First of all, I apologize again for being so late getting this week’s postgame column up. We left town the first thing Friday morning for a friend’s wedding in San Antonio, which was followed by an extra day in Austin on Sunday, and there hasn’t been a lot of free time available for blogging. I’d meant to write up the WVA game on the flight out, but thanks to the 250-pound broad in front of me leaning her seat back nearly into my lap, I literally couldn’t even open up my laptop. It’s now mid-morning on Monday, and I’m bashing this out in the San Antonio airport (free wi-fi=good) before we board to fly home.
I got a lot of calls and messages during the first half of the West Virginia game, and as you can imagine, they were pretty giddy. Auburn looked like Auburn again, stifling on defense and productive on offense. The much-anticipated return to standard sets and three-point stances up front was effective, and success from the offense bled into the defense, seemingly raising them out of their post-Vanderbilt funk.
While I enjoyed those two quarters as much as anybody else, I wasn’t able to get really excited at halftime. I’d seen this show before, and when yet another second-half collapse started rumbling across the screen, what I felt wasn’t so much disappointment as recognition: yep, that’s about what I expected.
For all the good done early in the game--and there was plenty: Kodi Burns playing like he's been expected to play for two years now, the running game working and even Tommy Trott catching about everything that came near him--the flaws on this team and in its coaching staff just can't be camouflaged for long. Pardon the broken record, but the receivers not only can't catch and can't get open, they've now also forgotten how to block. Blocking on the outside (along with a lot of bad tackling on Auburn's part) was why WVU was able to play the screen and sweeps so effectively, and a complete lack of same was why Auburn wasn't. Outside of Trott (and what does it say that he had his best game in forever two weeks after being relieved of Steve Ensminger's position "coaching"?), there wasn't a notable receiver the whole night.
Anybody who was surprised by the awful play-calling in the second half really hasn't been paying attention. Underperforming Ensminger managed to blow the best onside kick recovery I've ever seen by calling that idiotic reverse and losing about 300 yards, and Auburn was basically done on offense from then on. With the passing game inactive and the Mountaineers building a lead, all WVU had to do was stack the tackle box, and Ensminger proved long ago that he isn't capable of calling a game at this level when anything at all is on the line. Auburn's run and pass blocking was bad enough before the Tigers got behind; once AU's lead evaporated, the outcome was academic.
I take a back seat to no one in my contempt for Thenator Lou Holtz, but old Cheatin' Lou had it dead right when he observed that the AU defense was obviously thinking, "Oh no, here we go again" as the offense sputtered to a dead stop in the third quarter. When the Tiger defenders started trying to strip the ball from Noel Devine instead of wrapping up and tackling (usually giving up another 10 to 15 yards in the process), the game was effectively over. That doesn't excuse the complete collapse on defense in this or the two games that preceded it, but it does help to explain things.
There's very little left to say at this point. This season is officially a fiasco, and I personally see no reason to think Auburn is capable of winning any of its remaining conference games, and the likely final record is only going to make the current torrent of outrage in Auburndom even louder (pun certainly intended).
For whatever it's worth, I do think Tommy Tuberville has earned a mulligan and ought to get a chance to repair all the damage done this year, but I would instantly reverse that statement if he were to once again insist on retaining Hugh Nall, Steve Ensminger, or Greg Knox on staff after Thanksgiving weekend. They have failed, repeatedly, and they've got to go. Period. It's time to have some actual professionals in those slots instead of guys who are still collecting high-dollar checks purely because of their personal friendships with the head coach.