Friday, December 28, 2007

Wish List for Clemson

Enjoy the ride, Thompson: you've earned it.

All right, first off, here's to hoping all 11 of you in JCCW readership-land had a very Merry Christmas, full of honey-roasted cashews and Best Buy gift cards and maybe one of those "Beers of the World" samplers, if you were an especially good guy or gal this year. (If you were one of those Auburn fans who booed Brandon Cox in the Mississippi St. game, I hope you enjoyed your lump of coal.)

The clever thing to follow up with would be "I'd wish you a Happy New Year, too, but I guess we'll find out how happy Auburn fans will really be Monday night in Atlanta" ... except that, honestly, I'm not sure how much I really care about the outcome. Oh, I know that as soon as Auburn kicks off I'll be in my usual UNSPEAKABLE DEATH TO THE NON-AUBURN INFIDELS mode, but right now, nothing that happens Monday is going to change 2007 as one season-long yo-yo between smashing success and blankest defeat ultimately redeemed in whole by the Iron Bowl. Unlike last year, when the win over Nebraska finally sealed the "Holy crap, I can't believe that team just went 11-2!" celebrations and "best Tubby coaching job yet" hyperbole, a 40-7 win Monday won't add much to this year nor will a 40-7 loss detract much from it. The story--from the USF loss through the Florida upset and the LSU heartbreak and the see-saw on Amen Corner all the way to Cox and Borges riding into two differently-colored sunsets--is already written, already done and dusted*. Monday isn't this team's final chapter; that happened at the Iron Bowl and in the coaching aftermath. Monday is merely epilogue.

But doesn't mean I don't care at all. I want to see the seniors offer us one last reminder of why they never lost to Alabama. I want to see the cavalcade of returning studs show us why there's bigger and even better things in store for next year. Like everyone else, I want to see the Spread Eagle take its first few tentative flaps outside the practice field's nest. If Auburn adds another W to Tubby's and Cox's totals, all the better. If they don't, I don't think I'll be any less stoked for 2008.

So, the wishes:

When Auburn has the ball

1. That Auburn throws caution six yards downfield to the wind and lines up in Franklin's five-wide. Saying "it remains to be seen" if Tubby is actually going to let Franklin operate the Mumme-fied offense he did at Troy is a colossal understatement, and I'm honestly a little hesitant at the moment about a system that might put James Swinton on the field in exchange for Mario Fannin, but in this game? Screw it, let's see what Franklin's been able to hustle together in two weeks. And besides, let's be honest, hitting timing routes of 10-yards-or-less is what Cox is most physically capable of doing anyway, right? Next year I'd like to see balance. In the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, I want to see what this offense might look like if, well, Franklin had these same players at Troy.

2. That Carl Stewart scores a touchdown. The problem with that approach is that it might squeeze Stewart off the field, and if anyone graduating from the Auburn offense deserves one last burst of glory, it's Stewart. He's become such a complete, all-around professional at fullback it's been easy to forget that he came to Auburn as a tailback prospect before the switch and, hell, could have had a gripe that when Lester sat at the start of the year, it should have been him toting the rock over Tate or Fannin. Instead Stewart just got better and better at what he did at fullback, a blessing for which Auburn fans really shouldn't take for granted. I'd like to think most of us won't take his usual flattening blocks and steady pass catching for granted in his final game for Auburn, but just for those that would, here's to hoping Stewart reminds them by finding the end zone. (Also, and I'm not sure if any TV announcers ever mentioned this, he plays the violin.)

3. That Cox keeps it together. Again, I'm not sweating the final score. Cox can fire off a couple of his patented "Lord, as a show of faith, I'm just going to heave the ball that way and trust you to deliver it into the arms of an Auburn receiver" passes if he wants, can take a couple of his trademarked wait-half-a-nanosecond-before-tucking-and-ducking sacks if he feels so moved. He's beaten Alabama three times; his legacy is far too secure to be that damaged by what he does against Clemson. But another meltdown a la his final two performances against Georgia or the South Florida debacle and, well, it's going to be a nasty, tugging reminder that, well, he had those last two performances against Georgia and the South Florida debacle. In the end, the impact of Good Brandon has far outweighed the impact of Evil Brandon; it would just be nice if Cox's final game reflected that.

When Clemson has the ball

4. That Tuberville casts some sort of bizarre magic spell that makes it appear to potential employers of Will Muschamp that the Tiger defense is giving out points like a drunken pinball machine while actually giving up very few. By which I mean to say, I'm hoping Muschamp somehow looks less appealing as a hire even as his defense succeeds. I'm not sure if that's actually possible, but as long as we're wishing ... and actually ,what I'm wishing for isn't about the Clemson game: I just selfishly want Muschamp back for at least another season on Auburn's sideline.

5. That Quentin Groves finishes his career with one his patented sack-and-strips. It just hasn't been the bed-wetting-terror-inducing year we all imagined for Groves, has it? From the "Oops, I wasn't playing the run" admission to the dislocation injury to being denied more than a few memorable sacks by random last-second throwaways (Tebow still owes him one) to the record hanging around all season like the last guy to leave the party, it's seemed like if it hasn't been one thing for Groves, it's been another. It's too bad, what with Groves being a likable guy who could have gone pro after--even more importantly--serving as Auburn's runaway MVP in the 2006 Iron Bowl. A flashback to those heady days (or even to the kickoff of this season) would be nice even if it wasn't so richly deserved at the end of yet another killer Auburn career.

6. That Walt McFadden gets some time--and looks good. Tubby's mysterious neverending supply of defensive linemen and linebackers (Groves underperforming? Why, here's Antonio Coleman! Blackmon dinged up? Come on down, Chris Evans!) mean I'm not sweating any losses in those two units, and the safety spots should be good to go with Etheridge, McNeil, et al. But at corner we're saying goodbye to Lee, Wilhite, and Zach Gilbert. Not a deathblow, but from this ridiculously early viewpoint, it looks like corner is going to be Auburn's thinnest position on what should be an otherwise impregnable 2008 defense. McFadden looks like the heir apparent opposite Jerraud Powers, and if he can hold his own in his limited action against some good Clemson receivers, things will look all the brighter.

*Yes, I've got more thoughts on that final chapter, on Borges 'departure, Franklin's hiring, Tubby's candidate dance ... all of that stuff I missed while working my fool head off. It's coming.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Open letter to Terry Bowden he will not read

Hilariously awesome image from a West Virginia message board via MGoBlog.


Hi, my name is Jerry Hinnen. I write an Auburn football blog called the Joe Cribbs Car Wash.

I'll get right to the point: I'm writing to ask you to please stop debasing yourself in your pursuit of the West Virginia head coaching position. You have acted, well, desperate and needy throughout the season, but issuing a statement through a publicist (why a "publicist" and not an agent? Are you this devoted to publicizing yourself?) that WVU is your "dream job" before Rodriguez's seat had even cooled, before the Mountaineer administration had even drawn up their preliminary list of candidates, is outright groveling. Get off your knees, Terry. You are begging like a dog at the dinner table, and not even a dog that belongs in the house but a dog brought over without invitation by rude, aggravating Aunt Gertrude. Even if you got the job, aren't you going to be more than little bit shamed it took father cold-calling the WVU decision-makers on your behalf for it to happen? Stand on your own two legs, Terry. Show some dignity.

You may be wondering why I, as an Auburn fan, care in the first place. You know as well as I do you've become the easiest, quickest punchline in the Auburn fan's book of jokes. I've made my share at your expense, no doubt. Auburn fans are supposed to be indifferent at best and cruelly pointing and snickering like eighth-graders at lunch at worst, right?

Well, it's true I don't have a certain level of concern purely out of the goodness of my heart. You coached at Auburn for several years. Despite your TV and Internet writing work and famous Daddy, you are seen, first and foremost, as Auburn's former coach. I remember, clear as the conversation I had over lunch today, the clip of you turning to the jubilant locker room behind you after polishing off the Tide to go 11-0--with Pat Dye just behind you--and saying "Today, I became an Auburn man." That status got revoked on both ends a while back, but I would still prefer it if those individuals who had ever been the face of our program--anyone who had ever been "an Auburn man"--refrained from the kind of undignified "Hey guys! Look at me! Remember me? I can coach, too! Hey, hey guys!" chirping you've been engaged in lately. It does not reflect well on the choices made by the Auburn program.

But there's more than that. Me personally, I'd honestly like to see you do well, Terry. Just for your sake. Yep, I would.

As always here at the JCCW (or at least, as usual), I speak for for no Auburn fan but myself. But I haven't forgotten 1993. I haven't forgotten being in the stands for the Florida upset, still easily one of the two or three most exciting Auburn games I've ever seen in person. Haven't forgotten James Bostic pulling free on fourth down, haven't forgotten Etheridge's kick sailing through. Haven't forgotten Reid McMilion rumbling past the Hogs, or Corso picking the Dawgs that year, or sitting a foot away from my parents' old stereo and fiddling with its ancient tuner as Nix came in stone cold to save the Iron Bowl on fourth down, as Bostic broke free to cinch it. That remains the best team on radio, forever.

I haven't forgotten '94, either, Nix-to-Sanders and Darth Visor's invincibility in the Swamp vanishing in a puff of orange-and-blue smoke. Or the Interception Game against LSU. Or Dameyune Craig, who you recruited, dragging our team single-handedly into our first-ever SEC title game, one we would have won if our receivers hadn't suffered a fatal case of the dropsies.

I remember all these things, and I am still grateful to you for them. It is true, without argument, that the glories of '93 and '94 were accomplished with Pat Dye's players. But Pat Dye's players went a combined 10-11-1 in '91 and '92. So I still think fondly of you, Terry, and still wish the end of your tenure--while inevitable, while without question for the best of the program, even you can admit that, surely--had arrived without the acrimony, without all the unsightly, um, hullabaloo ... basically, with a lot more of (again) that dignity stuff for everyone involved.

I remember the other stuff, too, of course. That, Terry, you expected the likes of Markeith "the Lizard" Cooper and Demontray Carter to become successful SEC running backs. That Stephen freaking Davis carried the ball what seemed like six times a game as that uber-talented '95 team disappointed. That it took years for Tubby to undo the recruiting damage. That--let's face facts, Terry--you are short and squeaky and have the face of a baby, and that it is written into our genes that it is difficult to respect the short, squeaky, and baby-faced.

For all of that, it was you squeaking in that Auburn locker room in '93. No coach who coached their way into that locker room should ever have to wander around the media with their hat in hand hoping for a charity job. Even now, Terry, I think you're better than that.

So start freaking acting like it.

Jerry Hinnen

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Fear the Index Finger on the Opposite Hand: the Iron Bowl recap, half the second

Picking up where we left off ...

Third quarter

--The second half kicks off with a Tide squib that gets picked up by Tommy Trott and returned 13 yards to the Auburn 41. Putting aside for the moment that "Tommy Trott returns the kickoff 13 yards" is every bit as unlikely as the "Tommy Trott seals off his man to create a 28-yard run" Sign of the End Times from the first half, did the Tide not realize that Tristan Davis's season was the football equivalent of a mayfly life span? Auburn hasn't returned a kickoff for TD since 2005 (Lester vs. Ball State, thank you game notes and the guy who got that one isn't back there. Why are they squibbing? Not that I'm complaining, mind you.
--Speaking of reasons to start saving up canned goods and bottled water for the shelter, Cox ducks under a sack attempt on Auburn's first drive and scrambles away before making a completion. Blackledge calls Cox "not the most elusive guy" in an instant nominee for "Understatement of the Year." But hey, Auburn's moving.
--Blackledge informs us that in the Iron Bowl, the team ahead at halftime wins 73 percent of the time, which is a great surprise since in most college football games, the team ahead of halftime loses 73 percent of the time, right? He adds that he provides the stat for those viewers "into numbers" and implies that Patrick is one of them ... and in fact implies it in a manner that suggests Patrick's significant other reads books of statistics to him in a husky voice in bed. Patrick only eggs him on, of course. Todd, don't encourage him.
--Lester's good work gives Auburn 2nd-and-9 on the Tide 26, and an ingeniously designed play sees Stewart pop wide open over the middle of the field with nothing but wide open spaces in front of him. All Cox has to do is AAAARRRRGGGHHH. Seriously: AAAARRRRGGGHHH. Cox misses the sure TD by yards. Brandon, please, please find a way to win this game. Because otherwise we're all going to remember this play for a lot longer than we like ...
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-- ... especially when Byrum misses from 43. DAMMIT. Oh well, bright side, after the slippery-slope way the first half ended Auburn's at least regained their footing.
--Hoo boy, it's time to break out the evilly satisfied cackles, because this is the sort of sequence I love to see from the Tide: 3rd-and-2, they hand off to Coffee, who trips and falls a half-yard short without so much having been looked at crossly by anyone in navy. Then King Crimson decides that his offense isn't to be trusted to try and pick up even the pittance required for the fourth and punts like the NFL-bred, risk-makes-me-break-out-in-hives coachbot he is. Yes, it's on the Tide 36, but it's not like Auburn's offense has been a machine and more importantly, you would think four straight losses this year and five straight in this series would call for just the slightest bit of aggression, the smallest what-have-you-got-to-lose gamble. But no. It's a determinedly Shulaesque call for what has been a Shulaesque season, and I can't say I've been more confident about how this game will end at any point as I am when Saban sends the punt team out here.
--Not that I'm terribly fond of the decision-making on Auburn's sideline on their ensuing possession. On 3rd-and-2 they motion the backfield empty and have Cox roll out immediately, not even making a pretense the play might be a run. Predictably, Cox's two options are both blanketed and the pass falls incomplete. If you're going to throw on short yardage, why not at least make the defense worry about the run? As sharp as Borges' call as the shoulda-been-TD was, that's how dull this one was. Auburn punts.
--If there's any condolence to Cox's flip-of-a-coin consistency, it's that Sarah Jessica Parker Wilson has devolved into more than his match. Bama takes over at their own 25 and a perfectly thrown third-down out by Wilson to Stover gets them to midfield. On Bama's next third down, on Auburn's 41, Wilson has an open Hall on a crossing route and throws it a full yard both behind him and over his head. As an Auburn fan, I have to offer my sympathies as Hall flails for the pass, gets upended by Wilhite in the effort, and hobbles off. (Of course, said sympathies are delivered with a hearty LOLZ. Mmmm, schadenfreude.) Bama skillfully punts the ball out-of-bounds at the Auburn 7.
--Auburn looks as though they'll get out of the hole when Cox finds Billings in space on 3rd-and-6. Billings crosses the marker with ease. Then Billings hops backwards to the other side of the marker in an effort to get to the corner. Then Billings gets tackled a yard shy of the first down. Then Auburn fans everywhere call Billings a variety of unfortunate names. Honestly, Montez, what the hell? WHAT THE HELL?
--Oh well, the Tide run into Shoemaker to return the "stop deep in opponent's half guaranteeing good field position undone by moronic mistake in ill-advised attempted punt block" favor Auburn handed them in the first half. Tate rushes for 18 on the next snap and even though the drive ends on a pass to Billings for 6 when Auburn needs 7, Shoemaker punts from the Auburn 48 rather than the 16 ... a difference that becomes even more significant when Caddell (filling in for the injured Lowe) decides it's a good idea to prove his worthiness for the job by catching the ball on the Tide five. It squirts out of his hands and goes out at the 1. Fortunate as the Tide are it doesn't roll out on the other side of the goalline (there by becoming a safety), this is a 92-yard switch of field position. In a game where the two teams combine for only 507 offensive yards ... yeah, that's a big, big deal.
--Still, the nerves are starting to wear a bit thin, as it's the ...

Fourth quarter

--and the Iron Bowl is 15 minutes away from being decided and it's still a three-point game. Auburn has been better. But better means nothing if it comes down to a single play. C'mon, Tigers. Let's get this done. You've got to.
--Holly reports that Hall is not taking the field for this Tide possession due to not being "full speed," the Tide coaching staff's polite way of saying that this game he has not been "any good." Bama doesn't get past the six and punts.
--Over the break we're treated to Todd's Taste of the Town, which I'm sort of interested in for the first time this season, as I'm curious to know what they picked out to represent Auburn. Todd ends up at Byron's Smokehouse, which isn't a bad choice at all, though I'm partial to Niffer's myself, having waited tables there for a while and selfishly hoping my little duct-taped covered fish would sneak into the camera over Todd's shoulder. (Assuming the fish are still hanging there at all. For all I know it's been turned into a Ruby Tuesday's by now. Sigh.) What little good will I have for the feature vaporizes anyway as we get a clip of Todd chewing and mumbling "this is how we roll" before coming back to the game and finding we've missed an entire play. Die, ESPN, die.
--Auburn takes over at their 46 and picks up one first down before two Cox incompletions force a punt from the Bama 37 Shoemaker can't pin any deeper than the 12. Bah. Three plays later Bama's got a first down out at their 43. Double bah.
--Fortunately, it just wouldn't be the Iron Bowl these days without Quentin Groves mauling some hapless Tide lineman and storming in to cause havoc. He doesn't get the sack here, but he forces Wilson into a no-hope pass on 3rd-and-12, giving Auburn the ball again. (Note that the 3rd-and-12 was created by a) Sims forcing Andre Smith into a hold, no mean feat and b) a daring, damn-the-torpedoes run up the middle on 2nd-and-16 in the fourth quarter of the biggest game of the year.)
--Hard to say Dunn has had much of a year returning punts, but--yes! Go, Dunn! Go!--he picks out the best possible time to uncork his best return of the year, going 31 yards to the Tide 44. Hooray for timing!
--44 yards to go to what ought to be the death blow, with just 8:48 left at the drive's start and the Tide still having yet to put together a single scoring drive that hasn't been aided by a 2006 Wake Forest-level of luck. So: Lester for five. Lester for one. 3rd-and-4 ... and Lester apparently had Plastic Man for a grandfather or something, because he squeezes through a crease so small on a sweep left it makes sense now he went with that nice, skinny "1" rather than sticking with a two-digit jersey number. Anyways: seven yards! First down!
--An offsides (LOLZ) and a one-yard plunge bring Auburn to the 25, where it's time for another Cole Bennett Sighting (!), to the tune of 11 yards. Tate loses two on the subsequent first down, though, and on second Cox is flushed and throws incomplete ... but there's a flag? Roughing the passer! The replay shows that, um, well, Keith Saunders did make some contact with Cox well after the pass was thrown and did lower his helmet a bit as he approached ... but yeah, Cox made the most of it, yeah, it's soft. But yeah, after the Tide's touchdown drive, I don't think the other side have any room for complaint. Regardless, it's first down. 8 yards to go.
--Lester for 6. Lester for two, TOUCH- ... wait, under review, and it's not even close. Ball correctly on the half-yard line and you know what? I think that's a blessing in disguise as it lets Auburn run another 35 seconds off the clock before Cox sneaks over the for the TOUCHDOWN! 17-7 with only 3:58 left and it's going to take one hell of a collapse for Auburn to lose this one.
--A successfully executed squib kick from Byrum (well, Wes, better late than never, for sure, but you really couldn't have pulled this off against LSU? I promise I'll let it go one of these years) puts Bama at the 27, so that's one bullet dodged. --Wilson's coin comes up heads for a few plays and he finds Hall of all people on three straight completions. Sims doesn't help matters by jumping offsides, but at least he gets hims money's worth by dumping the Tide's Cardwell directly on his ass. It's an almost irrelevant play--5 yards when the Tide need two scores in less than four minutes is inconsequential--but to me, this is the game in a nutshell. Neither side has been precise; neither side has equaled its performances from earlier this season. But Auburn has at the very least been physical, been aggressive. Even when they've jumped offsides, they've made sure Alabama's suffered something for it. And it's been enough to lead 17-7, and looks very likely to be enough to win a sixth straight ... you know what, best not to jinx it just yet.
--Bama ekes out a first down on a 4th-and-1 at the Auburn 32. D'oh. On first down Wilson goes deep over the middle, it's incomplete, and yes, this is the dog play. It's all been said by now, but the idea that a dog of that kind of WHERE'S SOMEBODY TO BITE GIMME SOMEONE TO BITE HEY YOU temperament should be anywhere near a college football sideline is absolutely freaking ridiculous. I hope its handler gets phone-answering duty back at the office during every game at Jordan-Hare for the next 10 years. Unbelievable.
--Auburn forces two more incompletions as Groves breaks in again and Wilson comes up tails. Seems a good place to note that Auburn's front seven has been tremendous all game: Groves, Marks, Sims, and Thompson have been close to unstoppable and Blackmon has been the all-over-the-field terror we imagined him being all season. Major, major kudos.
--I know the Tide have to get points, but I'm still stunned Saban sees them as more likely to come via a 49-yard Tiffin attempt than a potential conversion on 4th-and-10. I mean, 49 yards! Tiffin shows me, though, nailing it down the middle.
--So will the Tide kick away or go onsides? With 2:11 to play they choose the latter and it's the best Cole Bennett Sighting! yet as he covers it up with ease. One first down and it's over.
--Lester for 3. (More evidence Auburn's been the more intense team: Cox jumps up in Rolando McClain's face when he damn near pulls Lester's head off trying to cause a fumble after the whistle.) Lester for 5. Stewart for 1. 4th-and-1, and rather than try to pin Bama deep, Auburn hands it to Lester for the win. He's got the first, he's got seven, he pushes forward for 12! That's it!
--Six in a row! SIX! War Eagle!
--Cue the requisite shots of everyone's six fingers in the air, Tubby celebrating with Nall, pandemonium in the stands. Cox kneels, the seconds tick off ... it's over! Pardon the liberal use of exclamation points in this post, but these are the sort of moments that demand them. The Iron Bowl is Auburn's for another year, the sixth straight one.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Fear the Index Finger on the Opposite Hand: Iron Bowl recap, half the first

First: I apologize for the hiatus.

Second, yes, I know we were just a couple demons short of all hell breaking loose since the last time I posted anything of any length--thank goodness Crowley set his alarm for p.m. instead of a.m.--but there's already well-written opinion out there on all of that. There's no JCCW-style snarky recap of the Iron Bowl, though, is there? So now that I've finally managed to crawl out of the rubble of the past few weeks and dust myself off a bit, that's what you're getting. "Playing to my strengths," and whatnot. Enjoy.


--Mike Patrick's wretched and unholy rasp welcomes us to Jordan-Hare. Goodness gracious sakes alive, I cannot stand this man. You know the old line about, um, not relieving one's self on a given person if they were on fire? It's close, but I wouldn't say that about Patrick. I'd gladly relieve myself on him, actually.
--ESPN's intro features a pair of "House Divided" couples who robotically "trash talk" each other about former Iron Bowls as a way of showing all the usual requisite series highlights ("Punt Bama Punt" is of course still goose-bump inducing and should be watched once a day by everyone everywhere, while Van Tiffin's kick is more played out than "Let Her Cry" was in the summer of '94). Unfortunately, ESPN doesn't show us the outtakes, which I imagine would have gone something like this:

HUSBAND: Hey, remember 2003, when Cadillac went crazy?
WIFE: Actually, I remember 2003 quite clearly. You had those idiot frat friends of yours from school over, you all got piss drunk, and at the end of the game they threw our new deck furniture over the rail in "celebration" and the table smashed. 500 bucks down the tube, Ray. 500 bucks. I'm serious, I'd give my left arm for an Alabama win tonight, Ray, just so I'd have the satisfaction of knowing those losers would be crying into their Bud Lights tonight. I can't believe you still talk to those guys. God, don't, don't even look at me.
HUSBAND: *long pause* ... um ... hey, remember 1993?
WIFE: *tears "House Divided" flag down, attempts to shove it down HUSBAND's throat*

--Patrick asks Blackledge to comment on the emotion of rivalry games, which he says Blackledge knows all about from playing in the Penn St.-Pitt series, a rivalry so intense and important to both schools it hasn't been played since 2000. Way to work your audience, Patrick.
--I will never, ever get tired of Tubby linking arms with the players and walking out of the Fog of Intimidation. It perfectly straddles the line between being gag-inducingly corny and the very best kind of earnest, unironic gesture, all while doubling as charming bread-and-circuses spectacle. Kind of like all of college football, really, not to make too much of a big deal about it.
--ESPN decides the best way to get their viewers pumped for kickoff is to show us Perry Farrell, Kelly Rowland, and 50 Cent singing "Celebrate" on a glammed-up New York stage. Because if there's anything that screams "it's time for the biggest college football game of the year in Alabama," it's definitely Perry Farrell, Kelly Rowland, and 50 Cent singing "Celebrate" on a glammed-up New York stage. (And while we're here, it seems like just yesterday I was jamming to my "Pets" cassingle in my bedroom ... what the hell happened, Perry?)
--Patrick says the War Eagle circling the stadium is the SEC tradition that "touches him the most." That should be endearing, but instead I just find myself thinking "Well, at least something's willing to touch him."

First quarter

--One of the few players on the Tide's offense I'm genuinely worried about is D.J. Hall, who's an All-American talent when he has his head screwed on straight. Fortunately, based on the evidence of Alabama's first pass--a third-and-short dart Eric Brock deflects away after Hall never even turns his head, apparently deep in contemplation of the Monty Hall paradox--Hall's head has apparently been screwed on haphazardly. Goodie. Bama punts.
--It takes precisely one Auburn snap (Lester off-tackle for five) for Alabama to see one of the starters on their depleted defense limp off the field, in this case Rashad Johnson. Yes, I think it's safe to say that the game could have started just a wee bit brighter for them, especially after ...
--a Cole Bennett sighting! On back-to-back plays, no less! It's like watching the offense I imagined in my head in the pre-season. That gives Auburn a 4th-and-inches at the Bama 30, and Cox sneaks across for the first as Patrick calls him "Casey Cox" without correction. (Though somewhere Courtney Taylor is saying "You know it could be worse, right?")
--Alabama might have more success trying to stop Chinese contributions to global warming than they've had stopping Auburn on the sweep right this drive. After Cox's sneak Lester and Tate go right three times to put the ball on the Tide 11 and two Tae runs up the middle later it's an Auburn TOUCHDOWN! That was suspiciously like the offense we saw against Florida and LSU, which makes me suspiciously optimistic for the remainder of the game.
--ESPN gives us a satellite shot of Auburn and Alabama fans watching the game while stationed at the same military base in Iraq, which is a great move to begin with, but I can't help but get a kick out of the guy holding up a sign reading "" I'm a total sucker for stunts like that, so I log on after the game to find out Fuller's a stand-up comic from Opelika in the National Guard whose routine is based around his struggles with a stutter. Whoa! Let's get Holly Rowe on that story, huh fellas?
--Bama gets one first down on their next possession, but then Marks flattens Wilson as he throws incomplete on 1st-and-10 and on 3rd-and-eight Marks and Sims bury Wilson beneath, like, 500 pounds of angry Tiger. I'm confused ... aren't aging hippies and the like always saying that flashbacks are a bad thing? Because I'm totally flashing back to 2005 right now and I'm enjoying the hell out of it. Weird. Anyways, Bama punts.
--Cox throws an out-and-out strike over the middle to Smith for 32 yards. Seriously, to this point this game has been like injecting a liquid distillation of "Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows" directly into my veins. I've loved every second.
--Of course, three plays later Cox throws it right in Simeon Castille's hands and Fannin has to make a great play to disrupt the interception. I swear, remember when Spurrier was rotating two QB's in and out every play? I think Good and Evil Brandon have been somehow doing the same thing this season without anyone noticing. The incompletion leads to a Byrum field goal, and the good news is that it's 10-0 and Bama has 11 yards in two possessions to this point. w00t.
--Of course, whenever things are going well for 2007 Auburn, we know what's coming, don't we? Javier Arenas is out injured, thank the heavens, and Auburn still gives up a 41-yard kickoff return by Lowe to midfield. Because we really wanted to give a sputtering Tide offense that kind of kickstart. Cripes.
--It's 3rd-and-3 for Bama on the Auburn 46 and Groves and Blackmon are breathing down Wilson's neck when he tosses it in Hall's general direction and Wilhite is handed an interference flag I'll be generous and call "questionable." As Patrick and Blackledge debate the call an angry voice on the Auburn sideline comes across yelling "That ball's uncatchable! That ball's uncatchable!" clear as an invisible bell. ESPN gets off profanity-free this time, but you'd think they'd have learned their lesson about mics near the Auburn sideline, no?
--Bama false starts for what seems like the fourth time already and Blackledge says the Tide needs to "hold their water." Hey Todd, Driving Miss Daisy called, it said it wants its vaguely racist anachronisms back. (ZING!)

Second quarter

--Wilson rushes for seven yards on 3rd-and-8, fumbles, and then recovers two yards downfield for the first. The Tide then grinds Coffee (sorry) for three rushes down to the 1. On fourth down Wilson bobbles the snap and sort of leans into the line. His forward progress appears stopped almost immediately. The bodies are squeezed around him like sardines playing a game of "Sardines." God and God alone knows whether the ball has crossed the plane. And then approximately six minutes later, the line judge comes in to call it a touchdown. Whatever. Between this call, the bobble that could have sprung free, Wilson's fumble-for-a-first, and the Wilhite flag, it's safe to say there are teams made up exclusively of leprechauns that haven't had drives this lucky. The breaks will come back the other way.
--Sure enough, during the official review of Wilson's sneak, ESPN mics pick up someone (possibly the same guy) on AU's sideline scream "What the f***!" a couple of times. It's not like they haven't been warned. Sic 'em, FCC!
--As Alabama prepares to kick off, Holly Rowe tells us about aging Alabama superfan Dick Coffee, who's attended every Alabama game since 19-dickety-two. No word from Holly on whether Glen Coffee is his long-lost illegitimate grandson and whether they're going to have a tense and ultimately teary reunion afterwards, which is too bad.
--Tommy Trott seals his man perfectly on Auburn's first play of their ensuing possession, springing Tate for 28 yards to midfield. When Tommy Trott is making perfect seal blocks for 28-yard gains, yes, it's fair to say things are going well for this offense. It's also fair to say the area's farmers should start checking their hogs for wings and any evidence of flight. Despite Cox missing a wide-open Hawthorne down the sideline, the Tigers churn their way down to the Tide 26.
--Of course, as soon as I dare think the word "churn" or praise Trott's blocking, two hideous sacks perfectly emblematic of the last two seasons of the Cox era bump Auburn back to the 44. Then Shoemaker "skillfully" "pins" Alabama "deep" with a 22-yard "punt" at the ... 22. Four yards from Auburn's deepest penetration. What a waste.
--A discussion of the nation's top rivalries has Blackledge call Ohio St.-Michigan the best rivalry in "the Northeast." Yes, because when I think of the "Northeast" and its preppy boarding schools, lobstermen, Revolutionary War history, and Ivy League schools, the first state that comes to mind is Ohio.
--After the "punt," Wilson apparently mistakes his receiver for Bill Brasky on third down and fires many, many feet high. Fortunately for the Tide, Fannin runs into punter P.J. Fitzgerald. Four plays later, the Tide's Nick Walker gets popped and drops a 20-yard pass. But fortunately for the Tide, he drops it directly onto his foot, enabling him to corral it before it hits the ground. Surely, surely, Alabama has already exhausted their quota of plays that cause me to write "Fortunately for the Tide," right?
--Yep, the pendulum finally swings the other way as Leigh Tiffin honks a 44-yarder after Blackmon had made a couple of good plays to stop the drive. HA-ha! Still, I'm nervous: Auburn's been the better team, but it's a three-point game, Alabama's started moving the ball, and they have the momentum.
--Which is why when Auburn faces a subsequent 3rd-and-8 with 1:10 left in the half, the one thing they cannot afford to have happen here is a Cox interception. I'm begging you, Brandon: check down, take a sack, throw it away, whatever you do, don't throw an interception now.


He throws an interception. DAMMIT TO HELL, COX. He's also hurt, which tones down the anger from "murderous rage" to "rage" but also makes me even more fearful for the way this game is progressing. "Hurt's" in the IV now, and I don't like it at all.
--D.J. Hall and Jerraud Powers to the rescue! Wilson tosses it up nicely into the end zone on 3rd-and-2 and it looks like an easy catch for Hall, who bobbles it just long enough for Powers to grab it and get his feet in for the pick. YES! Whew! At first it looks like a straight-up drop from Hall, but on super-slo-mo I think Powers reaches and gets just the slightest fingertip on the ball as Hall tries to bring it in. Nonetheless Hall should have made the play and after feeling resentful not very long ago that Bama was as close as 10-7, I now feel very fortunate Auburn's even going in at the half with a lead. Quite the momentum swing there.
--Before Auburn runs out the clock, ESPN's crack research team provides the answer to the AFLAC Trivia question, "Name the only Auburn quarterback to beat Alabama three times." The answer is "Jason Campbell -- 2003, 2004, 2005." Campbell graduated in 2004, guys.
--Have I mentioned that I have ... well, it's not really a crush on Holly Rowe. I wouldn't call it that. Nope, not a crush. But I think she'd be cool to hang out with. Let me explain: as Tuberville comes off the field he says that the offense "shut it down" in the second quarter. Most sideline reporters would leave it at that, but Holly asks Tubby "How did you shut it down?" and he explains that they struggled with corner blitzes and makes another couple of brief points. And voila, it's a sideline interview that didn't completely suck. See, I think if you're at a dinner party or you're with a big group of people hanging out at a bar, you want Holly Rowe there. Someone would make some off-hand comment about, say, being embarrassed in seventh grade, and Holly would go all professional and get them to open up about it, and the next thing you know everyone's sharing funny stories about stupid stuff they did in school and laughing and having a good time and hey, it's thanks to all ace sideline reporter Holly Rowe. Also, I think if she'd had a few you might get some good dirt on Patrick we could use to blackmail ESPN into getting Ron Franklin back for these games. Of course, maybe all of that's just me. OK, it's just me.

Coming soon: half the second. And yes, I really do mean it's coming soon. I'm back.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Still on the hamster wheel

So for the last several days it's felt like my legs have been spinning like freaking Scooby Doo's--seriously, like, I've been working hard enough that I sort of drift backwards before suddenly spurting forward, or something--and to be honest, I'm not sure it's going to be much better until the weekend. If anything massive happens on the Tubby front, there will be a quick post a la last Thursday's (which, aside from neglecting to clarify that I still do expect Tubby to be on Auburn's sideline next year, I stand by despite its unpopularity in the comments and elsewhere), but otherwise, it'll be Saturday at the earliest.

Which sucks, sucks, sucks. To baldly understate things, the weeks following the Iron Bowl and during which our coach and administration appear to be squabbling like nine-year-olds in the back seat of a long car trip ("Mom, Coach Tuberville's making faces at me! Make him stop!") are not the time to go AWOL. I know that. I apologize to all the nice people who have supported this blog this season (or ones who have just started stopping by recently) who I know have been checking in only to repatedly see no new content. But it can't be helped.

One thing I will say before going: I'm happy to have Auburn in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, if for no other reason than because there's no possible way I can watch that many ads for Chick-Fil-A and go without eating about three-and-a-half Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwiches, no pickle. It's not gonna happen. The closest Chick-Fil-A to Ann Arbor (I have it on good authority) is in Toledo and I've been mulling over a run down there for months ... and now I finally have the perfect excuse to do so. I will have to have Chick-Fil-A during the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. It's that simple, thank goodness.

If you'd gone more than a year without one of these, you'd feel the same way.