Well. That sucked.
By which I don't necessarily mean the losing, though obviously the losing was a big part of the suck. I don't even necessarily mean 2008-at-large, though if there was ever a game that could accurately sum up why the Season of DEATH moniker has become so morbidly appropriate, that was it.
No, what sucked completely, what really sucked like the cold black vacuum of outer space into which Auburn seemed to drift during the course of those unbearable 60 minutes, was that even for the Iron Bowl Auburn couldn't get its act together. A win was never likely; if I'd ever dared to break down the "most likely outcome" percentages in the run-up to the game, I'd have put a 7-10 point Tide win at about 60 percent, a Tide blowout at about 20 percent, an Auburn win at about 20 percent, and a comfortable Auburn win at about Zombie Apocalypse percent. But as I said in the run-up to the game, the one thing I felt reasonably sure of was that Auburn would play its best game, that it would finally, finally put together the trademark Tubby play-way-the-hell-over-their-heads game that would allow us to stand and loudly applaud our Tigers even if they walked away in defeat.
That's the way it played out for the game's first two possessions, as Fannin plowed forward through the impenetrable Tide line for a couple of field-flipping first downs and the defense forced a punt from Bama's goal line. Then our lightly-regarded true freshman wide receiver dropped a third-down pass for a three-and-out, the Tide answered with a 43-play drive for a field goal (or so it felt like), and that was the end of that. From there it all went exactly according to rationality and brute strength, and at game's end we sort of clapped for our seniors and for the effort and dedication all our Tigers showed in this lost campaign.
But I wouldn't call it applause. Auburn probably deserved some for surviving this season, certainly. There's only so much you can do when Alabama wins 36-0.
Before the Georgia game I wrote this:
This is why I do worry about Tubby's Auburn future--and Auburn's future, period-- should he lose these final two games at the Amen Corner (a nickname that seems more appropriate in 2008 than it ever did during the tenure of the coach that coined it). Auburn is, once again, in the position of being a decisive underdog to two of the best teams in the country. Once again, there's precious little in the way of rational reasons to believe Auburn will win either game. Once again, a win will be nothing less than a wondrous, near-fatal blow to the Auburn fandom coronary. If Tubby can no longer win in these hopeless situations, if Tubby can't shock us any more, is he even Tubby? And would we want someone who is no longer Tubby still coaching our football team?Amen Corner is behind us now, and we remain defiantly unshocked. That Auburn lost these games is one thing. That Auburn lost them while returning punts 10 yards backward and dropping extra point snaps and fumbling away the snap from center and bobbling passes and missing the occasional tackle and never, ever figuring out what the hell to do in the red zone is another.
I still, as ever, remain firmly behind giving Tommy Tuberville another season as Auburn's head coach. He's earned it. It's the right thing to do.
But after taking last week's cold hard look at Auburn's statistical decline and watching Auburn show up in Tuscaloosa and play the same haggard, offensively incompetent, above-all-else sloppy brand of football they've played all year, I question if this is the same Tommy Tuberville Auburn hired. That guy always made the absolute most out of his talent, if not every game then at least a couple of times a year when it really mattered. For whatever reason, this Tubby never managed it.
Yes, I still support Tubby's return. But I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm past the point of genuinely expecting him to accomplish much with it. It's more a matter of hope. And while hope is always, always a good thing and never, ever regretted, hope didn't do a whole lot for us in 2008.
Here's the good news: 2008 was the Season of DEATH. When we look back at 2008, this will be the season where Auburn's long slide from 2004 into its current offensive misery either heralded the end of the Tuberville era or, more optimistically, marked the end of Tuberville's era of offensive misery and heralded a new, successful shift in philosophy on that side of the ball.
But either way: where there is DEATH, there is rebirth. Always. This is rock-bottom, the low point, the buy-now stage, the DEATH. One of two things will happen next year: either Tubby will return to being Tubby and Auburn will be Auburn again, or Auburn will get on with the unfortunate-if-potentially-inspiring business of finding its next head coach. Either way, 2009 will not end with this brand of bleakness. Either way, 36-0 to end this 5-7 disaster will not happen again.
This, too, shall pass. And when it does, we will still be Auburn, and they will still be Alabama, and we will hunt and haul them down again.
A few other random thoughts cobbled together between the haze of dejection, anger, and alcohol on Saturday:
-- Brad Lester deserved a better farewell than fumbling away Auburn's last possible chance to keep the game competitive. Then again, a carry that never even reached the line-of-scrimmage seems somehow appropriate for a career with as much promise as his that amounted to so little in the end. Good luck in the NFL, Brad. Here's hoping you find your success somewhere, even if you couldn't find it at Auburn.
-- I've never been as high on Uncle Verne as some--too many mistakes, too much rah-rah for run-of-the-mill plays for my taste--but I always thought Gary Danielson brought enough insight and reasonable analysis to keep the SEC's highest-profile broadcasting team above average. But bow howdy have I found Danielson grating this season, none more so than on Saturday, when I'm fairly sure if he'd have complimented the Tide on their farting prowess if the mics had been sensitive enough. Note to Gary: when Auburn fumbles a snap, the story is that Auburn fumbled a snap, not that the very large gentleman standing there watching Auburn fumble the snap happened to be standing there.
-- After Tech's dismantling of the Dawgs, I think it's fair to assume the apparent "improvement" the Auburn offense made against Ole Miss and Georgia was, in fact, just a weak Ole Miss secondary and a Dawg D in mid-collapse and nothing more. This offense has been begging for a shutout all season: when they finally played a complete, bona fide SEC defense, that's exactly what they got.
-- I'm not the least bit concerned over Alabama's alleged efforts to run up the score, couldn't care less whether they intended to or not. If Auburn can't prevent them from twisting the knife, they're within their rights to do so. Not the classiest thing ever, I suppose, but it's funny how you so rarely hear the winners talking about the other side trying to score in the final minutes.
-- The timeout rule is horrible. But in the end, it's just yet another missed field goal from a makeable distance. How did Auburn's placekicking become such a gaping, festering wound this season?
-- The defense is wholly forgiven. 10 points in the first half of that game, we can live with. And after the turnovers, when it became obvious that there was no way on God's green earth Auburn would score enough points to even make the fourth quarter dramatic, the fire they'd opened the game with that had dwindled to a flicking candle completely died out. I can't blame them. If the Georgia-Ga. Tech game showed how little the offense actually accomplished against the Dawgs, it also showed what a whale of a game the D played in holding that bunch to just 17 points.