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.

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