Sorry for the long delay, life is busy these days (and let's face it, this isn't exactly a column I was looking forward to).
There wasn't much to take away from Auburn's collapse in Athens on Saturday night. There isn't the bleak despair that followed September's Crooming (which has gotten somewhat easier to bear with all the recent company in the Valley of the Croomed), but that's a decidedly low standard. Even after the LSU loss, as tough as it was, there was something to take away from the game: a solid performance against a top team on the road. This time? Not so much.
While driving over, an old friend asked me what I thought about the game. I told him, "Auburn's key is to prevent the big play, keep moving the ball, and not turn it over." Not exactly brilliant analysis, I'll grant you, but when the Tigers went 0-for-three on those points, the outcome might as well have been chiseled in granite.
Georgia exposed once again AU's lack of playmakers on offense, and also took advantage of a defense that stayed on the field too long and made too many mistakes. It's not an excuse, but it is a partial reason: Auburn played eleven straight games without a break, and there was nowhere near enough left in the tank to cover a relatively-fresh UGA. This defensive performance reminded me a bit of the Ole Miss game from three years ago, when an obviously tired and footsore Auburn gave up some big plays in the passing game. In 2004, Auburn had more than enough offensive firepower to overcome the general fatigue. In 2007, that kind of heavy ordinance just isn't on hand.
Give Georgia the credit: amidst the bush-league uniform switch and goofy sideline dancing, the Bulldogs put together a heck of a good football game. This is the second year in a row that Will Muschamp and Hugh Nall have been schooled by Mark Richt and Willie Martinez, and let's not even start on Greg Knox or Steve Ensminger. AU's been hurt all year by a receiving corps that can't get separation, and Georgia provided an object lesson in the value of that particular trait. In addition, the next time this season I see an Auburn defensive back look back for the football will also be the first.
I will, however give one bit of credit where it's due to the AU staff: for once, the kick return coverage was pretty good.
It said something about the character of this team when it was able to come back from a 14-point halftime deficit to take the lead, but it unfortunately also says a lot about the limitations of this team that it then proceeded to give up four unanswered touchdowns.
Where we go from here is obviously an open question. This Auburn team is an odd reflection of the entire SEC and national football seasons of 2007: calling it up-and-down is as big an understatement as you'd ever care to make, and the opposition in the final game is almost as mercurial. Auburn is certainly capable of bouncing back from the Georgia loss for a big win; they did so just last season, to say nothing of 2002 and 2003.
Whether they can and will do so again... we'll see.