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 ...
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-- ... 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.



Buford T. Justice said...

I thought you captured the gist of the game perfectly. Neither team was very good this year, but Auburn fought harder all year long and that heart showed up in this game.

At first, I thought it surprising that Saban's team was so passive. The onside kick at the end of the game was a horrid decision. If I recall, Alabama had all their timeouts and knew they had to stop Auburn's running game. By onside kicking it, Saban virtually assured himself that anything less than 3 yards on fourth down and Tuberville would go for it. If he kicks it deep, he pins Auburn back and only has to make three stops and will get the ball back.

So, I was surprised, but then I remember my days of watching LSU with Saban at the helm and those LSU teams routinely played it close to the vest. A lot of Auburn fans seethe with anger about Tuberville's conservative nature on offense, but at least he knows when to try and push down on the accelorator. Saban proved himself to be the coachbot that Jerry proclaimed him to be earlier in the year.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff, glad you're back...
Niffer's is still there, fish still swinging... they've even opened one on Lake Martin. So keep your eyes peeled up there.
Where's your fish? What part of the building?
War Eagle...

Beef said...

Well written, well analyzed. Welcome back.

Richard said...

Nailed it again! I probably should have just shut off ESPN and waited for this write-up. A lot more accurate and entertaining...but I just couldn't wait that long.
Glad we got this Iron Bowl out of the way. Looking forward to the write-up on 'Fear the Birdie!' next year. (And the Clemsom stomp-down at the end of the month!)

War Eagle!


Sullivan013 said...

You ought to propose a T-shirt slogan contest. Here's my entry:

"Saban fears seven"


Acid Reign said...

    Nice job! It's kind of interesting, how many "groan," "why did he DO THAT?" plays we agree on!

Jerry Hinnen said...

First, thanks to everyoen for the nice words.

BTJ: I believe 'Bama had only two timeouts, which I think makes the onsides the right call in that case. Still, it was about the only right one Saban made all game IMHO. I agree that Tubby's willingness to push the accelerator makes him a much better game coach than ... well, 99 percent of the coaches out there, Saban included.

TWER: I would have been very, very surprised if Niffer's was actually gone ... that was more a lament it's been so long since I've been there. I've actually been to the one on the lake more recently than the one in Auburn, since I grew up on Lake Martin and still have friends in the area. My fish hangs over the six-top in the corner by the windows and suit of armor. It's covered in duct tape and has a handwritten poem taped to one side .

Sullivan: The JCCW is likely to begin offering t-shirts once I have some time to devote to getting a project like that off the ground ... probably early next summer. A contest could be in the offing, so hold onto that thought.

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