The best thing about Homecoming, 2009: for the first Auburn game in what feels like an eternity, it didn't rain. Blue skies, bright sun, a stadium full of children and a game that was over before it started.
For all the heat Jay Jacobs takes for goofy scheduling (much of it deserved), this one was exquisitely well-timed. Light work against Furman after nine straight weeks of football was just what Auburn needed. The starters did everything they wanted to and then took the second half off, giving everybody this side of the waterboys a chance to get some snaps in a real game.
From a coaching standpoint, it was very nice to see such crisp execution (give or take the defense on Furman's opening field goal drive) and businesslike play against a ferociously outmanned opponent. You can grumble about the Paladins' fourth-quarter scores if you want to, but understand, that was basically against the scout team defense, and guys who might never see an actual game again in their careers. If Gene Chizik had pulled an Urban Meyer and left his starters in for the second half, he'd probably have been able to threaten John Heisman's scoring record.
The worst thing, of course, was losing Travante Stallworth, most likely for the rest of the season, to an ankle injury. Next-to-worst was the continuing horror that is Auburn's punt return game, which gave Furman a gift-wrapped score when Phillip Pierre-Louis fumbled the ball away on the six yard line early in the third quarter. That's awful against anybody, and it'll be fatal against either of the two remaining opponents.
Freshman Anthony Gulley, on the other hand, is what you might call a "good problem." Gulley played just about every position except the interior line and kicker on Saturday, including time at cornerback, receiver, and oh yeah, running back, where he scored two touchdowns and wound up being Auburn's leading rusher for the game. Given the parlous state of depth in the secondary, I'm guessing we'll see him at corner (if anywhere) for the remainder of the season, but he's obviously a kid with a very bright future.
There's really very little else to be said about Homecoming--although one could, if they liked, note the outstanding day from both Auburn quarterbacks, who combined for an eye-popping 27 of 30 and 373 passing yards--but it's well worth comparing this game to last year's 37-20 swan song against Tennessee Martin.
Auburn didn't pull ahead in that one until the middle of the third quarter, and didn't put the game away until early in the fourth--and even with that, the lowly Skyhawks got deep into Auburn territory three times in the second half. There wasn't a lot of scout team participation in that game, and anybody who left with a good feeling was probably still in pre-school.
The comparison is as stark as it is instructive. As Jerry notes, the Furman game was as relaxing for an Auburn fan as a cozy February afternoon in a comfy chair next to a roaring fireplace. The UTM game 360-odd years ago, er, wasn't. Things are a just a tad different this year, and entirely for the better.