Monday, September 29, 2008

Recap: Tennessee, half the first

Yes, I'm doing one of these for this game. It's called "suffering for one's art," I believe.


--FOG OF INTIMIDATION IN FULL EFFECT ON YO AZZ, VOLS. Or something. Somehow I think I like it better when Tubby emerges in the same color shirt as the players. Until the Arkansas game, when I'll like him better in orange.
--CBS finally finished up their U.S. Open coverage a couple weeks back (this is halfway acceptable since it's tennis, rather than the golf version, in which I would be leading some kind of useless protest WITH SIGNS), so your hosts for today's game are Uncle Verne and the ever-sassy Gary Danielson, who says following a press-conference montage of Phil Fulmer that the Vol head man is "fired as the friggin' Enron guy" if he doesn't pull out a victory today. (I'm paraphrasing.) He also goes into great detail about how Auburn needs Chris Todd to be an accurate passer and how he's the "key" for the Tigers, then stops noticeably short of implying in any fashion that Todd is up to being that passer. Fine with me: I like some sassy-fras in my broadcast.

First quarter

--Morgan Hull takes the opening kickoff, and the kick is so damn short--it lands on about the 12--it takes the Tennessee return guy by surprise and he has to play it off the bounce. Egads. Are there really no Matt Clarks out there anymore we can find? No Matt Clarks? Really?
--I talked up the Tennessee offensive line a good bit over the summer, and I'd say based on this first possesion, they've lived up to Reverse Jinx Reverse Jinx Reverse Jinx! Coleman slams through to pressure Crompton on second down and Goggans takes the honors on third, forcing the incompletion and punt.
--Auburn takes over on their own 45 (the Vol punt = delightfully cruddy) and gets a wee bit fortunate to convert their first third down, as Billings catches near the sticks and curiously turns away from first-down yardage as he's tackled immediately. Danielson: "Judging by that play, I'd say Montez Billings has rocks and old balls of yarn inside his head instead of a brain." (I'm paraphrasing, but damn: sassy.) Fortunately Billings gets forward progress-and-then-some on the spot, and Auburn gets the first.
--Todd has looked sharp so far, connecting with Billings on that third down and finding Fannin (who has already surpassed his level of involvement from the LSU game) on a roll-out for another third-down conversion. Because this is 2008, however, Ziemba's been called for holding. On the ensuing third down Franklin dials up a fake-end-around-surprise-pass for Dunn, which ... um, 2nd-and-6, yeah, 3rd-and-maybe-4 even, but this is 3rd-and-16, there's no possible way the safeties are going to bite on ... oh. They bit like hell. It was almost a touchdown. But, again, because this is 2008, Isom sort of half-asses his block and Dunn is smothered before he has a chance to even think about throwing to the wi-hi-hi-hiiiide open Smith. Danielson both calls Franklin's playcall "the worst one I've ever seen, and that includes when I watched my four-year-old grandson play Playstation" and Tennessee's coverage "a disaster." (I'll you figure out which one is the paraphrase and which is verbatim.)
--You'll never guess who's on the sideline: Peyton "National Champion Heisman Trophy winner Pretty Good Quarterback" Manning! Odds are around 100-1 Verne and Gary will ask for a "waiver" on cloning technologies so he and Tebow can create some sort of quarterback-monster lab child, 50-1 Fulmer will get "mixed-up" and order Manning into the game, and 2-to-3 I'm going to see Manning's smug face so often this broadcast my breakfast comes back up.
--This is sort of how I expect the day to go: Tennessee rushes twice for a first down, throws incomplete, rushes for four yards, throws incomplete, punts. Jonathan Crompton, ladies and gentleman! He'll be here all day, thanks goodness.
--Holy crap, they've got Fannin lined up as the QB in the Wild Hog Tiger! He only went for three yards, but Holy crap! They've got Todd lined up under center! He hands to Tate for six more! Holy crap, they did it again and Tate went for 15! I never imagined that a quarterback taking a snap from under center would lead me to the use of excessive exclamation points! Thanks you Tony Franklin!
--A false start threatens to derail the drive, but Todd calmly finds Dunn on 3rd-and-6 for 14 yards to the UT 27. Two plays later it's 3rd-and-6 again and Todd calmly finds Trott in the middle of the field for another first down. Good to see the LSU game wasn't a mirage; why, Todd looks positively competent, like the sort of quarterback who if he doesn't bobble another snap like he just did on first down might even throw...
--a TOUCHDOWN! Todd connects with Robert Dunn on the post on 2nd-and-11 (there was another false start, yes, thanks for asking) and while it's not Sullivan-to-Beasley just yet, this Todd-to-Dunn thing has a little bit of potential about it, no? 7-0 Auburn.
--Ah yes, that was the rare, elusive, infrequently spotted "exactly what I imagined this offense looking like in the offseason" drive that Auburn has at least pulled out one of in every game this season. It was fun! The question, of course: Can they do it AGAIN? *cue dramatic and possibly foreshadowy-type horn riff*
--It's 1st-and-10 Vols on their own 49 after a big third-down conversion (a nice little pass into the flat for Jones that's wide open in a way that for some reason I never remember our little passes into the flat being), and for the first time in the game they hand the ball to Montario Hardesty. He immediately breaks off a tackle-breaking balancing act run smack up the middle for 17. I know Forster's supposed to be the Man in the backfield, but good gravy, I've watched a couple of Vol games now and this guy's just better. He just is. I'm glad the Vol coaches don't seem to realize it ...

Second quarter

-- ... since they follow up Hardesty's carry with false start-incompletion-nine-yard swing to a different back-incompletion.
--Danielson reaches new sassy heights after that last Crompton misfire, in which the Vol QB fires a tight spiral to the TV dude in the red hat. Gary says it's a bad read "unless he's not supposed to throw a touchdown pass right down the middle." That's not even paraphrase. He actually said that. Ouch-and-a-half, babe. Lincoln does connect on the field goal try, though, and it's 7-3.
--Because this is 2008, Auburn follows up their pristine and perfect touchdown drive with an utter train wreck on first down: Todd fumbles the snap, then hurries it into Tate's belly in classic "You take it!" hot potato form, and then as Tate scrambles to get back to the line of scrimmage Dunn gets called for a hold. The drive fails to recover as Todd can't quite squeeze a pass in to a tightly-covered Hawthorne on 3rd-and-10. I would say that a 69-yard touchdown drive with three third-down conversions followed by a penalty-plagued three-and-out would once again reinforce the idea that Auburn's offense is like a box of chocolates--you never know what you're going to get, hyuck hyuck hyuck--except that in an actual box of chocolates, you do know that there are going to be chocolates and that a certain percentage of them are going to be tasty even if a few are coconut-loaded. If Auburn's offense to date was a box of chocolates, however, you would open it to find two chocolates, about eight Ricola cough drops, scattered stale cashews, and a few individual plastic packets of this stuff. Not quite the same. (Though the line has been pass-blocking really well again. I should mention that.)
--Hey, whaddya know, it's Peyton Manning! I wonder if he's got anything interesting to say to intrepid sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson. "These losers aren't fit to carry my jock," he says. "They might have the world's slimmest chance of a win if they'd just pull their heads out of their collective asses just long enough to listen to a damn playcall correctly." Oops! Sorry, Tracy! Apparently sassy is catching! (This is, in fact, not too far off from what Manning actually says, which is basically "Fulmer and the coaches know what they're doing, and the players are the ones who aren't executing or paying attention," and it's like, geez dude, I can totally dig the loyalty to Phil, but Crompton's not the one who volunteered to throw a bajillion times with the UCLA game slipping away, is he?)
--Ugh. Jones out of the G-Gun for 23 on a niftily-blocked play, Crompton on a slant for 14, Foster up the middle for 11 on back-to-back-to-back plays. After the field goal last drive, things are a little too LSU-ey up in here if you ask me.
--Fortunately, Clawson decides it's time to dial up three consecutive passes again, and with incompletions on the first and third (the latter aided by an effective Auburn blitz) Lincoln comes on for a 35-yarder as Danielson literally refers to Crompton's last throw as a "bonehead" decision. Gary, seriously, I'm enjoying the taunting as much as the next guy, but don't you maybe think the sassy's going too far now? 7-6 Vols after the field goal.
--It's an Eric Smith sighting! He loses two yards but successfully lures Tennessee into horse-collaring him, that clever fellow, so it's a net positive.
--Less positive is Rod Smith allowing Todd's pass to fly directly through his hands on 3rd-and-5. Not sure it would have been a sure first--he had tacklers bearing down on him and he looked about a half-yard shy--but it's most definitely not a first after the pass whistles between his fingers for no discernible reason other than freshman nerves. I mean, senior nerves. If you know, that was a thing.
--Durst gets off a nice one, and the Vol returner Rogan elects not to a attempt a fair catch in traffic at the 15. The ball takes an orange-and-blue bounce and is killed at the 5. Danielson--stop me if you've heard this before--is beside himself. "Those are important yards!" he says. Cue the dramatic foreshadowing horn riff for reals this time, because ...
-- ... Crompton's going to take the snap and bounce it off of Foster's elbow in the attempted handoff just as pretty as you please. Jake Ricks then picks an absolutely exquisite time to make his first memorable appearance of the season, falling on the loose ball for a TOUCHDOWN! 14-6 Auburn, and ... I mean, it's just unbelievable that an SEC team could be this consistent about making not just mistakes, but CATASTROPHIC EARTH-SHATTERING HEAD-EXPLODING MISTAKES. If I'm not mistaken, this means that all of Tennessee's three previous turnovers have come inside either their own 10-yard line or the 10-yard line of their opponents. If I was a Tennessee fan ... you know what? Let's not talk about that. This blog doesn't need to go to those kinds of dark places.
--Danielson can't shake his head and cluck his tongue fast enough, calling the botch "inexcusable" on Crompton's part and saying Foster is surrounded by "bad voodoo." My sympathy for Tennessee fans is such at this point I almost wish I could say he was wrong, but, um, Foster really might have a black curse following him around and there really is no excuse for botching an utterly routine handoff on the 5-yard line one week after botching an utterly routine handoff on the 5-yard line.
--Of course, being down is now only half the Vols' problem as they also have to contend with Auburn's continually feisty-looking defense, a defense that on the Vols' ensuing first down makes a terrific tackle (Merrill Johnson) on what ought to be a first-down swing pass to the tight end, on the ensuing second down stuffs Hardesty for a loss of one (Ricks and, as Danielson calls him, "An-tone" Carter), and on the ensuing third down bats down the short pass at the line (Marks). Sharp, sharp sequence there from the Auburn D.
--Dunn is apparently getting bored with people kicking away from him and having to make routine fair catches all the time, so this time he lets the ball bounce and then swivels to snag it in mid-air one-handed before going out of bounds. As if our collective hearts haven't been tested enough this season.
--I'll stop that now, but maybe I shouldn't, because if there's been any Auburn play all season (the Todd throw to Dunn for the last LSU TD excepted) that deserves all-caps, it's Burns fighting off three different tackle attempts, scrambling almost all the way to the sideline, and then firing a strike to Dunn for another set of downs. The crowd is on fire, the sideline is obviously pumped, and because it's a cold cruel world we also get to see Chris Todd, lifeless and shell-shocked on the sideline. Part of me wants to tell the kid to suck it up and celebrate that your team just made a good play. But most of me knows that if I ever got to hear an 87,000-seat stadium cheering its collective throat raw because they'd finally gotten to see me replaced, I don't know how charitable I'd be, either.
--Burns makes another solid play on 3rd-and-12, taking one step to give himself just enough pocket room to find Fannin on a crossing route for the first down. Burns-to-Fannin for 16 yards: Santa must have gotten my letter after all!
--After that it's Burns for 4, Tate for 2, and then Burns zings one at Billings on an out route he can't get his hands to in time. The pass sorta looks catchable but also sorta came up on Billings really quickly. It would be nice if CBS could provide us with a slow-motion replay to figure this sort of thing out, which is why they don't give us one.
--But hey, no sweat, Burns has given the crowd a jolt and gotten Auburn into solid field goal position, the Tigers will go in at the half up 17-6, and unless Crompton mysterious channels his inner Jarrett Lee it'll take a turnover or two to ... Wes Byrum just missed again. Again. From 35 yards. Wes Byrum. What is going on? Why can Auburn never have a kicker who keeps himself in one mental piece for more than a season? Bleargh.
--Oh well, even if Byrum is not Byrum at least Antonio Coleman is still Antonio Coleman. He torches alleged All-America candidate Ramon Foster and buries Crompton for a second-down sack. After that Crompton runs a quarterback draw that pretty well screams "Well, we're ready for halftime, how 'bout you?" And after Auburn comes close-but-no-cigar to blocking the Vol punt, the Tigers answer back "We think halftime sounds great, see you in a few" by running Tate into the line a few times. (Though they also say "Wait, what? I couldn't hear you" as Burns bobbles a snap and my heart explodes.)
--Tracy Wolfson catches up with Fulmer as he leaves the field. "So," she asks, "was that some sort of fluke or does Crompton suck just that badly, Coach?" "Hell if I know," Fulmer says. "Hell if I know how you're supposed to get a guy to run a handoff right in the game when he runs it right a million times in practice every week. You got any ideas?" Wolfson shrugs her shoulders in the universal symbol for "Dude, not my problem" and throws it to Tim Brando in New York. (I'm paraphrasing.)

Second half coming soon.

1 comment:

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