What ... the hell?
I don't even know how I'm supposed to react to a loss like that. Auburn claws back from 17-3 down, we're up 20-17 and have the Dawgs in second-and-long deep in their own territory, and in what seems like the blink of an eye it's yet another outright embarrassment to add to Tubby's annually-increasing stockpile of them.
It all happened so fast, even after sleeping on it, I'm left to wonder what the appropriate response is. I figure my choices are:
1) Orson-style unholy stream of profanity. (Seriously, don't click there unless you are over the age of 18 and un-offended by pornographic references to Wilford Brimley.)
2) Joining the Wolverine fans a few blocks over in downing buckets o' alcohol.
3) Zen-like acceptance of Georgia's sudden buzzsaw-like properties, a toss of the hands in the air, a quick "Well, what can you do?" and a 23rd review of the 'Bama highlights with an eye towards two weeks from now.
4) Uncontrolled sobbing.
5) Cold and calculated heads-"will almost certainly"-roll rage.
I think in the end I'm going with 6) All of the Above. I'll give Georgia credit: they dominated our purported impregnable-or-just-short defense, particularly up front. Their running back is the second coming of Cadillac, at the minimum. Their quarterback throws a perfectly-thrown bomb for each of his occasional bubbleheaded mistakes. If there's any slightest glimmer of a silver lining from this abomination, it's that it came at the hands of a very good team.
But Auburn's beaten (or at the very least challenged) oodles of very good teams--and very good Georgia teams--over the course of Tubby's tenure. A performance like Saturday's over the final 25 minutes is flat unacceptable and it's even less acceptable--into, like, the negative realms of accpetability--given that the exact same thing happened in this game last season.
What specifically fell below the level of acceptability yesterday? Oh, so many things:
--Evil Brandon was back and as lethal as ever. I was deeply troubled when that very first pass was a solid yard behind an intended receiver who was well-covered to begin with; when Cox threw a gentle, friendly, "Please pick me! I'm ever so tempting!" 3rd-and-9 lob squarely off his back foot into the middle of the field on the second-quarter touchdown drive (that it happened to fall into the arms of Billings was 100% pure USDA-approved luck) I knew Auburn would need the sort of miracles it took to get the Tigers into OT vs. USF. Such miracles don't happen twice in a season.
--Four consecutive second-half drives for Georgia went thusly: 4 plays, 68 yards, touchdown; 6 plays, 48 yards, touchdown; 3 plays, 65 yards, touchdown; 9 plays, 59 yards, touchdown. 10.9 yards (10.9 yards!) a play over that stretch. Ye gods. Georgia also finished 8-of-13 on third down conversions, half of them 7 yards or longer, and converted on 2nd-and-18 and 2nd-and-11 as well. How on earth was this the same defense we saw against USF, Arkansas, Ole Miss, etc.? How?
--Three sacks and another half-dozen hurries, average 2.4 yards-per-rush against the same defense that Troy torched the week before. 216 total yards. 216! 216! Unbelievable (and quite fortunate) Auburn even got 20 on the board. 18 first downs, sure, but Auburn couldn't have provided a better small-play visual counterpoint to Georgia's big-play success if they'd tried. Auburn's longest play from scrimmage covered 17 yards; Georgia has seven plays longer than that. A miserable offensive performance.
--The lack of big play ability was shared by the Auburn defenders. One sack, the one pick, a fumble recovery long after the game had been decided. The style of buttoned-down offense Auburn runs means that the defense and special teams (irrelevant at best again, Byrum excluded) must provide the big plays. Didn't happen. Not for the first time this year, I might add.
--As Jay pointed out, there was not even a fraction of Georgia's fire on the opposite sideline. Pulling a Blackout stunt the day Auburn comes into Athens should have been reason for our team to react with bile and spittle and rage. Instead they reacted with a shrug of the shoulders and tackled Moreno six yards downfield again.
The bottom line is that this cannot, cannot, cannot go on. I say "go on" because this is two years now that our offense has flopped and thrashed its way about the field and only occasionally falling into scores; two years now our defense has looked like the '86 Bears one week and the Bad News Bears (um, the football kind) the next. The progress of 2004 and 2005--when this same quarterback led our offense to 506 yards and our defense ravaged a good team for 11 sacks a week later--is over. The 33-5 run is over. Oh, there was hope in the games at Florida and LSU, but after Saturday, it's safe to say Auburn is back to 2003 and the previous roller coaster years until further notice.
That notice will not come two weeks from now, but a) it could be a step in the right direction, I suppose b) who cares. It's the Iron Bowl. Alabama. Saban. The Tide.
This is the good news for Auburn. They will have two weeks to salvage the season, to make it something other than a terrific win over Florida, the promise of which went unfulfilled, and six other empty victories. With a win over the Tide, 2007 won't exactly be a smashing success, but it will at least be something of value, the kind of season that perhaps one day we look back on as a necessarily cruel stepping stone to better things. And the season, of course, Auburn beat the Tide for a sixth straight year, something worth celebrating a whole off-season all by itself.
Such is the importance of the Iron Bowl that not only do I feel unsure of the proper reaction to the Georgia loss, I feel that reaction isn't even complete. Prelude to the most painful loss of Tubby's tenure? Or maddeningly difficult one-off in a season-ending surge? We don't know. And I feel the same about Tubby, his coaching staff, Cox, Groves and the other defensive seniors: we don't know. The most important part of the story is yet to be written.
We'll find out in two weeks. They promise to be the longest two weeks this football program has endured since ... you know, I'm not sure of that either.