Sunday, September 30, 2007

And there was much rejoicing: the Florida recap, Half the First

I'm not sure I'd totally agree with Jay that no Auburn win has ever felt better than Saturday night's signature on our Title of Ownership of the Florida Gators--those wins over the Tide in '93 and 2005, in particular, were 100 percent pure Colombian bliss--but hoo boy, after the first 13 1/2 quarters of this season, this one ain't that far behind.

So: a recap.


--Lou Holtz, as I'm sure you've heard by now, sends ESPN to Gainesville with the pronounciation that he's more likely to become a Florida senator than Auburn is to win the ball game. Whatever. I honestly feel bad for Holtz. He should be off thomewhere thitting back in his living room recliner in hith thlippers, telling his wife the bowl of applethauce she just therved him ith a damn fine bowl of applethauce, and oh by the way Honey, Notre Dame'th going 16-1 thith theathon ... and instead ESPN keeps trotting the old fool out there like the guy whose job it is to prance in front of Mike the Tiger at LSU games and draw as many angry and embittered roars out of the college football populace as possible. It's sad, really.
--Mike Patrick, God save us all. That Ron Franklin was shuttled off to call K-St.'s (delightful) whipping of Texas while the WWL serves us up the Prince of Broadcasting Clowns is a crime against humanity. The ESPN exec who made this decision deserves consecutive life sentences serve in federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison. I'm not even joking.
--It's probably a sign you're taking football a little too seriously when you're a red-blooded American male who sees Holly Rowe on the sidelines and thinks "Yes! Holly Rowe! She does a much better job of getting halfway-interesting quotes out of coaches and worthwhile information from the benches than those other bimbos!" rather than, well, some variation on "WHERE ARE YOU ERIN ANDREWS?" In a related story, I probably take football a little too seriously.
--Patrick and Todd Blackledge's pregame conversation about WunderTim:

MIKE: Now Todd, it might not be true that Tebow can walk on water, *ingratiating chuckle* but coach Meyer told us last week has has recently learned to hold his breath under the water for hours at a time, like a whale.
TODD: He's a special player, no doubt about it. Experts in subcontinent politics have called him the best hope yet for brokering peace between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamils.
MIKE: Any truth to the rumor he will consume the English with fireballs from his eyes, and bolts of lightning from his arse?
TODD: There's nothing he isn't capable of on this football field tonight. Including impregnating Florida's coeds with no more than a stare.
MIKE: Ho-ly Cow!

First quarter

--Florida's forced to punt on their first possession after a false start on 3rd-and-5 turns it into 3rd-and-10. Apparently, the noise from the home crowd has the Gators rattled.
--Auburn takes over at their own 16 and Cox is sacked on 2nd-and-8, falling awkwardly. Blackledge is saying he's done, Auburn fans are already telling themselves that 3-9 isn't the end of the world, "Rold Gold" is calling up asking if they can sponsor the shape Cox's leg just got twisted into ... and Cox just hops up like nothing happened other than his usual weekly beating. Apparently, Cox is made of rubber. I can't say I'm too surprised.
--Patrick calls Tubby "the Pat Buchanan of college coaches" (or comes just short of it, maybe) for his rather-too-safe decision to kick on 4th-and-1 rather than take an offsides and try 3rd-and-11, but it all works out when Florida plays Silly Gators and runs into the kicker. Much obliged, fellas.
--A first-down flip reverse from Burns to Dunn is snowed under for an eight-yard loss. Borges is thinking "See? This is why I don't get creative on first down, you idiots."
--That's promising. Cox just time-warped to 2005 and nailed Smith on 3rd-and-14 for 21 yards. This is followed by a second pass to Smith for 13. To Billings for 13. To Smith for 9 to the Florida 19. Welcome back, Brandon Cox. Great to have you here.
--Tate gives Auburn first-and-goal from the 6. Burns comes in and runs an Incredibly Surprising Quarterback Draw (copyright MGoBlog) that works for a TOUCHDOWN! in part because--no it's totally, true, watch the replay!--Tommy "Occasionally, Just This Once, a Blocking Tight End" Trott stones his guy at the point of attack. I'm trying to think of a better omen for Auburn than Trott making a good block, and short of the heavens opening and the voice of the Almighty intoning JUST SO YOU KNOW UP FRONT, I'VE GOT AUBURN ON THE MONEY LINE, I've got nothing. 7-0, Tigers.
--WunderTim gets stuffed like Fulmer on a visit to Golden Corral (sorry, just too easy) Andy Reid at Christmas dinner on 2nd-and-1, Florida false starts again to go back to 3rd-and-6 (damn crowd noise!), a check-down goes precisely nowhere thanks to Wilhite, and the Gators punt again. Eeeex-cellent. /Burns
--Borges gets tricklicious on first down again with a Cox-to-Burns screen, but Burns drops it (hey, somebody has to), stands there helpless, and gets popped by UF LB Dustin Doe. I'm actually a little sympathetic towards Doe here, because I didn't hear a whistle and it's not his job to figure out if it's a lateral or not (Rowe's mysterious report a few seconds later to the contrary). But I also think it's worth the offsetting penalty when Bosley walks down and gives Doe the ol' firm two-handed shove. Exhibitions of belligerence and fang-baring on the road = positive sign.
--Cox completes two more to move Auburn past midfield. He's 7-of-8 with the one incompletion the Burns drop. I'm waiting, but no signals yet of other shoes even in the vicinity, much less ones ready to drop. A sack ruins the drive anyway.

Second quarter

--Florida starts driving the way they inevitably do, and get a hand from the officials when Savage is called for a personal foul by virtue of merely falling over onto Harvin's feet.
--Karma has a way of evening out, though, don't it? The Gators stall and Ijjas's field goal hits Sen'Derrick Marks in the palm. If that wasn't good news enough, the entire Auburn unit immediately begins waving their arms and backing off the ball. I'm no expert, but it certainly looks like they've been well-coached. Somewhere, Leon Lett is going "You're never going to be a hero that way! Come on!"
--Stewart runs his trademark wheel route, and Florida is ready. They have him surrounded by four guys. Cox drops it in like he's pitching horseshoes for the completion anyway. I'm guessing this Under Armour gear is flame-retardant, because otherwise it'd have caught fire by now, Cox is so damn hot. (I am SO clever.)
--Patrick and Blackledge interview Jim Leavitt over much of the rest of the drive, because the overwhelming majority of fans watching the game were just thinking, "Hey, this is exciting and all, but it would be so improved if they ignored it for a while to talk to a coach whose team played yesterday. Thanks goodness they're giving me what I want!" They come back just in time for Cox to hit Billings for 25 yards down to the 13. He then scrambles (heads-up!) and lays out (gutty!) to set up ...
--4th-and-1 at the 4, and in this situation, you know what Tubby's going to do. Tate, first down, and it's Tate again on the next snap for the TOUCHDOWN, capping a 10-play, 80-yard drive as fine as any you will ever see. Auburn's offensive line--now featuring five new starters from a year ago, three of them freshman, this cannot be stressed enough--bullied Florida all over the field this possession. 14-0 Auburn. Un ... be ... lievable.
--Florida drives to the Auburn 37 before they decide to play Silly Gators again, this time with the sort of offensive lineman the term "big galoot" was invented for running over Powers for no other reason than because he's just that big a galoot. Florida winds up going for it on 4th-and-9 and Brock strips it away from Louis Murphy, causing Muschamp to go into his patented Spasms of Infinite Joy routine. Which I'm fine with--Muschamp looks like he'd be a hell of a lot of fun to play for, and that can only help.

The second half coming tomorrow.

Two men

"We're not sold on Brandon Cox at quarterback. At. All."
--Orson Swindle, EDSBS, Florida fan

"For the past two years I've failed to understand the hype about Brandon Cox."
--Ryan Ferguson, AOL Fanhouse, Florida fan

"Gator fans, [Auburn] isn’t one of the stiffer SEC tests ... Auburn is not as good as UT and will also be blown out in the swamp."--Keltic Gator, Orange and Blue Hue, Florida fan

"Brandon Cox may miss his start against Florida due to heavy menstrual bleeding."
--Orson again.

This is Brandon Cox. His final line from Saturday: 17-26, 227, 0 INTs. More importantly, his final career record vs. Florida: 2-0. He could have walked off the field in pain more than once. He could have thrown multiple interceptions under heavy pressure. He could have not led a game-winning drive.

But in the end there was nothing, not one pass, to forgive. He maybe wasn't perfect. But he was good enough to win, and that's all we've ever asked.

This is Tommy Tuberville. He just took a team that started three true freshman on the offensive line, lost to Mississippi St. at home two weeks ago, has lost starter after starter on defense and lost its best defensive player midway through the second half, and defeated the No. 4 team in the country, the defending national champions, at night on their home field. Tuberville's team became the first to beat Urban Meyer's Gators in Gainesville. A team--again--facing hurdle after hurdle after hurdle that most teams wouldn't have a hope of clearing. Somehow, Tuberville gives them that hope.

Just as, it is worth remembering, he has done time and again for the past nine years. Over, and over, and over. Every year (save one) he loses games he should win. But every year he wins games he should lose. There is no one I would rather have as Auburn's coach.

War Eagle.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Wish List: Florida

Fannin indicates precisely whose help Auburn's going to need to win tonight.

Not too many folks read the JCCW on Saturdays. There are better things to do, obviously ... though I've tried taking on the multi-headed, terrifying corporate beast that is Gameday these days this a.m., and I'm not sure it qualifies.

But for those few diehards looking for something to bide their time 'til kickoff, here this week's Wish List.

When Auburn has the ball

1. That the Tigers convert on third down. Joe Blow at the new Auburn blog If Pigskins Could Fly took a terrific up-close look at the Auburn O's third-down conversions yesterday which, if you haven't heard, have to happen about twice as often just to reach "not cripplingly terrible." Blow finds that while the Auburn offense isn't necessarily predictable on any individual play call, it has been very predictable when it comes to selecting a run or pass based on down-and-distance. I'll let Joe sum up:
I'm not one to put all of the blame on Borges. Five of the missed conversions were sacks, but that doesn't compare to 31 incompletions and 2 interceptions out of 36 passes! Who's to blame there? Cox? The receivers for not getting open, and dropping balls when they do? Borges for calling a pass play on nearly all third down and five plus yards situations? I'm going with all of the above. Something needs to change.

I would also go with "all of the above," and there's no week this needs to change more than this one. Auburn is not going to win this game 34-31. It's going to have to be the same sort of grind the 2006 win was, a 17-14 slugfest, and the AU defense is not going to be able to hold an offense like Florida's to that sort of point total if they don't have as much rest as the offense can possily give them. Three-and-outs = Tebow crushing skulls and death coming far too slowly for that kind of pain. Auburn's offense must stay on the field for the Tigers to have even a whisper of a prayer.

2. That if Auburn's going to turn the ball over, for God's sake that they do it in Florida territory. Sticking with the "the offense's No. 1 goal is to help the defense" theme, Auburn cannot give up short fields. The Tiger defense can hold (well, within reason) if not exhausted and if given enough chances to force a stop on a given drive. If Florida starts at their own 20 or in a further hole, a defense with Sims, Savage, a hopefully learned-his-lesson Groves and a hopefully halfway healthy Blackmon can probably manage a punt by, say, midfield. If the Gators start in Auburn territory, it's going to be points.

Do I have faith in the Auburn offense not to turn the ball over? Not really. But if they could at least wait until they cross midfield to do so, it would help mightily.

3. That they keep going deep. Ole Mis showed last week the Gators could be burned downfield, and if given enough chances Auburn's receivers have to catch one, don't they? Law of averages, right?

When Florida has the ball

1. That Auburn makes them work. Florida is going to put a few scores on the board. It's going to happen, inevitable as the sunrise and fans joking "I knew we were done/I knew we would win as soon as Corso picked us/picked against us." Tebow and Meyer, sad to say, are like that.

But if Auburn can make them work--make the drive the field, earn the hard yards, grind Tebow into the mixer--I wonder if that offense can hold up 100 percent to the beating Sims, Blackmon, etc. are capable of dishing out. Tebow's a great passer, that's obvious; what's less obvious is if he's still a great passer in the fourth quarter of a game he's been beat up in. I know it's usually the offense wearing out the D than vice versa, but after Tebow played the bull in the china shop last week I'm just not sure he can do it again and stay as efficient as he's shown to date. To make that happen, Auburn has to limit big plays and make the Gators invest heavily--and hey, maybe too heavily--in the points they earn.

2. That Auburn stays disciplined. Yes, I'm talking to you, Quentin. The way to stop big plays is to stay fundamnetally sound and play your position and all that old coaching mularkey that in this case happens to really be that essential. Auburn can't afford to gamble while looking for a huge play--still looking at you, Quentin--bust, and hand Florida their own huge play. That, friends, is the fast track to 47-10.

3. That Auburn doesn't kick to Brandon James. Just don't do it, Auburn. Unless you want this sort of thing to happen.

Best of luck, Tigers. I'm afraid, tonight, you'll need it.

War Eagle.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Open letter to Brandon Cox he will not read


Hi there. My name's Jerry Hinnen. I'm a big Auburn football fan, and this is my blog, the Joe Cribbs Car Wash.

So we're clear: I speak for no one but myself. Some Auburn fans will support the offer I'm making you here. Many will not, and that's fine. More than understandable.

Because whatever happens Saturday in Gainesville, Brandon, in this space you are forgiven. A close Auburn loss; a spread-covering two-TD Gator win; a 70-3 humiliation. I will hold none of these results against you.

After what happened two Saturdays back, you know there are many, many Auburn fans who won't be nearly so charitable. I don't just mean the boo-birds, either. You know as well as any of us--better, probably, when you're alone and honest--that you stunk Jordan-Hare Stadium out those first three weeks. You simply didn't play well enough as Auburn's starting senior quarterback for our team to win those games. Even those of us who would never dare boo an Auburn player giving his best effort (and no one sane doubts your commitment or toughness, I think it's fair to say) have more than sufficient reason to have burned through the last of our stores of understanding, compassion, etc. It's not like I've been a wellspring of kindness myself. (Also: this offer does not hold for the Vandy game, or several of the games thereafter. Auburn should not lose to Vandy.)

But this week? You have nothing here to lose, no criticism available here to earn. You have played, Brandon, like a quarterback who knows the entire elephantine weight of the Auburn offense is on your shoulders and ready to crash to the cold earth of a 19-14 loss to Mississippi St. at any time. It makes sense you would feel like that: your best receiver is a walk-on, your running backs a sophomore and a redshirt freshman, your offensive line riddled with inexperience and incompetence even where it is experienced. Who in your situation wouldn't feel like they had been handed a sackful of cannonballs and asked to drag it the miles and miles it needed to go? Who can blame you, really, for bailing the pocket an instant too quickly when you feel in your guts you must be on the field for your team to have even the thinnest chance at victory? I'm sure you would tell all of us an injury isn't a luxury your team can even get a credit line established for, much less afford.

But dragging and pulling and playing in desperation doesn't work. Just ask Brett Favre, who's thrown countless interceptions of the "I'd better make a spectacular play because spectacular plays are our only hope, and I am the only one capable of making them" variety over the last few seasons, interceptions that from a decision-making standpoint look an awfully lot like your hopeful lobs into double-coverage.

So I ask you to put that weight down. I ask you, Brandon, to play Saturday night like there are no burdens, that there are no boo-birds and no message boards and nothing but handshakes and slaps-on-the-back waiting for you when you return to the Plains. You have played that way before. I have little doubt you can play that way again. So that is all you will find here: applause for your effort, a "thumbs-up" for the attempt, win or lose. I, at least, will watch expecting nothing. Not failure. Not success. No expectations. Just hope.

Do not, however, underestimate that hope. Have you ever seen the movie Flight of the Navigator? Probably, right? (You're not that much younger than I am.) Our teacher showed it to us one lazy Friday when I was in fourth grade. For all the cool special effects, the awesome spaceship, the freakish little alien housepets on board, the laff-a-minute on-board robot, the Sarah Jessica Parker, what stuck with me most was the montage of dogs catching frisbees in a Florida park over the opening credits. They were filmed from ground level, sometimes against the sky, in close-up and slo-mo, every ruffle of fur as they poised, sprang into the air, and locked their jaws against their target the ruffles of the divine. Truly, these were the dogs of gods. (Truly, also, I was 10.)

The minute I got home, I grabbed a frisbee and took the labrador retriever my family had raised from puppyhood out in the backyard. I don't think I ever really expected her to jump for the frisbee. Part of me, even then, knew that a dog had to be trained to do something like what the dogs in the movie had done. But I stayed out there for hours, tossing the disc, watching her wait patiently until it hit the ground, then pulling it away as she excitably tried to pick it up off the ground. Toss, watch, recover, toss. Lather, rinse, repeat. Every time, imagining that it will be different this time, that this time she will eye, and leap, and snare, and I will run screaming with joy into the house to tell my Mom the miraculous movie-camera thing that has happened with my own dog.

Brandon, this is the burning, unending hope I will carry with me into Saturday night. I don't expect a win. The team you are facing has more weapons, more fans in attendance, and though they do not have much experience they have more of that than our side does, too. The rational part of me--that knew my dog wasn't about to snare that frisbee--knows that victory is terribly, terribly unlikely.

But there is hope. And it starts with you. It is a hope impossible to fulfill without you playing as you did two seasons ago, with confidence, surety, and abandon. The game in Gainesville is like that frisbee: it will do no good to wait for it to gently come to you. The game is there, hovering, spinning, ready. You must go get it.

We know you have the ability. Pretend there is no weight on your shoulders. Remember that some, even many, of us will forgive you if you miss. Make this leap, Brandon. Let nothing hold you to the ground. Leap! And bring victory back to us.

War Eagle.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Works, Gator haterade-style

Yes, that's right, celebrate. Keep celebrating. Nothing to worry about this week, oh no. Oh no.

A fisk worthy of Carlton. So I remember reading this Fanhouse post by noted Florida fan and unbearably smug Brandon Cox-trasher Ryan Ferguson, and I think, "Hmm, fisking's usually reserved for MSM clowns and Heismanpundit. And that's not a fight I've really got a dog in. But it is Gator Hatin' week, and boy, what a load of deceptive codswallop this is. There's a shrink somewhere scribbling 'abandonment issues' in a little notebook just out of reflex. I should really take this apart."

One of the nice things about blogging, though, is that somebody will sometimes do your work for you. And sure enough, Brandon of Garnet and Black Attack and his demon-possessed blue-eyed anime Rooster of Doom took it to Ferguson good in this post, which I highly recommend even if he does say a quick not-nice thing about our Tigers. After all, it is a Gator on the receiving end of the takedown. What do Brandon, the JCCW, and Pitchfork all have in common? On a 1-10 scale we give Ryan Ferguson a 2.8.

I still feel like I need to do me some Gator-mocking, though. So at least we've got Ferguson's original-and-occasional stomping grounds at Orange and Blue Hue. Go back to the wake of the MSU loss, and you'll find "Keltic Gator" (I assume with a K because he/she got tried of trying to remember how that darn C was pronounced, definitely a frustrating problem when it's your own handle) writing the following:
This time it was the Mississippi Bulldogs who outhit and bullied the Auburn Pussies up and down the field. Now that Auburn has faced extreme adversity we will see how they respond. My prediction is that they will roll over and die: aka “Dead Pussy walking”!!! By the way Gator fans, this isn’t one of the stiffer SEC tests I was referring to in the previous section. Auburn is not as good as UT and will also be blown out in the swamp.
Dude, Auburn's name is the "Tigers," and you know how "pussy" can also, mean, like "cat"? So I call them the "pussies" 'cause tigers are just big cats and dude, I totally got like, the dirtiest word ever right there in my blog and it's totally OK! Mom totally can't say anything! Score!

I should also quote Terry Pratchett here and point out those multiple exclamation points, the sure sign of a diseased mind. And most importantly: take it from the guy who called Miss. St. an auto-win, you don't want to go assuming you'll blow out another SEC team, particularly one that has the sort of road and vs. top-10 record Tubby's Auburn does. Karma: so, so tempted right now.

Plus, there's the whole, you know, history. Saurian Sagacity provided the Gators' view of it in style last January, but forgive me for preferring the walk down YouTube memory lane served up this week by recent blogroll addee the War Eagle Reader. I don't entirely share J.Henderson's (nice initials there) 41-28 (!) confidence, but he's right that the teams' past sure as hell make Auburn a threat to "forge a mighty shiv between the hash marks and shove - humbly, but without reservation, and with Can-Do Auburn Relish (CDAR) - into [their] soft, overrated, reptilian gut," as he nicely puts it.

Same page, different paragraphs. Will responded to my take on his take on the offense vs. NMSU, and we're really not that far apart as shown by his quoting, well, me in response to me). I 100 percent agree with Will that the 2006-style grind-grind-grind-playaction routine isn't going to cut it against this schedule and he makes an excellent point about how that philosophy sets Auburn up for things like breakdowns in the return game to become game-deciding plays. The question is whether Auburn's 2007 personnel are even capable of having the training wheels taken off, and I don't think given the catastrophic consequences of a loss the NMSU game was a good time to try it ... but Will is absolutely correct that the same gameplan that worked there is not suited for this Saturday's game.

Of course, the real story here is that we got a second post out of Will this week. Obviously, I should disagree with him more often. YOU HEAR ME COLLIER? THOSE FOLKS OVER AT HOOVER HIGH ARE SAINTS!

To T or not to T. One of the real (only?) joys of this season has been the rise of the Auburn media blog. We all know about Phillip Marshall, but there's solid work being done at Turner Loose and Jay G. Tate's blog for the Advertiser. The buzz this week is about Tristan Davis, who Marshall and Turner seem to buy Tubby's line that Davis could see time on kickoffs, but Tate's description of Davis walking like "an old lady" has me thinking it's not time yet. Tate today also rewound to the MSU game for yet another shrewd example of how badly the pendulum of luck has swung against Auburn this season. It's the tidbits like these that don't always make the front page stories that help make Auburn's media coverage better now than ever.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

First down breakdown (and Power Poll ballot)

Will Collier's From the Bleachers isn't the most frequntly-updated Auburn blog out there, but like your classic hole-in-the-wall BBQ joint that doesn't bother with any fancy sides other than a half-assed cole slaw, the quality of each of Will's posts more than makes up for any lack of variety and/or quantity.

So when Will wrote this about the Auburn play-calling against New Mexico St. ...
While I can understand difficulties due to personnel, I do not understand what's going on with Auburn's offense in terms of game planning and play calling. Thus far the offense hasn't even been vanilla, it's more like unflavored yogurt. It's not just ineffectual a lot of the time, it's also predictable and even boring to watch. There's no misdirection, no deception, not even a hint of unpredictability. If I see Ben Tate run off tackle for a yard on first down again I think I'm going to scream (okay, I confess: it already makes me scream). It reminds me of the worst days of the Nallsminger disaster, and the sheer un-Borges-ness of Auburn's tactics makes me wonder just who is making the important decisions this year. If the answer is "Borges," then Al needs to get his mojo back. If the answer is "somebody else," that somebody needs to go tend to his knitting, because what he's doing so far ain't working, and it ain't going to work.
... I was just a tad surprised.

Like Will, I wasn't happy with the six straight runs to open the game regardless of the result of the bomb to Smith, but following that I couldn't think of any particular point where the game was still in doubt and I thought "Wow, that was painfully predictable." I've stood up for Borges a couple of times over the past few weeks and have generally considered the criticism of him to be mostly knee-jerk reaction to offensive sputterings entirely blamable on the personnel he's working with. After all, I don't think it's a coincidence Borges was a grade-A Certified Genius amongst Auburn fans right up until the point Cox got chewed into corn meal by Dorsey and friends in 2006.

But if Will feels this strongly, I thought maybe I'd missed something. So I decided to go back through the play-by-play and chart Auburn's first-downs. Were the Tigers as un-creative as Will said? They finished the game with 22 1st-and-10s before Fannin's fourth-quarter score put the lead at 48-20 and the game completely out of reach. Those 22 went like so, with "M" for middle, "E" for end and "L" or "RT" for off-tackle/guard plays:

1. Burns LT for 4
2. Tate LT for 5
3. Burns to Smith for 58
4. Burns to Smith, inc.
5. N/A, fumbled snap
6. Tate E for 3
7. Cox to Dunn, inc. (this was the TD drop)
8. Tate E for 9
9. Tate M for 3
10. Tate E for 12
11. Cox to Bennett for 9
12. Cox to Stewart for 13
13. Fannin RT for 6
14. Tate RT for 8
15. Tate M for 1
16. Cox to Tate for 23
17. Tate M for 1
18. Fannin E loss of 5
19. Cox to Swinton, inc.
20. Tate M for 5
21. Tate E for 4
22. Tate E for 13

Auburn went up 22 on that possession and then started their next drive first-and-goal before going up 28, so I think that's the end of where this would be useful.

Discounting the botched snap, that's 21 Borges playcalls on first down. Seven, or exactly a third, were pass plays with the other 14 all runs with either Fannin or Tate. To some extent, I think they back up Will's assertions: there's no outright trickery here, no end-arounds or misdirection and just the single screen pass to Stewart (the Tate reception was a check down). Play-action was pretty much as creative as Borges got on first down, and I think he will have to do more to keep the likes of, well, hmm, let me strain to come up with an example, Florida on their toes. And running a full 66 percent of the time on 1st-and-10 is probably still a little high, even for a team that was ahead the entire second half. (Though some teams make even 66 percent look like Leach's pirateball.)

But there's two things very much worth noting:

1. All that running helped make Auburn's first-down passing very, very effective. Burns and Cox combined to go 4-7 for a TD and an average of 14.7 yards-per-attempt, and those numbers of course look substantially better if Dunn doesn't botch the sure-thing score in the second quarter. (Though the penalty on the Stewart play would hurt them slightly as well). Borges perhaps could have been more creative on first down, but I would say he did about as well as could be expected (if not better) capitalziing on the tendencies Auburn was showing.

2. Even when running, Auburn had more than a little success. The Tigers averaged 8.19 yards-a-play on these 21 first downs. It's a little hard to argue, from where I sit, that Auburn should have been doing something different on first downs when 2nd-and-2 was the average result. Even tossing out the bomb to Smith doesn't hurt the numbers too much--even without it Auburn netted 5.7 yards on these first downs.

The bottom line? There's room for tweaking, certainly. But I have to disagree with Will, based on this game at least, that we're back to the Nallsminger days or that it was even "ineffectual." Yes, New Mexico St.'s defense is, to put it charitably, forgiving. But 4.9 yards a rush, 5.9 a play, a single flukish turnover, and 42 points (with 13 ascribed to the defense) is more than acceptable regardless of the opponent (Tennessee Tech excepted), particularly when half the offense hasn't even started shaving yet. Until Saturday at least, I have no complaint with Borges or the offensive coaching.

Might as well toss this out there while I'm at it ...

1. LSU. Well thank goodness Trindon Holliday looked so freaking good last Saturday, because if there's one thing LSU needed it was another weapon in the backfield.

2. Florida. Seriously: has anyone ever seen a quarterback combine Tebow's passing ability with his kind of smashmouth running ability? Ever? Anyone? Bueller?

3. South Carolina. Honestly, no shame in losing by 12 to LSU on the road (the shame's in Spurrier's shocking white-flag field goal decision) and the road win over the Dawgs is still the most impressive win on anyone's resume south of the top two.

4. Georgia. Bama fans, we feel your pain. Though not really. Actually, what we felt at the end of that game wasn't anything like pain. Sorry for the confusion.

5. Kentucky. Sorry, after what Syracuse did to Louisville my personal jury's still out on the 'Cats.

6. Alabama. I liked the Tide a lot better when they did things like punt from the opponent's 41 down 10 in the fourth quarter, not all this resiliency and poise crap we're seeing now.

7. Tennessee. Had less trouble with Arkansas St. than Texas did, you can say that for them.

8. Arkansas. Am I the only one who thinks the Hogs drawing a crushing 15-yarder for having one guy knock the other guy into the UK kicker is a little silly? Shouldn't there be some kind of "incidental contact" leeway? Not that you deserve to win when you have McFadden and Jones in the same backfield and score zero offensive points at home to Kentucky.

9. Vanderbilt. Domination of Ole Miss looking a bit shinier. Still very much frighten the easily-frightened Auburn fan in me.

10. Mississippi St. UAB (likely), Ole Miss (quite possible), and one more upset along the road (home to Tennessee Oct. 13?), and the Bulldogs could be bowl-bound. Startling.

11. Auburn. No, I do not believe Auburn to be the 11th-best team in the SEC. But they can't go ahead of Miss. St., unlike Vandy we lost our home SEC game to a Mississippi school, and Arkansas gets a lot more slack to losing to Woodson, et al than we do to MSU Third-Stringer, et al. This poll thing sucks sometimes.

12. Ole Miss. Nicw showing, but horseshoes and hand grenades, fellas, horseshoes and hand grenades. Unless you're Charlie Weis.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

WHEEEEEEE!: the New Mexico St. recap

Boy, did we need that. Boy, did I never think I would feel so relieved and uplifted by a come-from-behind win at home over New Mexico St. Boy, do I not care in the least. If loving this win is wrong, baby, I don't want to be right.

On with the show!


--I'm catching the game at home on my beautiful plasma screen HD TV, on my beautiful ESPN GamePlan, thanks to the beautiful people at the Auburn ISP Network. Unfortunately, by the time the picture goes through all of that beauty to reach me it is decidedly unbeautiful. In fact, it looks as if the game will be played underwater, or that the camera lenses have been wrapped in gauze, or most likely both.
--I am more nervous for this game than I have been any of the first three of Auburn's season. New Mexico St., yes. But a very possible loss that would represent possibly the low point of my entire Auburn fandom? Yes. Auburn Tiger football 2007: Feel the Excitement! Except That By Excitement, We Mean Paralyzing Dread!
--Andy Burcham and Cole Cubelic are on the call, and my initial excitement at having someone as terrifically-named as Cole Cubelic on the mic is outweighed by the terror of being told that Berry and Dunlap will be replaced by Chaz Ramsey and Ryan Pugh ... i.e., two more true freshmen. Auburn will start three true freshmen on their offensive line tonight. This, friends, is a Foundation for Excellence. In 2009. 2007, I'm more than a little worried about.

First quarter

--Burns gets the start because if there's one thing this offense has no need of, it's veteran leadership. On second down a gaping hole beckons in the middle until Pugh, being a true freshman and whatnot, fails to peel off on the MLB in time. He grabs Burns' ankles from behind. Punt. Bring on Glenn Dorsey!
--Auburn forces a punt on the opponents' opening possession for the first time this season. That this is true despite Auburn having already faced an offense coached by Sylvester Croom somehow detracts from, you know, the rejoicing.
--Third-and-short next possession, Auburn runs Tate left behind Trott and Pugh. At first I vocally question the mental capacity of a coaching staff that thinks running behind a true freshman and Tommy "Seriously, Not a Blocking Tight End" Trott is their best strategy ... and then I realize that running right means running behind not one but two true freshmen. Borges's hands aren't tied so much as tied, dipped into a block of quick-drying concrete, and left in the sun for a few hours.
--Powers lights up an NMSU receiver, who fumbles, and big Pat Sims picks up the ball and rumbles in for a TOUCHDOWN! despite apparently having had his left hand turned into a MegaMan-style laser cannon during the week. He doesn't shoot the NMSU players on his way into the end zone, which is too bad, as he could have picked up some energy capsules. 7-0 Auburn anyway!
--Mumme's offense does its Mumme thing on the Aggies' next possession, mixing together draws, short passes, and the occasional downfield strike on a cool, methodical, 10-play, 80-yard TD drive. The sort of cool, methodical drive Auburn has yet to put together in 12-plus quarters. Damn your calculated efficiency, Aggies! 7-7.
--Of course, who needs methodical when you can score a TOUCHDOWN on a 58-yard bomb from Burns to Rod Smith, who adjusts and makes a terrific play on the ball. Mind you, an Auburn wide receiver actually helping his direly-in-need-of-said help quarterback means pigs will be flying the remainder of this weekend, so take the appropriate precautions. 14-7 Tigers.
--NMSU QB Holbrook goes deep on a 3rd-and-2 and misfires. "Hmm," I think. "These guys should be able to complete a three-yard out in their sleep. Why go long there?" On the next play the Aggies run a fake punt for 20 yards. "Oh, that's why," I think.
--Very next play, NMSU's Chris Williams picks up 11 yards and then fumbles the ball away without even being touched. Wow, this must be what it's like to play against Auburn!
--On 3rd-and-6 Burns rolls out and nails Dunn between the numbers for the first down. Or he would, if Dunn doesn't drop the pass like a grease-covered bar of Ivory. Infuriating. You know what's sad? That Auburn fans never expected this receiving crew to make the spectacular Larry-Fitzgerald-in-triple-coverage-toe-just-inside-the-sideline catches. We would be happy if they merely made the routine 10-yard out, six-yard hook catches when a pass hits them in the hands. And to this point, they haven't been capable of doing even that.

Second quarter

--The Aggies are rolling. 3rd-and-18 after a penalty in Auburn territory, Holbrook puts it two yards out of bounds, and his guy leans over and hauls in the miracle catch for the first. (I let myself make a quick mental comparison between this play and Dunn's. I don't recommend this. It hurt.) The end result is a 14-play, 86-yard TD drive and a 14-14 tie. It's Pepto time.
--I suppose I shouldn't complain seeing as how as recently as, like, four years ago I'd have been following ESPN score updates posted every five minutes ... but the Auburn ISP Network is still just a couple notches above getting the game via two tin cans and a string. There's no down and distance and at first no replay, but now they've solved that by just putting a camera on the scoreboard. It's almost cute, in a way, like what a football broadcast would look like if it was handled by fifth-graders. (Note that this doesn't apply to Burcham and Cubelic, who are actually pretty doggone good.)
--Cox is back in! Cox fumbles the snap! NMSU recovers! Hooray! Seriously, isn't it time to call in an exorcist for Brandon? Has anyone watched to see if he's puking up pea soup? Does he ever pretend to just be looking at something and accidentally turn his head all the way around? Because this--this being three turnovers in Cox's last three first-half possessions and last two first-half snaps--is getting outright unnatural.
--Holbrook goes up top for the touchdown on the Aggies' first snap. 20-14 NMSU after a missed extra point I can't even get myself to think "Those always come back to haunt them!" about (I'm thinking "That extra point would totally haunt them if they weren't going to score six more touchdowns" instead). On a list of all the things in the world I am Most Tired Of, right at this moment "shots of opposing fans celebrating in our stadium" is No. 1 with a bullet.
--Who needs a stat department? The replay of the TD also shows the current yardage totals on the scoreboard. NMSU has 266 yards to Auburn's 71. Please excuse me while I break something.
--Shot of Borges before the kickoff. He looks beyond shock, like someone just told him that his house burned down, but they were able to save his cat and take it to someone else's house, but then that house burned down. Not pretty.
--Cox goes long and hits Dunn in the hands, again. Dunn drops it, again. MAKE IT STOP PLEASE PLEASE AUBURN MAKE IT STOP
--Borges makes it stop by deciding that the game is too important to be put in the margarine-covered hands of his receivers. Tate for 8, Tate for 19, Tate for 9, Fannin for 5, Fannin for 3, Fannin for 1 TOUCHDOWN! WOO-HOO! Also, Whew! 21-20 Auburn. Goodness, could Auburn actually put together the power running game we all expected out of them this game? Surely not.
--Auburn is called for a block in the back on kick coverage. That kind of year, folks.
--Cubelic with the line of the night. Burcham points out that Holbrook is 19-22 for 210 yards and 2 TDs. Cubelic, deadpan: "Those are good numbers."
--Sack of Holbrook, Aggie punt. Welcome back, momentum. We've missed you.
--Cole Bennett sighting! That's just one of the highlights on another solid-looking Auburn drive led by Cox, who even delivers to Stewart under duress rather than, say, handing the ball to the nearest Aggie for safekeeping. He's 5-6, Burcham says, with the one incompletion the shoulda-been-TD to Dunn. Your guess is as good as mine. Did someone slip some holy water into the Gatorade?
--Of course, this is still Auburn 2007, so a corner blitz from the backside nets a sack, Cox is short of an open Dunn on 3rd-and-12 (the good news is that he'd have dropped it anyway, so no worries), and Byrum's 49-yarder is blocked. 21-20 at the half.

Third quarter

--3rd-and-9, Holbrook's got a little bit of pressure to deal with, and he still calmly surveys the field and finds an open receiver for 12 and the first. I'm innately skeptical of small-conference Andre Ware-esque statistical wonders ("Look, Daddy! I threw for 478 yards against San Jose St.!" That's great, son, really), but unfortunately Holbrook looks like the real deal.
--JINX! Three passes later Holbrook tosses up his worst throw of the night, a bad underthrow of an out route that Wilhite gleefully picks. Thanks, Chase.
--ISP gives us a shot of some tykes in the crowd holding up posters. "Go Ben Tate!" says one. How cute! "Go Patrick Lee!" says the other. Um ... Lee? Really? Not, you know, Groves or Chris Evans or, hell, Cox? (He could use a nice poster.) Don't get me wrong, Lee's a good player. Glad to have him aboard. But is this team really so short of heroes the kiddies feel they're reduced to idolizing the nickelback?
--A few Tate runs puts Auburn inside the 20 but then, uh-oh, Evil Cox is trying to zip it into triple-coverage ... but turns out he's Good Cox in disguise! Smith has it, TOUCHDOWN! 28-20. The patient's breathing seems to be returning to normal, doctor.
--Wow, that was some jinx--Holbrook just tried a two-yard dump to a back who wasn't even looking, handing Marks of all people the first and possibly last interception of his career and Auburn's got it at the Aggie 2. Hope you enjoyed it, SenDerrick! Jinxes like these don't come around too often.
--Cox scores a TOUCHDOWN on the sneak, prompting loud chants of "Brandon! Brandon!" from the crowd. WE LOVE YOU SO MUCH WHEN WE'RE WINNING, BRANDON! And winning we are, 35-20.
--NMSU's next four plays: Loss of four, incomplete, incomplete, terrible punt. Auburn has all the momentum and the ball at the Aggie 38! They'll never stop them now! This game is ours!
--Nevermind. Auburn called for roughing the snapper ... yes, roughing the snapper ... and the Aggies keep the ball. Then they drive across midfield. Remember: nothing is going to come easy for this team this season. Nothing.
--Oh well, Auburn does force a punt, gets a first down on a fake punt when Tatum correctly reads an opening on the right half of the field, and would have another near midfield if Rodriguez had come down with a catchable ball on 3rd-and-7. He's seen getting a few words from an, uh, excited (read: exceedingly pissed-off) Tubby, words that probably boil down to "I do strongly, strongly suggest that you make a successful reception the next time you have an opportunity similar to that one, Prechae." But you'll have to boil them for a while, I bet.
--Wilhite makes a stunning one-handed pick! Fantastic play, maybe the best individual one of the year for the Auburn D. NMSU now at a complete halt on offense. Wow, watching this has almost become ... dare I say it ... fun?
--If I had a dollar for every time Auburn had run a play-action fake and rolled Cox in the opposite direction only for Cox to get sacked or hurried into oblivion by an unblocked rusher this season (they just did it again), I'd have a new DVD by now. Hey, the Office Season 3 is out, too.
--3rd-and-5, Cox nearly throws a pick-six on a quick out. But Dunn tips it away, comes down with it himself, then pulls his way forward inch-by-inch like Buck in the sled-dragging scene in Call of the Wild (don't blame me if your high school English teacher skipped it) as several Aggies stand around watching, assuming he'd been down already. (Kids: Play to the whistle.) Very inspirational. Hell of a play. But Robert: it's hard to get too excited about your highlight-reel plays when you're not making the routine plays this offense needs just as much.
--Dunn makes the grab on a come-back route two plays later for seven yards and the first. Good on ya, Robert.

Fourth quarter

--Tate, now up over 100 yards, goes in from the 2 for a TOUCHDOWN and a 42-20 lead. If Tate's going to run with the kind of authority he's shown in this game, Fannin's fumbles are going to make it very hard to unseat him. Especially considering he's got two games to do it.
--NMSU at least goes down swinging, even if it's the sort of swing where the bat flies out their hand and hits the beer vendor, spilling Bud Light all over a society lady in a monocle and her Sunday best. (Or something.) The Aggies try a laughably ill-conceived fake-reverse-or-is-it-a-real-reverse-not-even-we-know gadget on the return, and of course fumble it away. The gumption is admirable. The execution, not so much. Fannin scores the resulting TOUCHDOWN from four yards out (though he and Cox make even this an adventure as Cox expects a handoff, Fannin expects a pitch, and Cox has to shovel it to him one-handed) and it's 49-20. All over but the shoutin'.
--I haven't even mentioned the special teams, have I? Tatum's been oustanding, kick coverage has been right on top of things, Byrum's been off on his placekicks (missed that last XP and the block looked low) but has boomed the kickoffs, and now Ryan Shoemaker returns from his secretly grisly elbow injury (did you pay close attention to his dislocation replay? Hideous! Not this bad but within the same broad ballpark) launches a 62-yard punt. Now if Auburn can get Davis up-and-running, these guys'll really be something.
--Fannin caps it with a 67-yard TOUCHDOWN to put the final at 55-20 and, on a personal note, to remind us that Tate probably doesn't have that kind of breakaway speed. So nice to feel like we have two real options at RB as opposed to the "Likes running backwards" option vs. the "Enjoys fumbling for fun and profit" option.

Of course, it's a feeling that, like the general HUZZAH! feeling of the entire second half, is very likely only going to last until kickoff in Gainesville this Saturday. C'est la vie. I'll enjoy it while it lasts.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Wish List: vs. New Mexico St.

"Yes, we installed a ton of new plays for me this week. We're up to nine now."

You good people have been nice enough not to lob any tomaotes this way in the comments, but you don't have to: I'm well aware the blog could use a bit more, you know, actual nuts-and-bolts football talk to go with the travelogues and extended disaster metaphors.

So in the first edition of what my crossed fingers hope will be a weekly feature, here's three wishes for Auburn on both sides of the ball, on the eve of what, stunningly, is a must-win against New Mexico St.


1. That Mario Fannin gets through the game without a fumble. Dammit, Mario, we need you. No, Tate isn't as mediocre as the general populace seems to think he is. But yes, he's not quite in Fannin's league, either. I'm not counting on getting Lester back. With the current AIIEEEEE quarterback situation, the rest of Auburn's pffense can't afford to put anything less than its most talented players on the field at this point, but Fannin simply can't play if he keeps fumbling at the current rate. One more cough-up, too, and he's all but done for the forseeable future--probably the T-Tech game is my guess. To have even a puncher's chance at Florida or LSU, we have to have the running game's best puncher available.

2. That Cole Bennett gets involved. The mysterious insistence on getting Tommy "Neither a Blocking Nor Receiving Tight End" Trott the ball is even more mysterious given that we have a sixth-year senior with supposedly solid hands (not that he showed them last week) around to ... not catch a single ball in three games? Did I miss some sort of injury report on Bennett? Seriously, did I? If I did, tell me.

3. That someone brainwashes Cox into believing it's the last drive of the game every drive. Seriously, why has he suddenly turned competent when it's Auburn's very-last-gasp-has-to-happen-now-last-call-at-the-last-chance-saloon possession in all three games and been ... well, you know how he's been the rest of the time. Anyone know a good hypnotherapist? Brandon, you're getting sleepy ... The game is already on the line even though it's the first quarter ... Auburn will lose if you don't score right now even though we're ahead 17-0 ...


1. That our linebackers don't get swallowed alive in pass coverage.
We're going to start Chris Evans, Craig Stevens, and Courtney Harden at linebacker. Evans has been a machine, but the other two guys were fairly anonymous vs. MSU. Guess what, guys? You've got even more responsbilities now that you're going up against a team that throws underneath route like they're going out of style. Everybody knows Tubby recruits speed-speed-speed at LB, so at least this bunch should be physcially prepared. Mentally? Remains to be seen, but if Auburn is going to slow down NMSU at all there's going to have to be good coverage in the flats and on backs, TEs, etc., with little aggravating YAC.

2. That they make the big play when available. We're all in agreement that if Pat Lee houses that INT he should have housed last week, Auburn wins that game going away, right? Auburn D, don't let those kinds of opportunities slip through your apparently greasy fingers any more--you're not playing with enough poker chips on the other side of the ball to fold those kind of hands.

3. That they start strong. Even more important this week than the previous three. If NMSU takes their first possession and scores--which seems likely, given the last three weeks--and Auburn picks up one first down and punts (or heaven forbid, turns the ball over)--also somewhat likely--the home crowd, generous as they may be *cough, is going to get wicked nervous and wicked silent in a big fat hurry.

For more on the Aggies and some terrible, terrible puns, here's your obligatory link to the Cheese Puff Preview of NMSU from the summer.

War Eagle. We need this one.

A conversation with Captain Sunshine

With more than nod towards Dan Loney's superior Captain Bringdown columns.

Seems Auburn fans have been just a wee bit low lately. It's understandable, seeing as how the senior QB who carried our hopes and dreams in his arms just lobbed them towards a triple-covered receiver off his back foot, how our defenders have been dropping like flies competing in a dropping contest, how both of Auburn's losses have come at home and the second to a team with the "You Could Be a Bulldog For a Day!" sweepstakes winner playing most of the game at quarterback. It's enough to make any Tiger fan sing the orange-and-blues.

So I thought I'd try to do my part to cheer Auburn fans up. Not sure how well it's going to work, but with me today anyways to discuss Auburn's problems and maybe help ease a few of us back from the ledge is a special guest, the champion of turning frowns upside down, writer of the song Mr. Brightside and Vice President of the international Optimist's Club, Captain Sunshine. Welcome, Captain Sunshine.

CS: It's marvelous to be here! Your blog has an unlimited future and will soon be name-dropped on international football and basketball broadcasts. The children of Taiwan will send you birthday cards! I'm not sure about the black, though ... don't you think a green background with yellow spots would be better? It would remind people of a sunny field full of daisies!

JCCW: I'm kind of attached to ... Look, Captain Sunshine, this may have been a bad idea. But Auburn fans have really been down in the dumps this week after what happened against Miss. St. and seeing a bunch of our own alleged fans act like classless baboons. Do you have any advice for us? Any reasons we shouldn't feel so sad?

CS: Start with your wonderful coach! He was 35-5 in his last 40 games before losing one game in overtime to a top-25 team and another where his team was nine yards away from the win despite turning it over five times in each game. That's the kind of record Gandhi or a mother bear protecting her adorable cubs would have had if they had been coaching a college football team! Plus, he has the hearing of a bat!

JCCW: Um, right. You know Gandhi drank his own ...

CS: (interrupting) And now that his team has had so many mean things said about them and written about them, he's going to come out fighting like a bunny rabbit!

JCCW: A bunny rabbit? Can't we just say "rabbit"? Sorry, but using the word "bunny" to describe our coach isn't going to make me more confident about Saturday.

CS: Yes, a bunny rabbit! Remember the book Watership Down? When threatened, bunny rabbits can use their sharp claws, powerful hind legs, and long incisors to inflict painful, bloody wounds on potential predators and enemies!

JCCW: I do remember that book. Ended with a big fight inside the good rabbits' "warren" between, um, Bigwig and the evil General Woundwort. They were clawing each other's eyes out and stuff. Pretty awesome, actually.

CS: It was awesome! And that's how Tommy Tuberville will have his team defend their beautiful home this week! Remember when they beat Tennessee after that awful-wawful start in 2003? Remember when they beat No. 1 Florida with hilariously klutzy Daniel Cobb at quarterback after being blown out by Syracuse in 2002? It will be joyful to see, unless you are a fan of New Mexico St., and even they can take comfort that merry victory comes to all teams in time!

JCCW: Not sure about that last part, but you might have a point. Tubby's teams have been better with their backs to the wall. But this team doesn't look anywhere near as good as those other teams you mentioned. Why should we feel any confidence about them?

CS: Your offensive line has already grown so much in just three weeks, like Jack's magic beanstalk, but with Oprah giving away cars on top! From five sacks week 1 to two each of the last two weeks, and yards-per-carry up from 1.7 to 3.6 to 4.7! And they're so young, they'll only get better and better! It'll be like Make Way for Ducklings, but the adorable ducklings will be plowing opposing defenders into the dirt! Make way, make way!

JCCW: I think Dunlap's and Hart's injuries might hurt more than you think, though admittedly it's not like they'd been tearing it up to this point regardless (though we should express some sympathy for Hart, whose senior season and career are probably over and who will never shed his "bust" tag. Sorry, Leon.) I also like the idea of Lee Ziemba pancake-blocking in a duck suit too much to argue. But the injuries are even worse on the other side of the ball. Of our top six linebackers coming out of the spring, four are gone and only one of our projected starters will be available for, hell, what looks like weeks.

CS: Is the beautiful terror of Quentin Groves still available? Is Pat Sims still playing like a cuddly teddy bear possessed by a nightmarish tackle-for-loss demon? Is Chris Evans still flying around from tackle to tackle the way a swallowtail butterfly does when bent on unholy vengeance?

JCCW: Swallowtails can be bent on unholy vengeance?

CS: In certain cases, yes, they can get their charming antennae bent way out of shape, so to speak.

JCCW: Well, I guess I would say yes.

CS: Then your cup of hope overfloweth like a glass of Coke poured too quickly by the stunningly-cute offspring of two of People's 50 Most Beautiful People! Perhaps the defense will not scale the full heights of the Big Rock Candy Mountain you had dreamed of when the season began, but they can still draw close to the summit!

JCCW: Great, now I'm going to have that song in my head all day. Look Captain Sunshine, this is all well and good, but when it boils down to it we're not going to be able to do anything if we don't have a quarterback. And we don't have one. Burns isn't ready to do anything dependably but run, there's no way Caudle's up to speed yet, and Cox is as dependable and stable as Lindsay Lohan the day after St. Patrick's Day at this point.

CS: Your metaphors may be promising but they should be cheerier, and less dependent on easy-joke starlets, talented as they may have been at one time! Because in your diversity of quarterbacks, you have strength. Just as a pod of the most delightful dolphins can destroy a shark by stabbing it with their snouts, so the ability of Burns and whichever strong-armed quarterback is available will keep the defense off-balance and ripe for a marvelous snout-stabbing!

JCCW: Sounds nice, but this sort of thing works only on very, very rare occasions. Just because Florida managed last year doesn't mean a thing for us.

CS: Have you lost faith in the genius of Al Borges so quickly? He is as round and jolly as Santa Claus, but much, much smarter! If he was in charge of a toy shop, he'd have moved it out of the North Pole and into a major manufacturing and shipping hub like Gary, Indiana long ago, cutting costs and increasing profit! With Burns's rapid improvement, the many, many tools and skilled workers he will have at his disposal will make Auburn's offense more productive than even the most efficient of elvish workshops! Ho ho!

JCCW: Maybe. We'll see. I guess I can see your reasons for optimism, Captain Sunshine, but we had most of these at the start of the season, too, and that was before Cox broke down and the injury bug really hit and, well, we lost to Mississippi St. I have a terrible feeling about New Mexico St. Their offense is good enough to score at least a few points no matter what Auburn does, and who knows what's going to happen when we have the ball? I'd like to think the Tigers could push them around, get Tate and Fannin and Burns some running room, then come back with some play-action or a series or two with Cox. But even against NMSU it's going to take a lot more execution, with a lot more consistency, than we've shown this season. And if the turnovers continue, forget it.

If Auburn loses this one, people are going to start talking seriously about removing Tuberville, and that's only going to make things worse and worse. And don't even get me started on how I'll feel if Bama beats Georgia at the same time. Thanks for the attempt, Captain Sunshine, but I think I'm not going to feel much happier unless we get a win.

CS: Perhaps. But what has always been the single biggest, nastiest, most wonderful complaint for you, and for most Auburn fans, under Tuberville?

JCCW: The biggest one? Well, that sometimes his teams just haven't shown up. That whn they're playing teams they think they ought to beat easily, they don't give a full effort.

CS: Has that been the problem this season?

JCCW: This year? No, actually. It hasn't. I can't say I've thought at any point they weren't giving it everything they've had. Even Cox. And the effort on defense has been tremendous, in fact.

CS: And you cannot take some measure of pride in that? That the single biggest problem you would have had with Auburn's coach entering these three games has been at least temporarily solved, and you still feel utterly disappointed? You know, there are many, many, many teams whose terrific and baby seal-like fans cannot say the same, who cannot look at their team and say that they feel they have given a complete effort at all times. You know, it only takes 16 muscles to smile at the fact that Auburn has given it their all, but it takes 84 to boo at the top of one's lungs!

JCCW: You know, what, Captain Sunshine? That's a great point. As long as Tubby hasn't lost his team, as long as this team hasn't quit, we should be proud of our boys' dedication even when they're playing like diseased lemurs. Not happy, I guess, but not completely unhappy, right?

CS: Just a spoonful of respect for the splendiferous effort can make the medicine of defeat to MSU go down!

JCCW: I wouldn't go so far as "splendiferous," but I get it, that's your thing. And I reserve the right to bite the heads off of animal crackers in fury and throw breakable items off my balcony if Auburn loses again Saturday, but assuming they take the Aggies seriously I'll try to keep their effort in focus. Thanks for stopping by, Captain Sunshine. So where you off to next, Notre Dame?

CS: Even my powers will have no traction there, so black and bleak has that cesspool of decay become! Plus, Charlie Weis told me personally he would stuff my cape down my throat if I ever showed up at his office again! Even I hope they finish 0-12! Until next time, enjoy this beautiful day! Ta-ta!

JCCW: It's raining, but whatever. See you later, Captain Sunshine.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Wanted to get a decent post up today, but Real Life is making its usual rude midweek intrusions. Something will unquestionably be up late night tonight/early tomorrow, if everything goes smoothly something else tomorrow afternoon. In the meantime, I cannot recommend highly enough the "Travels With Charley"-esque tales of Jonathan Tu, who is currently criss-crossing the country in the name of college football, song girls, and some the best damn sportswriting you will ever read on the Interwebs or off. Genius, in short, or at least the closest to it a PAC-10 fan can come.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Power Poll, etc.

Before we get to this week's ballot, which I know you're waiting for with stifled yawns breathless anticipation, a couple of quick links. First, if you're a reader of this blog and not a blood relative or a long-ago classmate, you've probably already seen Jay's missive against the boo birds at Track 'Em Tigers. But on the off chance you haven't, it's absolute required reading if you're an Auburn fan who's ever even considered embarrassing yourself with a boo at Jordan-Hare. The problem? Judging by the decided-majority negative response to boos both at Jay's post and at Phillip Marshall's place, for the most part the NFL-fans-in-orange-and-blue-sheep's-clothing aren't the ones reading blogs.

And speaking of the pros, I'm happy to report that 1. Jason Campbell is starting to make his mark the way we all knew he would eventually 2. the Falcons have once again signed up a 47-year-old crazy Danish guy to kick field goals for them. Not an exaggeration: I cannot remember a moment in my life as a sports fan when Morten Andersen wasn't kicking in the NFL.

Anyways, this week's ...

1. LSU. Can't we just skip to the LSU-Florida game now?

2. Florida. Can't we just skip to the LSU-Florida game now? Please? (Also: 13 points allowed to Ainge and Cutcliffe. With nine new starters. Ye gods.)

3. South Carolina. So Mitchell sleepwalked and threw some pics vs. a team that was 267 percent more fired up than your average I-AA puff pastry. He came through against UGA on the road, surprising as that may be, and that carries a bit more weight.

4. Alabama. Watching Cox dissolve like the villain in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" before our very eyes makes J.P. Wilson's raging proficiency all the more, um, unstomachable.

5. Arkansas. Where's Chris Houston when you need him? Or someone to point out "You know, given that the Tide have no timeouts and our quarterback is still Casey Dick and no Marcus Monk, maybe we shouldn't throw on third down here?"

6. Kentucky. How the hell did the best, most accurate arm in the country wind up here?

7. Georgia. I'll haveto check my Guiness, but has any formerly impressive opening-season W ever lost value quicker than the Okie St. beating?

8. Tennessee. Even now, not as bad as it seems for UT. Both losses came on the road to top 10 teams with ridiculous offenses. 59-20 is still 59-20, though.

9. Vanderbilt. Dominated Ole Miss the way they should have, and actually managed to turn it into a W (unlike in 2006).

10. Miss. St. Sigh.

11. Auburn. Seven turnovers in a three-quarter span, if you were keeping track at home. Five defensive starters out. And like that object in the rearview, New Mexico St. is closer to Auburn's quality than they appear. Things could, amazingly, still get worse before they get better.

12. Ole Miss. At least our coach speaks recognizable English, though.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Van Gogh clearly understood college football fandom.

With my first wide-open Sunday of the season, the plan was for this post to be the first recap of the year. It would have been quality--for God's sake, it was a single broadcast featuring Daughtry and Taylor Hicks and the ongoing wonder that is three idiots named Dave (even if one idiot is new). The comedy writes itself.

But taking a second look that close at that ... I was going to write "train wreck," but it's more like a train wreck an airplane crashes into in the middle of a rain of frogs ... anyway, a second look would just be too painful for the resulting pay-off, like walking barefoot over a floor of broken bottle glass to win a radio contest and finding out the prize is a year's supply of sardines. Hooray, sardines.

Leave them out for a day or two in the sun, and you can start to smell Auburn's season.

Plus, as Will pointed out, looking back doesn't seem real fruitful at this point. We all know that Cox is broken and almost certainly beyond repair. We all know that our receivers' hands survived the freezing process and have been successfuly encased in carbonite. We're all aware that allowing a team with quarterbacks who would struggle to hit an open Vulcan from 12 yards to convert 3rd-and-12 on a draw play is not the sort of game-saving play Auburn needed out of its defense. I also considered giving into Saturday's rage and anger and retracting my earlier call for calm during Crisis on the Plains in a flurry of player-calling-out and bitter demands of the coaching staff, but that doesn't seem worthwhile either. We all know that, until they prove otherwise, Auburn sucks like the fat kid trying to slurp the last bit of Mickey-D's milkshake through his straw. The myriad ways in which they suck don't need further detailing.

So here's what you're getting: a random, scattershot collection of thoughts and responses without overarching theme, topic, or organization. In some ways, I think that's the appropriate reaction to a season like this: This team prepared and approached its season in its usual, rational, organized way. That was fine. Now it's time to throw everything at the wall, see what sticks, and go from there.

1. If you were not a student and booed Brandon Cox at the game Saturday, I would like to kindly ask you to donate all of your Auburn gear to the Salvation Army, burn your tickets, and never set foot inside Jordan-Hare Stadium again. To have Cox--a guy who for all his struggles has shown time and again he'd give up a kidney to help this program and has been responsible for win after win after win the past two seasons, whether you'd like to pretend said wins fell from the sky or not--booed that loudly in our stadium sickens, disgusts, and above all shames me as an Auburn fan. I would say every single thing Kanu says in this post, colorful language and all, if he hadn't said it already. If you want to boo, you are welcome to do so at home. I would rather have an empty seat telling the team their "fans" don't care than a full one busy telling them they suck. Just stay the hell away. (And students, I'm aware you're young, stupid, and drunk, and prone to doing things like booing. Whatever. Just please don't make a habit of it--you see how quickly it spreads these days.)

2. Gracious, how little does the Auburn coaching staff think of Blake Field? Tubby admits Burns knows "three, four, or five plays" and he still plays nearly the entire game over the guy who's been in the offense for years? If I did this post over again, I think Neil Caudle's injury might be the biggest one of all for Auburn this season.

3. If there's any good news from Saturday, it's that Michael Henig left the stadium without any sort of major structural damage caused. Given the intensity of whatever black voodoo-hoodoo-juju curse has been put on the poor kid, I think all he'd have to do would be to lean on a pillar for a few minutes before it came crashing down in a hail of rubble. Doorknobs probably break off in his hand.

4. I didn't think it was possible for my man-crush on Quentin Groves to grow any more intense, but then he mans up and takes responsibility for his mistake, on the record, even admitting he's been thinking about the damn sack record. I'd rather he have not made the mistake in the first place (file that little observation under: "painfully obvious"), but the leadership shown in placing the focus on himself is precisely what this team needs. As long as guys like Groves are around, there's hope things will get better.

5. The single biggest disappointment about this team? Auburn starts (or started) four seniors on offense: Cox, Dunlap, Bennett, and Rodriguez. Sorry fellas, but you were the four we had to lean on and all four of you have been heart-breakingly bad. Please, please pick it up.

6. If you want to see karma in action, Auburn outgained its opponent for the first time in six games. They won three of those first four and took the other into overtime. The pendulum was just waiting to swing the other way.

7. I'm not usually one of the "All we have to do is defeat 'Bama, and it's a great year" types. But honestly? This year, at the JCCW, given all that's happened both over there and on the Plains and how both programs are (completely justifiably) being seen right now, every game between now and the Iron Bowl is practice for that one. I cannot remember the last time I wanted to win that game so badly ... and I live in Michigan. What I'm saying is that if a few eggs get broken along the way to making a Crimson Tide omelet, I'm not going to complain. Much.

8. New Mexico St. scares the absolute, complete utter hell out of me. Mumme's offense is going to put points on the board. Period. Ours, even against their D? No such guarantee.

Never thought I'd say it, but this guy has me terrified.

9. And this is what worries me the most: If Auburn does lose that game, if we get swept on the road, if we ... if we ... lose to 'Bama AAAARRGGGGHHH MY FINGERS IT BURNS IT BURNS ... Tubby might not survive. I know I said otherwise in the comments thread just a few posts back, but I was still under the impression 6-6 was about as low as this team could go. Now? 3-9 looks possible. 2-10. And the finger is going to be back on the trigger.

It's not fair. What hope this team has lies in the massive stockpile of young talent Auburn's got. McNeil. Marks. Ziemba. Savage. Fannin, assuming he ever cures his case of the fumblies. Burns, who will be an absolute terror in two seasons. As black and bleak and the present is, that's how bright this team's future coudl be, and Tubby's the reason for that. He deserves to at have least have one more go at turning this present into that future, and I'll say that even if Tennesee Tech goes Appalachian St. on us.

But I sure don't expect to have a lot of support in that position should many more Saturdays feel like this last one.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Auburn football 2007: THAT'S MY PURSE

Auburn football doesn't know us.

Tubby: "You left yourself open, fans."

Friday, September 14, 2007

Things to Remember during Crisis on the Plains 2007


A brief horn riff then sounds as the words "Crisis on the Plains 2007" slide from different sides of the screen into place over an orange-and-blue-background. The logo fades to the anchor desk.

JEROME: I'm Jerome Jurenovich, Headline Sp... I mean, Jerome Jurenovich, filling in for Anderson Cooper. I didn't have anything better to do and my number was still on the Turner Center speed-dial for some reason. Thank you for tuning in to CNN for our ongoing coverage of "Crisis on the Plains 2007." We're going to take you now to a press conference, we understand this is a spokesperson for the Auburn Nation relief organization known as the "Joe Cribbs Car Wash." Let's go there live ...

The screen shows a podium stationed on a small platform. A black banner reading "The Joe Cribbs Car Wash" in white letters is behind the podium, with smaller writing underneath saying ... it doesn't really matter, the banner is as boring as could be. A stadium seems to occupy the background behind the platform. A man in a long-sleeved Auburn shirt and Auburn cap approaches the podium.

JERRY: Good afternoon. Thank you all for coming. By this point, we are all aware of the great challenges now facing our great fan nation in the wake of last Saturday's disaster. There's a lot of panic right now. Families are suffering. We're hearing reports of Auburn fans turning against each other, stories of violence perpetrated against innocent household objects. It's not a pretty picture this catastrophe has painted, and we at the JCCW have to admit that we have been caught off guard. We were hopeful the USF loss would miss us altogether, and even when it hit we expected it to deliver only a Category 2 blow. But we've had several confirmed reports of calls for Tubby's job, clear evidence that this has been a Category 4 defeat. Without question, this is a time of great trial and torment for so many, and it at times like these we remember our brothers and sisters in suffering at Michigan and Notre Dame, which makes us feel better about ourselves.

Relief workers work to clear up the shattered wreckage of Auburn fans' expectations.

At a time like this, we at the JCCW are committed to offering whatever aid and comfort we can to the afflicted. To that end, we would like to take this opportunity to issue the following bulletin of useful tips and reminders, which we believe all Auburn fans would benefit from if recalled and followed. We're well aware it's going to take a long, long time or a victory at Gainesville to heal the wounds of last Saturday, but the JCCW would like to play its part in helping Auburn fans take those first few steps towards stability, or, failing that, at least towards not lying in the bushes outside Tubby's house with a pellet gun.

First, we would like Auburn fans to remember that South Florida is a top-25 quality team. Despite the Bulls' limited pedigree, they boast the most accomplished college quarterback in the state of Florida, a bevy of returning starters, excellent coaching, and perhaps most importantly a budding tradition of causing wreckage and destruction amongst the fan bases of larger programs, having crushed a 2005 Louisville team and defeated a 2006 West Virginia team that were each Auburn's equals if not (in the case of WVU) Auburn's superiors. USF's conference may not wield the total destructive power of the SEC, but individual cells have proven themselves over the past few seasons to be every bit as lethal.

While many in the Auburn community were fully aware of the danger ahead of time, the failure of appropriate college football communication systems like ESPN, the polls, and the Alabama media to alert the Auburn populace left many unprepared for the result and has greatly exacerbated the damage inflicted by this weekend's disaster. In an effort to prevent future re-occurences and protect the good people of West Virginia, Rutgers, etc. from similar anguish and prevent confusion amongst fans who may see USF as another East Carolina or Western Michigan rather than the Southern Cal or South Carolina they more closely resemble, the JCCW is proud to announce than any writer referring to South Florida as a "directional team" is now eligible for a voucher good for one free Foot Up Their Ass, redeemable at any JCCW branch office.

The upset sirens didn't sound loudly enough.

Second, we ask that Auburn fans refrain from calling for the removal of offensive coordinator Al Borges. Although the JCCW has already issued one statement absolving coach Borges, we would like to reiterate our position, stating for the record that a) the 20 first-half points his offense would have scored if not for Mr. Brandon Cox's ill-fated pass towards Mr. Tommy "Double-Covered at the Time" Trott represent a substantial level of success b) Auburn's second half possessions failed for the following reasons:

1. A fourth-down fumble by Mr. Cox on what appeared to be a successful first-down sneak
2. Mr. Rod Smith cutting off a route short of necessary first-down yardage on first down
3. A fumble by Mr. Mario Fannin
4. A second fumble by Mr. Fannin
5. A sequence of dropped pass-five-yard penalty-curious backwards run to set up an impossible 3rd-and-20
6. A horrific interception by Mr. Cox
7. N/A, successful drive capped by field goal
8. The OT possession described in previous statement.

Of these eight possessions, we believe coach Borges' play-calling to be at fault, if on any, on the three-and-out ending with Smith's short route. On all other drives the responsibility rests with the Auburn players' execution, and we call on Auburn fans to begin the healing process by recalling that their dissatisfaction with coach Borges coincides perfectly with the dissolution of Mr. Cox's skills at quarterback, and adjust their blame accordingly.

Thirdly, we strongly suggest that Auburn fans understand that the laws of chance dictated that a catastrophe such as this was long overdue to strike. Assessments of Auburn's great likelihood for a USF-like disaster in 2007 and placement squarely in harm's way have long been available both here and elsewhere, and Auburn's good fortune in having been spared such miseries previously should always have been viewed as a simple delay of the inevitable. Although we would love nothing more than for each "Upset Alert" we issue and every request for fans to evacuate their expectations for a game be a false alarm, it was inevitable one of these situations was going to prove to be, as they say, "not a drill."

Fourth, in the further interest of diffusing tensions in the wake of USF, we call for an end to retroactive demands in the change of offensive personnel. These have taken two primary forms, one that Mr. Fannin should have replaced Mr. Ben Tate for all second-half snaps excluding the series immediately following the second of his costly fumbles. While the JCCW is more than happy to acknowledge that Mr. Fannin appears to be the substantially more talented runner and should be the starting tailback, we would also submit to Auburn fans that it was Mr. Tate who had the better game in the face of USF's fury. The final lines for the two tailbacks are as follows:

Rushing No Gain Loss Net TD Lg Avg
Tailback A 14 67 5 62 1 15 4.4
Tailback B 14 73 12 61 0 36 4.4

In other words, statistically, the two backs were nearly indistinguishable. When considering as well that Mr. Fannin's two fumbles stuck a devastating blow against the Auburn offense's ability to stem the oncoming USF tide, it seems clear that Mr. Tate was in fact the superior rusher Saturday.

To repeat, this is not an endorsement for the sufficient-if-increasingly-pedestrian-looking Mr. Tate continuing to receive an equal number of carries as the potentially game-breaking Mr. Fannin. We merely wish to demonstrate that the criticism of Auburn's leadership in this case is again, we feel, without justification.

Likewise, those asking why Mr. Cox had not been replaced either before or during Saturday's chaos are advised to take a second look at his 2005 statistics (with special attention to the TD-to-INT ratio and that his in-conference efficiency rating was the highest in the league--

PASSING GP Effic Att-Cmp-Int Pct Yds TD Lng Avg/G
Brandon Cox 11 132.59 306-177-8 57.8 2324 15 62 211.3

--and withdraw their complaints in the light that the coaching staff had neither a competent backup due to the injury to Mr. Neil Caudle and youth of Mr. Kodi Burns (the JCCW does not recognize the alleged competence of Mr. Blake Field) nor sufficient cause to bench Mr. Cox without his actually having lost a game yet this season.

With that said, the JCCW readily and wholeheartedly joins all Auburn fans in requesting this personnel change should Mr. Cox continue to recklessly emperil the mental health of Auburn fans in this period of confusion and sorrow.

Auburn fans participate in a candlelight vigil honoring the hopes and SEC West division dreams lost in last Saturday's calamity.

Lastly, we would encourage Auburn fans to look to the future. As bleak as the present appears, and many experts are forecasting even greater levels of pain and anguish in Auburn's very near future, the return in 2008 of nine of the 11 players projected to start for our team on offense this Saturday (and the disappointing play thus far of the two who will not return) and ample young talent such as Messrs. McNeil, Marks, Blackmon, etc. on defense suggest that even should this season further spiral into grief, distress, a 7-5 record, and demands for a new head coach, it may only be a precursor to greater glory once the season of trial of passed--just as the 2003 season many said would be a blow from which Auburn would never recover gave way to a bright new era of prosperity, success, and recruiting five-star tackles out of Arkansas.

And lest we at the JCCW be accused of looking too far ahead, and as badly as our expectations have been damaged, we will never count out this particular team out of any individual game so long as our coach is one who has so masterfully spun success out of ashes before. In truth, one successful quarterback and one successful receiver appear to be the only thing standing between Auburn and an almost immediate recovery.

In conclusion, War Eagle, and please ignore this bulletin and abandon all hope should Auburn suffer a second blow at Starkville tomorrow. Thank you.

Back at the CNN anchor desk...

JEROME: Again, the spokesperson for the Joe Cribbs Car Wash, and boy, that took a while. Stay tuned for further coverage of "Crisis on the Plains 2007," including a special report from Christine Amanpour on those criminals who would seek to take advantage of this tragedy for their own personal gain. Auburn officials have already released a photo of one man wanted for his long history of such activity: