Friday, November 30, 2007

BLEARRGGH

So I have another long day at the job in a week full of them, come home to have one beer and watch just a bit of hoops and do my usual quick sweep of the college Interwebs before hitting the sack, and AW DAMMIT NOT THIS AGAIN, DAMMIT TO HELL.

Major tip of the hat to commenter Lovecrafty for the pic, a response to this post. I'm still in love with it, but boy, that "kthxbai" has taken on a sudden new twist in these last few hours, huh?

Seriously, WTF? The Arkansas media say it's a done deal and the Auburn media aren't even really trying to hide the fact they think the other side's full of it.

I've already said I don't fault Tubby for treating the AU gig as, well, a gig, and applying a little bit of Sexton-fueled leverage in the "Look at me! I'm the prettiest girl at the cotillion! Now, which of you dashing young suitors would like to buy me a drink?" vein isn't too far out of line.

But now, now I'm pissed. Whatever the good soldiers at al.com might say and whatever the ultimate outcome is--no one but Tubby and the dead animal he's going to whisper the truth to in the Arkansas woods tomorrow morning are going to know for sure until he's at a press conference podium--there's way, way too much smoke here for there to be no fire whatsoever. Tubby's talked to Arkansas. There have been discussions of a serious nature. I would guess he's gone far enough to get an offer he's going to bring home to wave in Jacobs face and say "You gonna match this or not?" I don't think Tubby's gone home with Arkansas just yet, but it looks to me he's been accepting their drinks, laughing too hard at their dumb jokes, and dragged them onto the dance floor for a song or two. If he comes back, I'm sure Tubby will tell us he's just having a bit of fun, just picking up a raise and some facility promises, that's all. It don't mean nothin', baby. Arkansas's just some team that happened to be there.

And in the meantime we Auburn fans are sitting on the couch at home with our laptops, checking our watches, brushing our teeth, telling ourselves we'll wait up one more hour and see what happens. It's 11:53 in Ann Arbor. I'm kinda nervous and it's going to take a while to go to sleep. If this is the way it's going to be, if this is how Tommy Tuberville's going to treat an Auburn community that's demanded multiple times he get whatever he feels is coming to him, I'm not sure any more how much I even want him to come home.

(Also, it has to be said, screw Bobby Lowder for making Auburn the sort of place Tubby would consider leaving in the first place.)

UPDATE: If it's true neither Tubby nor Sexton nor anyone associated with our coach has had any contact with the Hogs, as he claimed via Marshall's cell this a.m., then consider this post redacted. But I doubt that's been the case. He played with fire in this case and his program's taken a serious burn. We'll see.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bad day

For starters, the number of legit threats in the SEC West now equals those in the East, minimum. And if Sylvester Croom's apparent investment in rabbits' feet, horseshoes, and leprechaun detectors pays off for a second year (despite evidence that his offense still isn't nearly good enough for long-term progress) and Bobby Johnson continues to inspire posts like these, perhaps there's more, in fact. A wizened scrapper like Nutt in charge of the talent Coach O assembled in Oxford is not good news for Auburn, not good news at all. Nutt's a gas and all, but I wanted him coaching someone on Auburn's schedule Never rather than friggin' yearly.

Har har har, isn't he crazy, ho ho ho, that Nutt's so funny, yuk yuk yuk ... Look, it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye gets run over by the likes Matt Jones or Cedric Cobbs or Humanity Advanced to the tune of 700 yards or so.

So that was disappointing. Today has also, again, been sadly less than fruitful in the blogging-about-the Iron Bowl arena and I ask for your patience. Things will be done when they're done, I guess. I'll try to make it worth the wait.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Much ado about substantially less than nothing



So how determined was the Texas A&M administration to corral their reported "No. 1" candidate, Tommy Tuberville, for their football coaching vacancy? So determined, bound, heels-dug-in, won't-take-no-for-an-answer that they waited an entire weekend, like 36 whole hours, begging Tubby to come and save the Aggies before, faced with no other choice, they had to mournfully settle for "second" option Mike Sherman.

Cripes. What a tempest in a teapot small enough to fit inside a second, normal-sized teapot. (See, making the first one ... you know what, that wasn't my best analogy ever, let's just move on.) A&M committed so fast they should have held their press conference at a Las Vegas wedding chapel (ZING!). Bottom line: they never really gave a crap about Tubby and Jimmy Sexton has been laughing his gold-plated ass off for weeks watching the media follow his trail of bread crumbs. Spencer Tillman and Spencer Tillman's eyeshadow must be so embarrassed right now. Of course, he can always just start making up houses for Tubby outside of Fayetteville now. Maybe he'll give one of them some nice hand-painted shutters. I bet Tubby'd appreciate that.

All right, obviously I've still got a book to write on the beautiful, beautiful game Auburn played last Saturday (including a recap, scheduled for late this week) but it'll have to wait. Life, etc. Back tomorrow.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Won



Fear the Index Finger on the Opposite Hand.

Honestly? After the debacle against Georgia two weeks ago, I wasn't expecting it to feel this good.

But oh, for now, all is forgiven. Give Tubby whatever he needs and a pony. Ready the bronze for the Cox bust and the marble for the pedestal and square off the necessary area in Foy. Someone send Lester and Tate each one of those baskets of sausage and cheese, like, the hugest ones in the world.

Auburn has defeated Alabama six times in a row, six straight years, six consecutive seasons. Every way you say it is poetry.

War Damn Eagle.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Win

Go Tigers. Beat Alabama. Win, Auburn.

Please. Win.



Win, because my grandfather and so many other grandfathers have waited a lifetime, waited so many long years in orange-and-blue sweatshirts and Auburn caps with flat bills, waiting to watch Auburn defeat Alabama for a sixth consecutive year.

Win, because all things long to become something more than they are, even toilet paper; it dreams of flight.



Win, because there are children old enough to care who have never watched Auburn lose the Iron Bowl and their innocence is beautiful.

Win, because I want so badly to remember Brandon Cox as a quarterback made of heart who fought a debilitating muscle disease step-by-brutal-step all the way to three victories over the Crimson Tide, and as nothing else, nothing.



Win, because after you had torn Alabama to quivering pieces in 2005, the man with the crimson tie in my office told me with an utterly straight face that if the early second-half safety the officials could have called had been called, Alabama would have won the game; win because the Auburn fans still working in that office and in so many other offices should not be left to work alongside such willful, delirious ignorance given over to celebration.

Win, because while other mascots paw restless in cages and or lie fat on the ground or fail to exist, ours soars across the blue sky underneath the orange sun and reminds us all of what glory looks like, and that should be worth something, damn it.



Win, because the people of the state of Alabama should not be taught again that $4 million will buy happiness.

Win, because when Quentin Groves and Cole Bennett and Eric Brock and King Dunlap and Patrick Lee and Josh Thompson and Jonathan Wilhite and God bless him Carl Stewart leave the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium for the final time, they deserve to leave winners, leave without knowing the worst defeat, leave with a clean table in the restaurant's corner and a free cold beer on top of it waiting for them forever.



Win, because idiots root for our team, too, idiots who will otherwise tell Tommy Tuberville not to let the door hit him and no one should have to listen to them, least of all Tommy Tuberville.

Win, because our side has won 32 times; their side has won 38 times; and another victory means our side is six wins from telling their side all their trophies and all their rankings and all their bygone glories are mere pleasant consolation prizes to being the second-best college football team in their own great state.

Win, because I am a thousand miles away from my mother, my father, my brothers, and if we all share the joy of a victory over Alabama all those miles will feel like a walk to the corner.



So win for us.

Win for the 87,451 present whose hearts you hear.

Win for the countless elsewhere whose hearts go with you regardless.

Win for Auburn, power of Dixieland.

Win. Please. Win.



Go Auburn. Beat Alabama. Win the Iron Bowl.

WIN.

War Eagle!

Keeping Your Enemies Closer: a Q n' A with RollBamaRoll

Out-of-date, yes, but this is the "cooler" one if you ask me, not that it's cool or anything.

You may have heard from some of your Auburn friends that Alabama fans are all worm-eating Neanderthals without the slightest shred of intelligence and are incapable of making meaningful contributions to civilized society. Not true! Many of them can, with time, learn to walk upright, speak English, and even eat soup at high-society functions in a hilariously awkward manner.

I turns out a few of them can also write one of the SEC's and college football's flagship blogs, the indispensable RollBamaRoll. RBR is essential daily reading and the JCCW owes them a great big whopping debt for their consistent support of this site from damn near its get-go.

So it was the proverbial honor and privilege to exchange Q's and A's this week with RBR's Todd and OTS. Here's their Q's to my A's with my A's to their Q's coming later today over there. Enjoy.

1. Last year, as he carved up more than a few good defenses, I was genuinely frightened of what John Parker Wilson might become. Now, um, I think its the fans on your side who he's frightening (to say the least). Who or what do you blame for the regression? Coaching staff? Wilson himself? Voodoo curse? El Nino?


Todd: I'm sure it's a combination of the new staff, the new schemes, the notoriously mental nature of QBs, and a talented yet underachieving receiving corp not helping him with that last bit. Yeah, he looked good last year, but those schemes were idiot simple and all he had to do was go out there and run the play that was called by Shula. Now, with the new staff and new offense, he has a lot more responsibility. He's looked good in at times, and after his pretty good performance against Ole Miss and then the UT domination Applewhite made the comment that he had finally turned a corner in regards to understanding the offense and what they were doing with it.

Of course, he hasn't looked good since so, and I'm just guessing here, they probably put in more of the offense than they have before after the UT game thinking he could handle it, and he hasn't been able to really get it yet and either is too afraid to say so or the staff is willing to sink or swim believing he'll finally get it over the course of last few games.


OTS:

The regression, I hypothesize, is largely the result of two factors: (1) Wilson wasn't that good to begin with, and (2) the current offense is much more complicated than the scheme used by Shula and company. To expound upon that, Wilson got a lot of talk as being a "record-breaker" and while he was playing well in that sense -- throwing for a lot of yards, touchdowns, etc. -- it was because he was throwing a ton of passes (he shattered the Alabama single-season record for passes in 2006) and not necessarily because he was playing particularly well. Even though he was breaking records, he was still near the bottom in the SEC in terms of passer efficiency statistics, and that essentially tells the tale in that regard. The second part is that the current offense we have is much more complicated than the one from a year ago. In the Applewhite scheme, quarterbacks have much greater pre-snap responsibilities, and that is something Wilson has obviously struggled with. A year ago under Shula, Wilson did little more than run the play that was called, and those plays generally came out of run-heavy formations. This year we're spreading the field a lot more, giving him more pre-snap reads, making him responsible for audibles at the line of scrimmage, etc. The increased responsibilities has made his life much tougher.



2. Which of the 37 different tailbacks used by the Tide this season do you see getting the lion's share of carries Saturday? Which one would you personally prefer to get the most?


Todd: At this point, there's just no way to tell. Glen Coffee comes back from suspension, and he's a much better interior runner than either Grant or Lowe (Upchuch is injured, and Johns made an appearance against ULM, only to put the ball on the ground and end a promising scoring drive). Plus, he's a bigger, more physical back and therefor a better pass blocker, so he'll probably see more snaps than the others, though that's not to say the carries won't be a little more evenly split. It all really will come down to the game plan the staff has for the game, really. We haven't seen a lot of outside runs/tosses since the opener, and that's the kind of thing that both Grant and Lowe can excel at. They're both small, shifty guys, and running between the tackles just isn't something they can do, so if they want to get them outside or run more screens, then they're the guys. But since we're also getting a couple of good linemen back to aid in the power run game, they might just keep pounding the ball and in that case, Coffee is the man.


OTS:

I suppose I would go with Coffee simply because he gives you more of an inside presence than Grant or Lowe, but honestly it's hard to say. None of the tailbacks are particularly special, and honestly they are all pretty similar players. Again, I would go with Coffee, but really it's a difficult choice and there is no clear-cut favorite.


3. A freak Ouija board accident ends with you channeling the spirit of Daniel Moore for a few days. What Alabama play/scene/whatever do you choose to illustrate? (Preferably something he hasn't illustrated already, though I know that limits your choices severely.) And why?


Todd: I'll limit myself to this season, and considering there haven't been a whole lot of highlights, I'll go with Matt Caddell's game winning TD catch against Arkansas. I'm sure he'll beat me to it, though.


OTS:

I would paint one of the scenes from the early Rose Bowls. That would be very unique and something quite different from what you usually get. Don't get me wrong, I love Daniel Moore but he gets a bit repetitive at times, and that would certainly fix that problem. If not that, I would love to see something that -- somehow, and I don't know how -- would capture the history of Legion Field.


4. Lost in the offense's Keystone Cops routine is that the Tide's defense has seemed to play over its head in several games this season. Give us Auburn fans a couple of unsung guys who are playing well on that side of the ball Borges will need to keep his eye on.


Todd: I was thinking about this the other day, about how the D seems to have really bought into Saban and the new staff's philosophy and played way above the level we thought they would while the offense, which we all expected to be explosive, has floundered, and I think it does come down to the idea that our players just don't have the kind of character it takes to do what they are supposed to every day, be it going to class and practicing hard, or playing every down like it's the game on the line no matter what the situation. Of course, the defensive players were almost exclusively the province of Joe Kines last year, and they understandably loved and respected him, while the offensive players were noticeably disrespectful and disdainful of Shula as the season wore on. That being said, I think anyone on the defense is someone that is capable of making a play and Borges needs to be aware of the group as a whole. They do play above where they should, and even though there have been some serious lapses over the course of the season, mostly those are due to the complexity of the defense and not guys taking plays off. If you press me for a name, though, I'd say Ali Sharrief, who moved to DB from RB this season and has seen a lot of time as a nickelback. He's athletic, runs to the ball, and he can tackle.


OTS:I'm not sure we really have any "unsung" guys per se, simply because we don't have that many great players on the defensive side of the ball. Zeke Knight and Wallace Gilberry have played very well this year, but no one is surprised by them any more, and the same thing largely goes for Rashad Johnson. It's a tough question because anyone truly that good is not usually unsung, but if I were pressed I would likely say Kareem Jackson. He was a lightly recruited military school graduate who has really came in and played great football all year long. The truth of the matter is that Jackson is the best cornerback we have on the entire roster -- sorry, Simeon, it's true -- and you should keep your eye on him. He just doesn't get much attention because he was lightly recruited and because he is a true freshman.


5. The effect of the U-LM loss on the Tide has been sort of indirectly debated amongst Auburn bloggers this week. (I don't see it making any difference, the only potential exception being in the event the Tide fall behind big and decide they're best off letting the season die a natural death.) What sort of impact, if any, do you see it having on the team's preparation and performance Saturday?


Todd: You know, I just couldn't say right now. I want to believe that this is the kind of humiliation and kick in the pants these guys needed and it will turn things around enough for them to go out and play like they can, but on the other hand, the issue of character has really raised it's ugly head and this game is kind of a referendum on what kind of kids we have at Alabama.


OTS:This is, of course, the $64,000 question, and I'm not even going to feign that I have a legitimate answer to it. Logically speaking, of course, the ULM loss should piss off our guys to no end, and they should show up ready to play and earn some redemption. That said, the harsh truth is that we have a lot of guys on our team that, being quite frank, don't seem to care and aren't apparently willing to put in the work needed to win. So, I think, valid arguments can be made either way that we will pack it in or that we will come out fired up and ready to play. One way or the other, we just don't know. We can debate this one until we're blue in the face, but until the ball is put into play on Saturday night, you just don't know.


6. Do you see any huge go-for-broke surprises from Saban and Co. this game? He doesn't seem the type to bank on trick punts and flea flickers or, I don't know, coming out the locker room with white helmets with crimson numbers or something, but this would seem to be the time.


Todd: I highly doubt it. If the staff sees something in the film of Auburn that they can take advantage of like the onside kick against UT, then they'll try it, but as for crazy new formations we haven't seen before and trick plays, that's just not Saban's personality. He's the type of guy that wants to line up and beat you with fundamentals and conditioning, and the idea of resorting to "trickery" to win ball games probably rankles the man's nose.


OTS:You may see something, but I doubt it. As you correctly observed, trick plays are not generally something Saban uses, though he has used it at times in the past. I say you see a conventional attack from us, no tricks up our sleeves for the most part. I know it's the Iron Bowl and we need a win, but that doesn't mean you change your preferred method of attack just to mix things up.


7. My brilliant--brilliant!--insight tells me this game hinges on which team can get the run established and keep from having to lean on their "quarterback" to complete their "passes." Quickly size up which side is more likely to move the ball on the ground consistently.


Todd: I think both teams are going to have a hard time in this game. We don't move the ball well against good d-lines (though with Glenn Coffee returning and the return of a couple of starting o-linemen we might change that), and we've got both speed and size in the linebacking corp to stop Auburn's rushing attack. This could very well be the sloppiest, boringest Iron Bowl we'll all ever witness (No way it's worse than the 9-0 slog in 2000, please pretty please?--Ed.), but I do imagine that Brad Lester will probably come out pretty well in this one.


OTS: Auburn is traditionally a very good running team under Tuberville, but they haven't been all of that great this year, and the talent level seems to have dropped off both up front in the big uglies and in the backs as well. On the other hand, Alabama counters with a very stiff run defense -- largely in part to the smallest linebacker being around 240 pounds -- and only Darren McFadden has been able to have success running the ball on us this year. On the other hand, Alabama doesn't have great tailbacks and has struggled to run the ball as of late, but we do get two starting linemen back and the team's best interior runner, so that should help things. Of course, though, Auburn counters with a very stout run defense that will make life difficult for my beloved Tide. In all honesty, I see both teams struggling to run the football, and weird as it may be -- and the weather may change this -- I think it may come down to which quarterback can most efficiently throw the football.


8. How much does both a) you b) your average rational Tide fan really want this one? I realize it's been a rough couple of weeks and a win would help immensely, but given that tons of Shula's guys clearly aren't getting on board with Saban, the recruiting class he's got coming in, the Vols' pelts already on the wall, and that the Music City is the best possible bowl scenario, I have to think the focus is somewhat already on next season. Then again, it's Auburn.


Todd: Yeah, sadly we're all looking forward to next season already (God I can't wait 'til that changes), but it is the Iron Bowl, and we want a win. We want to see if these kids took a lesson from ULM, we want to solidify a bowl bid, and for God's sake we want a year of blessed peace from our Auburn fan friends and neighbors.


OTS:You definitely want to win for a variety of reasons, but I'm not going to freak out if we lose. As you correctly pointed out, we have a lot of the Club Shula guys not buying in, and it will take time to sort those out. This is Saban's first year, and if we go 6-6 then so be it. I definitely want to win, of course, but it's ridiculous to let some first-year losses cloud the picture for what undoubtedly seems to be an extremely bright future under Saban, as you yourself admitted. I just hope we can win and hopefully we can get some momentum going into the 2008 season. But if not, oh well, we all knew it was going to be a long rebuilding process. I think after the Arkansas and Tennessee wins that some people felt that was less true, but it's going to be a long, hard road.


9. At least with Cox's struggles we can console ourselves with the fact that Rod Smith and Robert Dunn, while solid guys, aren't All-American receivers who Cox is hanging out to dry. (In fact, they could have done more this year to help him.) On the other hand, supposedly the understandable frustration between the Tide's clearly excellent receiving crew and Wilson isn't helping team chemistry right now. Any truth to that and do you blame Hall and Brown if that's the case?


Todd: You know, right now I'm not feeling all that sorry for DJ. This is a kid with all kinds of talent, but he's had off the field issues (suspended for the Cotton Bowl, last year's opener, a couple of times this year), has clearly given up on routes and taken plays off when he thought the ball wasn't coming his way, and has really let the team down when we needed his leadership on the field. As for the rest of the bunch, they've made some great plays, and I can understand their frustration at Wilson when they are wide open and he's throwing into triple coverage, but at the same time, they aren't perfect, and they haven't been as reliable as Hall in making great catches and generally being playmakers. So it's a two way street, really. Yeah, Wilson hasn't gotten the ball to guys he should have, but at the same time when he has gone their way they haven't been reliable about making those plays.


OTS:I doubt there is a whole lot of truth to that, honestly. The receiving corps, while very talented, has had some problems with suspensions and lack of effort, and it's not like Wilson has been the poster child for the ideal football player either. At this point, I think everyone is just frustrated that the production hasn't been there since the end of the Tennessee game. No one is perfect, and on the other hand no is completely innocent either. Wilson has been the major problem the overwhelming majority of time, but at times the receiving corps certainly hasn't helped.


10. So I made it pretty clear in a post this week I don't think a lot of Saban as a person--I think he's devoid of personality, not a nice guy, and a symbol of college football's increasing similarity to professional ball--though I should have clarified that I still fully believe he's a terrific college football coach who's going to have 'Bama competing for SEC West titles again soon. Do you care that Saban is, in the words of a Tide fan in that SI cover article, "a son of a bitch"? (Whoops, I relied on my memory of the article and screwed this up a bit. It's the LSU fan who calls him that initially.)Or about the 9-11 and Pearl Harbor references? Feel free to add any other responses to my post (if you feel it's worth responding to, that is).


Todd: You know, I have to object to your characterization of Saban as "devoid of personality." This is the guy that introduced "I don't have time for this shit, a'ight?" into the college football blogger lexicon, after all. I personally think of him as a sort of the loveable curmudgeon, the kind of guy that wants nothing more than to be left alone to coach football and yet there's always a reporter or a booster playing Dennis the Menace to his Mr. Wilson. And I kind of like that. We need a guy like that right now, someone who has a singular focus on building a great football team and program and could care less about what anyone else thinks or says about him. And really, I don't think that makes college football more like the pros. Yeah, his salary is more in line with an NFL coach than a college coach, but in reading interviews with him about why he came back to college, I liked his talk about how, in college ball, you can control your destiny better. If you have needs, you go out and recruit them, and you take those guys and you build them into great players and good people, and then you give them a reason to go out and play their hearts out for you and for their team. In the NFL, everyone's a hired gun and it's far more difficult to motivate players when they know they're going to get their paychecks and can always enter free agency if they don't like the staff. I like that kind of perspective on the differences between the two.


OTS:I didn't read your article, and without trying to be rude, I don't particularly care to do so. I really don't see how you can say that Saban is a bad person, especially considering that no one really knows the guy personally. Sure he's tough on the media, but to be quite frank I feel sorry for anyone who has to deal with reporters on a daily basis, and sports reporters are the worst of the worst. Aside from that, what has the guy done wrong? Sure, there was the whole "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach" thing, but that is something that nearly every major coach in the country has done at one time or another in their career. Fran said he wasn't leaving Alabama, Tuberville said he would only leave Oxford in a pine box, Miles adamantly denied meeting with LSU officials while he was in the middle of, you know, meeting with LSU officials, etc. Hell, Tuberville has again done the same thing for the past six weeks now with his coach-speak non-denials on rumors for the Texas A&M job. So what's wrong with Saban doing the same thing? At worst, he merely did something that happens all the time in the coaching profession, and it's wrong to single him out for criticism. What else is there to complain about? The "coonass" remark or the 9/11 "comparison"? Oh well, so the guy doesn't go nuts over trying to be politically correct, what of it? If being politically incorrect is the worst you can say about somebody, you don't have much bad to say.


The bottom line on Saban is that he is a tough and demanding disciplinarian who is not particularly fond of the ineptitude of reporters. I know we live in an age where everyone falls head over heels in love with the "player" coaches -- i.e. guys who let their players get away with damn near everything -- who constantly line up to kiss the media's butt with a smile, but simply because you do not fit that mold does not make you a bad person. He's tough, demanding, and he can be harsh at times. So be it. That doesn't make you a bad person. Far from it, most of the comments I've ever read from former players and coaches under Saban all say that while he was tough as could be on them, he was nevertheless a positive influence in their life and their career. That doesn't make him a bad person in my book, or anywhere near it.

So, I guess that's a "No?"

----------------------------------

Two very quick clarifications I think maybe should be made in this space: First, you can read more of Todd's thoughts on the 9/11 comments in an excellent post here, where my Saban post is described as an Auburn "rallying cry" which, yes, it is. But just for the record, it's not the 9/11 comments themselves that have me fired up; I just see them as the latest evidence Saban lives in a football-shaped bubble he'd like to keep the rest of the world out of. Todd would, evidently, agree with me on that point. To the Alabama blogger, this makes Saban lovable Mr. Wilson; to the Auburn blogger, it makes him an unfeeling coach-bot. Which is understandable and right, right?

Second, in the interest of full disclosure, I do take Saban's treatment of sports reporters seriously in part because, um, my day job is "sports reporter." I do my best to be rational and even-handed, but there's no use pretending that doesn't color my perception of Saban at least a little bit.

So, anyways, massive thanks to Todd and OTS for participating and best of luck to the Tide on Saturday. (By which I mean "May they have the maximum amount of luck necessary to lose by only 70 points," but you knew that.)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Tubby



Have to say, it's been an interesting few weeks watching Auburn's head coach perform the "Dance of the Reluctant Candidate" (one of the least popular and most rarely performed ballets of Tchaikovsky, a diehard Spartak fan), and by "interesting" I mean "increasingly troubling and depressingly predictable." Nothing that's happened so far in this saga has been surprising. Of course the national media plays the major coaching move card as often and as clumsily as possible; of course Tubby issues the classic "If you're asking whether I'm going to take that other job, why, I don't even know what you're talking about I've been so focused on beating Tennessee Tech" dodge in his effort to keep leverage; of course Auburn fans want the coach who just put together the best three-year stretch in program history to get his due; and of course just days later the combination of Tubby's continued let's-change-the-subject non-denial denials, demon in he shap of a pine box hanging over his left shoulder, and 25-point loss in a situation (road 'dog) he historically thrives in leads many of those same fans to angrily wish Tubby the best of luck in his new position if he wants it so friggin' bad. Jerk.

That talk has calmed down over the past few days with Tubby and Jay Jacobs apparently getting together to duet on REO Speedwagon songs and share a milkshake ... and with the focus naturally shifting from the coach involved to the game of some importance said coach will coach tomorrow.

The question is what prompted Tubby's change of tune, what took him from wriggling away from every attempt to pin him down like a wet bar of soap to saying the words "We're going to be at Auburn" in his press conference. None of this is accidental. Tubby didn't suddenly wake up at the beginning of the week and say "Oh, I thought I'd made myself clear about all that already. Guess I'd better just be a bit more straightforward."

Jay G. Tate called it PR-conscious "damage control." It's reasonable to think maybe Jacobs (or certain ethically-questionable trustees with their fingers on the pursestrings) let Tubby know through whatever channels get used for these things that his conditions are going to be met. It doesn't strike me as likely, but perhaps Tubby never really had the stomach for a battle, went ahead and threw in the towel, and added the "as long as they want us" as a qualifier in case Auburn stiffed him completely.

But the JCCW's take is that Tubby's new leaf is about his team. It's about this game, the one I feel he's had circled on his calendar since the day fall practice opened. He let his players twist for a while, trusted them to walk around for a few weeks getting asked "Hey, does your coach even want to stay here?" and stay focused enough to get it done in Athens. Maybe that had nothing to do with what happened there; maybe it did. With the Tide and the media's pre-season Chosen One now looming only a few days away, perhaps Tubby simply decided he couldn't hold out any longer, couldn't risk it having any bearing on Saturday.

I'm certain many Auburn fans would have preferred he didn't take those chances with the Georgia game, either. When Auburn is winning, it doesn't matter, but after a loss it comes down to the question Jay asked last week: does Tubby see Auburn as his final stop, the position and program that defines his career, as the job ... or just a job?

Honestly? I think it's somewhere in between. I think Tubby is happy. I don't think he wants to go anywhere for a while at least. But he's going to listen to other offers. He's going to angle for raises. He's going to consider leaving from time to time. To answer Jay's question, it's a job Tubby likes ... but yes, it's a job.

And I'm fine with that. I don't blame him for not wanting to get too attached to a program still lorded over by the same guy who provided the plane that flew to Louisville. I don't blame him for necessarily pushing for a salary closer to that of coach across the state. Don't blame him when no more than five or six of the top-25 have coaches committed and established enough that they couldn't/wouldn't dance the dance we've seen from Tubby.

So no, I don't care if it's just a job Tubby likes. All I want is for Auburn's coach to conduct himself and his program properly, show a little bit of a human side, and win.

That's the rub: at what point does Tubby treating it like a job hurt his ability to win? At what point is he putting his own concerns above those of the team? Because that's the point where I bail.

But based on Tubby starting this week--the most important of the season for his team--the way he did tells me we're not at that point yet. It will be nice to have Tubby around for another year (something I feel exceedingly confident saying we'll have), but it's even nicer having a coach who's not going to screw around, even if he might like to, with a game as like Saturday's, the one that colors and shades how we judge all the rest of them.

And it would be nicest having a coach who's beaten Alabama more times in a row than any other coach in Auburn's history. Go get 'em, Tubby. We're behind you.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Help out the actual Joe Cribbs



So many weeks ago, I got a very interesting e-mail. Turns out the good people at the Joe Cribbs Youth Foundation had stumbled upon the blog here.

Which I was glad for, of course, but at the same time was always something I'd felt a tad nervous about, to be perfectly honest. As long as I remained an upright blogger who wasn't posting the addresses of coaches with suggestions of things to do to their mailbox or ladies without their underclothes or ridiculous things like "I always root for Alabama whenever they're not playing Auburn," and made perfectly clear that neither Joe Cribbs nor his former business was behind the opinions offered here (part of the reason, if you've ever wondered, I blog under my actual name), I didn't think a reasonable man like Mr. Cribbs would mind too much. I chose it because I'm an Auburn fan who loved driving past his car wash as a kid, after all. But: it's his name. Not something to take lightly. If someone out there ever starts a blog titled "The Jerry Hinnen Furniture Repair Shop," I'll be flattered, yes, but I'll probably also sort of make sure the writers aren't videotaping themselves egging cars on the freeway.

Turns out the nervousness was pointless. The JCYF says they get a kick out of the JCCW. Cool, no? Even cooler: the JCYF has a big event coming up and, what with our common interests, I volunteered to help get the word out.

Here's the word: the JCYF's Tide-Tiger Golf Classic fund raiser is this Friday at Auburn Links. The tournament will feature an impressive roster of former Tiger and Tide players, including Mr. Cribbs himself and Jay Barker. Funds will go to multiple charities. Info from the O-A News here, and you can register for the Classic here.

Or at least, I think you can. Because I am unfortunately the unreliable type, I am obviously way, way late in getting this up. If you would like to contribute but can't attend for whatever reason (like "I didn't hear about it until the Wednesday before the thing" or "Turns out they were booked up, maybe if you'd told me more than two days in advance," for instance), you can donate after clicking through the "Registration" page.

So here's a big "Thanks!" to Joe Cribbs for giving this blog a name and a big "Please consider helping" from me to you on his event's behalf.

Condolences and prayers

... go out to Siran Stacy and anyone else affected by Monday's horrible, horrible accident in Dothan.

Stacy has always been stuck in the JCCW's memory both for his solid running and for being named after a common household product, a fun and frequently-told tale that was the Tide's precursor to "Carl Stewart plays the violin!", and reading the news yesterday was nauseating. The JCCW wishes him the very best in his recovery from this unimaginable tragedy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Great Speakers of History react to the U-LM loss (seriousness also attached)



"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war, a field not unlike the echoing green of the famed Bryant-Denny Stadium of Tuscaloosa, where like-minded men have also endured great suffering and great sacrifice for their noble cause. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this, for just as the Red Elephants gave their sweat and tears to avoid the indignity of falling to a Sun Belt team and to preserve their bowl eligibility, so the brave soldiers fallen here have helped to preserve this nation, that unlike Alabama's national ranking it shall not perish from the earth."



"Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives: yesterday, December 7th, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. It was an attack without precedent in our nation's history, save for the attack on the University of Alabama football executed by the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks, who like the Japanese are believed to have deliberately planned their forays into vulnerable Crimson Tide territory many weeks ago. That day, too, shall live in infamy ... With confidence in our armed forces - with the unbounding determination of our people so like the unbending steel will of wounded coach Nick Saban and his valiant men - we will gain the inevitable triumph - so help us God, and Bear Bryant."



"The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. Unless, of course, we consider the college football field of human conflict, where so much has been owed by so many to John Parker Wilson. All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day, and to Alabama fans, who can only pray that the accuracy of Wilson's passes can again rise to match the precision of our RAF bombers."

All right, I think you get the point. Well, the "Nick Saban should maybe choose his metaphors just a touch more carefully" point. It's not a tough one to make.

But there's a larger point here, too. I honestly think we maybe shouldn't be too hard on Saban for the slip itself, I really don't; his general "it's possible to recover from catastrophe" argument is certainly a valid (and necessary) one, for all the inappropriateness he used to make said argument.

The bigger question is how Saban arrived at such a stark, stunning moment of insensitivity. Whatever 21-14 to ULM might suggest (dammit, no glee, it's impossible) King Crimson is no idiot. He's more than sharp enough to figure out that a direct comparison between a football game and 9-11 isn't exactly going to do wonders for his personal image, if he'd just stop and think about it for a minute. But Nick Saban, as we all know, doesn't have time for that shit.

Of course, most of us--even most college football coaches, never the most self-censoring bunch--probably don't even need the time, thanks to that same little voice that stops us with our mouth open just before we say something along the lines of "Honey, are you sure you should really finish that whole thing of fries?" Where was that voice for Saban Monday? Maybe it was just had the day off, but it's fair to say that voice gets a lot sharper with actual, friendly human interaction ... and it's also fair to say King Crimson doesn't really get a lot of actual friendly human interaction (particularly during football season, I'd imagine). Is it really surprising that a man so focused on football, so utterly uninterested in basic workplace decency that he can't even take a casual compliment on his haircut without flying into NO TIME FOR THIS SHIT apoplexy, might not have the keenest sense of what's appropriate, inoffensive public discourse and what's not?

I know, I know, for starters this is all so Dr. Phil (I'd prefer to think of it as all so Free Darko, but it's a valid complaint). And more importantly, what exactly does this have to do with this week's Iron Bowl?

It has to do with why I want this one, dammit. I don't like Nick Saban. But I like even less what he represents: the college football coach as heartless, personality-less coaching automaton, and the fervent embrace of said automatons as long as they win. I think college football is better for the Spurriers and Leaches and Evil Richts, better for fun so intense it has to be italicized, and worse for the dour NFL retreads like Gailey and Groh that have turned the ACC into most boring conference in America. And Alabama has hired and brought into the SEC's merry midst not just an NFL coach but a disciple of Bill Belichick, the most ruthless and soulless automaton of them all, a man with all the personality and stainless-steel efficiency of an expensive kitchen knife. Is anyone at Alabama going to care about this? A few, possibly. But as long as the wins begin piling up and promised, it will be very, very few indeed. The four-million-dollar man is the walking avatar of winning at all costs, and he is not the direction I want college football to take.

So: I want Auburn to beat Alabama every year. But this season, in the immediate wake of the Tide's decision to take this sport ever closer to the NFL, ever further away from the color and idiosyncrasy and, yep, fun that make this sport great, into a place so insulated and removed from reality their coach sees a loss as a parallel to Pearl Harbor "or whatever"? It's not just a win, not just the Index Finger on the Opposite Hand. It's the punishment Alabama deserves.

Monday, November 19, 2007

SEC Power poll ballot

First, a minor announcement: I'd hoped to go full-throttle, wall-to-wall Iron Bowl this week, but life has gotten other ideas. Plenty of content later in the week, but this is likely the last post until tomorrow evening. Do check back then and on your way back to the fridge for the leftovers.

On with this week's ballot, with the full poll as always available at Garnet and Black Attack ...

1. LSU. Alleged defensive "problems" probably less of a problem when a) opponent isn't worth preparing for b) offense is back to scoring 40 a game anyway.

2. Georgia. Suffered inevitable letdown vs. quality opponent, fell behind 10-0, and won by two scores anyway after supposedly soft-spot defense holds Woodson and Co. to a FG in the second half. If they do indeed meet Hawaii or Boise St. in the Sugar Bowl, hellooooo slaughter.

3. Florida. Defense, schmefense. How do you think alternate-universe Tebow is faring in Tuscaloosa right now after getting a year's worth of the same tutelage that's turned J.P. Wilson into a walking flaming car wreck? (Actually, alternate-universe Tebow is still talented enough that he's probably doing fine. Never mind.)

4. Tennessee.
The news that LSU's AD was celebrating their win over Vandy should carry so much karmic weight that the Vols would actually stand a chance against LSU. Then again, after yet another high-wire escape over the World's Unluckiest Losers, karma probably can't be arsed on the Vols' behalf anymore regardless.

5. Kentucky. Still the owner of the best win of the remaining teams on this list and having not only a functional quarterback (such a rarity i nthe SEC these days, unfortunately) but an out-and-out prize like Woodson keeps them fifth. Close-but-no-cigar frustrations in the East race to be taken out on the Vols?

6. Auburn. Suddenly a decisive home favorite against a talented-but-struggling team -- the exact scenario Tubby has traditionally found to be his Achilles heel. Yay. Not good considering that the stakes for Auburn--for recruiting-, bowl-, streak-, and coaching-situation-blown-up-related reasons--are going to be higher than for a 'Bama program that's worried more about next season.

7. Arkansas. On one hand, a handful of plays are all that separate Arkansas from being 10-1. On the other, after this past off-season, it's probably best for all concerend if Nutt walks away now anyway. (By the by: could wind up at 7-5 and bowl-bound ahead of possibly 6-6 Carolina and possibly 6-6 Tide basically only by virtue of the SEC's weakest nonconference schedule. Boo.)

8. Miss. St.
Funny how the Bulldogs don't look nearly as good when their opposition doesn't actively help them out, huh?

9. Alabama. So much for the conference's perfect record against non-BCS-conference opposition. The Florida St. loss wasn't embarrassing enough, guys?

10. South Carolina.
Now Clemson's even try to steal their "inexplicable collapse" thunder, though it's not like anyone didn't see that particular maneuver coming from Bowden's boys.

11. Vanderbilt.
Remember that episode of DuckTales where Scrooge's insanely lucky relative got cursed by Magica De Spell and became insanely UNlucky, so much so that Scrooge was able to predict the horrible things would happen as a result of his actions and used him to recover his No. 1 Dime from Magica? Yeah, me neither, but if I did, I bet that unlucky relative would remind me of poor cursed Vanderbilt.

12. Ole Miss. How, exactly, in the single craziest college football season known to man has Coach O managed to go the entire season without springing a single upset? Remarkable.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

No glee

It will not be easy. Because the natural, innate response of nearly any college football fan--much less an Auburn fan subjected to the endless, daily barrage of Nick sucking that's been de rigueur since the day of his arrival--of this:



dissolving into this:



and this:



is going to be a certain level of OMGBAMALOLZ glee. It's inescapable, reflexive, like having a doctor strike the soft spot on your knee with a loss to Louisiana-Monroe. The "Boy, 4 million bucks just doesn't go as far as it used to, huh? That inflation's a killer" jokes rise to the tongue as easily as "What?" does when you've missed something in conversation; in fact, I'm watching the MLS Cup final as I type this and didn't even realized I'd written that line until several minutes later. True story*.

But we as Auburn fans--and, it goes without saying, Auburn's coaches and players--are going to have to keep the schadenfreude to the absolute minimum.

Because, first and foremost, the Tide's ULM loss has little-to-no bearing on the outcome of the Iron Bowl. Alabama is still the same team they were headed into yesterday's kickoff: battling-but-undertalented defense, tailback-deficient, explosive-but-turnover-prone in the passing game, without question good enough to win in Jordan-Hare if they play well and Auburn does not. The list of reasons Alabama lost to ULM begins and ends with 1. Motivation and 2. Focus, and 1. Motivation and 2.Focus will not be an issue against Auburn. (Or at least, if they are, there are problems in T-town that go way, way deeper than even losses to Sun Belt teams.)

More importantly, Auburn doesn't have anything Tide-related to crow about just yet. Fun as it might be to have a larf at 'Bama losing to something called the WarHawks today, it's going to even more painful should Auburn be the team that lost to the 'Bama team that lost to something called the WarHawks tomorrow. (Just ask any Michigan victim this season.) Not only is breaking out the party hats and kazoos over another team's accomplishment just begging for karmic backlash (at a time Auburn can least afford it), I've always felt--as I told a certain Tide-loving loser coworker who waltzed into the office wearing a "Honk if you won your bowl game" in the wake of the Wisconsin loss and in wishful ignorance of Shula's "best" team getting the holy crap beaten out of them a few weeks prior--that if you have to rely on other teams for results to celebrate, it's a sign you don't feel like celebrating the results of your own.

This week, that goes double. The bottom line is that this is Iron Bowl week. Yes, a certain amount of knee-jerk cackling is unavoidable. Lord knows I was guilty of that myself yesterday. But until the clock reads all-zeroes this Saturday on the Plains, the first 11 games mean nothing other than giving us a general idea of what we can expect from these teams (i.e. erratic quarterbacking, for one), and any individual result means nothing. Nothing. With any luck, Auburn will emerge victorious Saturday for the sixth straight time, everything will be right with the world, and it'll be no-limit, open season on King Crimson and yet another failed campaign for the Tide.

But unless that happens, at the JCCW ULM 21, Alabama 14 is just another number in the Tide's loss column. Here's to hoping Auburn will make it something else this week.



*For a given definition of "True."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Mmmm, long-term fear

So the 2008 schedule is out. I wish it had stayed in.

Auburn's 2008 slate: the Ninja Gaiden of college football schedules, though maybe not the Battletoads of college football schedules.

Seriously, this thing already smells to high heaven of venom and malevolence and we're 10 months from it kicking off. Breaking in a new QB? Replacing a couple of key starters on defense? Young team whose confidence could be shaken by a second straight rocky opening month?

Sorry Auburn, application for clemency denied. Instead, try following up your opening-week cupcake with a four-week stretch featuring a road game against a legit national title contender with a history of tearing SEC teams to rubble; a second road game against plucky opportunists sandwiched between mega-tilts that couldn't scream "TRAP!" any louder if we gave it a bullhorn; Louisiana freaking State, just the potential defending SEC and national champions; and then, just for giggles, Tennessee. If UT pulls an upset over LSU in the SEC title game, you're looking at three BCS bowl teams in four games. Hooray.

But wait, there's more! After that four-game stretch Auburn gets to take it "easy" by traveling to Vanderbilt, same place a few weeks back the SEC's current clearcut second best team won solely by the favor of the Vandy-despising football gods; hosting Arkansas, which has gone so well for Auburn in the past several years; and wrap up a eight-games-in-eight-weeks with a Southern Miss team with a history of big upsets that will be playing their biggest game of the year just as Auburn feels their biggest games are either behind them or weeks ahead. Again: hooray. At least after that Aubur nwill finally get an open date so they can prepare for their big showdown with ... Ole Miss.

The best-case scenario for Auburn from here looks like a 7-1 start (with a split of the WVU and LSU games and pure lucky survival thereafter), but 2-6 is every bit as possible. This is a murderous slate of games and at least with this season's road gauntlet, there were gaps to rest, recover, repair the holes in the gameplan ... but in 2008, if Auburn suffers through another 2006-style, Rocky-esque slugfest against LSU, the Vols aren't the types to allow for much room for recuperation. There's no New Mexico St. to let Auburn reattach the wheels if they fly off again next year.

There's some good news, of course. The open date the week before the Iron Bowl is still appreciated. Teeth-gnashing aside, Auburn should still be favored for five straight games between UT and UGA and could build up some momentum there. And most importantly this schedule shouldn't be as difficult next year as it would have been this season: I have very little doubt LSU will be working with a new coach, Tennessee won't have Ainge and doesn't have much else even now, God alone knows what's going to happen at Arkansas between now and then and even He told reporters this week he was only "reasonably confident" on the Hogs' future, Miss. St.'s alleged resurgence is built on, well, the sound decision-making of Brandon Cox and John Parker Wilson rather than sustainable down-to-down factors, and even Southern Miss hasn't been their usual giant-slaying selves this season. (West Virginia? Can't help you there.)

So maybe it's not as bad as it looks. We can only hope, 'cause from here it looks pretty gosh-darned bad, and that's before taking Auburn's potentially very, very interesting off-season into account. (Speaking of which, more on that probably late this evening.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Putting Georgia to bed

"On second thought, maybe importing those satin curtains from Bhutan was a little hasty."

A few last thoughts before moving into full-on Iron Bowl mode:

--I honestly expected there to be a little bit more low-key grumbling from Dawg fans and other interested neutrals about the questionable-at-best, just-another-symbol-of-this-whole-daggum-country-going-soft at worst personal foul calls that gave Auburn a helping hand on their two touchdown drives. But there's been some, and it's worth noting that if it's fair to say Auburn lived by this particular sword, they died by it, too.

Why? They key moment of this game was Georgia's drive immediately following Byrum's field goal to put Auburn up 20-17. It's easy to forget, but Auburn had every drop of momentum at that point, on both sides of the ball. To borrow SMQ's summary, "Georgia went through a ten-minute, four possession stretch in the second and third quarters in which it collectively went backwards, -4 yards on 14 plays, and failed to gain a first down." Antonio Coleman then started the next possession by tackling Moreno for a three-yard loss. And Stafford threw incomplete on second and the Dawgs had an ineligible receiver downfield. This is most likely 3rd-and-13, or possibly 2nd-and-even-longer.

Except, of course, for the halfhearted shove near the sideline and subsequent roughing the passer call against Sen'Derrick Marks (though it may have been Pat Sims ... I deleted the recording off my DVR the instant the game was finished for what I believe to be understandable reasons, and the official PBP is no help) every bit as sketchy, ticky-tack, effeminate, whatever, as the ones against Georgia. Say this for the refs: they were consistent. (Of course, that's the only positive thing I can say regarding these calls, which belong squarely in the "QBs = Ratings!" world of the NFL and nowhere else.)

So the Dawgs faced 2nd-and-13 after the offsetting penalties rather than 3rd-and-13. On the next snap Sean Bailey beat man coverage, Stafford found him for a 45-yard gain, and it was nothing but Dawg touchdowns and the Soulja Boy from there.

Now, the way that game went, it's certainly appropriate to have expected Georgia to convert 3rd-and-13 as easily as they converted 2nd-and-13 ... but then again, maybe Auburn's not in man, maybe they force that punt, maybe this winds up a completely different game. Probably not, of course, but maybe. My point is simply that Bailey's catch was the play on which the direction of the game turned, and that catch was set up in part by the same type of officiating decision that I'm sure Georgia fans were cursing to high heaven just moments before. Just think that ought to be taken into account, is all.

--Funny how two reporters can come out of the same press conference with such violently different reactions. Jay G. Tate comes away from Tubby's Sunday presser claiming Tubby "didn't address the A&M situation despite a very blunt and direct question"; Phillip Marshall instead said Tubby "was vehement again Sunday in insisting that (the A&M situation) wasn't (a distraction)." Tate called the entire thing "weird" and "awkward"; Marshall made no mention of Tubby's demeanor or attitude.

My reaction to Tate's little piece was, well ... maybe this thing has legs after all. I really, honestly, truly still believe and always have that Tubby will still be on Auburn's sideline next year. I still very much want him to be there. But Marshall is so close to the program (and always has been, which is fine, a good thing in many cases) that I trust Tate more than I do him when it comes to giving us details like Tubby's aloofness during a presser. And there's also of course the damning evidence of the Georgia game tape. And then last night even Marshall tells us the landscape has changed. Uh-oh.

Not to criticize or second-guess the whole Tubby hire, but this is a hazard of hiring a coach away from a peer institution; if he's willing to talk to you while coaching another school, he's going to be willing to talk to other schools when he's coaching you, too. I suppose I'm in the same boat with Marshall--still confident it gets worked out, but the tea leaves say nothing's certain any more. 9,000 square feet or not.

--I wholeheartedly agree with Senator Blutarsky when he says any Auburn fans who soiled their knickers or let their monocle slip and cried "Well, I never!" when confronted with those wretchedly uncouth dance-like maneuvers along the Dawg sideline need to lighten the hell up. The way to make Georgia regret pulling a black-jersey gimmick or a celebratory jig on the sideline is to beat their ass for it on the field, not to whine about it between bites of cucumber sandwich after the fact, particularly when our own team has broken out the victory cigars on an opponent's field in the not-so-distant past. Orson's right: strangely enough, it's only those on the wrong end of the scoreboard complaining about about their opponent's "class."

--Lastly, wanted to answer a solid question from Buford in the excellent "Blindsided" comment thread: "Were you really blindsided? Honestly? I think I saw it posted somewhere that about every eight games, we have a blowout loss (loss by more than 17 points). Since the Georgia game last year, it hadn't happened, so we were due. And yes, I understand the sentiment that we all thought we were past that phase."

Yes, and two reasons why: First, there's the whiplash from seeing a three-point lead metamorphose into a 25-point loss in less time than it takes to make dry toast. My neck is still a bit sore. I'm thinking of suing.

Secondly, and more importantly, it's been a long time since Auburn's lost a game like that one by a margin like that one. Yes, Georgia beat us this badly just last year, and so did Arkansas. Going back to 2006 there's the Wisconsin bowl fiasco and a two-TD loss to Reggie Ball, in retrospect, is just as ugly. But in all of those games Auburn was the favorite. In all of those games, Auburn was either at home or on a neutral field. The last time Auburn entered an opponent's stadium as an underdog and left with this kind of beatdown was, drumroll please, the Georgia game back in 2003. It's been three full seasons since Auburn's suffered a result like this, and yes, after the LSU game I was naive enough to think those days were over, or at the very least weren't coming back this particular season. I was wrong. Very, very wrong. And being that wrong ... yeah, I think "blindsided" is still the right word.

Monday, November 12, 2007

SEC Power Poll ballot



1. LSU. After UGA's last couple of outings, Tigers are probably the world's biggest Vol fans outside Knoxville. Then again, how much attention is Miles really paying now that Carr's retirement kitten cat is out of the bag?

2. Georgia. Did what no other SEC team has done since 2003: host Auburn and Tubby, as a favorite, and bludgeon them into meek, 20-point submission. Man, how much would Evil Richt give for a second shot at
the Vols? His new master Mr. Scratch might be willing to listen to offers ...

3. Florida. Seven TDs, yards out the wazoo on the ground and in the air, the ferocity on the road ... as much as I hate the media claiming Tebow can turn water into Gatorade, if I had a Heisman vote, he'd get
it. If this team gets his defensive head on straight next year--and does anyone doubt that's exactly what will happen with Strong and Meyer around--they're the team to beat, the pups at UGA and (rank homerism alert!) cubs at Auburn notwithstanding.

4. Tennessee. So much for that prediction the Hogs were going to run over them. Have to wonder if the fact that everybody and their brother made the same prediction had anything to do with their performance. Then again, maybe they're just better than I'm giving them credit for: I mean, they do have Ainge, and Foster's not a complete waste and Cutcliffe and Chavis mostly know what they're doing ... still, I think all three teams above them crush them if they play today.

5. Kentucky. How far can one overtime victory take a team? A pretty good ways, as it turns out, since Arkansas's final collapse means the LSU victory is the only thing really of note on the 'Cats resume as of
now (and the only thing keeping them ahead of the next team on this list, who beat them). Game against Georgia is obvious chance to change that and I do wonder if they're due for another "Oh yeah, they do have an All-American at QB, don't they" performance.

6. Mississippi St. Yep, Miss. St.has had the sixth-best season-to-date in the SEC. If they beat Ole Miss--just Ole Miss--they will guarantee a finish better (via tiebreaker) than whichever Alabama school loses
the Iron Bowl and almost certainly the team with the best backfield in America. Astounding. Do not ask for whom Croom's voice tolls, SEC fat cats; it tolls for thee.

7. Auburn. It's a dire situation indeed when even Alabama's second straight loss to the Bulldogs can give us neither joy nor trash-talk ammunition. (Now I really wish the Tigers had beaten Miss. St.)
Here's hoping there's one more hill, one more high, for Auburn to crest over before this year's roller coaster train pulls into the bowl station. The good news is that no one's been better in recovery situations like these than Tubby; the bad news is that no one's been better in the situation (road underdog) the Tigers were in last week than Tubby, either, and look how that ended.

8. Alabama. Wilson vs. Cox in the Iron Bowl is the quarterbacking equivalent of a dance-off between sixth-graders on Red Bull smitten with the same girl: no one's going to fault the energy, enthusiasm, willingness, commitment, etc., but boy, no one's going to tune in for composure or technique, either. For all the horrible (and justified) things said about Shula, there's little question he did a much better job getting Wilson ready to play than the current staff has.

9. Arkansas. Whatever you think of Nutt or the Hogs, we can all agree it's a damn shame the college career of a once-in-forever talent like McFadden is going to end in a beatdown against LSU and the
Independence Bowl ... if the Hogs are fortunate enough to even get past MSU.

10. South Carolina.
One more year for Spurrier to prove he didn't lose
it all when he left the Gators. Because it's safe to say this year didn't do much for him. (As an aside, how on earth did this defense ever hold Georgia to 12 points? I mean, I know Jasper Brinkley was a great player and the team MVP and the eternal, undying soul of the Gamecock defense and everything, but still.)

11. Vanderbilt. Hmm, that upset of the 'Cocks looks just a wee bit less impressive these days, and there's nothing really else for them to hang their hat on. Does that mean the 'Dores are now due for their one Big Fat Upset of the year or that the potential for said upset was never really there to begin with? Two weeks to find out. But I wouldn't feel too confident if I was Tennessee (then again, I told Tennessee they'd lose to Arkansas, so never mind me.)

12. Ole Miss. Jevan Snead, your white horse is ready. Paging Mr. Snead, your white horse is ready.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Blindsided

What ... the hell?



I don't even know how I'm supposed to react to a loss like that. Auburn claws back from 17-3 down, we're up 20-17 and have the Dawgs in second-and-long deep in their own territory, and in what seems like the blink of an eye it's yet another outright embarrassment to add to Tubby's annually-increasing stockpile of them.

It all happened so fast, even after sleeping on it, I'm left to wonder what the appropriate response is. I figure my choices are:

1) Orson-style unholy stream of profanity. (Seriously, don't click there unless you are over the age of 18 and un-offended by pornographic references to Wilford Brimley.)

2) Joining the Wolverine fans a few blocks over in downing buckets o' alcohol.



3) Zen-like acceptance of Georgia's sudden buzzsaw-like properties, a toss of the hands in the air, a quick "Well, what can you do?" and a 23rd review of the 'Bama highlights with an eye towards two weeks from now.

4) Uncontrolled sobbing.

5) Cold and calculated heads-"will almost certainly"-roll rage.

I think in the end I'm going with 6) All of the Above. I'll give Georgia credit: they dominated our purported impregnable-or-just-short defense, particularly up front. Their running back is the second coming of Cadillac, at the minimum. Their quarterback throws a perfectly-thrown bomb for each of his occasional bubbleheaded mistakes. If there's any slightest glimmer of a silver lining from this abomination, it's that it came at the hands of a very good team.

But Auburn's beaten (or at the very least challenged) oodles of very good teams--and very good Georgia teams--over the course of Tubby's tenure. A performance like Saturday's over the final 25 minutes is flat unacceptable and it's even less acceptable--into, like, the negative realms of accpetability--given that the exact same thing happened in this game last season.

What specifically fell below the level of acceptability yesterday? Oh, so many things:

--Evil Brandon was back and as lethal as ever. I was deeply troubled when that very first pass was a solid yard behind an intended receiver who was well-covered to begin with; when Cox threw a gentle, friendly, "Please pick me! I'm ever so tempting!" 3rd-and-9 lob squarely off his back foot into the middle of the field on the second-quarter touchdown drive (that it happened to fall into the arms of Billings was 100% pure USDA-approved luck) I knew Auburn would need the sort of miracles it took to get the Tigers into OT vs. USF. Such miracles don't happen twice in a season.

--Four consecutive second-half drives for Georgia went thusly: 4 plays, 68 yards, touchdown; 6 plays, 48 yards, touchdown; 3 plays, 65 yards, touchdown; 9 plays, 59 yards, touchdown. 10.9 yards (10.9 yards!) a play over that stretch. Ye gods. Georgia also finished 8-of-13 on third down conversions, half of them 7 yards or longer, and converted on 2nd-and-18 and 2nd-and-11 as well. How on earth was this the same defense we saw against USF, Arkansas, Ole Miss, etc.? How?

--Three sacks and another half-dozen hurries, average 2.4 yards-per-rush against the same defense that Troy torched the week before. 216 total yards. 216! 216! Unbelievable (and quite fortunate) Auburn even got 20 on the board. 18 first downs, sure, but Auburn couldn't have provided a better small-play visual counterpoint to Georgia's big-play success if they'd tried. Auburn's longest play from scrimmage covered 17 yards; Georgia has seven plays longer than that. A miserable offensive performance.

--The lack of big play ability was shared by the Auburn defenders. One sack, the one pick, a fumble recovery long after the game had been decided. The style of buttoned-down offense Auburn runs means that the defense and special teams (irrelevant at best again, Byrum excluded) must provide the big plays. Didn't happen. Not for the first time this year, I might add.

--As Jay pointed out, there was not even a fraction of Georgia's fire on the opposite sideline. Pulling a Blackout stunt the day Auburn comes into Athens should have been reason for our team to react with bile and spittle and rage. Instead they reacted with a shrug of the shoulders and tackled Moreno six yards downfield again.

The bottom line is that this cannot, cannot, cannot go on. I say "go on" because this is two years now that our offense has flopped and thrashed its way about the field and only occasionally falling into scores; two years now our defense has looked like the '86 Bears one week and the Bad News Bears (um, the football kind) the next. The progress of 2004 and 2005--when this same quarterback led our offense to 506 yards and our defense ravaged a good team for 11 sacks a week later--is over. The 33-5 run is over. Oh, there was hope in the games at Florida and LSU, but after Saturday, it's safe to say Auburn is back to 2003 and the previous roller coaster years until further notice.

That notice will not come two weeks from now, but a) it could be a step in the right direction, I suppose b) who cares. It's the Iron Bowl. Alabama. Saban. The Tide.

This is the good news for Auburn. They will have two weeks to salvage the season, to make it something other than a terrific win over Florida, the promise of which went unfulfilled, and six other empty victories. With a win over the Tide, 2007 won't exactly be a smashing success, but it will at least be something of value, the kind of season that perhaps one day we look back on as a necessarily cruel stepping stone to better things. And the season, of course, Auburn beat the Tide for a sixth straight year, something worth celebrating a whole off-season all by itself.

Such is the importance of the Iron Bowl that not only do I feel unsure of the proper reaction to the Georgia loss, I feel that reaction isn't even complete. Prelude to the most painful loss of Tubby's tenure? Or maddeningly difficult one-off in a season-ending surge? We don't know. And I feel the same about Tubby, his coaching staff, Cox, Groves and the other defensive seniors: we don't know. The most important part of the story is yet to be written.

We'll find out in two weeks. They promise to be the longest two weeks this football program has endured since ... you know, I'm not sure of that either.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

War Eagle



Interesting assessment of "What's at Stake" between the hedges today from SMQ in this week's edition of Friday Morning Quarterback:
"Georgia, just a Tennessee stumble away from a clear sprint to the BCS, has more to lose than Auburn, whose hopes of winning the West hinge not only on the Tigers beating UGA and Alabama, but also on LSU losing to Ole Miss and Arkansas, i.e. it’s essentially a pride game for the Tigers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that."
Not exactly. As has been pointed out elsewhere, a win today keeps Auburn in line for the unlikeliest Sugar Bowl berth of our lifetimes, a prize that would be so sweet in the aftermath of a season like this one I haven't dared speak its name here, particularly since it's a complete lost cause with a loss today. Thinking about scenarios like that one aren't just getting ahead of ourselves, it's splittling in two, traveling and standing on eiher side of the International Date Line, and yelling at the you on the other side of it "Suck it, Yesterday!" (Or something.) But it's out there nonetheless.

More important, though, is the Pride--capital P--that SMQ undersells. It's more important than the Sugar Bowl. It's more important than an SEC title. It's more important, really, than a national championship. Before all else comes Pride, that simple desire, need, compulsion or whatever synonym you prefer to win today, not for trophies or rankings or the congratulatory smile on Monday from the redhead two rows over in Organic Gardening, but because it's a game and the point is to play hard and win. The best teams, I fully believe, start with Pride and Pride alone and let everything else come as a distant second.

And as an Auburn fan, in no two games is this any truer--hell, let's be honest, it might be the only two here at the JCCW in which it's any true at all--than the two that Auburn will play today and two weeks from today. Given that the Sugar Bowl remains a sugar-plum dream for now, maybe all that is on the line is Pride.

But this week, that's more than enough. This is the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry. It means something that has nothing to do with tomorrow, next week, next year. It means winning over our rivals today. It means we want it, and we want it badly. Go Auburn. Beat Georgia.

War Eagle.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Georgia

What kind of rivalry is this?



That kind of rivalry. "J**n V****n as redeemed hero" rivalry. The same guy who threw the dagger that helped said redemption returning the next year to play the worst game in the history of the forward pass kind of rivalry. Dameyune Craig playing the world's first successful game of 1-on-11 kind of rivalry. 4th-and-15 from the 17 before you get slugged in the stomach and your insides go dead kind of rivalry.

The phrase "throw out the records" gets, well, thrown out a lot more than it should. As a rule the records of the two teams headed into the Iron Bowl are a decently reliable (if obviously not ironclad) predictor. But the Deep South's Oldest and Probably Coolest Rivalry has been won by the higher-ranked team just four times in the last 11, as pointed out by Get the Picture this week, and as various birds in the Auburn-to-Athens corridor could tell you by now, by the home team just three times in the last 15. This is the kind of rivalry where a) Auburn is on the road and b) the opponent is ranked in the top 10, and I don't just feel like those facts might give Auburn a better shot; I know, in my bones, it gives Auburn a better shot.

So, yeah, I can cop to being at least a little bit confident about this game. But as as strong as the historical precedents might be, there's still the actual teams to deal with, and there are several things about this Georgia team that Auburn will have to deal with in a much more practical fashion than the Dawgs will use in battling inexplicable streaks:

1. Knowshon Moreno. One of these years, Mark Richt will realize that giving the lion's share of carries to their most talented back rather than spreading it around to one really talented back and two okey-dokey guys is probably the way to go. Unfortunately, the cruel/benevolent hand of fate did Richt's work for him in removing Moreno's competition for carries, and now he's getting Herschel comparisons left and right. The sad thing is, in terms of effectiveness, I'm not sure they're even that outlandish.

2. Matt Stafford. Sure, Stafford's struggled at times. But he's got the talent. It's not possible to look more like the Platonic ideal of quarterback than Matt Stafford. And most worryingly the last guy who had struggled at times but still possessed Stafford's kind of arm lit Auburn up for a 22-35 for 319 line.

3.They don't turn the ball over. It would be nice if Auburn could get a couple of short fields to work with a la so much of 2006, but as Hey Jenny Slater pointed out in an excellent pre-game breakdown, no one in America has turned the ball over less than Georgia. Curses.

Apparently their supposedly young and sucky offensive line hasn't sucked all that much, either, much like another supposedly young and sucky line (and like one coached by a grad of the school on the opposite sideline Saturday.) Here's the thing, though: All of those positives are on the offensive side of the ball.

The Dawgs just got finished giving up 34 points to a decent but hardly earth-shattering Troy team. Florida scored 30 but more importantly averaged six yards a play, hardly the stuff of a dominant defense. And of course Tennessee ground them into so much dust in the wind. Bottom line: this is not what we could call a "good" defense. If Auburn comes out and executes the way they did against Florida or vs. LSU for the first half, points are going to be scored and the ball is not going to find its way back to Georgia hands with any kind of quickness.

The same is likely also true when Georgia has the ball. But they of course will have to tangle with a defense that (finally!) has Aairon Savage back, has Tray Blackmon 100 percent, has ... well, everything but Craig Stevens, basically. And had a de facto off week last week. If I was a Georgia fan, I'd be worried: not only do all the historical precedents point towards Auburn, but I'd argue the Tigers are better at this point of the season on paper. There's not much difference in quality, if any, between the Dawg offense and the Tiger D; but I think the Tiger offense, particularly if Cox continues his post-benching form, has a fairly clear leg up on the Dawg D.

All of which, of course, makes me sort of worried when I think about it this long. Ever since the LSU loss, I think Auburn fans have consoled themselves with the idea of finishing 9-3. 9-3! That's a heck of a record with this team, that is. And with a win over 'Bama to boot, why, that's not a bad season at all. Might even get a team to the Sugar Bowl, even! And all it takes is a win in Athens--never been a problem--and then over the Tide at home. Not easy, but damn doable. Just holding serve, right?

Right. But Auburn's never been one for holding serve, have they? 9-3 would be great, but how much more likely is it, really, than 7-5? Not more enough for comfort. Not more enough that Auburn's worst-case scenario doesn't remain a hideous crash to Earth through the Amen Corner, a bowl loss, and an entire off-season of discontent the disgruntled factions say Auburn would have been better off if Tubby had bolted while the rest of us yell at them to go root for 'Bama if they hate their team so much. Not fun, no.

The good news? On the balance of history, and perhaps even the balance of talent, Auburn wins. Crisis averted. The bad news? This is Auburn-Georgia. This is the rivalry of Ben Leard throwing for 793 yards and 12 TDs in a half, of Terry Bowden's magic carpet ride unraveling, of Mark Richt's brain stepping out just long enough for the Dawgs to run into the goal line with 10 seconds left, of Hail Marys into overtime and sprinklers unloosed and 111 years being divided by 20 points.

Wait a minute. Maybe that, too, is the good news.