Sunday, January 28, 2007

Recapping the recaps

Check it: you can now relive every bit of Auburn excitement that was broadcast on national television* in the year 2006 right here via the magic of hit-or-mostly-miss jokery, irrelevant links, and hyphens masquerading as bullet points! Here's your handy guide to the JCCW's first season of recaps:

1. The Capital One Bowl vs. Wisconsin
2. The Washington St. game
3. The LSU game
4. The Arkansas game
5. The Florida game
6. The Iron Bowl, Half the First and Half the Second
7. The Cotton Bowl vs. Nebraska, Half the First and Half the Second

It's been fun. Going to post some mid-major hoopery before the various sites I conned into adding me to their blogrolls last spring kick me out, then wrap up the 2006 Auburn season in the fairly near future, well after everyone has stopped worrying about it.

*Georgia game not included

Iron Bowl recap, half the second

And we’re back! Only two full months and another handful of days after the game was played!

Third quarter

--Coming out of halftime, Tubby tells Tracy Wolfson that the disastrous suicide-blitz at the end of the first half was a “stupid call” (that’s true) that was “my fault” (not true). Nice to see Tubby fall on his sword for his defensive staff like that, transparent as it was. This is you why some coaches are able to hire great assistants and some (currently unemployed) coaches aren’t.
--Gary Danielson explains that what he’s really looking for in a man, what he really wants out of a relationship, is honesty. “I love Tubby,” he says dreamily. (This is an actual quote. Though maybe it wasn’t actually said “dreamily” … maybe.)
--Alabama takes page from of the Book of Nutt and lines up Jimmy Johns in the shotgun. Auburn stuffs it twice. As it turns out, this is much less effective when you line up Jimmy Johns instead of Darren McFadden and can’t put Felix Jones on the field at the same time.
--If you’ve been playing a drinking game where every time Gary Danielson says “gash” or “gashed” during this broadcast, after that last replay montage you’re most likely unconscious.
--Wilson converts on third down, he finds Oakley a couple plays later for like 30 yards, but no biggie, they keep running it and don’t gain any more than a couple of yards each time, Wilson might have just completed another … wait, they’re already on the AU 13? How did that happen? Oh crap, they just scored. Crap. Weird drive—hard to say the AU D really looked bad at any point other than the well-executed Oakley play, but 80 yards in 11 plays is 80 yards in 11 plays. The hell?
--Fortunately, Shula’s somewhere-south-of-intelligent decision to throw the ball from the 1 on the Tide’s previous extra-point try means the Tide is saddling up for two again. Wilson is nearly sacked and flings it incomplete. It’s 15-14 ‘Bama, but I’m not sure when the last time Auburn was behind and I felt this confident, because there is NO way those missed extra points don’t bite the Tide in the ass. One you can get away with. But a second, on a forced-hand decision caused by the first horrible decision? The Tide is doomed.
--Well, perhaps not. It's 2nd-and-10, and you’re never going to believe this, but Cox was sacked on his first pass of the second half! It’s true! I know, it’s shocking!
--To be fair, the line gives him time on his next couple of throws, and Auburn moves out to the Tide 47. To be equally fair, the line fails to give Irons a crease any larger than the ones on my church slacks on first and second down, and then on third … I mean, do I even have to tell you Cox was sacked? Auburn punts, and if the Tide score on this next possession, it’s time to break out the heavy-duty worrying.
--Interview with Shula coming out of the commercial break, in which he uses the phrase “felt that” (“the fans want to win, and we’ve felt that, and the players have felt that, and the waterboys have felt that …”) approximately 12 times in seven seconds.
--Bit of a break there for Auburn as a holding penalty wipes out what would have been 3rd-and-inches and backs the Tide up inside the 10. Coverage holds on second and third and we should get good field position.
--Hmph, turns out we should have had better field position than we got. Smith clearly calls for a fair catch, makes it, and gets bumped and just about wrapped up whilst standing there. But no flag? Danielson agrees with the call, saying “If you’re an Auburn player or fan who thinks that play deserves a flag, I’ve got a lovely pink tutu-and-leggings set that would be perfect for you,” (I'm paraphrasing) but you’re opening up a mighty wriggly can of worms if you start letting there be any contact after a fair catch. There are places the rules can bend, but this shouldn’t be one of them.
--Cox hits Stewart on the same wheel route that’s already worked once this game and has worked approximately 749 other times this season (and will go on to work for a touchdown against Nebraska). Honestly, I’m not sure why Borges ever calls anything else.
--Ugh. The next two snaps start with a snap from Joe Cope to his own groin (prompting Verne and Gary to make with the obligatory tee-hee-he-hurt-his-balls jokes) as Cox was busy audibling. 1st-and-15. Then Cox runs into his own wideout in the backfield and overthrows Gabe Mackenzie. 2nd-and-15. Then Cox narrowly avoids a delay-of-game whilst painstakingly audibling against a stacked Bama line into … a toss sweep with Montez Billings, the wideout, as the lead blocker. 3rd-and-15.
--So we all know what’s coming. By now, I’ve got “Cox is sacked” pasted into the clipboard,” it’s a huge blitz, and sure enough … wait, TOUCHDOWN! Cox tossed it up for Prechae Rodriguez, who adjusted, went up, and got it! Shades of Pat Nix to Frank Sanders! Auburn leads 20-15 ... whew!
--After the TD, those forever classy Bama fans throw something, a can or a water bottle, at the celebrating Auburn players. OK, so Rodriguez wasn’t exactly a complete model citizen (after senidng a “Shhhh” maneuver i nthe crowd's direction) but I think we’ve established long before now that throwing things at players moves you to the very front of the line of Class A Jerks.
--Stewart hits Guess on the smoothest halfback pass since Cadillac's in the 2004 UGa game, and it’s 22-15 Auburn. In case you’re keeping track, that’s two blown extra points by the Tide with the Tigers picking up one extra—and entire field goal’s worth of swing on extra-point tries alone. Thanks, Mike!
--Not surprisingly, it appears the touchdown woke the Auburn hitters up. Patrick Trahan levels Johns on the kickoff, and Antonio Coleman flattens Darby on a draw play. I like our chances entering the …

Fourth quarter

--PUNT BAMA PUNT! CBS atones for the Van Tiffin footage by opening the fourth with replays of (objectively speaking and without any hint of bias on my part) the greatest ending of any football game—NAY, any sporting event, anywhere—of all time. I don’t understand why something that happened several years before I was born involving people I’ve never met and never will gives me goosebumps, but I’m glad it does.
--CBS tells us Mike Shula is 0-18 as Bama head coach when entering the fourth quarter. 0-18! Not one comeback, even over the likes of Mississippi St. or Northern Illinois! Again: and the national media wondered why Bama fans wanted to get rid of the guy?
--Groves is, once again, all over Wilson. Danielson says he managed it despite Bama “putting two guys” on him, but the replay shows that despite Danielson’s perfectly reasonable assumption that Bama wouldn’t leave their backup right tackle (Kyle Tatum) alone facing arguably the most dangerous pass-rusher in the entire SEC … Bama most certainly did leave their backup right tackle alone facing arguably the most dangerous pass-rusher in the entire SEC. Good job, Kines. Bama punts.
--It’s Kenny Irons time! 18 yards over right tackle! Now he’s got room over left end and … FUMBLE. Bama ball. Dammit, Kenny. Replay shows that Bama’s #91, backup end Chris Harris, sprinted all the way around from the weak side to knock the ball away from Irons’s blindside. Have to admit that’s a tremendous play.
--HA! So is that! Not to be outdone in the “defensive linemen who hustle and are rewarded with game-changing plays” category, widebodied Auburn nose tackle Josh Thompson runs 10 yards downfield to pop Keith Brown, who’s in the grasp of Herring. Ball comes out! Auburn falls on it! Herring is given all the credit by the booth even though Thompson had nearly everything to do with the fumble! I would stop using exclamation points, but this is the IRON BOWL!
--Tracy Wolfson tries to report Herring’s ambition to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a chiropractor (somewhere, the M.D.-carrying Official Father of the JCCW is gritting his teeth), but Wolfson is, peculiarly, so hoarse that I’m much more worried about Wolfson’s future career plans than Herring’s. CBS can’t get lozenges and a bottle of water onto the sideline?
--The Auburn drive goes nowhere, but Bliss uncorks a 53-yarder that gets returned for -1 yards to the Bama 11. Yeah, a net of 54 ain’t bad.
--A terrific job by Nikita Stover to get both feet in bounds on a long pass play (you only need one, son!) takes Bama to the AU 13. That’s not so good. Will Herring agrees, storming through to damn near take Jimmy Johns’s head off on the next play. Five yard loss. Tell me again, why did we ever have that guy playing safety?
--Whew! Wilson gets chased out of the pocket and his lob pass juuuuust misses his man in the back of the end zone. It’s now 4th-and-15, and this is precisely where Mike “Dr. Decisive, the Avatar of the Perpetually Overwhelmed” Shula loses his job. First he keeps his offense on the field, then tries to rush the FG unit on, then has to call time-out when it’s obvious there’s not enough time to get the snap off. Then, because he’s wasted the time-out, he sends the offense back on. It’s not really the indecisiveness here that’s so appalling. It’s the expression on his face CBS gleefully gives us multiple times, which says, basically, “I should have applied for that opening at the post office … Why can’t Dad hang around on the sidelines to help me out at times like these … I am so taking a long, hot bath when I get home,” etc. It doesn’t really matter that, in the end, he gets the call right—since a field goal doesn’t change the fact that Bama will have to score a touchdown at some point, it’s better to go for it. (Though the reason for that is, again, Shula’s brainless first-half extra-point call. It should be 21-17 at this point.) When it’s the fourth quarter of the biggest game of the year and your coach looks like a 10-year-old who wandered away from his Mom and got lost in the J.C. Penney’s, it’s probably time to get a new coach.
--Wilson’s fourth-down pass is easily broken up by Irons in the end zone. There’s a moment of comedy when the Bama bench notices a flag on the field and celebrates, but of course the flag is for Andre Smith’s hold on who I think is Marquies Gunn, a hold so egregious the Bama coaches transferred Smith to the defensive line on the spot for his “takedown ability.” Auburn ball!
--An anonymous Auburn player just broke out a premature thumb. Don’t like the tempting of fate there one bit, dude. Patience!
--A long drive here, with the Tide only holding one time-out, could end the game. Looks like Irons is paying penance for his fumble—it’s five straight carries for Lester. Can’t complain, I guess (though I bet Kenny Irons is) as Lester gets one first down and burns the clock inside of two minutes. Still, Javier Arenas gets 22 yards' worth of return following a 46-yard punt. Yeah, a net of 24 yards at this stage of the game ain't so good. C'mon Auburn.
--All right, one more stand, Auburn D! Let’s go! You can do this! You … Good grief, I’m not even done with my pre-drive cheers before there’s an INTERCEPTION! David Irons! YESSSS! Auburn will win the Iron Bowl!
--Bust out the thumbs! War … Damn …Eagle!
--Alabama’s classy #55 Terrence Jones classily nails Carl Stewart in the back as Auburn kneels to end the game in a typically classy Bama move. Mmmm …. classy.
--That’s it! The final whistle! w00t! Tubby and Shula meet at midfield, David Irons runs around in various directions screaming like the crazy screaming person he is, Jonathan Wilhite heads to the locker room showing off his best celebratory M.C. Hammer moves. (I have to say, they’re good moves.) As Wolfson gears up for the post-game interview Lundquist coins a euphemism for the ages concerning Tubby, calling him “among the least shy” coaches he knows. That’s as great a way to say “pretty much insufferably arrogant” as I’ve ever heard. Tubby lives up to his billing by saying that pulling off Auburn’s series of wins in T-town is “almost impossible.” And yet, whaddya know, his teams managed it. Tommy Tuberville: Among the Least Shy! Little wonder why Auburn fans love him (yours truly included on days like today), but it’s hella understandable why other fans might not.
--Five in a row, folks. Five! Where’s my “Fear the Index Finger on the Opposite Hand” shirt? War Eagle!

Monday, January 15, 2007


Real life got even more real than usual this weekend. The JCCW will be back Thursday or Friday, hopefully. Until then.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Iron Bowl recap, half the first

It’s been a while since this game was played. I know.

But I think that’s OK, since reliving an Iron Bowl win has to be one of the best ways—if, let’s face it, not the best way—to get over the end-of-college-football-season depression. Might not have been the prettiest Auburn performance (this wasn’t the prettiest Auburn season) but watching this game again is a Thumb-derful experience anyway.

So here’s me sharing the first half of that experience. Enjoy. War Eagle.


--Wow, CBS really splurged on the intro: nice footage of old-fashioned villagey ironworking interspersed with shots of Vulcan and the obligatory classic Iron Bowl highlights (Bo Over the Top, Lawyer Tillman, assorted insignificant Tide plays) and Verne Lundquist intoning “This … is the Iron Bowl.” That was shockingly well done. But given that this game is taking place a few channels over from a certain other game featuring certain other overrated teams in a certain other overrated conference, you have to wonder if CBS shouldn’t have spent part of their limited supply of Don’t-Suck another week.
--Verne says that Tiger and Tide fans say with “some justification” that this is “the most intense, bitter rivalry in college football.” Uh, yeah. It ain’t bragging when it’s the truth. (As an aside, the only other rivalry worth even including in this discussion is Army-Navy. That’s it. No one else.)

--VERNE: With me today is Gary Danielson! Gary, last year you were with ABC as Burnt Hamburger’s right-hand man, and if you’d stayed there you’d probably be calling your alma mater in the 1-vs.-2, Big 11-deciding, biggest regular season game in college football in a decade. Instead, you’re lucky enough to call today’s game between a 6-5 team whose biggest win came in a home squeaker against Hawaii and another team that spent last week getting owned so badly Georgia’s lawyers drew up a deed! How excited are you to be here?
VERNE: Gary?
VERNE: Gary?
VERNE: Gary?
VERNE: Gary?
GARY: Verne, shut the hell up right now or I strangle you with the telestrator cord. [sound of phone ringing] Yeah, Rich? Hey, how’s my favorite agent. How long’s my contract again? And how hard is it going be to wriggle out of that? Yeah. Yeah. [To Verne] Look, I’m going to hang around. But do NOT bring up that ... other game ... again, or you’re going to end up flying solo on this snoozer.
VERNE: Sure thing. Fans, don't forget, we’ve got Tim Brando on hand in New York to keep you up-to-date with every development in the big Michigan-Ohio St. game!
GARY: Sigh.

--Verne’s characterization of Auburn’s performance against UGA is that they “laid a huge omelet.” Um, not really the worst joke idea ever, Verne, I guess. But goodness gracious we need to work on that delivery.
--Tyrone Prothro walks onto the field in full uniform to present the game ball. Well, maybe “walks” is overstating things. I’m sure the Tide players and fans were totally fired up by his appearance, but, from here, uh, let’s just hope Tyrone is paying very, very close attention to his studies.

First quarter

--After a good kickoff return and four Irons rushes for 17 yards, it’s 3rd-and-3 on the Tide 45, and Cox gets his first chance to redeem himself after the implosion against the Dawgs. He delivers a quick slant straight into the hands of his intended receiver, Bama’s Simeon Castille, who drops it. At least, I hope Castille was the intended receiver. I don’t know why he would be, but I don’t have another explanation for why Cox would throw the ball right at him--and a full five yards from the closest Tiger. Eep.
--During the possession, Vern makes a reference to “the dreaded 4-4-4: four completions, four picks, four sacks.” Uh, Verne? I don’t think anybody “dreads” that set of stats in particular. Like the omelet thing, it sort of sounds nice, yeah. But you’re not really making any sense, Verne. You’re trying too hard! Let the game come to you, Verne!
--At least the defense seems to have overcome any hangover from the UGa debacle. Kidding! Bama drives 77 yards to the Auburn 3 in 7 plays.
--Fortunately, like President G.H.W. Bush and broccoli or David Lynch and comprehensibility, scoring touchdowns in the red zone just isn’t really something the Tide does. Three times they plunge ahead on the ground, three times Auburn stops them short.
--The AU defense celebrates the third stop with, ahem, a lot of “in-your-face” spirit, leading to this exchange as Mike “Dr. Decisiveness” Shula chooses whether to go for it on fourth down:

GARY: Auburn is really challenging the Alabama players here. If you’re Mike Shula, if you don’t go for this, you’re basically admitting to your players that you’re an 11-year-old girl who’d rather be at home designing a pink business suit for your “Climbing the Career Ladder” Barbie. You have to go for this.
VERNE: Shula will send out the field goal unit.
GARY: God, Mike, grow a pair for chrissakes! Alabama has put together a nice drive here. It’s too bad they’re being coached by the world’s single biggest wuss. Can we check that with Guiness? He’s got to be the world’s biggest, right?

(I’m paraphrasing.)

--The field goal is good. 3-0 Bama.
--CBS gives us a U-M-OSU update. As I suspect a quarter of their viewership just went “Omigosh! U-M-OSU! I totally forgot!” and switched over, this may not have been the best idea.
--The Iron Bowl is the kind of game when lesser players like AU receiver Montez Billings can rise up and become legends. Well, maybe not like Billings in particular, since on second down he runs the wrong way on a wide-open end around for no gain, and then bobbles a third-down pass out-of-bounds.
--Auburn punts, with David Irons making a solid tackle on coverage. He follows with his trademark “jump up and take several quick steps in a random direction” move, which would drive me bonkers if he wasn’t a Tiger but which instead I just find highly amusing. It’s fun to imagine the reasons Irons does this, what’s in his head at the time. “HEY is that hundred-dollar bill over there?” “HEY is that an ice cream truck going by?” The possibilities are endless.
--Bama punts after receiver Will Oakley falls down on a third-down sideline route. Oakley, in for the injured Keith Brown, has not had a good game. I knew a guy in college named Will Oakley, a gangly, comic-book-loving English major. It’s unlikely Bama’s Will Oakley is related, though he is playing like a gangly, comic-book-loving English major.
--Lee Guess is open on a third-and-short underneath route, and despite the fact that Cox is no more than a dozen yards away from Guess he throws it a dozen yards over Guess’s head. Cox is 0-4 to this point, and 4 of his last 18. Brandon, we’re all sympathetic because of the whole MG thing. But unfortunately, these are football fans we’re talking about. Sympathy will only extend so far …
--Auburn commits a penalty after Bliss pins the Tide deep, leading Gary to say that the Tigers are playing “like a gaggle of snot-covered three-year-olds on the day-care playground who missed their morning Ritalin,” or something to that effect. Gary seems a little on edge this game. Like, maybe, there was some other game he wishes he was broadcasting somewhere. Weird.

Second quarter

--CBS gives us the obligatory flashback to Van “Down by the River” Tiffin’s accursed field goal. As long as we get our Punt Bama Punt fix later, I can deal.
--Groves! Auburn’s Big Bright Green Big Play Machine* does it again, nearly removing poor J.P. Wilson’s head with a direct blow to the trachea. Fumble, Auburn ball.
--Borges understandably decides that this is too good an opportunity to risk putting the ball in the air. Four Brad Lester runs, 27 yards, touchdown, 7-3. It’s a start.
--The kickoff from Clark is a line drive fielded just inside the goalline, but the Tide returner takes a knee anyway. Danielson, in shock at the lack of aggression, stops just short of accusing the returner of having (or being) female genitalia. Let go of the bitterness, Gary.
--I’m not sure he’s deserved every bit of the abuse heaped on him, but Alabama right tackle Chris Capps isn’t doing much to stem the tide (ha!) either. First Sen’Derrick Marks blows past him for a six-yard loss, then Groves whips him (again) for a fumble (again) and it’s Auburn ball deep in Tide territory (again). Somewhere, Chris’s family is unlisting their number as we speak.
--Irons, touchdown. On the yardage meter: Alabama 476, Auburn 12. On the scoreboard: Auburn 14, Alabama 3. HA!
--Next Tide possession it’s 3rd-and-1 on their 46. Darby has had several good runs. As Arkansas will tell you, Auburn’s biggest defensive weakness is a strong up-the-middle ground game. It’s a pass! Incomplete, punt.
--Someone in this game does most certainly have cojones, and his name is Gorgeous Al Borges. (Well, not legally.) Pinned at the 1 with a quarterback who hasn’t completed a pass since two-a-days? Air it out! Sure enough, Cox hits Rod Smith for 9 and then for 31 (on third down, no less!) and Auburn is out to the Tiger 45.
--As if that big pass wasn’t surprising enough, Tommy “Not a Blocking Tight End” Trott blows up Tide lineman Keith Saunders for an Irons nine-yard run and a first down in Tide territory. I’m sure we’ll see the “reversion to the mean” here in a sec.
--Yup. False start, incomplete pass, draw for nothing, failed (you guessed it) screen pass. Here comes Vaughn for a loooong field goal, which if he misses will give Bama good field position. Gary calls the decision “paramecium-brained.” (OK, he doesn’t, but he wanted to.)
--Gary is right. Vaughn misses the figgie to the surprise of no one but his mother, and on third-and-10 comes what is without question the worst defensive call of Auburn’s season. It’s a double safety blitz, it gets picked up, and Nikita Stover torches it for a 52-yard score. 14-9. How horrible a call was this by (I’m assuming) Muschamp? Let us count the ways: 1. The half was almost up. No way Alabama scores a TD unless it’s a big play 2. The safeties blitzed from their regular positions seven yards off the line. By the time Wilson had taken his drop, they had 15 yards to cover just to reach the QB 3. Your defense has gotten oodles of pressure without the blitz. Was there really so much to gain by calling an all-out blitz?

Tubby’s screaming on the sidelines, the crowd’s going nuts, Gary is referring to Auburn’s staff as “special needs” coaches … so much for going into the half with momentum.

--Wait, I forgot, Mike Shula is on the opposite sideline! Tristan Davis was called for roughing Wilson, so the ball’s on the 1. Everyone in the stadium knows that going for it now will only result in the Tide missing out on a point they will desperately need later. But Shula takes the bait anyway. In his favor, Darby has had several good runs and as Arkansas will tell you, Auburn’s biggest defensive weakness is a strong up-the-middle ground game. It’s a pass! Pressure, interception.
--On his way to the locker room, Shula says he wouldn’t have gone for 2 if the ball hadn’t been moved closer by the penalty. So why did you throw the ball?!? The play you called would have been just as likely to succeed from anywhere inside the 10!!! And the national media wondered why Bama fans wanted him gone.


--Tim Brando is impressed by Bama. But Spencer Tillman gives Borges his props and subtly implies that Brando is maybe impressed a little too easily.
--The AJC’s Tony Barnhart reports that if Brad Lester is healthy for the entire second half, Auburn will win the game. Because the season has shown that if there’s any one position and player Auburn cannot deal with an injury to, it’s running back and Brad Lester.

The thrilling second half coming soon!

*I know this is stupid. Shut up.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Frank Deford on BSC

Sports Illustrated's resident Lion-in-Winter Frank Deford applauded Birmingham-Southern's move to D-III in his column this week.

Make no mistake: this is a terribly-written column. Deford is a sportswriting legend, but his strength has always been reporting and George Will-esque essays. His weakness--as anyone who's been paying attention to his increasingly painful-to-read pieces over the past couple of years--would seem to be, you guessed it, column-writing. Am I being greedy to wish that Pat Forde or even Kyle Whelliston had taken a shot at this instead? I mean, really, is it that tough to figure out that BSC spells "Birmingham-Southern" with a hyphen?

Yeah, I am being greedy. It's a positive portrayal of BSC from a respected writer on the front page of a national website. Even if I'm a lot more ambivalent about the move than Deford (and seriously question his assertion that the "vast majority" of alumni thougth this was a good idea), after the year BSC had in 2006, I'll take it.

Even if Deford's closing line is so cheesy it ought to be sponsored by the Wisconsin Dairy Farmer's Association.

p.s.--Nice move by Pollick to oh-so-casually mention that BSC was able to book the Dave Matthews Band. Subtle, subtle, subtle.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Cotton Bowl recap, half the second

So maybe I should say something about the month-long unannounced hiatus I took from the blog. See, it … what’s that? You’re not in the least bit interested, unless it involved being attacked by sharks, or maybe being kidnapped by Nepalese bandits and escaping by climbing over the Himalayas to India? I don’t blame you. Though I did have a nice metaphor involving juggling planned.

Without further ado, part two of the JCCW’s Cotton Bowl recap. Part one is here.

Third quarter

--Tubby tells Krista Voda that during the layoff, his staff added too much to the gameplan and that his team was confused in the first half. In the second half, he says “We’re going to play football.” As opposed to, say, Scrabble, though Al Borges totally would have had a 50-point bonus word if they hadn’t switched over.
--Tristan Davis, recovered from his first-half wooziness, makes what seems like his 67th consecutive dangerous-looking 40-yard return. When was the last time Auburn had a consistently good kickoff return team? I’m going with “1963, or possibly never, depending on how you define consistent.”
--Courtney Taylor is tackled on a blown-up reverse by Nebraska’s Jay Moore. Apparently this is not the Jay Mohr of ESPN’s “Mohr Sports” … well, “fame” isn’t exactly the right word here, is it? Of ESPN’s “Mohr Sports” “disgracefulness” is probably closer to the truth.
--After about five plays of Irons and Taylor eking out yardage despite being greeted by eight Huskers before thy even reach the line of scrimmage, Irons fights a little too hard for that extra yard (as is his wont) and coughs it up. Huskers’ ball.
--Fox gives us the obligatory Bo Jackson montage—always a delight—capped by Summerall saying that Al Davis told him Bo was the best ever. Well, duh. Summerall then rattles off a list of great backs he played alongside meaning, of course, that no one he mentions is remotely familiar to anyone in his audience. Well done, Pat.
--Quentin Groves’s go-go-gadget arms actually backfire on him on a Husker run as he grabs a facemask inadvertently from six feet away.
--Will Herring, as everyone knows, didn’t always make the play during his previous 356 consecutive starts. Apparently he was saving them for his 357th and final consecutive start—he’s made several, including a tackle-for-loss here that helps force a Nebraska punt.
--Cox goes deep to Taylor on 1st-and-10, and Taylor somewhat surprisingly throws his arms up in a “Hey! That slight brush from the defender deserves to be called pass interference!” way rather than in a “I’m interested in possibly catching the ball” way. Taylor gets the flag, but not without karma telling him to knock it off by comically sending the flag into his facemask. I'm laughing, but Orlando Brown, wherever he is, is less than amused.
--Miracle of miracles, the line gives Cox some time to throw over the next several plays, and whaddya know, turns out he’s still capable of completing passes! Who’d have guessed?
--2nd-and-1 on the Nebraska 19, Cox airs it out for Lee Guess. He and Husker CB Grixby come down with the ball simultaneously, both get one foot in the end zone, Guess comes out of their mini-tussle with the ball. The call is incomplete. Before now, I would have called Fox’s broadcast a train wreck, but now I think that’s doing a disservice to the organization and orderliness of train wrecks. First, before we get even a replay, we get a brief shot—I’m not even joking—of what appear to be the hands of Nebraska’s majorettes holding paper plates with pizza (their faces aren’t even part of the shot). Why is there a camera even devoted to recording this? Then Fox gives us a single replay which is briefly discussed by Summerall and Baldinger before they go off on a tangent about the game’s attendance. With some rebel neuron in the back of his brain firing off about maybe, you know, analyzing the potential game-changing play, Summerall does apologize of the attendance tangent. “Sorry to be talking,” he says. We’re all sorry you’ve been talking, Pat.
--A strong Irons run to the 15 gives Auburn a first-down. From there, it’s incomplete pass-holding penalty-377th consecutive failed screen-incomplete pass. Which means … drumroll please … hypertension medication on the ready …
--It’s John Vaughn time! It’s a 42-yarder in a tight game, which means the odds on a make are 1 to 40 if we’re being generous. (But oh, come on, what Auburn fan has been generous with Vaughn since that game? Maybe when I gave him his name back, and that’s it.) Surprisingly enough—yes, it’s still a surprise—Vaughn nails it. Might be his last Auburn figgie ever. Good for him. One of these years, I bet, Auburn fans’ll look back and say “You know, when you think about it, he was actually a pretty good kicker.” (Note that I don’t see 2007 as that year.)
--Nebraska’s next possession, and Taylor rolls right under heavy pressure and throws back across his body 20 yards downfield into a nest of Auburn defenders. Remarkably, the pass is completed. Fine with me—I’d like to see Taylor try that trick again, seeing as how that trick gets intercepted 99 times out of 100.
--Herring is doing his absolute best to make sure Auburn fans seeing him for the last time remember him as Will Herring, All Over The Place Tackling Machine Linebacker, rather than Will Herring, Always in the Wrong Place Touchdown (for the Opponent) Machine Safety. His tackle-for-loss of Lucky helps lead to a long, long field goal try.
--Nevermind. It’s a pooch (is that even the way to spell it?) kick that gets downed at the 1. Those aren’t supposed to work, are they?
--Baldinger’s analysis has been nothing but cliché after cliché today (along with the occasional inability to get Summerall out of 1977), but he still misses a chance to deliver the ol’ “This is what happens when you give a quarterback some time and some confidence” when Cox completes back-to-back throws—the second under very heavy pressure, his best toss of the day—to get AU from the 1 to the 17. A few downs later, the Tigers have crossed midfield. Crucial change of field position in a game with as few drives as this one.

Fourth quarter

--Ben Tate finds a huge hole on the toss right and rumbles for 21 yards. That’s great, but sheesh, poor Irons is playing his last game for AU ever, and every time his number’s been called he’s had to step around two or three defenders just to take the handoff—including on the very next down, which is a loss of three. Spread the wealth, line!
--3rd-and-11 and we’re back to Cox taking a five-step-two-steps-right-to-avoid-the-defensive-end-four-steps-up-in-terror-one-step-under-the-approaching-tackler-to-save-his-neck drop. So no points, but—especially after Bliss sticks it at the NU 8—that was nonetheless the most important drive of the game. Hopefully the O will at least be able to look the D in the eyes again as they come off the field.
--There’s a holding penalty on a Brando first down run. Too bad—that drive could have been a contender. (Look, I’m sorry. It’s uncalled for. I agree. I apologize.)
--Thanks to the penalty, five plays take Nebraska all the way from their own 8 to their own 11. Auburn’s D is in one of their moods again. Like when they just went off on Florida in the second half for no reason? Poor Nebraska should probably just leave them alone for a while.
--As Auburn takes over Voda interviews the Irons family patriarch, who proudly informs Voda that they never leave the bleachers while the game is on. Not even to go to the bathroom? No, Mr. Irons says they “man up and hold out.” Well, I’m glad to know that. So glad. I'm even gladder when Summerall brings it back up after the interview.
--The offense has great field position and a touchdown will clinch the win! So they go three-and-out and Bliss booms the punt into the end zone. It wouldn’t just be an Auburn Tigers 2006 game if things came easy, would it?
--David Irons and the Auburn secondary are on fire. 3rd-and-11, Taylor gets enough time behind the line to crochet himself a new jersey. (Wait, that’s Ian Johnson.) He ends up eating a sack anyway. Punt.
-- The offense has great field position and a touchdown will clinch the win! Well, barring a touchdown, a first down will run some crucial time off the clock! Well, it’s 3rd-and-12, but Bliss is a good punter, so … Cox fumbles the ball away. AAAARRRGGGHHHH.
--Bill Callahan calls three straight runs that surprise an Auburn defense expecting the Huskers to be more aggressive, getting a first down. Then Callahan calls two more runs and a horrible-looking shuffle pass to put his team in fourth-and-long with zero chance of getting the ball back with any time if they fail to convert. Whoops.
--They fail to convert. Whoops. Also: Auburn wins! Sweet!
--One first down ends the game, and damned if Kenny Irons doesn’t make his last three runs worth remembering him by. He gets next-to-no-blocking on any of them and fights for nine-and-three-quarters yards anyway. Thanks for going out the right way, Kenny.
--Callahan cleverly sends all 11 players after the punt, even though the two guys rushing off the very left end cleverly do nothing but get in each other’s way. This cleverly allows Auburn to just watch the ball roll along while all but the last 10 seconds run off the clock. So clever, that Bill Callahan.
--The Hail Mary falls incomplete and Auburn are Cotton Bowl champs, but in such mind-numbing fashion (178 total yards! Five sacks! 1.9 yards per rush! No touchdown drive longer than 14 yards!) that it will fortunately not give Auburn any kind of bump in next season’s pre-season poll. In other words, the best possible outcome!

Well, saying it wasn’t pretty is like saying Tony Romo had kind of a disappointing weekend, but given what I was expecting, boy, I’ll take it. Very, very glad for the Ironses, Herring, Taylor, and all the other seniors to walk off the field for the last time as winners.

The long, long-awaited Iron Bowl recap and some thoughts on the season as a whole should be up later in the week. Should be.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Cotton Bowl recap, half the first

The first Auburn bowl game I can remember watching was not the 9-7 win over Michigan in ’83, unfortunately. It wasn’t the '82 Tangerine against Boston College or the '84 Liberty against Arkansas, both wins. No, it was the 1985 Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M. In case you’ve forgotten, Auburn played like … well, pretty much like they played against Wisconsin last season. I was six, and cearly remember Auburn being down by approximately 18 touchdowns by the end of the third quarter. It wrapped up a 36-16 loss.

With that result still echoing around in my head, and last year’s collapse against the Badgers (despite the fact those Tigers were playing twice as well at year’s end as these Tigers) and the 10:30 a.m. Central kickoff—for the record, thirty minutes earlier than the JP LF-fueled Arkansas and Georgia catastrophes—let’s just say my expectations for this game were firmly south of “win.”

But hey, hope springs eternal, especially when you have Quentin Groves, a rested Kenny Irons, Courtney Taylor … and especially a noodle-head like Bill Callahan on the opposite sideline. Here’s what happened.


--After a rousing montage of Auburn highlights, Fox gives us footage of Tubby in the locker room telling the Tigers they’ll need to be ready to play from the opening kick. Tubby, you might want to remind them exactly when said kick is, since judging by the Arkansas and Georgia games, they probably expect it to be at about 2.

--PAT SUMMERALL: Welcome to the Cotton Bowl, everyone! I’m the ossifying corpse of Pat Summerall. At one time I was the country’s preeminent football play-by-play man and a regular broadcaster of Super Bowls. Now I can’t get through a 30-second preview for a cut-rate bowl game without reading every one of these words off a teleprompter. With me is … a talking bear. Talking bear, what do you think of our matchup today between the L.A. Express and Boy Scout troop 253?
BRIAN BALDINGER: Uh, Pat? Why don’t you just stick to reading the teleprompter.
PAT: Sure. Let me just find my reading glasses … I’m sure they’re here somewhere …

--Although the Fog of Intimidation is absent, Auburn does their usual linked arms entrance (which Summerall seems unusually impressed with). Nebraska, however, enters with their initial row of players holding hands. The Official Girlfriend of the JCCW opines that it’s an image, you know, a little more effeminate than a college football team might want to project. Me, I think it’s more Kum Ba Yah than effeminate, but either way it’s Advantage: Auburn.

--As if the follies in the broadcast booth weren’t enough, Fox’s overhead camera apparently has some condensation or huge smudge on the lens as the players come out for the coinflip. For their next trick, the audio never arrives from sideline reporter Kristin Voda's pregame interview with Callahan. A solid 30 seconds of silence pass before Summerall interjects. They’re all professionals here, folks.

First quarter

--The Cornhuskers come out running with back Marlon Lucky, and Summerall has already dropped two confusing jokes on the name “Lucky” inside the first three minutes. It’s going to be a long, long broadcast.
--As Nebraska drives, we get shots of Callahan and Tubby. Not often you see both head coaches opting for the bespectacled look. I give the advantage to Tubs—with no cap, Callahan looks a little like that one eternally self-satisfied “expert” from down at the bar who accidentally wandered onto the field.
--3rd-and-19 and Lucky picks up the first down on a friggin’ shuffle pass. Baldinger talks it up as a great call. Sure, it’s a great call if you want to pick up 10 yards for a field goal try. It’s only a great call first-down-wise if the defense is, as Auburn’s seems to be (again), still mentally back at the hotel room.
--3rd-and-7, Nebraska converts. 3rd-and-2, Nebraska converts for the touchdown. 15 plays, 80 yards, 7:30 off the clock. Tubby looks befuddled, probably because he distinctly remembers telling his team to be ready to play from the get-go. They had the cameras there and everything, didn’t they?
--Operating under the assumption that someone else will get to it eventually, at some point, right after they finish this other thing, later today, the return team lets the kickoff take a couple of bounces before falling on it just ahead of the Nebraska coverage team. See, they knew it’d work out. Meanwhile, Auburn fans everywhere are reaching for the defibrillator.
--Irons runs for a first down. At least the offense is awake! Wait: 1. Auburn’s 277th consecutive poorly executed screen pass 2. Run for no gain 3. Sack. 4. Punt. Nevermind.
--Lucky rushes for 11. When the announcers are talking about how they can see the holes in the defensive line from seven stories up, your defense is officially getting gashed. The resemblance to the Wisconsin disaster is palpable at this point. Its like Groundhog Day, but we just relive New Year’s Day over and over again.
--Holy crap! It’s 3rd-and-3, and instead of converting as they have every other third down, Zac Taylor zings the ball off his receiver’s hands and into the hands of the very speedy Karibi Dede. (The Very Speedy Karibi Dede … great, I think of a sweet nickname for the guy just as he plays his last game.) Dede returns the ball to the Nebraska 9.
--If I had one phrase to sum up the Fox broadcast director’s philosophy, it would be: Shots of the band = RATINGS!
--An excellent playfake by Cox, Stewart’s wide-open, it’s 7-7. Hoo boy, we needed that.

Second quarter

--Fox gives us a clip of Nebraska receiver Cortney Grixby leaping onto the shoulders of his teammates in the pregame team huddle. Grixby sort of accidentally (but firmly) nudges the head of one the Huskers’ giant linemen, who a moment later gives Grixby's leg a bit a shove … was it playful? Or irritated? If I had been a giant lineman whose head had been nudged by a skinny, athletic wideout showing off by leaping around like some kind of shoulder-padded lemur, I know which one it would be.
--Another Nebraska third down, another short drop back, and Quentin Groves tackles Taylor from four feet away. Seriously, that’s how long his arms are. Jay Bilas thinks his “length” has “upside.”
--Wow. Taking a page from Tubby’s book (the book titled “1,001 Questionable Gambles in One’s Own Territory"), Callahan calls for a punt fake reverse. Patrick Trahan obliges Callahan by storming through the line and blowing it up (not that he gets any credit for it from the announcer's booth). Tristan Davis makes the recovery. Sweet.
--Pat comments that even Auburn’s special teams is walking off the field with linked arms. Uh, Pat? Those other two guys are helping the bell-rung Davis, who, if you’ll look semi-closely, couldn’t tell you his Mama’s name at the moment.
--Courtney Taylor makes a leaping catch at the 2, lands like a bag of bricks, and stays down in obvious pain. Well, that’s fine. Because the offense has been so efficient the last few games, you know. Losing our best receiver ... not worried.
--Stewart goes over the top for a hilariously undeserved 14-7 lead. Give the AU O some credit, though--at least they recognize the importance of taking advantage of opportunities. Since they don’t figure to create many of them on their own, and all.
--Summerall rehashes the by now quite familiar anecdote about Stewart playing the violin. Baldinger responds by calling Stewart’s two TD’s a “virtuoso performance.” Goodness—that was almost funny. Maybe they’ll actually draw a chuckle by game’s end.
--Sweet, fourth down for Nebraska. Now, if we could get even a field goal, push it to 10 … wait, a substitution infraction? The defense can have substitution infractions? Well, all right, as long as the Huskers don’t …
--20-yard touchdown run by Brando Jackson. Summerall neglects to say Brando broke loose like a runaway StreetCar Named Desire, which is too bad. The effort to tackle Jackson by Aairon Savage and Patrick Lee on this play would have been acceptable if Jackson had been, say, a rhinoceros. As Jackson is not a rhinoceros …
--Summerall and Baldinger talk about how great the Cotton Bowl’s new scoreboard is. Hmmm. Maybe if the ads on the side weren’t the size of the screen itself. Looks like they bought an off-brand, floor-model Jumbotron on discount to me.
--Determined to reclaim the lead, the Auburn offense takes the field and goes three-and-out with ugly Cox throw-aways on first and third. Way to seize momentum back, fellas.
--Fox comes back from a break with footage of the offensive line getting chewed out by a coach Baldinger identifies as “Al Borges.” The coach is, of course, Hugh Nall. I never thought I’d say this, but … are the Lincoln guys available?
--On cue, sideline reporter Kristin Voda reports that Nebraska is sitting back with their arms open, and Brando Jackson said, quote, “The wait is over,” while Auburn is standing with their arms folded, being serious. Voda then throws it back to the booth, shattering Eric Dickerson’s 2001 record for “Most Nonsensical Sideline Report of All Time.”
--Nebraska leads Auburn in total yardage 163-36. And it’s tied 14-14. Heh heh heh. Ladies and gents, your 2006 Auburn Tigers!
--It’s third-and-long for Auburn after a Nebraska punt, and not surprisingly (what with the pressure on every dropback since, oh, late September), Cox starts looking at the rush approximately .3 seconds after the snap. Sack. Fourth down.
--With AU backed up near their own goal line, they need a big boot from Bliss. He shanks a 37-yarder. Sigh.
--Fortunately, the Huskers go nowhere as Summerall pronounces their receiver Purify’s names as “Purifee” for the third time.


Shots of the band = RATINGS!

Second half coming tomorrow a.m.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Saban situation

Two thoughts:

1) I agree with Ivan Maisel that the Tide is, essentially, taking a mighty expensive and desperate spin on a tilting roulette wheel. I agree with the esteemed Will Collier that by doing so, the T-Town Powers That Be have come right out and admitted that Auburn’s current domination is so complete they have no choice but to bargain with the devil to put an end to it. I agree that because the Tide’s new coach is Nick Saban, after all, he will almost certainly look for and find some greener grass in another few years’ time.

But I wonder if what looks to me like the prevailing Auburn fan attitude of “Whatever, Saban ain’t that special” isn’t a case of looking so hard for silver linings we’re missing the thundercloud. Auburn needs to see the threat for what it is: namely, an Alabama that in a couple years’ time is going to be on the level with Saban’s LSU teams. Saban may be a two-faced liar who honors promises and allegiances to no one but himself, but he’s a two-faced liar who honors promises and allegiances to no one but himself who can coach college ball like hell.

Maybe his best year at Michigan St. was 10-2, but 10-2 for the Spartans is the equivalent of 13-0 most other places. Maybe, true, his 2003 Tigers were overrated, what with not being quite as good as certain other teams from that era (cough cough) that didn’t bring home a crystal football. But that doesn’t change the fact that his program was in such monumental shape when he left that the worst the combined forces of Hurricane Katrina and Les Miles could do was create a pair of seasons that ended with 40-3 and 41-14 beatdowns of Miami and Notre Dame. Seeing as how Alabama is currently in better shape than either MSU or LSU were when he took over the reins there, I don’t see any reason to think Saban won’t take the Tide similar places.

You know what? I’m fine with that. With where Auburn is as a program right now—where 11-2 with wins over Florida, LSU, ‘Bama, and Nebraska is nice and all, it's great, really, but not exactly a smashing success—we don’t have to worry about anyone. With Auburn’s current coaching staff, players, admin, etc., it doesn’t matter who’s in the coach’s office in T-Town. Saban doesn’t have to be Ray Perkins, he doesn’t have to be “not worth the money,” overrated, a fraud, any of that. Let him be worth the money. Let him be accurately rated. Let him be Nick Saban, Savior. Hell, let him fulfill all those crimson-colored fantasies and be the damn Second Coming.

Doesn’t matter this time. Auburn’s ready. Tubs is ready. Bring it on, I say.

2) In all the discussion of money and the difficulty of the NFL, in control issues and Saban's inability to adapt, and even from the man himself when discussing where his “heart” was, no one seems to have their finger on the biggest reason a guy as competitive as Saban would walk out on an NFL team and come to a place like ‘Bama.

Namely, at ‘Bama you can be a god. At a place like ‘Bama—or just about any SEC school if you stay (and win, of course) long enough—you can be not just beloved, not just adored, but f***ing worshipped. I would argue that, especially given the fan base’s current desperation, no head coaching job in all of American sports offers the level of gratitude from the fans that the Alabama football head coaching position can offer.

And that, seems to me, was the clinching attraction for someone as obviously concerned with his own image as Saban. Whatever his motivation, the way Saban left Miami does of course make him, as Dan Le Batard gleefully points out, a gasbag and a weasel. But at Miami Saban was never going to be more than good coach. As Michigan St. he was never going to be more than second fiddle to Michigan and Tom Izzo. At LSU he was a big ol’ honkin’ deal, and he probably thought he had what we wanted, until those eejits decided to boo him the very first game after he’d given them everything they wanted.

At ‘Bama? He’s greeted at the airport like Charles Lindbergh returning to the States—and he hasn’t even set foot on campus yet! What happens if he wins an SEC title? A national title? That’s the bottom line—things would happen that would never happen anywhere else. For all their buffoonery over the years (and, in some ways, because of that buffoonery), ‘Bama and Mal Moore could still offer that kind of potential adoration. For most coaches—Curry, Fran, all the guys like Jim Leavitt who could have campaigned for the job and didn’t--it’s not worth the cost of the inhuman pressure. For someone as supremely confident and ego-driven as Saban, though, my guess is it’s the biggest reason of all to sign on.

Starting work on recaps tonight, I swear.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Oh I-hiiiii, Ohhhhh-ho I'm still alive, yeah-ee-eh

Apologies to PJ.

So the JCCW is back, just in time for the end of the season.

More on that later. For now, much happier with a bowl win than last year's bowl gag (and with a 10:30 start, no less) but goodness gracious, what an absolute dog of a game. Actually, calling it a dog of a game doesn't do it justice ... it's this dog, specifically.

So Auburn didn't so much win as suck just ever-so-slightly less. But hey, I'll take it, especially for the seniors (let their contributions to 2004 by duly noted). Recap on that game and the long-awaited (by two people) Iron Bowl recap coming later this week. Honest. I mean it this time.