Sunday, July 29, 2007

Cheese Puff Previews #4: New Mexico St.

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This post is the fourth in a series previewing Auburn football’s 2007 opponents. They are, like their namesake, utterly devoid of genuine substance, of no value nutritional or otherwise, pure air-injected fluff—but hey, who doesn’t feel like a big bag of cheese puffs every now and again? Previous entries in this series can be found here.

Beware: the over/under for atrocious, headache-inducing puns on the word “Mumme” in this post is 4. Place your bets now.

Why? Week 4 will bring to Jordan-Hare the New Mexico St. Aggies and head coach Hal Mumme, late of Kentucky and still the pass-wackiest, cheatin’-est, Spurrier-wanna-bein’-est coach the SEC has seen as of yet. In the end, Mumme didn’t actually accomplish that much at UK (aside from kick-starting the career of the Round Mound of Touchdown, for which we’re eternally, slavishly grateful), and obviously he’s not working with even Kentucky-level talent at NMSU.
Hal Mumme: playing Crazy Ninja to Mike Leach's Insane Pirate

But I’m not ready to declare this a starters-get-a-series walkthrough, either. I was there in 2001 when an Auburn team fresh off of knocking off the top-ranked Gators on Damon Duval’s banana boot took on another pass-without-conscience WAC also-ran, I remember LaTech pulling within a TD in the fourth and then watching Daniel Cobb roll out under pressure, surely he’s not going to throw that up-for-grabs he way he looks like he’s going to … Oh sweet merciful Lord NO NO NO-- Sorry. That game ... *shudders*.

Anyways, Duval missed a potential game-winner in a preview of his 2002 exploits and Auburn won despite him in overtime. NMSU’s not quite as good as those Bulldogs were, and an actual Aggie victory almost certainly exists only in the realm of fantasy with the centaurs and dementors and Vandy BCS bowl appearances … but the visitors will be more than capable of following, say, Buffalo’s lead and giving Auburn a mild Mumme-ache for a half at least. (1).

Last year:NMSU started off well enough in 2006, with two thumpings of I-AA patsies sandwiched around a loss by just six to in-state rival New Mexico. Over their next eight games the Aggies scored 20 points or more seven times, but the defense failed to keep its end of the bargain and they lost all eight. It’s happened to this head coach before; call it Mumme’s curse. (2). The Aggies did wallop WAC bottom-feeders Utah St. and LaTech in their last two to finish at 4-8. Going 0-12 in 2005 (and getting predictably little respect from Vegas) did help NMSU go 7-3 against the spread last year, for what that’s worth.

Auburn, meanwhile, suffered a pair of embarrassing blowout losses at home to Arkansas and Georgia but defeated both eventual national champion Florida and Sugar Bowl champion LSU, and finished an impressive 11-2 after a Cotton Bowl win over Nebraska.

Notable previous meeting: Auburn has met New Mexico St. just one time, in 1993, but there’s also the following peculiar story, which appeared in the 1957 book True Tales of College Football in the South, as told by former Auburn flanker Max “Moo-Moo” McCree:

“It was 1936, Coach (Jack) Meagher agreed to bus us all the way out to San Francisco to take on the football team from Santa Clara, the Broncos. That trip felt like it took half my damn life. Took us across Louisiana, across the whole of Texas, and into New Mexico. We’d long since gone past the New Mexico border, gone a good couple hours past even the last town we’d seen, I’d reckon, when the rattle started. Something tearing the engine up. Could hear it through the whole bus. Sure enough, few miles later, we’re on the side of the road with the hood up in the middle of the damn desert. Must have stood out there a half-hour without a single car going by. The driver’s looking at the engine, but he’s not saying much. Don’t think anyone thought he’d get her running. We’re starting to worry about making our game, hell, a little about even ever getting back home, when there’s a rumble down the highway a bit. And I’ll swear on anything you like, it’s a bus just about like ours, full o’ big guys like us. They stopped. Didn’t surprise us much when the first guy off the bus tells us they’re a football team, from a school just up the road. Another guy looks at the engine, asks to talk to Coach. Tells him he knows the problem, and he’ll fix it, but we gotta do something for him first. We gotta play them a game, and we gotta win it. We lose, they move on, leave the bus the way it is. Well Coach looks at him a second, starts laughing, tries to kid with him and asks kind of sideways if they could just send someone from the next town out to help. But this guy off their bus, he looks serious as a heart attack. And even though it’s the desert and we’re already sweating buckets, we’re all sick of standing around and ticked to high heaven already, and we don’t much like this guy’s attitude. So we want to play ‘em. Coach is still trying to smooth things out when (team captain) Joey (Carptooth) walks up and tells them we’ll take them up on that offer. The guy whistles at his bus and they start filing off, says “Follow us,” and then just starts tromping off into the desert. Well we don’t much care for that, but we don’t want to be stranded again either, so we start following. We walk about a mile, there’s a few taller trees, and then suddenly there’s a big green football field, marked and everything, right there in the middle of the desert. We just kind of looked at each other for a minute. It didn’t … it didn’t really feel right. I guess one of their guys noticed us just looking around and tells us there’s a pool of water off around one side if we want some before the game, so we check it out, have a drink, and figure this is one of those oasis things you read about. A few minutes later we’re on the field and playing football. Those guys could play, but Joey, I don’t know, that desert much have done something to him. I’d never seen him so crazy. Tackled just about any of their guys that moved. Started just running over people with the ball. They couldn’t stop him. First to 21 won, and thanks to Joey we got there, 21-12. They shake our hands but don’t say much, we go back to the bus and sure enough that one fella gets the engine running in no time, and before we even get to thank him they’re all on their bus and it’s driving away, faster than any bus I could recall ever seeing, too. It was out of sight before we’d even all gotten on our bus. We all felt a little strange, tell you the truth, like we’d all had the same dream and just woke up or something. We didn’t say much the rest of the trip. Lost to Santa Clara that weekend. Maybe that’s why, when I asked Joey ‘bout it the week after, he told me he didn’t know what I was talking about. 'We never played no game in the desert,' he tells me. I couldn’t believe it. He told me we’d gotten off the bus, thrown the ball around, then the driver got the bus working, and that was it. I ask around a bit, a few guys say they remember what happened, but most were like Joey. And even the ones who said they remembered didn’t talk much. I got out my map one night, tried to figure the distance, guessed we weren’t that far from Los Cruces. There’s a school there, New Mexico State University, had a decent football team back then. Even called up the folks at their athletic department later that year. They said I was nuts, there aren’t any fields out there, and their team was in San Diego that week anyway. So I don’t know who those boys were. But I know what happened. I didn’t just make the whole damn thing up.”

Actual history: Auburn won the teams’ only meeting, a late-season Tiger tune-up before tackling Amen Corner, 55-14 during their undefeated season of 1993. The last time Auburn lost to a non-BCS conference team was 1991, when the Tigers dropped a second straight decision to Brett Favre and Southern Miss, 10-9.

Causes for Alarm:

1. Not only is Mumme a very familiar face in an unfamiliar place, but look who his defensive coordinator is …

Woody freakin’ Widenhofer!

Widenhofer (for any SEC fans that only hopped on board this millennium or have egregiously short memories) was a one-time Vanderbilt DC who got promoted to head coach and proceeded to have the worst run of bad luck and close losses I can recall. Week-in and week-out during the late ‘90s, it seemed, the JP game would show Vandy struggling heroically for three quarters against ‘Bama or Florida or Auburn before finally falling short in the end. Widenhofer’s Vandy tenure—which peaked in 1999, when Vandy finished the year ranked in the top-30 nationally on defense, went 5-6, and lost to ‘Bama, Florida, and Mumme’s Kentucky by a combined 20 points—makes Ken Griffey Jr.’s injury history look like a series of lottery strikes by comparison.

So the defensive coaching acumen is there. Thank goodness all signs suggest the talent isn’t (31 a game given up in 2006), and Mumme’s mystical defense-warping aura alone probably costs his team 14 points a game anyway.

2. It’s not often a team comes to J-Hare with a mascot that can even come within shouting distance of Auburn’s for bad-assedness. But check this origin story for NMSU’s mascot, Pistol Pete, from their website:

“The name Pistol Pete comes from a real western gunman in the late 1800’s named Frank Eaton. As a child, Eaton’s father was killed by the four Campsey brothers and the two Ferber brothers, all members of the Regulators. By the age of 15, Eaton had become a quickdraw and a marksman, but went to Fort Gibson, a cavalry fort in the northeast part of Indian Territory, to improve his shooting skills. It was at the fort where he gained the nickname Pistol Pete. In a fair gunfight in 1881 in Albuquerque, Pistol Pete killed the last of the six men responsible for his father’s murder.”

You have to admit, loosing a vigilante single-mindedly dedicated to calculating, ruthless vengance to prance the sidelines with the kiddies and cheerleaders is a pretty bold move.

Causes for Confidence:

1. You may have already noticed it, but NMSU’s football pages have a banner on the right citing QB Chase Holbrook’s presence on the “Heisman Trophy Watch List.” But the Downtown Athletic Club doesn’t have a watch list. So who’s doing the listing? And why do they have him, as NMSU claims, all the way up at #11? Why, that noted bastion of mainstream college football credibility, CFN, that’s who. Though they haven’t seemed to have posted an actual “Heisman Trophy Watch List” … the closest they come according to Google is either here (where Holbrook is 26th) or here (where he’s uh, sort of 12th). Meaning that the NMSU SIDs aren’t even grasping at straws, they’re grasping at Vaseline-covered coffee-stirrers. This sort of “Honest, our guy is in the Heisman debate! Just because no one outside of our minor city or the most diehard college football fans has ever heard of him doesn’t change that” thing never ends well—remember Middle Tennessee St. and “Hicks4Heisman”? No? That's my point. My money’s on karma sending Holbrook off the field with a high-ankle sprain or torn hamstring sooner rather than later, pain visible on his face, crying for his Mumme. (3).

2. Two relevant numbers for this game: a) Distance from Las Cruces to Auburn: 1,381 miles. b) Scheduled kick-off: 6 p.m. Those aren’t numbers, either one, that exactly work in NMSU’s favor.

Random vaguely-related Internet enjoyment: Want to kick start the local economy? Why, just lure a couple of SpacePorts. NMSU says it’s a good idea, anyway, but I don’t know if backing an eccentric bajillionaire (Branson) whose hair looks like this is going to necessarily be every single thing it’s built up to be.

Actual alleged analysis: Auburn fans might not want to know what Phil Steele thinks of this game. We already know he’s not all that high on the Tigers this year, but he names NMSU his #7 Most Improved Team, cites them as a “Turnovers = Turnaround” candidate (despite the fact that Mumme’s aerial circus is always going to hurt their turnover margin), and says the Aggies “can go from a losing record to bowl eligibility.” As someone whose job surprisingly requires little day-to-day knowledge of NMSU’s football team, I’m not in a position to disagree with Steele’s take on the Aggies. He would probably suggest betting heavily on NMSU to stay competitive and cover the spread if you want to finish that game in the Mumme (4), and given both the way Auburn dithered around against Buffalo and Arkansas St. last year and that this season's Florida game is the following week, he’s probably right. Hell, I’ll be glad he is if NMSU really does make a bowl game, since that’ll help shut up certain critics who wouldn’t know good non-conference scheduling if it moved into their living room.

But is Auburn actually in any danger of losing this game, or putting their fans’ tickers through the wringer the way they did in the 2001 LaTech game I mentioned previously? You know Mumme’s teams are going to put points on the board if they’ve got a QB with a pulse, and Holbrook (Heisman candidate though he may not be) brings a lot more than that to the table. But this is a defense that gave up 34 points to New Mexico, 44 at UTEP, 48 at Nevada—none of them especially intimidating offenses. At home, at night, Cox and Co. should be good for 40, and AU’s defense GROVESGROVESBLACKMONGROVES isn’t going to give up nearly that many to anyone. This game’s probably in doubt at halftime. It probably isn’t entering the fourth.

So the post ends with four horrible "Mumme" puns and a push on the over/under. It’s a little sad it even made four, though. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone. Mumme’s the word, you know?







Newspaper Hack said...

Unless Mike Shula's your head coach, this should be over by halftime, no matter how many former SEC scrubs they have on staff.

Jerry Hinnen said...

The Buffalo game was barely over by the half, and that was Buffalo. We'll see.

Anonymous said...

This game may very well be over by halftime, but only because the Tiggers (sic) will have been blown out by then