Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Monday Wednesday recap: Southern Miss, half the first

Lateness, I know. Everything's been pushed back after real life's angry Sunday. Anyways: let's do this.


--This is usually the part of the recap where I gently mock whatever broadcasting team is with us today for their silly pregame assumptions and bad hair. Today, unfortunately, I get mesmerized by watching Paul Johnson's triple option flail its way down the field against Boston College and miss the pregame chatter entirely. No problem, I think, I'll just flick over to my DVR recording of it and fast-forward to ... OMG I FORGOT TO SET THE DVR! I frantically jam the record button as and bemoan the loss of whatever "words" of "wisdom" the Three Daves had to impart to us waiting viewers. Oh well.

First quarter

--Waaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrr Eagle! hey!

--Not that it's anything resembling a surprise, but after the first few plays of the game it's safe to say part of the Auburn gameplanning session involved a question along the lines of "Hey, why don't we put the ball in the hands of our 127 running backs?" Fannin returns the kickoff to the 27, Eric Smith catches for 1, screen to Lester for 13, Lester over the left side for 6, Lester for six more, Tate catches in the flat for three. That's right: six plays before anyone besides Chris Todd or or one of the tailbacks even get their grubby little hands on the ball.

--At least Quindarius Carr decides to make up for the rest of the offense's lost time, making a rather stellar diving catch on a sharply-thrown Todd pass for eight and a first-down pass at the USM 36. Number of plays like this successfully executed by Auburn against ULM: zero.

--To this point Todd has had enough time in the pocket to do his taxes, so naturally as soon as I think "Man, Todd's had enough time in the pocket to do his taxes," USM gets a linebacker in on the blitz to force a 2nd-and-7 incompletion.

--Todd goes deep down the right sideline to Rod Smith on third down and ... well, let's just say I'm not going to complain when USM gets the inevitable soft pass interference call later in the game. Because I'm pretty sure Mr. Whipple would have wanted to have squeezed that flag if he could have. (Chris Todd Arm Strength Watch, Entry No. 1: Looks Fine Here.)

--A nice Dunn end-around gives Auburn 2nd-and 4 at the USM 12 and on the next play Lester's got a huge hole over the left side. They can't stop us, the voice in my brain says. We're just gashing them. They're helpless. They should just bow before the Auburn offense and offer Tony Franklin sacrifices of fresh fruit and shot quail because if he shows them no mercy, we're going to see ... Lester fumbles at the 4. USM recovers in the end zone. Damn it. DAMMIT.

--OK, so it's nice to hear the crowd be able to find its voice for the first time in the game. The prediction here is that Marks, Blanc, and Doolittle are going to comprehensively own the interior of the USM line ... and as the Eagles run straight-ahead into a wall for the very definition of "no gain" on first down, I'm feeling pretty good about this one. Fletcher is met by not one but two heat-seeking Auburn defenders (Powers and Stevens) on a third-down pass into the flat, forcing the three-and-out.

--Chris Todd Arm Strength Watch, Entry No. 2: Poor, as he one-hops a screen to Hawthorne for no immediately discernible reason.

--Tate breaks loose for 19 yards around left end on second down and is brought down by USM's Chico Hunter, taking time out from his usual busy schedule as a swarthy, street-savvy Latino informant on a '70s police show named, say, McGravel and Company. Tate's run is followed by the first reception of the season for Tommy "Not Really a Tight End at All Anymore No Matter What You Say, Dave Neal" Trott, good for 24 yards, and Auburn is in business.

--Well, sorta in business. Bosley is a hair slow getting over from the right tackle pos ... i ... tion? 68? *Checks roster* Well whaddya know. Anyway, Tate's tackled for a four-yard loss. Guess you can forget about getting any kind of "lineman of the week" award there, Bos!

--Todd clearly hasn't read his copy of the script--the one where his character is clearly marked STATUESQUE WHITE QB WHO WILL AUTOMATICALLY FALL DOWN IF HE LEAVES THE POCKET AND IS ALLOWED TO IMPROVISE UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES--because he gets flushed, tripped up, and as he's falling makes a great little athletic, underhand flip to Tate who gallops for 27 yards. We are unstoppable, the voice says. They have no answers for our greatness on offense. "Shut up," I say. "You know what happened just a minute ago." A total fluke, it responds. This is a well-oiled machine. They will take this offense and put in a museum, under glass, so that all may come and gaze upon its brutal and savage beauty. Rod Stewart will have his throat plated in gold so he will feel himself worthy to sing songs in this offense's worship. He will be accompanied by Condoleeza Rice on the world's most expensive harp. "Well, do you have a point," I say. "We've looked pretty doggone ...

--Tate fumbles. Some lumbering oaf wearing No. 99 for USM recovers, damn him. Nothing in my apartment gets broken, which is good, and probably a little fortunate.

--USM earns a 3rd-and-1 on their ensuing possession and rush to the line for a quick-snap on the QB sneak. Somehow--because he is Sen'Derrick Marks, and there is no other explanation--Marks is no only ready for the snap, he jams his way into the Eagle line so fast I'm convinced he's offside until I rewind and watch in slow-mo once, twice, three times ... no, he's onside, he just has the reflexes of a cartoon character. His penetration gives Davis zero room on the sneak, he's dropped for a loss, and USM punts.

--Their punter, you may remember, is Britt Barefoot. Barefoot is apparently anxious to prove he's not all name, as he rushes forward after his punt to shove Dunn out-of-bounds after Dunn's picked up about 17 on the return. As awesome as Britt Barefoot's name may be, though, he is still a punter and Robert Dunn is, rather suddenly, Robert Dunn. He lowers his shoulder and thwacks Barefoot straight over, back-of-the-head-just-about-first, onto the sideline. The crowd roars its approval. Thank you for rising out of the doghouse, Robert Dunn.

--Trott makes another grab for 14 yards, giving Auburn 1st-and-10 on the USM 27. Too bad it's time for Auburn's first non-fumbly bad sequence of the day: Mike Berry false starts, Fannin misses Todd's first wave to go in motion, finally gets going on the second one, and then misses the handoff, leaving Todd to twirl in a circle before getting tackled for a six-yard loss. Ugly all the way around, but Todd's probably ultimately to blame: Lester cut in front of him as a decoy, so how could he hand it off to Fannin--who cuts behind him--in the same space?

--Chris Todd Arm Strength Watch, Entry No. 3: Capable But At the Cost of Accuracy, as Smith's sorta open on the post into the end zone but the ball is thrown back into the seam, rather than towards the middle of the field and into Smith's route, giving him no chance. Lester goes nowhere on a 3rd-and-21 attempt to get into field-goal position, Durst sticks the punt in the end zone for a touchback and 16-yard net, and you can consider me officially hella frustrated: Auburn's been inside the USM 30 three times and is still scoreless.

--Dave Archer says that USM's offense needs to accomplish something while the "defense is playing pretty good, not allowing Auburn to get into the end zone." Uh, they did allow drives of 73 yards and 66 yards to open the game there, chief. "Pretty good" might still a stop or two away, I'd say.

--USM finally picks up their first first down of the game, but on the subsequent 2nd-and-10 Walt McFadden jumps a screen and absolutely plows helpless USM receiver Gerald Baptiste. Which is awesome. But I have to say McFadden takes a little of the edge off the awesome by taking a moment--not a long one, but definitely a moment--to stand over the fallen Baptiste and glare at him. It's a great play, Walt ... surely you can celebrate it without, you know, sorta taunting a guy who you may have just injured, right? (Baptiste is slow to get up but does walk off eventually.) A corner blitz from Powers flushes Davis directly into the waiting arms of Coleman on third and USM punts again, to ...

--Robert freaking Dunn, man. He slithers and dodges his way for an amazing 32 yards--somewhere thousands of miles away, Chris Berman is clipping his hedges and suddenly yells WHOOP! twice consecutively, for reasons he is incapable of explaining even to himself--and Auburn starts the ...

Second quarter

-- ... on the USM 23. Second down's another opportunity for the Chris Todd Arm Strength Watch, Entry No. 4: Eh. His throw across the field towards Billings takes a loooooong time to arrive, though to his credit it's accurate and where only Billings can go up and get it. To Billings's credit, he realizes Auburn just went the entire first quarter without dropping a single pass, and to make sure this patently un-Auburn situation isn't allowed to continue he lets the ball go slap through his hands.

--Fortunately Todd recovers with his best throw of the day so far, finding Smith one-on-one in the seam for 21 yards and a flippin' hyuuuuuge third-down conversion. And now, brace yourselves for some Auburn history, folks, as the Tigers line up in the shotgun with a single back and multiple wideouts on the USM 2-yard line. It's my understanding that seeing this, Pat Dye went in the back yard and dug his own grave, just so he could go ahead and start rolling over in it right now.

--The results, unfortunately, fall somewhat short of encouraging. On first down Lester's stopped a yard shy and the entirety of Jordan-Hare suffers a collective heart palpitation as the Eagles strip the ball loose after the whistle and start running clean with it in the opposite direction. I'm lmost breathing again when Tate's stuffed for no gain on second. On third down Tate carries left and, mercifully drags a USM tackler into the end zone for the Auburn TOUCHDOWN! Finally. 7-0 Auburn.

--Not that anyone was about to accuse Auburn's defense of being less than physical, but just in case, the Tigers have really been popping people this firts half--Damion Fletcher is the latest recipient as he edges right, rotates away from a Coleman tackle, and runs smack into a sudden helmetful of Angry Craig Stevens. This is fun.

--As expected, the Tiger defensive tackles are destroying the center of the USM line, to the point where it's not even funny. Wait, scratch it: it is, in fact, pretty friggin' funny. Your latest HA-ha comes on 3rd-and-6 as Tez Doolittle abuses his man and forces Davis to throw the out into the flat just a touch sooner than he'd like. Result: pass behind the back, back trips over as he tries to turn upfield, fourth down, punt.

--You can't say, thankfully, that Franklin hasn't made an effort to get the ball to Fannin in the first half. He catches another long sideline screen and jets for 18, and then it's the wideouts' turn: Terrell Zachery (!) makes some nifty moves to pick up 17 on a check-down and Billings hurdles a dude (guess the hamstring's feeling OK, Montez?) on a nifty little fake-sweep-screen-the-other-way for 13 more. Have to say, it's been very, very nice to find out that all that talk in the offseason about having this efficient, creative, well-tuned offense wasn't completely out-of-whack.

--Tate for 9, Billings catches for 4. This is bliss. They bring in Tristan Davis (the theory is proven!) for his first action of the season on 1st-and-10 from the 13, basically sending him out there with a giant flashing neon sing on his back that reads I'M THE ONE GETTING THE BALL ON THIS PLAY. It doesn't matter: Green buries some dude on his pull-block, Isom sorta gets in a second guy's way, and that's all the spry-looking Davis needs to hit the corner and score a TOUCHDOWN! Those early fumbles are a little bit easier to deal with, suddenly, what with Auburn being up 14-0 and having outgained the Eagles 1,425-18 to this point.

--Byrum's kickoff lands at the 11 and gets returned to the USM 34. Is anyone opposed to Hull handling kickoffs? Anyone at all? Anyone? Bueller?

--They show a nice clip of Spirit circling J-Hare in the pregame (as opposed to in-game, which would be really awkward), and I swear I get the tiniest bit, um, emotional. Damn, do I miss that eagle. Well, not that one specifically, I guess. That one, and the other ones they use occasionally, I miss them collectively, sort of. You know what I mean.

--Dave Baker takes a moment to talk with Auburn Olympic swimmer Matt Targett, which would be totally awesome if he wasn't a DAMN AUSSIE! Australia's our mortal enemy in swimming! They're the Soviet Union of Speedos. Go home, Matt Targett! Your handsome, well-spoken, NCAA championship-winning kind aren't welcome here! U-S-A! U-S-A! [/charliedaniels] The best part of this interview actually comes a moment after it's done, as Dave Neal says "He actually swam a couple of races against Michael Phelps!" as if what makes Targett really special isn't the NCAA titles or the Olympic medals he's won, but that he simply got in the same pool with America's favorite Golden God. LOLZ.

--While all this is going on, Auburn forces a Southern Miss punt when Blackmon tracks back to strip a n Eagle ballcarrier on a third-down screen. But USM freshman Korey Williams returns the favor pretty much singlehandedly on Auburn's ensuing possession, roaring through to tackle Tate for a five-yard loss on first down and then breaking up a third-down screen to Tate to force the punt. Williams has been all over the field this half, sort of putting a crimp in those "We won't have any problems with their greeny-greeny-green defensive line" projections.

--Dave Archer makes his first really cogent point, pointing out that Davis's running ability hasn't been worth squat this game after having been a big part of the USM offense against ULL. Nonetheless the Eagles are moving, landing at the Auburn 21 after a somewhat-questionable interference call on McFadden (see? these things always even out) and at the 11 after a 10-yards Shawn Nelson reception. Danger, Will Robinson: if Auburn goes in at the half up only 14-7 after dominating the first 27 minutes, this will not be a good thing.

--I swear: Davis flat drops an option pitch directly in front of Stevens, and instead it bounces over his diving head directly into the hands of Fletcher, who plucks it off of Stevens's helmet. There have now been four fumbles this game and USM has recovered every one of them. Damn you, fumble gods!

--3rd-and-16 afterwards and ho-hum, it's just another Auburn defensive tackle blowing things to smithereens for the Eagles. This time it's Mike Blanc who brushes aside his blocker and is about to tackle a shovel-pass receiver for a big loss when he's tripped up from behind, resulting in a holding flag and an even bigger loss back to the 27. Sweet.

--USM goes bombs away on 3rd-and-26 and can't connect, leading to a 44-yard field goal try by Barefoot on the final play of the half. He misses badly, as is only befitting a guy who placekicks with his shoes on despite being named Barefoot. Auburn wraps up their sixth straight quarter of shutout ball and goes in at the half up 14-0, hells to the yeah.

Part 2 coming, um, sometime.

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