Hey, happy new year. Quite a month, eh?
Okay, okay, sorry for being away for so long, but so long as blogging remains a hobby, I reserve the right for life (including down time) to intrude. That said, with due deference to the current drought, an awful lot of water has passed under Auburn's bridges since Thanksgiving weekend, and I'll try to hit on everything eventually. Might as well start with the most recent events, namely the Peach Bowl (oh, go stuff your corporate name; I intentionally had a burger today just because I'm completely sick of seeing "EAT MORE CHIKIN").
Obviously, this was not your average mid-level bowl game for Auburn. I doubt we're going to see too many games period when any team--particularly Auburn--is going to put in an entirely new offense after nine practices, but there it was.
It's no secret that I'm not a particularly big fan of "the spread," but then again, "the spread" has become more lazy sportswriter shorthand than an actual descriptive term these days. Picking a few teams at random, Florida, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Missouri are all regularly identified in the press as being "spread teams," even though the four of them don't have much in common other than the base formations. Still, the Tony Franklin offense is seriously far removed from the Pro-I variants that have dominated college football for the last generation. No huddle for a whole game, never lining up under center, no lead blockers? It's gonna take some getting used to.
I won't deny it's exciting, though. Even with AU's limitations at wide receiver, there were guys open all over the field Monday night. Given a couple of months of extra practice, and the quarterback protection ought to get a lot better--or at least you have to hope so if you're a Tiger fan. And what the heck, it worked. Clemson has a very good defense for an ACC team, and they gave up several long drives; Auburn's problems in scoring had more to do with AU screwing things up than Cousin Clem shutting things down.
As much as Brandon Cox deserved to lead his team one last time (and all things considered he did that well once again) I liked seeing Kodi Burns getting all those snaps. I've been waiting all season for Burns to fake a run and then drop back for a long pass, even if either Burns or Rod Smith had his wires crossed when they actually tried it in the bowl game. It killed me when that play never appeared during the regular season. Of course, Burns handled the pressure just fine, all the way down to putting the thing away in overtime.
You certainly have to give Franklin credit for one call that nobody in the stadium expected, namely running Cox on a third-and-long quarterback draw during AU's game-tying drive in the fourth quarter. That one was the very definition of "unpredictable," and it worked like a charm. I've never been a fan of platooning quarterbacks, but once again: it worked. Auburn moved the ball at least as consistently as in any big game this season, and the offense was far, far less predictable than it's been since November of 2005.
The thing that bothers me about this set is, you can talk all day about spreading out the defense and creating gaps, but there are still going to be times when you need to line up tight and pound the ball for two or three yards. Not all "spread" teams can; when Missouri had a first and goal on the one against Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship, they lined up in the shotgun and couldn't get that yard, settling for a field goal and really conceding the game to OU. Auburn could still do that in the Peach Bowl; Brandon Cox effectively won the game by gutting out a first down on fourth and short during overtime. We're going to need to keep that capability in the future.
And yeah, the manic signal-calling on the sidelines is a hoot. I'm reasonably sure Neil Caudle was just making up stuff by the middle of the second quarter. Seeing the front line stand up and look to the sidelines for a signal was, to say the least, different. I've seen this picture on a few message boards today, and credit where it's due, it's really funny and more than a little accurate:
The most important thing about the new offense showed up in the fourth quarter. Clemson was just flat-out gassed by then, and Auburn was able to blow the Other Tigers off the line repeatedly (and as an aside, that would have been a perfect time to revert to a standard formation and run right at them, but who am I to argue with success?). I like the idea of wearing teams out and beating them in the fourth quarter (or, er, overtime), no matter how you get there.
Defensively it was just another ho-hum shutdown of a good team. I'll be honest, Clemson's offense scared me to death: a balanced attack with lots of playmakers and a very smart guy calling the plays. They reminded me a lot of this year's Georgia team. It was very heartening to see AU handle them for the majority of the game. Clemson didn't have an extended drive, and without that really impressive (to say the least) C.J. Spiller touchdown run and Auburn's fourth-quarter interception, they never would have been in the game. Pat Sims and Antonio Coleman had a fantastic game up front, and Patrick Lee finished his last game in style.
Nobody starts off a season hoping they'll play in the Peach Bowl (well, okay, maybe Ole Miss), but it was still a good win, a good way to send out a remarkable senior class, and a whale of a football game. The atmosphere in the Dome was great, and both teams were clearly up for the game and fighting hard for the win; you don't get that in every bowl these days.
And of course, where Auburn was concerned, it also included a very big change. 2008 is shaping up to be a pretty interesting year.