Monday, October 06, 2008

Monday knee-jerk: Spare a moment

There's nothing to say about that game, really. Nothing to analyze. Nothing to break down. Nothing to parse, elucidate, tease out. If you watched the game, you saw the same train wreck I did. If you have a connection to this football team, you're gutted the same way I am.

I suppose we could discuss the degree of train wreck, the degree of gutted. Remember that Calvin and Hobbes Sunday strip where the "50-car" freight train jumps the track towards the exact same spot upon which a 747 is about to plummet out of the sky, and that spot happens to lie at the end of a collapsing fault line where inside his house an elderly man is about to light his stove, unaware of the house's gas leak that might be causing--in the strip's coup de grace--his eye to "twitch involuntarily"? Yes, this is the kind of train wreck we're talking about. And while I can't speak for how gutted everyone else is, the last time I felt this blindingly frustrated and abjectly hopeless while watching Auburn football, Gabe Gross was running around and trying to throw the ball so far he'd have long enough to run off the field, down the tunnel, out of the stadium, and all the way to the baseball diamond before anyone would notice he was missing. Which, of course, was more-or-less exactly what he did in the end, and there were times during the second half Saturday when I was cursing the Braves' failure to make the playoffs so that I couldn't do the same thing, figuratively speaking. That gutted? "I'd rather watch baseball" gutted? Yes, that gutted.

But past that, trying to respond rationally to the current Auburn offense's brand of apocalyptic incompetence is useless. We can say things like "they need to cut back on penalties"--they committed quite a few penalties, the other night, didja notice?--but it all feels like so many half-full sandbags haphazardly tossed down in the face of a tsunami. It's too much to deal with, this Auburn season. Just too much. Too much.

So all I'm going to suggest is that we, the Auburn fans, take all the anger and bile and cavernous disappointment that takes up the space where your stomach used to be and put them on a shelf for just a few minutes, just long enough to spare a moment or two to sympathize with the good Auburn people involved for whom this situation is still way, way more painful than it is for us.

The seniors, for instance. Spare a moment for Brad Lester, for Jason Bosley and Tyronne Green, for Merrill Johnson and Chris Evans, for Rod Smith and Robert Dunn, for poor star-crossed Tristan Davis, for all of them. They will be the first seniors to leave Auburn without playing for either an SEC title or an undefeated season since the class of 1982*, and they will wake up one morning when they are 67 and still not understand why. Deserve never has a damn thing to do with anything in college football, but that doesn't mean they don't deserve better.

Spare a moment for Chris Todd and Kodi Burns, who have put in the hours and said the right things and have left their hearts on the field to make this offense work and have been rewarded with boos for the former and transfer assumptions for the latter. From here, it appears that their coaches have tried so hard to do right by both of them they have ended up doing right by neither.

Spare a moment for Lee Ziemba. Now we know where the rage that seemed to swallow him whole over the course of the offseason came from; some of it belongs to him and is his alone and should be respected and nurtured as such, but much of it comes from being dropped unceremoniously into a system in which he has never found himself. He is lost, like the five-year-old in Sears who looks up and realizes his mother is nowhere to be seen, and he has no way out save for anger and the desperation of his holding calls.

Spare a moment for the whole of the Auburn defense, which has finished their day at the office allowing a net of seven points in each of the last two games, the sort of performances that should perhaps have songs written about them. Instead they walked off the field to be treated like losers after the first and walked off as actual losers after the second. This is a punishment for their efforts both cruel and, yes, unusual.

Spare a moment, if you can, for Wes Byrum, for whom a second-half Auburn drive into field-goal range was not just about the chance for victory it was for his teammates, coaches, and fans, but about personal redemption, a chance to shirk the albatross of his missed extra point that must have hung heavier and heavier on his neck as the seconds ticked away. That chance never came. And even if his miss grows lighter over the years, it will now tug at him forever.

And lastly, spare a moment, if at all possible--and I readily acknowledge it might not be--for Tony Franklin. Whether deserved or not, he has spent the last several years of his rapidly receding career either not actually working in his career field or trudging back up the ladder looking for his one final shot, his one single opportunity to get back in the SEC coaching game and maybe springboard himself into a head coaching position somewhere. This was it. Auburn was his chance, his big break, his all-in.

And it's over. For whatever reason, he has failed and it is over, all of six games in. He may stay on staff the remainder of the year, he may even see some kind of improvement from "his" offense--God help us all if Saturday was not, in fact, rock-bottom--but there is no possible way Tommy Tuberville will risk a second season like this one. His chance is lost, and it seems unfathomable it will ever come again. Years and years to build a career, and six games to tear it apart. Oh, he'll land on his feet. But he'll never stand so tall again.

So, yes, sympathy. We love to measure what is gained, what is won on the football field: the trophies, the dollars, the titles, the nebulous-yet-tangible halo of Respect, the euphoria of victory that we all crave like a drug. Sometimes it is worth it, however, to measure what is lost. Not because sympathy replaces the anger and disappointment--it will be there all week, all the following week, and longer--but because it's the only other response we have.

There's nothing to say about the game Auburn played Saturday night. But if we can hold on to the game these players and even coaches deserve to play, maybe at some point down the road we can start hoping again they'll actually play it.

Three Stars

Ben Tate. Ran as hard as you can possibly expect your running back to run. When you run for 110 yards and your team only finishes with 208 total, you have done your job.

Merrill Johnson. Held together Auburn's hobbled defense as best as it could be held together, which as it turned out could be held together pretty gosh-darned well all things considered.

Zach Clayton. Four solo tackles, two of them for loss including Auburn's only sack, is one heck of a night coming from a sophomore defensive tackle.

Three opportunities for improvement.

On one hand, I feel like I ought to stick to the script I've laid out in previous knee-jerks. On the other, let's just note that special teams continue to be a massive problem all the way around, make the obligatory call for a complete offensive overhaul, and move on.

Numbers of importance.

0. Combined number of points, first downs, offensive yards, and Tubby Tuberville smiles for Auburn in the second half. (Just kidding! Barely.)

0. Number of Auburn articles and/or blog posts I read yesterday. It just seemed like a good day to step away from the computer, you know?

0. Amount I hope Auburn's head coach and offensive staff get paid for last week's work OH SNAP.

Your bottom line: If there's any tiny, insignificant shred of silver lining in the freaking funnel cloud that blew through the Auburn football teams last Saturday, it's that there aren't any more illusions about the defense winning the SEC West title singlehandedly or sneaking some sort of backdoor BCS at-large bid. There's no expectations any more; I for one don't feel like there's any pressure on the team outside of the demand they don't completely embarrass themselves again between now and the Iron Bowl.

Because--as with 2007 after the LSU loss--that's the only game that matters now. Oh, a win over Georgia would be swell, don't get me wrong. But Auburn 2008 is now a one-game season, with every other contest between now and November 29 a glorified exhibition in order to get the Tigers prepared for Tuscaloosa and the Tide. It's not the way I'd like it, but that's the way it is.

And maybe, if I can keep that in mind, I won't scream myself hoarse lobbing obscenities at my innocent TV screen the next time Auburn, say, goes three-and-out on three straight possessions. Do it against Arkansas, whatever. Do it against West Virginia or Ole Miss, hey, just try to show some improvement. Do it against Georgia, I'll be worried. But it won't really matter now unless it happens in T-town.

*SEC champions '83, '87-'89, 2004; undefeated 1993; SEC West champions '97, 2000. There's a couple of close calls in there, but yes, this will be the first four-season gap without any of those banners on the wall since '82.


J.M. said...

Jerry, you have wrote a thing of beauty. I have come to realize that we can do nothing but watch and hope at this point. What can a Auburn fan do? Try not to bitch and moan so much, I guess. Phillip Marshall was my go-to guy in years past to lead me away from hysteria. But I refuse to pay for his words now (I might have to reconsider). I'm waiting for someone to step forward on the football field and lead the way out of these dark days. I'm only seeing mass confusion. Thank god, you stepped forward and wrote what needs to be considered. There's more to it than beating our chest when we win and lashing out when we fail.

Sullivan013 said...

Four points:

1. For those who undervalued Brandon Cox for his role in the offensive last year, it seems that CTT is at least one who misses him like I do. If anyone could be assured to get one yard in a plunge, it was gutsy, determined Brandon behind a solid line push.

2. Also missing is the lead/pass blocking and dump-pass receiving of Carl Stewart. His impact is lost on most people who only saw his numbers in the box score, but when we needed to move the pile or seal the edge on a pitch and run, Carl was there last year.... and sooooo absent this year. Our running backs are back there alone, and it shows.

3. The opposing defenses are shifting after initial (first quarter) success, and keying on the running backs to stop us. With no other option or blocking back, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that between Todd and Tate on a run down, Tate will have the ball.

4. Which brings us to the worst part about the Auburn offense during this period: Predictability. Our practices are not building on an existing model. Every week we're having to revamp the base offense and every first quarter we look great. By the second quarter the cracks are showing and by the end of the half, the wheels have come off. Everyone is asking "why?"

The answer is easy: we have a limited playbook of practiced plays each week. Rather than building on success and having plays to fall back on, we run a given play to death until they stop it. Look no farther than our first drive and subsequent rapid roll to the red zone followed by four and out inside the four. I don't fault CTT for going for it, but I do fault both him and CTF for calling the same damn play four times straight.
Bread and butter is great, but at least one of those plays inside the four yard line should have been a quick pitch outside or option with Kodi. To hell with Todd's confidence or 'starter's ego', we need to score in the red zone and Kodi gives us that edge. We had no business losing that game by a point when we should have, by rights, had three touchdowns early on.

I'm not giving up on the team. I will cheer if they lose every game from now until next season. I remain thier best fan no matter what, but the issue now is how to play out the remaining games. My suggestion is to revamp the successful bowl game solution where #12 runs the offense into the red zone and #18 scores from there (either one, but preferably Kodi - Wes needs to run some sprints...).

I'm fine with reliving last year's mantra that was attached to a photo of the 2007 tigers celebrating in the Swamp - "Auburn Football - Ruining your National Title hopes....after we've ruined our own."


jrsuicide said...

this post perfectly illustrates why i fucking love your blog. sadly i am far too bitter and angry right now to follow your lead. i've been trying to take the "let's just make fun of this" road...but sadly it ain't working.

Anonymous said...

Amen! If I weren't a married woman, I would propose to you!
Complaining doesn't change heart breaks for the players!!!!!!!!
War Eagle

Anonymous said...

jerry! i knew you were a talented writer, but i didn't know you had a weekly au blog. good work.

but i think tubs will keep franklin another year. because i think you're right that there's nothing else to play for this year but the iron bowl, i think kodi will start getting a lot more reps. in prep for next season. and i think the old riverboat gambler will roll the dice one more year on the spread for the sake of recruiting. of course if he craps out again, he'll be wearing another color on saturdays.

and tell your brother i think he's a girl.

Anonymous said...

what i meant to say is: i think tubs will fire franklin this afternoon.

Jerry Hinnen said...

Clay, glad you found the blog. And yeah, you were only a little off.