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.

Pre-pre-game

--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.

Pre-game

--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.

1 comment:

Ben said...

Good stuff as always. It is a (semi) shame that Tommy Trott has actually made use of his various talents, I have always enjoyed your clever Tommy Trottisms.