clear that neither Joe Cribbs nor his former business was behind the opinions offered here (part of the reason, if you've ever wondered, I blog under my actual name), I didn't think a reasonable man like Mr. Cribbs would mind too much. I chose it because I'm an Auburn fan who loved driving past his car wash as a kid, after all. But: it's his name. Not something to take lightly. If someone out there ever starts a blog titled "The Jerry Hinnen Furniture Repair Shop," I'll be flattered, yes, but I'll probably also sort of make sure the writers aren't videotaping themselves egging cars on the freeway.

Turns out the nervousness was pointless. The JCYF says they get a kick out of the JCCW. Cool, no? Even cooler: the JCYF has a big event coming up and, what with our common interests, I volunteered to help get the word out.

Here's the word: the JCYF's Tide-Tiger Golf Classic fund raiser is this Friday at Auburn Links. The tournament will feature an impressive roster of former Tiger and Tide players, including Mr. Cribbs himself and Jay Barker. Funds will go to multiple charities. Info from the O-A News here, and you can register for the Classic here.

Or at least, I think you can. Because I am unfortunately the unreliable type, I am obviously way, way late in getting this up. If you would like to contribute but can't attend for whatever reason (like "I didn't hear about it until the Wednesday before the thing" or "Turns out they were booked up, maybe if you'd told me more than two days in advance," for instance), you can donate after clicking through the "Registration" page.

So here's a big "Thanks!" to Joe Cribbs for giving this blog a name and a big "Please consider helping" from me to you on his event's behalf.

Condolences and prayers

... go out to Siran Stacy and anyone else affected by Monday's horrible, horrible accident in Dothan.

Stacy has always been stuck in the JCCW's memory both for his solid running and for being named after a common household product, a fun and frequently-told tale that was the Tide's precursor to "Carl Stewart plays the violin!", and reading the news yesterday was nauseating. The JCCW wishes him the very best in his recovery from this unimaginable tragedy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Great Speakers of History react to the U-LM loss (seriousness also attached)



"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war, a field not unlike the echoing green of the famed Bryant-Denny Stadium of Tuscaloosa, where like-minded men have also endured great suffering and great sacrifice for their noble cause. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this, for just as the Red Elephants gave their sweat and tears to avoid the indignity of falling to a Sun Belt team and to preserve their bowl eligibility, so the brave soldiers fallen here have helped to preserve this nation, that unlike Alabama's national ranking it shall not perish from the earth."



"Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives: yesterday, December 7th, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. It was an attack without precedent in our nation's history, save for the attack on the University of Alabama football executed by the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks, who like the Japanese are believed to have deliberately planned their forays into vulnerable Crimson Tide territory many weeks ago. That day, too, shall live in infamy ... With confidence in our armed forces - with the unbounding determination of our people so like the unbending steel will of wounded coach Nick Saban and his valiant men - we will gain the inevitable triumph - so help us God, and Bear Bryant."



"The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. Unless, of course, we consider the college football field of human conflict, where so much has been owed by so many to John Parker Wilson. All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day, and to Alabama fans, who can only pray that the accuracy of Wilson's passes can again rise to match the precision of our RAF bombers."

All right, I think you get the point. Well, the "Nick Saban should maybe choose his metaphors just a touch more carefully" point. It's not a tough one to make.

But there's a larger point here, too. I honestly think we maybe shouldn't be too hard on Saban for the slip itself, I really don't; his general "it's possible to recover from catastrophe" argument is certainly a valid (and necessary) one, for all the inappropriateness he used to make said argument.

The bigger question is how Saban arrived at such a stark, stunning moment of insensitivity. Whatever 21-14 to ULM might suggest (dammit, no glee, it's impossible) King Crimson is no idiot. He's more than sharp enough to figure out that a direct comparison between a football game and 9-11 isn't exactly going to do wonders for his personal image, if he'd just stop and think about it for a minute. But Nick Saban, as we all know, doesn't have time for that shit.

Of course, most of us--even most college football coaches, never the most self-censoring bunch--probably don't even need the time, thanks to that same little voice that stops us with our mouth open just before we say something along the lines of "Honey, are you sure you should really finish that whole thing of fries?" Where was that voice for Saban Monday? Maybe it was just had the day off, but it's fair to say that voice gets a lot sharper with actual, friendly human interaction ... and it's also fair to say King Crimson doesn't really get a lot of actual friendly human interaction (particularly during football season, I'd imagine). Is it really surprising that a man so focused on football, so utterly uninterested in basic workplace decency that he can't even take a casual compliment on his haircut without flying into NO TIME FOR THIS SHIT apoplexy, might not have the keenest sense of what's appropriate, inoffensive public discourse and what's not?

I know, I know, for starters this is all so Dr. Phil (I'd prefer to think of it as all so Free Darko, but it's a valid complaint). And more importantly, what exactly does this have to do with this week's Iron Bowl?

It has to do with why I want this one, dammit. I don't like Nick Saban. But I like even less what he represents: the college football coach as heartless, personality-less coaching automaton, and the fervent embrace of said automatons as long as they win. I think college football is better for the Spurriers and Leaches and Evil Richts, better for fun so intense it has to be italicized, and worse for the dour NFL retreads like Gailey and Groh that have turned the ACC into most boring conference in America. And Alabama has hired and brought into the SEC's merry midst not just an NFL coach but a disciple of Bill Belichick, the most ruthless and soulless automaton of them all, a man with all the personality and stainless-steel efficiency of an expensive kitchen knife. Is anyone at Alabama going to care about this? A few, possibly. But as long as the wins begin piling up and promised, it will be very, very few indeed. The four-million-dollar man is the walking avatar of winning at all costs, and he is not the direction I want college football to take.

So: I want Auburn to beat Alabama every year. But this season, in the immediate wake of the Tide's decision to take this sport ever closer to the NFL, ever further away from the color and idiosyncrasy and, yep, fun that make this sport great, into a place so insulated and removed from reality their coach sees a loss as a parallel to Pearl Harbor "or whatever"? It's not just a win, not just the Index Finger on the Opposite Hand. It's the punishment Alabama deserves.