As we're all re-learning when our 401(k) statements arrive lately, you have to hit bottom before you can start going back up. Auburn lost again Saturday, but for the first time in about eight weeks, the Tigers were able to walk away with something like confidence, and at least a glimmer of hope in the aftermath.
Georgia '08 was a hard loss to take, but I was still very proud of the team Saturday. Auburn played its best game since taking LSU to the wire in September, played hard for the duration, and finally played well on both sides of the ball. The defense broke out of its month-long funk and did a fine job, holding a very talented Georgia offense to 17 points and only 351 yards. Given the defensive eggs the Tigers laid in their last two games against the same team, that's a significant improvement.
It sure didn't look like AU was going to have a good defensive game early. Auburn wasn't able to stop much of anything on Georgia's opening drive, but aided by Tez Doolittle's block of a chip-shot field goal, the "D" was able to adjust and get a handle on things after a bad first quarter. After romping for more than 140 yards in the initial 15 minutes, the Bulldogs would average less than half as much per period for the rest of the game.
Kodi Burns has continued to improve. He had his best game so far as a Tiger, finally putting together a balanced attack on the ground and in the air. All those incompletions in the fourth quarter hurt his stats, but Burns deserves credit on most of those passes for recognizing that the receiver was carrying another guy on his back, and an incompletion is better than an interception. Burns threw for 180 yards and never put the ball where that other guy could catch it, and after the Ole Miss game, that's a step forward.
It's been a very long time since Auburn could drive 90 yards in the second half against, hell, anybody, but Burns put together just such a drive at the end of the third and start of the fourth quarters. Mario Fannin also had a breakout game, even while making legions of Auburn fans reach for their long-since torn-out hair and scream, "Why hasn't he been getting the ball all year?"
Obviously, that's not to say that everything went well. As one message board wag noted last week, if Auburn were James Bond, this year's movie would be titled "You Only Score Twice." Georgia does not have a great defensive team, but the Tigers still couldn't get it done in the red zone.
Part of that was thanks to play calling. As usual, Steve Ensminger was terrible in critical situations. Why anybody would call all those fades to the end zone when you demonstrably don't have receivers who can get enough separation to run a fade is way beyond me. Yes, UGA's defenders were doing a good impression of your average mugger, and the officiating crew are apparently expecting to get a bonus check depending on the quality of Georgia's bowl bid, but neither of those things excuse calling the same dumb play over and over again. For example, I thought going for it on fourth down during AU's penultimate possession was the right decision, but the play call on that fourth down (you guessed it, a fade to a covered-up Montez Billings) was execrable.
So, better, but still another loss. This team has one last shot at redemption coming up, and while you'd have to be a truly committed pumper of sunshine to predict a win in two weeks, their performance Georgia game does give reason for optimism.