Friday, January 25, 2008

Postseason jigsaw

A quick warning: this post unapologetically swings for the fences. Take into account as necessary.

How does one encapsulate a postseason--one still not even 1/6th completed and with the Referendum on Program Health of signing day still to come--already as overflowing with developments as this one? As Will pointed out, to say that things have been and should continue to be "pretty interesting" around the Auburn football program is a monstrous understatement. The end of the regular season is supposed to indicate a few weeks of slow news; on the Auburn front, it's instead produced one front page, WAR DECLARED-style headline after another.

In short, this postseason has felt like I've gone out and bought a gentle 100-piece kiddie jigsaw puzzle depicting, oh, let's say butterflies. But when I brought it home and opened the box, I found a 1000-piece behemoth where I can't even tell what picture I'm trying to build or if they're even all supposed to be part of the same puzzle.

But I'm the sort of Auburn fan who can't help but try to put everything together, to hold each of these different pieces up to the light, turn them over in my hand, rearrange them, flip them, squish them together into some kind of clear picture of what this postseason has been--and will be--for Auburn football.

These pieces have come in all sorts of unusual shapes, the first one sort of curved like ...

A champagne bottle

I invited a handful of my Michigan-lovin' buddies over to watch the Iron Bowl, because like Six Flags, football's always "the more the merrier" even if all the "more" weren't going to necessarily find "merry" in the game itself. Though I did worry that having to watch an Auburn fan going WOOO! WOOO-HOOOO! WOOOOO, YEAH! WOOOO! for a half-hour in the event of a win in Auburn's end-all-be-all rivalry game might be less-than-pleasant after the Wolverines had fallen so toothlessly in their Iron Bowl equivalent.

My experience with Michigan fans, though, by-and-large, has been that they've been good sports and so of course this ended up being less than an issue. One buddy even arrived with a bottle of celebratory champagne in case of an Auburn victory.

"Wow, dude," I said. "You didn't have to do that."

"It's been sitting in my fridge for a year," he said.

"Oh," I said, and as I tossed it in the freezer I found out it still had the price tag on it. $12.95.

Still, when Lester bulldozed his way for the clinching first down and we had just watched Auburn win their sixth straight game over Alabama for the first time in a century of sweat, I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate than by popping the cork. I poured out a few glasses and we raised them.

"War Eagle," I said, and we drank.

As it turned out, $12.95 champagne that sits in a fridge for a year tastes the way you would expect $12.95 champagne that has sat in a fridge for year taste: i.e. like total ass. It was horrible, horrible stuff.

I would have drank it all night. Auburn had won the Iron Bowl. For another year, at least, Nick Saban was a failure. It had now been six years since Alabama had beaten my team. I grinned like a madman and high-fived everyone twice per hand at least and guzzled the $12.95 champagne down like Gatorade on a summer's day back home.

Because underneath everything else it tasted like victory. And now, weeks later, it's still there, lingering on the tongue. Victory, victory sweet as victory comes. It'll stay there until next November, no matter what happens, no matter how many pieces get added.

A wisp of smoke

I've read back over this post a dozen times. I wrote it as quickly as I've ever written anything on this blog. The response was substantially less enthusiastic than, uh, the usual response. I do sincerely wish I'd have made it more clear that I never expected Tubby to actually leave. I just thought it had become a possibility.

And now, seven weeks later, I stand by that. Mostly, I stand by that post. Are the Arkansas media insane? As reliable as an amnesiac weatherman? As believable as Barry Bonds? Yes, yes, yes.

But I maintain that without some kind of fire--at the bare minimum some tiny Jimmy Sexton-fueled spark, the fading ember of some underling in Tubby's camp having some sort of conversation with some underling in Arkansas's camp--there would be no smoke. The opinion here remains that there is a line dividing letting the media run with the possibility of a coach's interest in another job for the purposes of leverage (a la Tubby vis a vis Texas A&M) and actually showing interest in in another job, however slight the interest, whatever the purpose (leverage, rubbing it in a powerful trustee's nose, etc.). The opinion also remains that Tubby crossed that line.

Does it matter? I don't know. At the time, I'd have said it does. After the Chick-Fil-A Bowl and watching the Iron Bowl a few more times, it seems an awful lot harder to say the same. But nothing, not even the taste of champagne, can put Tubby back on the other side of the line.

A triple-XL sweatshirt

I hated this quote.

"After speaking with Coach Tuberville for the better part of 20 minutes," Borges said in a statement released by Auburn, "it became increasingly clear that Auburn needed a new offensive coordinator."

In other words: Tubby told me he'd rather I have the dignity of resigning than getting out-and-out dumped. Even if you bet your sweet ass I'm getting dumped.

I wonder went through Gorgeous Al's head during those 20 minutes. The memory of being stopped on the streets by Auburn fans who thought of him as a kind of archangel sent to Earth from Offense Heaven, i.e. the Pac-10, at the close of 2004? The 4th-and-10 to beat Georgia in 2005? Maybe Tubby telling him, point-blank, to bail on the complicated stuff and just try to beat both teams in the 2006 Auburn-LSU game into a bloody pulp?

Probably something like all of those things, I'd guess. What went through my head when I read the news was that play in the third quarter of the 'Bama game, the play where Cox ran play-action and Stewart had slithered out of the backfield over the middle, a beautiful play design that worked to perfection and had Stewart open for a surefire touchdown. Cox threw the ball a solid three yards short. And a few weeks later, Borges was unemployed.

It's not what I wanted. After seeing what Borges could accomplish in 2004 and 2005 with a quarterback who wasn't notably suffering from a degenerative muscular disease, after his influence had been as responsible for anyone's outside the head coach himself for the best three-year stretch of Auburn's history, I wanted one more season. I wanted one more opportunity for Borges to design plays with a quarterback who could complete them, a QB who would hit Stewart for that touchdown. I think Auburn has quarterbacks who can do those things.

But as big of a role as Borges played in the triumphs of '04-'05-'06, he did not play as big of a role as his head coach. It's Tubby's team, Tubby's program, and on his list of criteria for evaluation, it's fair to guess that "This year's results" are the first 127 items. "Results from last year" accounts for the next 36 items, and "Results from further back than that" are next. I doubt non-result-related criteria are even involved. And make no mistake, Borges' results from the last two years are not acceptable for team looking to win the SEC.

And so he gets 20 minutes, the courtesy of a resignation, and is gone. This is probably the way things should be. This is the way Auburn wins six straight games against Alabama. I am trying to accept it. I am doing my best to like it.

But I still see Cox missing Stewart, our string-armed warrior's pass falling short, Stewart without a defender within 15 yards of him and the football rolling to his feet, and it is hard.

A tub of Fleischmann's

Oh, the doubts of Tony Franklin and his Magical Offense from Beyond the Rainbow Stars are still there.

That Auburn's drives will end with depressing frequency at the opponent's 11, the 6, the 2, as it runs out of field to spread. That the ability to blast forward on Tubby's trademark QB sneak-on-4th-and-1-from-our-own-36 will atrophy and wither. That as with so many other hotshot offenses du jour, as more and more film accumulates Year 1 success will lead to Year 2 diminishing returns and Year 3 failure. Most potentially troubling, that the siren song of throwing effortlessly for five yards will overcome the conservative sentiment to pound away for four, turning Auburn into a more talented version of Mike Leach's Texas Tech or Hal Mumme's Kentucky. All fine and good as far as the offense goes, but that kind of smoke-and-mirrors chicanery always comes at the cost of defensive identity. Again, look at Leach, look at Mumme, look at any number WAC and-or Pac-10 defenses from the '80s and '90s. Defenses treated like 5-cent sideshows play like them; even Spurrier's Florida teams were never exactly the '86 Bears (or '88 Auburn Tigers, to use a less-trafficked but more audience-friendly version of the same analogy) and even with arguably the greatest offense the SEC has ever seen, Spurrier never finished the season without a loss. If Auburn travels down this road--call it the Finesse Expressway--it will not win championships.

But even with all of that black baggage tucked away securely inside my head, I wasn't lying when I said it took two plays for me to sign on the Spread Eagle's dotted line anyway. All of the above may come to pass, it's true. But until we see otherwise, those are just doubts, just the meaningless stammered But, but, but ... of a fan who like all fans finds change for change's sake worrisome and unsettling, and should probably have more faith that the guy who hired Bobby Petrino and Al Borges knows what he's doing. (We'll just skip over that whole Nallsminger business for the purposes of this section, thankyouverymuch.) More important than doubts about the future is the evidence of the present, and the evidence on offer during the Chick-Fil-A bowl (much as some might choose to ignore it) was that Auburn is staying Auburn. It'll just be an Auburn where the offense looks over to the sideline before every play like someone just yelled "Fight! Fight!" from that direction and then proceeds to put the ball in the hands of its best players to churn up-and-down the field.

That's the evidence we have. Evidence given us after less than a dozen practices. That's the Auburn Tony Franklin has given us all the bliss of expecting.

A scarf

Not to go all LiveJournal on you, but yes, there is a Soon-to-be-Mrs. JCCW, and the Soon-to-be-Mrs. JCCW has an exceptional knack for Christmas presents. This year I received a Burnt Orange and Navy Blue striped scarf.

This may not seem like such a mind-blowing present. Just a scarf. But of course when one grew up in Alabama and currently lives in Michigan, scarves are a daily necessity after about, say, mid-November. And when an Auburn fan lives in Michigan, wearing Auburn colors comes to feel like a necessity, too. Not because anyone in Michigan cares, of course, but because Burnt Orange and Navy Blue are always a welcome sight and nothing else here is going to provide them. Home is never more important than when home is a long way off, and if Home can be wrapped around one's face in the teeth of wind descended from some Great Lake or another, so much the better.

Which is why, watching the Chick-Fil-A Bowl at the New Year's Eve party "of Ultimate Swank" per the invitation, I wore my Burnt Orange and Navy Blue striped scarf incongruously over my nicest suit and tie. Not swank, no, but a better and better choice as I inevitably went from thinking "As long as the offense looks halfway competent, I'm not worried about the result" to "You know, it really would be nice if they pulled this out" to "If Auburn wins this, please, I swear, I'm going to send every member of this team a coupon for a whole bag of free no-pickle sandwiches COME ON AUBURN!"

And so when Burns picked his way into the end zone in overtime, I couldn't help but twirl it overhead like Auburn's answer to the Terrible Towel, couldn't help but hold it up soccer-style as I sloshed my way through whispered, a capella solo on the fight song.

A few minutes later, the sky began to teem with the fattest flakes of snow I felt like I'd ever seen, the start of what would be the heaviest New Year's snowfall on Ann Arbor record. Though not exactly wearing the appropriate attire for it, the Soon-to-be-Mrs. and I had to take a walk around our hosts' back yard. It never got cold, warmed as I was by the glow of Auburn victory, by just the right amount of liquor, by the wonder I'll probably have for snowfall at night no matter how long I live here, by a perfect Burnt Orange and Navy Blue gift wrapped snugly around my neck. It hit me, then, that 2008 was going to be a very, very good year.

The warmth of that conviction, like the taste of the Iron Bowl, has stayed with me. I wrap myself in it every time I leave my front door.

A boom mic

One of both the good things and difficulties of being an Auburn blogger is that we've developed enough quality in the Auburnosphere that occasionally, someone will say better what I would have said about a given subject before I even have the chance (or, in some cases, get my slow ass around to it). Jay and the boos, for instance. J. Comer at TWER on Nick [reverent pause] Saban. I don't know exactly why, but I feel the YouTube gold spun by the boys at the Auburner somehow expressed my thoughts concerning Mario Fannin's debut against USF more eloquently than I could in a dozen tries.

The Will Muschamp situation is another one of those times, since my response is basically identical to Will's. If Muschamp was that determined to find a reason to leave Auburn, he was never ours. If Jay Jacobs is as clumsy a bungler as this situation showed him to be, we should be very worried. No one here was in the right. There are no positives to be gleaned from this, no steps forward even unwillingly taken. It was 100 percent pure fiasco. There is nothing left to say, nothing to do but shrug our shoulders and move on.

A commemorative ring

I've written a short one-act play concerning this post at the Fanhouse.

What Not to Throw, by Jerry Hinnen

INT.: A room in a large house made entirely of glass. In the middle of the room a man, the ALABAMA FAN, is sitting in a chair wearing a crimson sweatshirt and a Crimson Tide cap. An orange-and-blue bird flies by outside the house carrying a banner in its beak that trails behind it. The banner reads "National Champions." ALABAMA FAN reaches down and picks up a large stone off the floor. He hurls the stone at the bird. The stone shatters the glass house, which falls to pieces around ALABAMA FAN.

ALABAMA FAN: Oh no! My beautiful glass house!

The End

Now, truth be told, neither my play nor the post that inspired it have much to do with the hiring of Paul Rhoads. But the ring described in the post, that does.

Why? Because even though it's Jason Campbell's ring and even though he played as large a role in its creation as anybody, the ring nonetheless doesn't exist without Auburn's defense that glorious year. Auburn doesn't come anywhere close to 13-0 without Carlos Rogers, and Stanley McClover, and Junior Rosegreen, and even poor maligned pre-linebacker Will Herring, the One-Man Cover*. And, of course, Gene Chizik.

Auburn fans don't seem to remember Chizik too fondly these days, what with all the ENJOY IOWA ST LOLZ comments that emerged in the wake of Muschamp's good-byes--and understandably so. The belief that there are greener pastures out there than a program coming off of an undefeated SEC and Sugar Bowl championship season isn't going to earn one many friends in the previous pasture.

But the fact remains that Chizik deserves his share for 13-0. The starting defensive line against Alabama that season was Doug Langenfeld, Tommy Jackson, Jay Ratliff, and Bret Eddins. Montavis Pitts started at one corner and finished the season as the team's sixth-leading tackler. Auburn's leader in tackles, in fact, was Travis Williams. Be honest: how many of those names jump off the page at you?

This is not to say that these weren't all outstanding players, or that the 2004 defense wasn't talented; Rogers was of course unbelievable and bringing both McGlover and Groves off the bench on passing downs was a hell of a luxury. But was it any more talented than this year's model? Than Gibbs's in 2005 or Muschamp's in 2006's? Than any other of a dozen years over the past 20 we could rattle off that the 2004 team outperformed by a mile? No. Definitely not.

Chizik's work is worth remembering now, as once again we welcome a defensive coordinator that few Auburn fans have any familiarity with, that was never the first name *cough* Tenuta *cough* on anyone's lips, that is being portrayed by the fans of his former employer as an albatross they're happy to hang around someone else's neck. (Not sure why anyone would be so happy to see a guy who just coordinated the fifth-ranked defense in the country take off, but whatever.)

It's a similar situation (not a complete replication, mind you, but close enough) to 2002, when Tubby went out and hired another guy out of deep left field, whose best line on the resum-ay was a handful of years coordinating a nondescript mid-major to good if hardly eye-popping results. Three years later, Campbell and the rest had their rings.

So when the same head coach that had the foresight to make that hire thinks so highly of Paul Rhoads that he's tried to hire him twice, I have a hard time seeing how that choice will fail. As this post has probably made clear by now, "In Tubby We Trust" isn't the JCCW's position on evertything. In this one, it most definitely is.

*i.e. for gambling purposes, viz. the spread, not meaning he didn't need safety help despite the fact he was a safety to begin with.


Those are the pieces. This is the puzzle. What can we make of it? If we pull it together, what does it tell us?

My thought is that, more than ever, we know Auburn football is Tommy Tuberville's program, through and through. For better. For worse. It's his. The increasingly unpopular administration, the trustees, the coaching staff, even the fans--we who by-and-large did not approve of the will-he-or-won't-he shenanigans and would have balked at being told both our coordinators would walk ... for the present, none of them have more than a cursory say in the future of Auburn football. It belongs to Tubby.

And yes, there is a For Worse. Auburn shouldn't have to deal with its coach responding to serious questions about his dedication to his team with shrugs and word games. Good for the program or not, a good man who engineered the offense for the best SEC team of the BCS era getting kicked to the curb and desperately hoping for work must be For Worse.

But that is outweighed by For Better. By the daring required to hire a Mumme-trained coordinator from Troy and allowing him to run his screwball offense after two weeks. By not groveling for a grown man acting like a seven-year-old brat to stay put. By the track record that screams Rhoads's quality. By the attitude that winning--whether in contract negotiations or on the football field--comes first and every single thing else (within the rules) comes second. In our game, in our conference, that's the only attitude that survives.

It's the attitude that leads to the glow of a win wrapped around one like a scarf, to victories that linger like the taste of cheap champagne.

I can't like every piece Tubby has cut for this puzzle. But I can't help but be happy at the whole.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Chick-Fil-A Bowl recap, half the second

Picking up where we left off ...

Third quarter

--Auburn starts the third quarter with the same sort of mouthwatering offensive efficiency they began the game with, as Cox throws for 13 to Billings on the half's opening snap and three plays later Burns bursts through a huge hole for a first down across midfield on 3rd-and-2. Burns might even take it to the house if not for the good work by the Clemson safety to plug the hole and the CU linebacker coming in to clean things up. Wait, did I say "Clemson safety"? I meant the freaking back judge, who apparently is busy daydreaming about the free postgame Chick-Fil-A lemonade as Burns collides with him. And did I say "CU linebacker"? I meant one of Burns's own teammates, who knocks him over as he's trying to regain his balance after running into the official. Cripes.
--There's still a few kinks to work out in this whole newfangled "multiple tailbacks on the field at once" system, as Lester demonstrates by making ... you know, it's not even half-hearted, it's more like a 1/8th-hearted attempt to block as Fannin takes the dump-off and sprints to the corner around him.
--Burns picks up 5 and gets facemasked, taking Auburn to the Clemson 25, and just as importantly prompting Maguire to make the following statement, carefully transcribed for your reading Pleasure/pain: "Bob, this is the deal with, with them, with a guy like Kodi Burns, is a guy that's got the quick feet, now you start faking the ball to Lester and and, you're gonna, gotta QB that's mobile, that can run. That's what makes him so effective." When I told my parents growing up I wanted to be a sportscaster, they always told me I'd have to speak more carefully and pronounce things clearly to make that dream come true. Clearly, they didn't have any idea what they were talking about.
--On 3rd-and-7 from the 22 Burns rolls out and throws a bona fide laser beam to Fannin, whose hands surprisingly don't turn to dust from the heat of having to catch said beam. In fact, he pulls it in and waltzes in for Auburn's first TOUCHDOWN! of the game. Fantastic play on both ends. Well golly gee, I guess all those times Burns was screaming this year that he threw the ball all over the place in high school and could still throw something other than picks and incompletions ... I guess he might have been telling the truth. Who knew? Anyways, 10-7 Auburn.
--Griese expounds over the kickoff on the joy of discovering Chick-Fil-A at this game a couple years back. I'm telling you, the great majority of people here in Michigan have no idea what they're missing. It's like living amongst the savages of Borneo. Except that they're pretty much just savages in Chick-Fil-A terms.
--I'm going to have to buy this Cullen Harper guy a drink someday. He throws two hideous incompletions on 2nd and 3rd and Clemson goes three-and-out in response to Auburn's TD. That's the kind of fire we like to see, Clemson.
--Auburn picks up right where they left off last drive, lining up with two TEs to the same side and springing Lester past the confused-looking LBs for 30 yards. The next three plays: Lester for 5, pass to Lester for 6, Tate for 9. To say Auburn has a bit of momentum at this point is like saying that John Madden's motorhome has a bit of momentum when it flies down the side of Pikes Peak. Should we go ahead and break out the bubbly?
--Of course not. The next three plays: Tate tackled for three-yard loss, Cox completes under duress to Smith for a yard, Cox throws it away on fourth. Turnover on downs. So much for the stake through the heart. At least Clemson has the kindness to go three-and-out yet again, though their punter's not with the "kindness" plan and punts it 59 yards and out-of-bounds at the 4. That's a 66-yard loss on field position since the Tate run to set up 2nd-and-1. Bleah.
--Nessler and Griese interview Rick Neuheisel over the last several plays, because if there's one thing Southeastern college football fans want during the second half of a tense and tightly contested final game of the year, it's softball Q&A with a pretty-boy Pac-10 coach.
--Not a good time for Auburn to go nowhere, but the obligatory "We'll stun them by going deep from our end zone on first down!" call to Prechae Rodriguez doesn't work and two only mildly effective plays for Lester leave Auburn a yard short of the first. Shoemaker punts to midfield and it's returned to Auburn's 42, meaning the switch in field position has now gone from "unsatisfying" to downright "unnerving."
--Spiller takes off for 20 (my notes just say "Spiller--Damn him!") and Clemson eventually lines up for a 4th-and-less-than-a-yard at the Auburn 7. They're late breaking the huddle, and Maguire helpfully says "I guarantee you they're going to call timeout." They don't, and Harper sneaks for the first. It was almost worth it, really, for Maguire to look quite that silly. Almost.
--3rd-and-goal from the 2, and Clemson sensibly decides that despite having two of the best backs in their league and a quarterback who's appeared to be under the influence of a variety of prescription narcotics for most of the game, they're putting the ball in the hands of the QB. Sims buries him for a three-yard loss. Whew.

Fourth quarter

--Field goal's good. 10-10
--Oh my. I guess Evil Brandon had to give us one last stunner for us to remember him by, didn't he? Cox throws a short out on 2nd-and-8 directly to a Clemson defender, and the Other Tigers now have it 1st-and-10 on Auburn's 32. Sigh. Believe me, Evil Brandon, you didn't have to try so hard. We're not going to forget you anytime. So if you would now please leave forever, thankyouverymuch.
--And just to make us even more suddenly depressed about the quarterbacking position, Harper makes his first halfway decent throw of the night, firing up a jumpball to the basketball player-esque Aaron Kelly for 27 yards to the Auburn 4. Auburn makes Clemson work for their TD, stuffing Spiller once on a solid play from Etheridge and forcing an incompletion before Kelly takes it to the half-inch line on a dump-off. Bowden correctly goes for it on fourth down and Davis punches it in. 17-10 Clemson, and I can't believe Auburn's behind in this game. Come on, guys. I can handle losing this game if they're the better team, but they're not. Let's go.
--Auburn faces a quick third down and ... I'm pretty sure this is the Auburn playcall of the year. Oh, the TE fade to take the lead on Kansas St. was nice and there's a handful of contenders from the Florida, LSU, and 'Bama games, I suppose. But nothing can beat a Cox quarterback draw for six yards on 3rd-and-5, can it? I don't think I'd have been more surprised if they'd run the fumble-rooskie, and Ryan Pugh had sprouted tiny angel wings and flown for the first down. Well, maybe a little more surprised, but not much.
--I'd like to think the confidence-inspiring QB draw returned the spirit of Good Brandon to our quarterback: after Burns loses 2, Cox finds Dunn on back-to-back plays, first for 7 and then for 18 on a terrific throw down the seam between multiple defenders. Suppose Good Brandon needed us to remember him as well. Which we will, right?
--That play takes Auburn to Clemson's 35 and from there the Tigers grind the Other Tigers into FDA-certified organic South Carolina mill flour. Burns for 5, Lester for 7, Tate for 7, Burns through a massive hole for 15, Tate for 1 TOUCHDOWN! 17-17! 8:27 left! Game on!
--Hmm, Auburn defense, you were supposed to be buoyed by the offense's success and seize immediate control of the game, not allow them back-to-back first downs to put the ball on your 39. Oh well: the 3-yard tackle-for-loss (Thompson), sack (Sims again, still a terror), and sack (Coleman) on the next three plays aren't bad. Clemson punts into the end zone and Auburn takes over with 4:11 to play.
--Tate pops loose for what looks like a first down on 2nd-and-10, but it's called back for a hold downfield on Smith. You would think that a critical, game-changing penalty like that in the dying minutes of a tie game might deserve a replay so the fans can decide about the legitimacy of the penalty. Apparently, according to ESPN, you've thought wrong. A subsequent screen to Fannin on 3rd-and-7 comes up a yard short when he cuts back inside rather than breaking it outside (a rare misread on Fannin's part, it looks to me) and Auburn punts on fourth down. Suck!
--Not to worry, Cullen Harper is on the case. Incomplete, incomplete, incomplete, punt. Opposite of Suck! Incidentally, Harper's first toss on that drive is a three-yard flip that winds up two feet behind his receiver. Griese says it's a pass that "should be completed about 100 percent of the time," so that you should tell you something about the level Mr. Harper is playing at this evening, thank goodness.
--Auburn's got 1:32 to work with starting at their own 36, and you know that if Wes Byrum has the chance to kick a game-winning field goal, Wes Byrum is going to kick a game-winning field goal. Can they give him the chance? Good Brandon finds Dunn (who has apparently finally found a physician able to cure that case of the dropsies for him) for 16, so that's a good start.
--The finish, though, not so much. The sneaky Burns pass on 2nd-and-6 fails and Cox brain farts a pass to a blanketed Billings on third down that's nearly picked off. On the Clemson 46 it's too risky even for Tubby to go for it, and Shoemaker punts us into overtime.


--Not willing to risk any kind of slips of the tongue or other shenanigans on the coin flip, Tubby sends out presumably level-headed (or, if we're going to risk perhaps being less than politically correct, "smart") holder Matthew Motley to handle the "Yes, believe it or not, we'll go on defense first" duties when Auburn wins the flip. Motley goes to midfield alone, with no crew (or even a Crue) in sight, which is a shame. The announcers, noting that Motley is 5-10, 169, and, um, exceedingly white, start praising his "great head for the game" and ability to "get the most out of his talent" purely out of reflex. (Note: they didn't actually do this. But I bet they wanted to.)
--So Clemson's got the ball first, and as always with this first overtime thing, anything's OK here but a touchdown. So I'm not even that worried when Harper completes a couple of short passes to get Clemson a 2nd-and-5 at the Auburn 10. And sure enough, Davis gets stuffed for 2 on that 2nd down and Harper caps an exquisite performance by throwing an aimless "Please pick me!" duck into the end zone on third down he's lucky falls incomplete. Field goal. 20-17. I'll take that.
--All right, Auburn, 25 yards to a win! Let's go! Um, Lester loses three on first down. Uh-oh. Cox fires incomplete on second. Uh-oh. 3rd-and-13 coming up. Come on, Auburn.
--Sweet, Cox to Smith for 12, setting up 4th-and-1. Maguire and Griese expect Auburn to kick a field goal here, because apparently they've never seen Tommy Tuberville coach a football game before. But it's the quarterback sneak every Auburn fan knows has been coming since the instant Smith went down, and ... this is Brandon Cox's career in microcosm. For whatever reason a Red Sea parts between Bosley and Ramsey and just as Cox tries to lean forward he gets popped, really popped, by a Clemson linebacker. There's a nanosecond when Cox reels and I think the game's over, but Brandon Cox has always been tougher than that. He regains his balance and pushes forward on the left for the yard we need. Nothing spectacular, just grit, determination, the refusal to not do every single thing he can for our team, etc. Thanks, Brandon. I'm not sure we'll miss ... you, exactly. But that kind of play, that we're going to miss like hell.
--After that, I don't have much doubt Auburn is going to punch in and win this game. Tate goes for 3. Lester goes for 4 more. 3rd-and-3, Burns is in, and the way the line has pushed Clemson around this entire second half ... Go Burns! Go! TOUCHDOWN! YEAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH! Wewin wewin wewin wewin WEWIN! Tony Franklin for President of Mensa! Kodi Burns for Quarterback of the Near Future! Cox for Quarterback We'll Always Mostly Remember Fondly! Tubby for Coach! Hooray!
--Man, that rocked. 2008 can't get here fast enough. War ... Damn ... Eagle, everyone.

More post-2007 fallout soon, I think. But I always think that.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Chick-Fil-A Bowl belated recap, Half the First

Oh, so late. So it goes 'round these parts these days, I'm afraid.

He'd probably prefer I borrow the pic of his girlfriend smooching him rather than his Mom, but that one's been done.


--As promised to myself, I leave work early, grab a carload of friends, and make the 45-minute run to Toledo to ensure we have plenty of fresh Chick-Fil-A on hand to eat during the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. We have to, since it's been more than a year since I've had my fix and after about three "Eat Mor Chikin" commercial breaks--the equivalent of handing a heroin junkie a sackful of empty syringes--I think I'd start smashing things with a MagLite. Anyways: it's like being reunited with a long-lost lovah. Oh, Chick-Fil-A, I promise, we'll never be separated for this long ever again.


--Man, never thought I'd be delighted to see my game called by a broadcasting team that included Paul "I want you to watch this, watch this right here, BAM!" Maguire, but he's a package with the competent Bob Griese and the excellent Brad Nessler, so I'll deal. Plus, ABC's determination to keep their roving color analyst Maguire as far away from the actual booth as possible in what I see as a not-so-subtle hint they don't think any higher of his broadcast value than I do has some humor value. Case in point: Maguire begins the Chick-Fil-A broadcast literally in the rafters, on a catwalk along the Georgia Dome roof. In case you're wondering what he's done to deserve such disrespect, he immediately calls Auburn's new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin "Ron" Franklin. Ron might be flattered you're thinking of him, Paul, if you weren't so busy proving once again that he deserves so much better colleagues.
--Tubby tells sideline reporter Bonnie Bernstein during warm-ups that his seniors will have won 50 games if they win tonight, an achievement he says is "almost impossible," his favorite phrase for some accomplishment he's especially proud of (he's used it at least two other times I can remember). Seeing as they would have won an average of 12.5 games over their four years ... yes, that's right, Tubby, almost impossible. Sadly, I don't see that they've actually done that. I mean, they've been phenomenal, no question, but they only got past that 12.5 mark once and ... oh, he must also be giving them credit for their redshirt year. Which, you know, I'm not sure they had so much to do with, but he's their coach, so, hey, works for me. Wheeee, 50 wins!
--There's fireworks and a giant inflatable helmet for Auburn to run out of, but it's just not a replacement for the Fog of Intimidation. Don't be surprised if an under-inspired Auburn starts slowly.

First quarter

--Poor Clemson apparently isn't important enough to even have some random Fan Full O' Charisma come in to announce the lineups. Or maybe the lineup-announcing camera crew are too busy to do anything interesting for Auburn-Clemson with the bowl crush ... off interviewing Gary Moeller and Galen Hall for a special "disgraced ex-coaches" edition for the Cap One Bowl tomorrow, perhaps? Anyway, Tommy Bowden announces his offense.
--His offense lives up to the "good enough to be introduced by our own coach!" billing on its first series, going three-and-out after Sen'Derrick Marks simply abuses the Clemson tackle on second down for a two-yard loss.
--Eric Brock clumsily falls over into the back of a Clemson defender during Robert Dunn's sweeeeeet 24-yard punt return, bringing it back. Oh well, just one of those silly senior mistakes. He'll learn.
--So, how many plays does it take Tony Franklin to conquer my black, cynical heart? It takes two plays: Play 1, on which he swings the ball to criminally underutilized Cole Bennett for nine; and play 2, on which he brings in the equally criminally underutilized Kodi Burns to get the ball to the underutilized (though perhaps not criminally so, to be fair) Mario Fannin, who streaks for 16. Two plays, Bennett, Burns, and Fannin, 25 yards. Where do I sign?
--Tubby's flashing some serious blingity-bling this game, wearing what appears to be a gold Rolex (or something gaudily similar) in order, to, uh, keep accurate time? Remind the players how much they have to earn by busting hump tonight? Blind our opponents with its retina-searing glare? It doesn't seem to much match his collar-and-glasses clothing aesthetic, though it fairness it matches his "What we've done these last five years was almost impossible" personal aesthetic like a glove. Bling on, Tubby.
--Boy, this Clemson corner Butler's having a bad drive. First Rod Smith turns him around to snag a jumpball and gain 28, and two plays later Lester adds a pretty serious insult to injury by just flat steamrolling him to the turf on his way to the Clemson 8. Don't worry, Butler; it was only on national television, only all of your smart-assed friends and relatives will remind you of it for the rest of your life, it will only live on YouTube until the apes conquer the Earth. No biggie.
--The most frequently cited achilles heel for any spread 'em out-'n-hit 'em short offense is red zone issues. What happens when the field compresses? Auburn doesn't exactly allay those fears here as starting from the 8 the Tigers go loss of two-false start-incomplete-loss of four with a declined *cough chop blocking penalty. Would rather have six than three, but as first drives go, that was still, uh, just a little encouraging.
--Wait, Clemson, I thought you were that team with the dangerous, explosive offense? Solid QB, pair of NFL runners, big wideouts? After seeing you go for your second straight 3-and-out in ugly fashion (incomplete, rush for zero, incomplete) I'm starting to think I had you confused with someone else.
--Auburn repays Clemson's generosity with a 3-and-out of their own, but I have to say I like Franklin's thinking again: after a pass to Bennett picks up 7, he runs Lester straight ahead and then a quick toss to Fannin on third down. No, neither play works. But the two straight short-yardage runs are a good sign that Franklin's not going to subject us to a Hal Mumme aerial showcase, either, something I think many Auburn fans would had given up their season tickets over even if it took us to the national title game.
--Auburn gives Clemson and the flailing Cullen Harper the inch they want on a 3rd-and-9 conversion and they take one hell of a yard, driving all the way from their own 24 to a first down at the Auburn 31. Luckily for AU, C.J. Spiller decides to try and pull off one of those "I'll run all the way to one side of the field, then run 20 yards backwards, then make the corner on the opposite side of the field for big yards! This always works!" plays, which work about 1 percent of the time. The other 99 percent of the time what happens is what happens here as Sims tackles him for a 10 yard loss (and comes in for a curious tongue-bathing from Maguire ... Paul, it wasn't that big a deal). Clemson settles for a 45-yard field goal attempt they honk. Tee hee.
--We all know Cox isn't going to let us off without a few last OMG WHADDISHEDOING HEART ATTACK!!!!1!!11 throws into angry-looking crowds, and he gets started on that checklist with a toss to Tate on a screen pass Tate miraculously plucks off the back of Chaz Ramsey and out of the clutching hands of a Clemson defender. He even makes four yards. Disaster temporarily averted. Temporarily.
--Cox swings it outside to Fannin for 10, with a key seal block coming from Tommy Trott. Longtime readers know Trott used to be known round these parts as Tommy "Not a Blocking Tight End" Trott (amongst other unflattering nicknames), but after seeing him open these kinds of holes several times this season, it's time to retire that little piece of humor. It's true, Trott's ability to catch the ball (his alleged specialty when he arrived at AU) has seemingly decreased in direct proportion to his increased ability to block, but at least there's some kind of improvement here. Now if he can just abandon those gloves of dried Quikrete he wears next season, we'll really be getting somewhere.

Second quarter

--Nessler says "Cox has been pretty efficient so far" as we start the second, so you know what's coming: a pass express-mailed to Tate's feet on second down, a sack on third. I want to blame Nessler--I'll just give him a damn Coke if he'll skip the jinx--but of course this is the Cox package. If we get the "suddenly clutch in the fourth quarter" part of the package as well, I'll try to limit the complaining. Auburn punts.
--Sigh. On second-and-five from their own 17, Clemson gives it to Spiller and doesn't do much blocking, letting Josh Thompson get his big paws on him and Groves pop him. Zac Etheridge is "flying to the ball," as they say, then pulls up for a fraction of a second when he sees Groves and Thompson all over him. At that precise instant Spiller wriggles free and darts past the surprised Etheridge towards the sideline, and there's nobody there. Spiller is nothing if not fast, and he's gone. Six. Impossible, in my mind, to be angry at the Auburn D--it'll happen like that one play in a 1,000. Unfortunately, this was that one play.
--Doesn't take long for Auburn to get its mojo back as they again run the "starburst" kickoff maneuver, and though it's almost snuffed out inside the 10, Pat Lee eventually breaks it all the way out to the Auburn 43. He can thank Trott, who crushed not one, not three, but two Clemson dudes at the 8 to give Lee the outside. Is it possible Trott's becoming ... I know this is weird ... kind of a badass?
--Again, I *heart*-ed Borges, but it's refreshing to see Franklin do something Borges just hadn't done enough this season, and that's throw the ball to backs other than the wonderfully steady but nowhere-near-as-explosive Stewart. Cox aims for one of Fannin, Lester, or Tate on four straight plays, completes two, and gets 18 yards out of it before a four-yard Tate run on 3rd-and-2 gives Auburn a first-down at the Clemson 35.
--So now it's 3rd-and-3 at the Clemson 28, it's a zone play up the middle for Tate, and he has a hole so wide I could run through it. That's not an exaggeration. I am (just in case you've ever wondered) hella white, and poorly coordinated, and slower than snail molasses, but I still have next-to-no doubt I could have trickled my way across the first-down line in a hole that big. But Ben Tate does not, because he trips over the imaginary blue line ESPN's using to mark the line of scrimmage and falls short by a yard. AAAAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH. Byrum comes out and knuckles one wide from 44. No points. AAAAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH AAAAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH AAAAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH.
--Clemson starts moving again, to make the sudden throb in my temple even worse. 2nd-and-3 on Auburn's 34. Fortunately Harper's incomplete on second and Powers--who seems to be really, really on his game tonight--makes sure the third-down screen gets totally Blow'd Up. Bowden decides to settle for a 53-yard field goal try, because when your kicker's been shaky all year and has already missed badly from 45, the thing to do is to have him try from even further out. He misses. Of course.
--Cox to Hawthorne for 12, Burns for 9 (Hey, I remember when he did this! It was fun!) as Tyronne Green just destroys some poor dude, Burns for 2, and hey, we're in business at Clemson's 41. It's hard to keep operating a business, though, when the business doesn't block the defensive tackle on a 3rd-and-6 draw play. Shoemaker punts it into the end zone on fourth and I'm officially frustrated: this is three trips inside the Clemson 40 (and four across midfield) and our team has precisely three points to show for it. Finish the drive, guys.
--In another show of the WWL's "We don't really like Paul Maguire!" policy, they force him to wear what appears to be a colander on his head and dump glitter and other assorted toxic-looking plastic crap all over him, all to allegedly celebrate New Year's arriving in Rio de Janeiro. Honestly, I think they're celebrating the fact they can do this to him while knowing he's not going to complain a bit. He doesn't want to end up waiting tables at the Newark ESPNZone like Thiesmann now, does he?
--Man, I don't mind this Harper guy a bit. Bad incompletion on second down, takes a sack on third. 20-yard punt on fourth and Auburn will start on Clemson's 38! Of course, Auburn now decides it's time for an "Anything you can do, I can do better" rendition: pass for three, pass for loss of five (as Dunn, yes, runs backwards), incomplete, declined personal foul, punt for 10. Between this particular exchange of punts and the three missed field goals, it hasn't exactly been a banner half for the art of kicking this half.
--The half ends with two more scintillating three-and-outs, the most exciting moment of which comes when Burns runs the Tebow-patented "Half-motion like I'm about to take off before I pull it back and throw" play-action that every Auburn fan's expected to see all season. Unfortunately we don't get the wide-open completion we hoped to see all season out of it, but hey, that's progress. 7-3 Cousin Clem at the break.

Friday, January 04, 2008

This too, shall pass

Muschamp's gone. Crap. Crappity crap. Crappity crap crap crap. I do hope that next time Mack Brown needs a DC, he looks elsewhere just out of common courtesy.

I'm not worried about Auburn's defense. Tubby will find someone else, and it's not like a particularly intelligent crow couldn't figure out a way to use guys like Blackmon, Coleman, Marks, and Evans. I'll be stunned if Auburn doesn't have the same murderizing D next year they had in 2007.

What stings is having not once but twice been told by men who had every reason to stay at Auburn that what Peter Bean said yesterday was true: Auburn is nice and all, but it's just not Texas. That Auburn's great, sure, but the Longhorns are a "slight notch above," that working for them is "a wee bit better" than working on the Plains. Nobody likes feeling second-class, and that's what first Chizik and now Muschamp bolting for the same stupid job feels like.

I can admit that when it comes to national recognition, the breadth of the fan base, the opportunity to cruise through one's conference to a major bowl game, the chance to have Brent Musberger offer to have "woman parts" implanted inside him just for the chance to bring ones' baby to term, yes, Auburn is "a notch" below Texas on those counts.

But those counts ain't everything. Talent and will counts for a lot, and it's my belief Auburn has those in spades; I personally would argue any difference in those areas between Tubby's program and Brown's at this moment is indistinguishable. Something--for lack of a better word--special could just as easily happen these next couple of seasons in Auburn as at Texas. Might even be more likely. And surely, the intensity and devotion of Auburn's fans (if not their numbers) are equal to those in Austin. Bottom line is that from this rampantly biased viewpoint, the time is ripe for a successful coordinator at Auburn to become, well, something substantially more beloved than coordinators typically are.

I figured that guy would be Will Muschamp. Oh well. It'll just have to be somebody else, somebody else I hope--as much as I wish Will Muschamp godspeed--Will Muschamp wishes he was someday.

Indefensible (and other observations from Bowlapalooza)

As I'd (obviously) rather focus on the (many) positives from the delicious, savory, Chick-Fil-A I enjoyed the other night ... er, Chick-Fil-A Bowl we all enjoyed the other night, I'll keep this as short and sweet as I can:

There is no defending the actions of the Auburn offensive line this time. Can't be done. Won't be done here.

I did so the first time. I believed that with no track record, a reasonable explanation, and Tubby's word, Auburn deserved the benefit of the doubt. But if once is a fluke, twice is a trend. Fool me once, etc. The icy facts are these: twice this season television cameras have shown Auburn chop-blocking an opposing defensive tackle out of the game; that did not happen a single time this season to an Auburn defensive tackle. I'm sure a few Auburn supporters will say all manner of skulduggery goes on in the trenches on all sides--that Auburn's just the team that's gotten caught--but that's not the evidence we have. The evidence we have from Auburn's games in 2007 is that Auburn chop blocks, and Auburn's opponents do not.

Which is why Tubby needs to act now in the face of that evidence. Suspend Pugh for the first two games of 2008. Suspend Hugh Nall for the season opener. Hold a chop-block specific press conference to announce the suspensions and reaffirm that Auburn will not tolerate this kind of nauseating play.

That, of course, was what Tubby said after the Dorsey block: that he "won't tolerate it." Then why has it happened again? (That I can find, no one in the state media has asked him that question. If Tubby's gone on record with a response I've missed, someone please leave a link in the comments. But in any case, it's a little depressing that it's an issue when it happens to LSU All-American Glenn Dorsey, and all but irrelevant when it happens to an anonymous Clemson player.) The first time, I felt that intent mattered. This time, it doesn't. Whether Auburn's coaching staff is coaching this technique or has been too negligent to coach (or demand) the proper technique, opposing players are still being injured. And to this point there have been no consequences for the Auburn players who have caused those injuries or position coaches whose players are involved. Like any Auburn fan, I trusted Tubby enough that words were enough after the first incident. But Pugh's actions Monday speak a lot louder than anything Tubby can say at this point. Until he proves otherwise, we're left to conclude that maybe the naysayers and cynics were right the first time: maybe Tubby really doesn't care about chop blocks.

So again: it's time to act. Auburn may or may not be a dirty team coached by mustache-twirling villains--being me, I cannot help but believe Auburn is still 'good people,' so to speak, with two inexplicable bad episodes--but that's going to be the perception for the forseeable future unless Tubby does something about it. I, for one, really, really, don't want to root for a dirty team coached by mustache-twirling villains. So do something about it, Tubby. Please.

Elsewhere ...

--Like every other Auburn fan, I would like very much please sirs for Will Muschamp to stay, but I'm not going to cry into my beer this weekend if he bolts. The Nallsminger debacle excepted, if there's one thing Tubby has proven himself capable of doing it's hiring exceptional coordinators. He'll find someone. And I'll believe it's necessary when I see it; as Jay Tate sagely pointed out, Muschamp is now represented by Jimmy Sexton. Meaning that he's about to be rumored for every DC/head coaching position that comes available for any team above the Sun Belt. We'll see.

--One of the most interesting posts of the year was Orson and PB's "Rules for 2007" screed and the dictum to cease "the tired, generic Conference War Chest Thumping." At the time I thought that might go a little far, since the overall strength of a conference (as best it can be judged) has such a powerful impact on a given team's strength-of-schedule. But if we've really come to live in a world where we can write that Michigan's six-point victory over Florida "sets the SEC back 10 years" and not be greeted with immediate guffawing, snickering, and general cries of derision, we as a college football society have come too far. A winning SEC bowl record (6-2 so far, 2-1 in what might be called the "even" matchups in the Independence, Chick-Fil-A, and Capital One ... yes, it will take years for the embarrassment to fade) is nice, of course. But it just means the SEC might have been a little stronger overall and its teams play a little tougher schedule; no one with the brains God gave the humble giant clam expected the SEC to go undefeated, or believes there aren't any good teams outside the SEC, or that every Big 10/Big East/pick-a-league team you choose couldn't compete in our conference. Michigan's win just means Michigan's a good team and Florida has a questionable defense, the same way the 2007 BCS title game just showed that Florida was a thousand times better prepared than the Bucks and that their defensive line was better than OSU's o-line. End of those stories. For our sanity, we have to stop analyzing every decent inter-conference matchup as some kind of final, definitive OMG YOUR CONFERENCE IS THE TOTAL SUCK BECAUSE THAT ONE CORNERBACK GOT BURNED statement. (Of course, maybe the real story here is just "Ryan Ferguson enjoys writing attention-grabbing headlines he doesn't actually believe just to get himself heard above the general Fanhouse rabble," and that's hardly news, but he's hardly been alone in that shameless approach when it comes to the Conference Wars, either.)

--All right, take a moment to remember how little Paul Maguire added to the Chick-Fil-A broadcast, and that he's basically been reduced to a kind of football-production carnival sideshow. Now, think about the utter butchery Mike Patrick made of not only the Capital One but every game he mutilated this season. Now, shudder with horror as you are forced to recall that those two worked on the same broadcasting team ... with Joe Theismann ... for years! I bet NFL fans still give themselves high-fives when they watch Sunday night games that aren't called by those three. You know how horrible, awful news reports about train wrecks and chemical plant disasters didn't seem quite as bad when you were a kid because you didn't really understand how terrible those things were? I feel that way about the NFL games the Maguire-Patrick-Theismann team called ... I know I watched them, I knew it was something awful, I just didn't fully grasp the scope of the tragedy.

--As I basically agree with everything Brian Cook said about West Virginia hiring Bill Stewart in what the Brits would call "a rush of blood to the head," I think Auburn could have come out worse re: the Mountaineer hire and the next two years' contests. Could have been better, too, of course, but I'm not going to complain. Stewart's not going to bring anything to the table that Rodriguez isn't taking away.

--Hawaii pissed me the hell off this season. I firmly, firmly believe that qualified mid-majors should get their shot; whether it's Tulane, Boise, Marshall, Utah, whoever, I've always wanted to see them have the chance to measure themselves NCAA tournament-style against the big boys at the end of the year. If they deserve it. Teams that play Hawaii's schedule and can't even dominate it--seriously, overtime against both San Jose St. and Louisiana Tech?--don't. It wasn't ever really a question. But of course pollsters are never going to care enough to differentiate between a 12-0 Boise St. (that beat decent BCS teams and crushed WAC opposition) and a 12-0 Hawaii (that had to mount a desperate comeback to beat their one sorry BCS opponent and was extraordinarily fortunate to finish their WAC slate undefeated). So just as Hawaii got a free pass on the coattails of Boise, now I worry the Warriors have screwed it up for future mid-majors. If, say, Tulsa catches fire, beats someone like TCU, and rolls over C-USA en route to a bona fide 12-0 next year, my guess is that now the pollsters will look at them and see nothing but Hawaii getting run out of the Superdome. If that happens, I propose June Jones be forced to wear Mangino's track suit--the actual garment, no matter how much the extra fabric may cause Jones to break out in fever sweats--in the Hawaii heat.

OK, Chick-Fil-A Bowl recap, final thoughts on Auburn's season, mid-majors stuff (finally, I know) all coming soon, though I know I say that every week.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Well, I don't think that could have gone much better

I knew, knew, knew that I'd end up screaming myself hoarse and feeling like the polar ice caps would melt and California break off into the sea if Auburn lost. I always do.

But it still surprised me how badly I ended up wanting that game last night. For Cox, for all the seniors, for our conference (no way I wanted Auburn to be the school to sully the SEC's spotless record), for the fans in attendance, for the right to twirl the burnt orange and navy blue scarf I got for Christmas over my head like a lunatic at the New Year's party I attended. Dammit, I wanted it.

And they delivered: Cox, Burns, Sims, Groves and Thompson, Dunn, everyone. Everyone of course also including the Tiger coaching staff. No, I did not agree with the decision to dismiss Borges. But there was never much of a question that he utterly botched the opportunity to incorporate Burns into the offense this season, and you saw why last night. 426 yards, 401 of them in regulation, more than Auburn gained against any opponent with a pulse this season by a country mile and every last one of them (save Cox's microcosmic sneak of guts in overtime) gained with an offense installed over nine practices. Nine practices. As starts go, calling this one "bright" doesn't exactly do it justice. "Blinding," maybe.

Actually, make that "blinding," definitely. There's going to be no end to the optimism amongst Auburn fans this off-season after that performance (again), to the point that expectations might be a little inflated (again). So be it. I don't think anyone at Auburn isn't ready to pay that price in exchange for the thrill of seeing Burns jaunt into the end zone to win that game, in exchange for an offensive future that suddenly--in the space of no more than those final two quarters and OT--that looks like a strength and a threat rather than an elaborate support staff for the D and special teams.

For all that, yes, I wanted that win. And Auburn got it for me, for all of us. Happy New Year, everyone. War Eagle.