Ho hum, just another game. Just another hand-wringing, nail-gnawing, hair-pulling three hours plus of frustrating immovability followed by... another W on the schedule.
I'm getting too old for this crap.
Auburn put on a defensive showcase, again, and again, it was just barely enough. Sophomore Josh Bynes, substituting for an injured Tray Blackmon, was the breakout player numerically with an eye-popping eleven tackes (six of those solo), but the entire defense deserves player-of-the-game honors. Tennessee's much ballyhooed offensive talent couldn't do a thing when the game was on the line, and couldn't do much the rest of the day. The Vols had seven possessions in the second half, and all but one of them started no more than four yards from midfield. They scored exactly once, and in that case were assisted by an interception.
Never have so few made so many clutch stops with so little help. And oh, yeah, the defense scored a touchdown for the third time in five games. In a word, "Wow."
I've resigned myself at this point to seeing Auburn get career days out of every opponent's punter. Tennessee's Chad Cunningham is bringing up the conference's rear statistically, but he played lights-out all afternoon. Between Cunningham's punting and Auburn's offensive immovability, the Tigers spent almost every minute of the second half in the shadow of their own goalposts.
I have never, ever seen a team spend that much of a game backed up and still win. The work this defense is doing is nothing short of astonishing.
This team doesn't have an offense. It has a bunch of players who block and run and catch and throw, and some coaches who call formations and plays, but when all those pieces are put together, they don't add up to an actual offense.
It's not an accident that Auburn's lone scoring drive featured a lot of things we hadn't seen before. That made sense, as most of the plays and formations we had seen before don't seem to work all that well. Tennessee was caught off-balance, and the playmakers that AU does have started to make plays. And what do you know--the Tigers marched right down the field and scored. My question is, hey, Tony Franklin: where'd all stuff that go to afterwards? Were you afraid to use any of it again, because, you know, it worked? That gives me flashbacks to Terry Bowden, and not in a good way.
"Hey, wait," you may be saying. "Hang on a second here, you just finished praising Auburn's defense to the skies for shutting Tennessee down for most of the game. Why aren't you doing the same for Tennessee's defense?"
Because, let's be honest here: Tennessee is not a good defensive team. You can quote me "best secondary in the conference" all you want, but the numbers say that the Vols have not been good on defense for at least two years now. Tennessee is so far down, even Instapundit is making fun of them--and he works there! This is the same unit that got shredded by a UCLA squad that itself couldn't get a point against BYU. John Chavis is the least-competent defensive coordinator in the SEC, and he still managed to figure out Franklin's "system." With very rare exceptions, Franklin seemed unable to do anything to break the Tigers out of their rut; his situational play-calling was nothing short of awful. If you doubt me, just count all the no-blocking draw plays on third and very long.
So, in short: I don't get it. Is Franklin so married to his "system" that he can't bring himself to work with what he's got? Is he so bound to running a "script" that he literally can't call the right plays in key situations? Heck if I know, but you don't need to be any kind of an expert to note that when an offense only gets one first down in thirty minutes of play, that offense has serious problems. Kudos to Kodi Burns and Montez Billings for making that first down--thanks to Phil Fulmer's pissing away of UT's timeouts, it won the game for Auburn--but what the hell? ONE first down? In a HALF?
It's enough to make your hair turn gray, and although I'm on the cusp of forty, I'm still in no mood to start trying out Grecian Formula.