There shouldn't be much to say about a Homecoming game against a 1-AA opponent, other than, "Nice day, the kids had a lot of fun." In what Jerry's calling The Season of DEATH, things aren't so straightforward.
The game started out literally as well as it possibly could for Auburn when Tristan Davis took the opening kickoff 95 yards for an easy 7-0 lead. Since nothing is supposed to be easy for the Tigers this year, Robert Dunn made what might be the worst mistake I've ever seen from a senior player when UT-Martin punted on their first possession, fumbling in the end zone to give the Skyhawks a just-as-easy tying score. And just like that, what should have been a walk turned into a battle, at least for three quarters.
A friend of mine sent a message after UTM's first offensive touchdown, which thanks only to a muffed PAT pulled the game to within a point at 14-13: "How did we let them score?!?" There are two answers. The first is that Auburn had no answer for basically one play, namely a very simple pitch-and-catch from quarterback Cade Thompson to receiver Mike Hicks. Number 19 was camped out and wide open over on the short-side flat for what felt like a hundred snaps. Thompson, who was only sacked once, had pleny of time to throw, and Hicks must have thought he was playing pre-game drills without a defense most of the time. Not being stupid, UTM's play callers kept calling a play that worked fine, and AU rarely did anything about it.
The other answer was, Auburn was playing with absolutely no intensity on defense. Sure, lots of guys were hurt, and there's no doubt not having Sen'derrick Marks and Antonio Coleman up front is going to affect your pass rush against anybody, but it was obvious from the stands that there was a whole lot of going through the motions on the field and precious little aggression or hustle. A team that didn't win a game in October had no business taking any opponent lightly, but that's what Auburn did on Saturday.
On offense, while Auburn obviously had a decent day as far as the numbers are concerned, nobody should be overly-fooled by the outcome. Even playing against an entirely outmanned 1-AA opponent with speed issues (the opening kickoff was all the proof you need of that), Auburn couldn't get receivers free and couldn't get any resemblance of blocking until UTM got tired in the second half. Sure, Kodi Burns did some great running in the game. He was making some fantastic, shifty moves--but then again, he had to. He wasn't getting any help to speak of from his offensive line, and as usual, Steve Ensminger's play calling was as predictable (and as appealing) as vomit at the Supper Club.
But it was a win, and that's more than we could say since, oh, the end of September.
If my mailbox and conversations at the game are any indication, a lot of people seem to think I have the "inside" story on what's going to happen to Tommy Tuberville's job status at the end of the year. Sorry to disappoint anybody out there, but I'm not in possession of any such knowledge. I will say this: when UTM pulled even in the third quarter, people briefly stopped asking "if" Tommy Tuberville would be fired, but rather "when." A lot of that dissipated as the Tigers pulled away to win, but I think it's very safe to say that if UTM's defensive line hadn't run out of gas in the fourth quarter, Auburn could well have been holding a press conference sometime today, and not to announce when season tickets for the '09 baseball team will be available.
As to what's actually going to happen, the rumor mill has churned out two basic themes. Tuberville will either be retained for another year and "clean house" on his offensive staff, or he and Auburn will (and depending on whom you believe, an agreement has already been reached) amicably separate, said separation to include a very sizable check to complete AU's contractual obligations. I have no idea which of these stories might be correct, or frankly if either of them has any grounding in reality, but since everybody has asked, that's what I've heard. Take it for what it's worth, or to put it another way, that and ten bucks will get you 50% ownership in Circuit City this morning.
As noted here previously, I think Tuberville has earned the chance to fix this mess, but honestly, the more this fiasco plays out, the more I wonder if everybody involved wouldn't do better to just shake hands and walk away. Sometimes the best cure for dysfunction is a fresh start. But we'll see.