Monday, September 28, 2009

Balls To The Wall

One of Pat Dye's favorite coaching observations is that it's not possible to get a team fired up for every single game in a long season. You just can't make that many kids focus intensely on all their opponents, and if you try, you run the risk of burning them out before the year is over. So you're going to have to accept the reality of not being one hundred percent sharp for every game, and do your best to insure that you're still good enough to beat the teams you aren't pawing at the ground to play.

If you were to combine the DNA of the dozen most successful coaches of all time, add in a dash of George S. Patton and a smidgen of starving wolverine, you still probably couldn't come up with a guy who could get a team fired up about playing an 0-3 Ball State. Like it or not, right or wrong, this was a checkbook win, and Auburn treated it that way for roughly two bookended quarters on yet another rainy Saturday night.

Of course, fired up or not, take away the thus-far perfect placekicking, and Auburn's special teams are still abysmally bad, and their ugly head popped up early against the Cardinals. Yet another fumbled punt led quickly to a 7-0 score against the home team, and I'm here to tell you, Auburn is going to have some games very shortly here where they won't be able to afford that kind of a screw-up. The Tigers are also consistently giving up 30-40 yards on kickoffs and 15-25 yards on punts, and that's almost as bad as turning the ball over. Sure, a month ago nobody would have predicted that AU's Achilles heel would be the kicking game, but there it is, and it needs fixing. Badly.

The kicking game also brought us the first really bad in-game decision of Gene Chizik's tenure, namely the boneheaded decision to go for a fake punt midway through the third quarter. Let's not gloss over here. It was a dumb and unnecessary call that darn near got a major cog in the offense, Onterio McCalebb, injured. McCalebb didn't return to the game, but he was walking around normally on the sidelines shortly after being examined by the team doctors.

Bad move, bad call. Don't do it again, and get busy fixing the regular, non-trickery stuff the special teams are doing so badly right now.

Give the other two legs of the stool the credit: after they shook off the cobwebs (or more accurately, I suspect, after some rapid attitude adjustments on the sidelines), both the offense and defense came roaring back to dominate Ball State. From about the five-minute mark in the first quarter through the third, Auburn did pretty much whatever they wanted to do. The starting defense absolutely smothered BSU from that point on; if you were looking for a textbook description of a defense intimidating an offense, just watch that short "drive" that led to Auburn's safety in the second quarter.

It didn't take long to start losing count of all the big scoring plays, as virtually everybody on the offense broke a long one or caught a touchdown pass. Chris Todd, written off by the world just about a year ago, continues to do the right things well and avoid almost all of the wrong things; I would say that this was Todd's best game to date, but really, he's been playing rock-solid ball since the first snap against Louisiana Tech.

What Todd really needs now is a reliable #3 receiver. Darvin Adams and Terrell "My Name Should Be Ed" Zackery have solidified their positions at this point, and either can be the go-to guy (and that doesn't even count the running backs, all of which are catching the ball well), but it would sure be nice if somebody else would step up to join them at wideout.

It was easy to get frustrated starting in the third quarter, when Auburn, leading 40-10, gave up a dumb score after the fake punt, then started wholesale substitutions. BSU was able to take advantage of both on offense. Ball State never really stopped Auburn's offense (minus the interception that showed painfully why Neal Caudle will not be a starter without a couple of serious injuries), but they were able to take advantage of the turnovers, and dinked and dunked the second- and third-team defense out of a good 13 points in the late going.

Granted, the outcome was never in doubt, and AU still won by three touchdowns and change, but it's still not comforting to see an outmanned MAC team get that many points. It was a reminder of two unfortunate realities in this year when so much good fortune has (finally) shined on the Tigers. There just isn't much quality depth on the Auburn defense (or the offensive line, as became clear rather early when a true freshman had to step in for the suspended Byron Isom), and that's unfortunately thanks to the previous coaching staff having done a pretty crummy job in recruiting over their last two years.

Those aren't fixable problems in 2009. All Gene Chizik and company can do in the meantime is to keep doing what they've been doing, and hope the first team can stay healthy. A rash of injuries in the wrong places could still doom what's been shaping up as a sublime year.

But in the meantime, Auburn remains gaudily undefeated (and gallingly unranked, but that just goes to show that there are few people as prone to following the herd as sportswriters), and ready to take on a Southeastern Conference run that suddenly looks a lot less daunting than it did just ten days ago.

Taking all that into account, seeing the third team give up garbage-time points doesn't seem like a very big deal.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Wow. Just Wow.

If you don't check Every Day Should Be Saturday on a regular basis, there's something seriously wrong with you.

(Or alternately, the sight of Spurrier in his Sleestak days giving five to Danny Wuerffel just makes you want to puke. I can dig it, but really, read the blog anyway.)

In any case, Orson Spencer Swindle Hall Mellencamp is just killing these days. Take the most recent post, guest-starring the Old Testament God from Monty Python And The Holy Grail, as an example. Dude is on a roll that makes Vegas pit bosses cringe from thousands of miles away.

Thoughts on Thursday's Result

1. First and most obviously, Ole Miss ever having been in the top 20, much less Number 4, is a huge and well-deserved black eye to the entire poll system. Susceptibility to preseason hype isn't the only flaw in the polls, but it's a honking big one.

2. If you have a credible offense, you have to be salivating at the sight of Georgia on your schedule. Any team that could give up 37 points to South Carolina's pedestrian attack simply does not have a defense.

3. Ole Miss will lose a minimum of four games this year (only their joke of an out of conference schedule, and a re-lousy-ed Vanderbilt keeps the tally from being worse), and will struggle to finish higher than fifth in the West.

4. South Carolina would do well to ignore the media meme about last night being a "signature win." Those were two very mediocre teams doing their best to hand a game over to the other guy. Steve Spurrier's got a lot of work left to do if he plans to make any serious noise this year.

5. I thought I would live out my days without ever seeing a Spurrier team run the option. I still can't quite believe Carolina did just that against the Rebels.

UPDATE: CBS's Gregg Doyel absolutely unloads on the mediot hype that pushed a very mediocre Ole Miss into the top five. A sample:
See, it wasn't just Ole Miss that was exposed Thursday night in a 16-10 loss to South Carolina. Nope. It was also the pollsters and the experts and the NFL scouts. It was the media. It was anyone and everyone who had voted for Ole Miss in the top five or had said Ole Miss junior quarterback Jevan Snead was a Heisman candidate or a first-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. It was a lot of people who should know better, and as a public service, I'm about to name some of them. That could be embarrassing to a few of these people and publications, but it will serve a purpose. It will teach a lesson or two.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Lester Pulls A Kinsley

Speaking to Shreveport Times writer (and as it happens, AP poll voter) Glenn Guilbeau, Les Miles commited what political writers have come to call a "Kinsley Gaffe":

LSU coach Les Miles made a faux pas at his news conference Monday when asked if his team is deserving of the No. 7 ranking in both the Associated Press media poll and the USA Today coaches' poll, in which he votes.

"I can't tell you who the best teams in the country are, because frankly I don't get to see them every week," he said. "I don't know who's hot and who's not. I could no more rank ..."

At that point, Miles realized he was about to say he was not qualified in any way to rank the top 25 teams in the nation, even though he supposedly does that every week. Quickly, he tried to reverse his field.

"I vote. I know that. I know I vote. I know I vote. And I'm excited to vote. I do a great job," he said with his voice rising and his audience laughing.

"But I have to be very honest, I vote based on record and things that are not significant," he said. "I vote on what appears to be the best and most logical choice. That's all. But when you get to the back end of the season, you will be more pointed, and your rankings will certainly make a difference. And so I have no idea what the seventh ranked team in the country's supposed to play like."

Gulibeau noted afterwards the open secret that a college's Sports Information Director is almost always the actual voter in the "coaches' poll."

Miles gets a 50-point credit for honesty here, even if unintentional, but we subtract 25 points for the backtracking, laughter or no laughter--even though, as this story further demonstrates, all of the polls really are a joke.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


In other local news, the College Football Hall of Fame is apparently moving from the site of some obscure religious college in the middle of nowhere (South Bend, Indiana) to midtown Atlanta.

This emphatically does not suck.

Jeff Schultz on Urban Cryer

Since the departure of Tony Barnhart, Jeff Schultz is basically the only readable sportswriter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (although "losing" Terence Moore was clearly addition by subtraction for that paper). Schultz weighs in today on Florida's head coach (we like to refer to him at FTB as "0-For-Auburn Urban") and his penchant for whining:
But what did Meyer say Monday when he met with the media? Here’s excerpts on the subject of his own conservative play-calling: “When I saw [Tennessee] start handing the ball off, I didn’t feel like they were going after the win. The way we lose a game there is throw an interception. Why put yourself in that position? We’re not trying to impress the pollsters. We’re trying to win the game.”

So, basically Meyer: 1) Ripped Tennessee’s game plan, which actually gave Tennessee the best chance to win; 2) Claimed he’s not trying to impress pollsters, this from someone whose team since 2007 has had point totals of 62, 56, 56, 51, 63, 49, 56, 70, 49, 59, 59,49, 51 and 59.

Meyer looks like a tool. How about just say, “The other team played great and it turns out the other coach is not a moron.” Instead, he alibied that several of his players had the flu.

To Kiffin’s credit, he didn’t fire back much, at least not beyond this crack: “I guess we’ll wait, and after [the next game], if we’re not excited about a performance, we’ll tell you everybody was sick.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Morning Links

Couple of good links to share today, starting with Kevin Scarbinsky, aka the only readable sports columnist in Alabama (give or take Cecil Hurt, but until Cecil puts down the Kool-Aid, I'm content to watch from afar). Kevin makes a more-than-cogent point here, and one you won't read much of anywhere else outside the Auburn blogosphere:

Speaking of fun, that’s what Auburn football has become again. Taylor has been a big part of the attitude adjustment. Unlike certain long-time members of the previous staff, no one could accuse him of putting in time until he’s vested in the state retirement system.

Suffice to say, Kevin wasn't talking about Don Dunn. *cough*Ensminger*cough*

And on the national front, here's a big plug for the Sporting News' weekly feature "This Week In Schadenfreude," which compiles some of the funniest instant reactions from blogs and message boards of the previous Saturday's losing teams. Literally every other blogger in the country is kicking himself for not thinking of this one first; it is an absolute riot every week. A sample, from a fan of Auburn's next opponent:

Remember when Ball State was going to play Boise State in a battle of undefeateds? And then they lost and everyone forgot about it? Yeah, they keep losing. Lots. Over the Pylon has a commemorative Stan Parrish birthday haiku:

poop feces dung s---
cow-patty diarrhea
brown-snake crap turd log

That's about right for a team that just lost to North Texas, New Hampshire, and Army. Enjoy this weekend's Auburn game.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Thunderbolts And Lightning (Very Very Frightening)

I was going to try and describe the scene in Auburn just before the scheduled kickoff time on Saturday, but then I realized that Neil Peart had already done it for me:

The clouds prepare for battle
In the dark and brooding silence
Bruised and sullen storm clouds
Have the light of day obscured
Looming low and ominous
In twilight premature
Thunderheads are rumbling
In a distant overture...

--"Jacob's Ladder," Rush

My extended family and I almost made it to the stadium gates before the bottom fell out. Almost. We were about halfway through the big scholarship lot on the west side when the deluge started. Instead of trying to run the rest of the way with two senior citizens and a four-year-old in tow, we ducked under a tailgate tent (actually just a canvas "roof" on stilts) and rode the storm out, and so I missed seeing the raucous reaction of the AU student section to their impromptu (and extended) shower, For this I am truly regretful.

Of course, after the storm passed and the game finally started, most of the hometown crowd wondered for a while whether they hadn't been better off in the rain. Both West Virginia and Auburn appeared to have picked up where they had left off last October in Morgantown last; the Mountaineers leapt out to a 14-0 lead thanks to big plays from their hyperdrive-fast offensive skill players, and Auburn's offense couldn't get out of its own way for a couple of possessions.

It's funny looking back at just how much football was packed into a mere four quarters on Saturday night. Maybe I have a bad internal clock or something, but that first half alone seemed like it lasted about eight hours. The initial WVU burst actually took less than five minutes off the clock; by the ten-minute mark the Tigers had righted themselves and started to methodically claw their way back. From that moment to the near-midnight final buzzer, Auburn outscored the visitors by 41-16.

When it's time to put this season in perspective, I think the manner of this win will be more significant than the score. Most good football teams can do one or two things very well, but have a hard time recovering when their opposition can counter those primary skills. A year ago, once the Mountaneers figured out how to stymie Auburn's patchwork offense, they were freed to go off to the races against a demoralized Tiger defense.

In 2009, having watched the films and noted the national statistics, WVU committed to stopping the run and attacking AU's defense where it is still thin and relatively inexperienced. For that first five minutes (and sporadically for the remainder of the game) the strategy worked quite well, but it wasn't enough. This time around, Auburn was able to adapt and find advantages outside of their prior comfort zones, and that was what made all the difference.

Last year all a defense really had to do was stack the line to stop Auburn; no combination of AU quarterbacks or receivers were a serious threat to beat you through the air. In 2009, as the Mountaneers learned, that ain't the case, and the Tigers' production is no longer limited to one or two guys. Chris Todd to Darvin Adams is rightfully getting a lot of ink this week, but look a little deeper and you'll also find those nice wheel routes to Eric Smith and Mario Fannin coming out of the backfield. Fannin's monstrous, untouched 82-yard romp in the third quarter was the real play of the game. It signaled that West Virginia's defense was gassed, and shortly afterwards WVU's offensive coaches pushed the panic button, abandoning the run for the duration.

WVU got one more scoring drive after Fannin's touchdown, managing a field goal to claim a brief 30-27 lead, but that was it. Noel Devine and Jarrett Brown are marvelous football players, but in the second half they both clearly were affected by the poundings they'd absorbed from a Tiger defense that just wouldn't be worn down. That defense, allegedly vulnerable to the pass but revitalized this year by finally getting help from their offensive teammates, responded to WVU's change in tactics with a flurry of interceptions that put the game away.

So here's what I really took away from the West Virginia game--other than some really wet clothes, that is: Auburn is good, but more importantly Auburn is showing that it can be better than good. As noted above, you can beat a good team if you attack the right spots, but when you successfully attack those spots only to see the other guys adjust to you and start hitting you where you didn't expect it... then you're in trouble, because you've just found yourself playing something beyond a merely good football team.

Auburn is going to have to be better than merely good to continue the recovery run they're on right now. After a brief breather this Saturday, the Tigers are facing a brutal five-week all-SEC October stretch that includes three away games. They're going to need every bit of confidence and experience they've built up in this opening month to make it through successfully (to say nothing of some luck in the no-injuries department), but so far, if you're not feeling optimistic about Auburn's future, you either have a closet full of red polyester or you simply haven't been paying attention.

* * *

You may have asked yourself sometime Sunday afternoon, "Self, why the hell is Auburn still unranked in the polls?" The answer--and the situation--encapsulate everything that's wrong with Division 1-A's (spare me the dumb new PR acronym) disgraceful lack of a legitimate championship system. Auburn isn't ranked yet largely because the AP poll is mostly populated by local beat writers, who barely have time to cover their own assigned team on a given Saturday (and the same applies to the various Sports Information Directors who actually fill out the ballots in the "coaches" poll).

Those voters catch up at the end of the day by watching highlights on ESPN--but ESPN barely mentions unranked teams, and rarely airs highlights of their games. Since Auburn and West Virginia were both unranked in the preseason--and so weren't ranked in the following two weeks' polls--there were no highlights afterwards, essentially communicating to the AP voters that no game of note actually took place. No preseason ranking (never mind that the previous year's finish, by the written but ignored rules of the polls, should have no bearing) means no highlights, no highlights meant no new ranking. Just another example of how arbitrary and stupid the poll system is and always has been.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lane Kiffin Shoots Up

While flipping channels last night, I ran across Lane Kiffin's postgame show. Figuring it would be good for a laugh, I tuned in for a few minutes. My jaw absolutely hit the floor when I heard this statement from Kiffin early in the playback. I had to run back the DVR to be sure I hadn't misunderstood, but there it is:

The exact quote from Kiffin is, "The center had not been able to snap the ball [for] a couple of days leading into the game, and so we shot him up before the game so he was able to play."

I don't recall ever hearing a college coach--certainly not a head coach--talking about giving a kid injections to get him into a game before. That's certainly not to say it doesn't happen, but I've never heard anybody come out and announce it in public like that. Besides the shot, it doesn't say much good about Kiffin that he doesn't know the name of his starting center (it's Cody Sullins, at least as far as I can tell from the video and box score).

Monday, September 14, 2009

Recommended Reading

Sure, it's just week three, but Mark at The Auburner is already in mid-season form:
Kodi Burns better win some sort of national award for the nation's top wide receiver. Since I'm an Auburn fan, I have no idea what such an award is called... but Kodi Burns should get it since I doubt there's ever been a wide receiver to score five touchdowns despite only catching one ball.
Read the whole thing. When you're done, check out this absolutely brutal dissection of Jim Tressel, the midwest's preeminent example of dinosaur football, by Chris Brown of Smart Football.

Zinger Of The Day

David Ching, in the Athens Banner-Herald, on Georgia:
After watching Georgia alternate between dazzling productivity and depressing failures in Saturday's 41-37 win over South Carolina, this team apparently has more personalities than Herschel Walker.

Here's an, er, unsatisfied Bulldog fan in Ching's comments with another choice quote:
I could line Helen Keller up against Martinez's defense and score. Wait a minute; You say she's blind and dead? Doesn't matter, she'll score anyway. How can that man even take a paycheck?

49 > 3

What difference can a coaching chance make? How's this: Against Mississippi State, it was worth 39 more offensive points, 15 more first downs, 274 more total yards, and a whole bunch of Auburn fans and players feeling a whole lot better about life in general.

Even given that it's only two games into the 2009 season, and those two games were against a WAC team (if a good one) and the SEC West's likely cellar dweller, the difference between this year and the annus horibilis of 2008 are already stark.

Pretty much all the same batch of players (give or take Onterrio McCalebb and Chris Todd's shoulder, which are not inconsiderable factors) who labored through gloom, despair and agony to shuffle off the field seven times last year are now a vibrant, confident and increasingly capable team.

After two weeks of blasting past the 550-yard mark in total offense, it might just be time to reconsider a lot of prior assessments regarding this team and its coaches. It's likely appropriate for those who derided Gus Malzhan as running a "high school offense" (including, er, me) to rethink that analysis, and it's definitely time to put to bed the much-repeated claim (again, including by myself) that AU lacks playmakers on offense. With the one-two punch of Ben Tate and McCalebb gouging out huge tracts of land and Todd guiding a precise air attack, Malzhan's troops look absolutely nothing like the stuck-in-stop offense of the Franklin/Nallsminger II debacle. The offensive line has been revitalized to the point where even their opponents can't stop talking about them.

You think going from three to 49 was impressive? Try going from 104th to fourth--that's the difference in Auburn's national ranking in total offense from last November to today: one hundred teams worth of better. If there's a similar magnitude turnaround in recent history, I'm not aware of it.

For all the success Tommy Tuberville had during his decade in Auburn, one of the most accurate criticisms of his coaching was that he lacked a killer instinct. I can only recall off-hand two games in which Tuberville let his offensive coordinator keep the pedal to the metal for the duration (ironically, both were against Mississippi State, or more accurately, against Jackie Sherrill, in 2002 and 2003). As noted Sunday by Kevin Scarbinsky in an unusually tough-on-Tubs column, much more common sight was Auburn getting a lead and then going into the much-derided "Tubershell" for the duration.

Tuberville's habit of playing not to lose grated on many, not least including one G. Chizik; according to many reports, the former defensive coordinator was not remotely happy to see his offensive counterparts ordered to shut things down in the second half, most notably against Georgia in 2002 and in the 2005 Sugar Bowl. For good or for ill, those days appear to be over in Auburn. In both of the first two games, the Tigers have gone full-bore two minute drill at the end of the second quarter (scoring both times), and continued to pour on the offense in the second half.

Not everything is perfect, of course, and It's still far too early to declare Auburn as returned to elite status, much less to proclaim that the Gene Chizik Era is a new Tiger golden age. The defense is still way too thin, and minus that nifty fake punt, the kicking game was nothing short of lousy against State (and let's give some credit where it's due: MSU has outstanding special teams, to say nothing of two great players in Anthony Dixon and Leon Berry; they just don't have much else).

But you can't so much as glance at this team and not see how much better it is compared to a year ago, and I'm not just talking about how they're playing between the sidelines. I'm talking about how they're acting and how they're clearly feeling.

Confidence is more contagious than the swine flu, and right now Gene Chizik has an epidemic on his hands.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

You Can Take Corn Dogs Out Of Red Stick, But...

A relative in Seattle who was invited to the LSU-Washington game last weekend took the following snapshot of road-tripping Bengal fans representing the SEC some team that wears purple out on the Left Coast:

I got a particular kick out of the guy third from the left who appears to be texting with one hand and... well, you can figure out the rest.

Stay classy, you crazy Corn Dogs purple-wearing booze-hounds.

UPDATE: In the comments, Ryan points out (correctly) that at least one of the guys in the photo above is wearing a Washington cap and jersey.

Hell, I thought all they wore out there was flannel shirts, but the point is taken: Washington, you officially also have drunk rubes for fans.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Chavis, Not So Regal

From Ivan Maisel's "Three-Point Stance" column yesterday:

No. 11 LSU scored a defensive touchdown and forced another turnover inside its own 4-yard-line. But the Tigers couldn’t put away Washington because they couldn’t get off the field. Husky quarterback Jake Locker completed 8-of-11 passes for 137 yards on third downs alone. He also ran for 40 yards on five third-down carries. The Tigers may be adjusting to new defensive coordinator John Chavis, and he to them.

I remain a Maisel fan, but I completely don't get the pundit deference bestowed upon Chavis since he was hired by LSU. My first reaction when I heard about that move was, "Les Miles is an idiot."

The game has long since passed Chavis by, and he was rarely better than terrible in his last five-or-so years at Tennessee. You could make a very solid argument that Phil Fulmer would still be wearing traffic-cone orange on the Vol sidelines today if he'd kicked his pal John to the curb after, say, the 2003 season, and hired a competent replacement.

This week's game at Washington (more on that later, by which I mean, "pictures of drunk LSU fans that you don't want to miss") was a further indication of just how bad a hire Chavis was. I seriously don't expect the hapless Huskies to light the world on fire this year, and if LSU couldn't stop even them, it might be another long year in Corn Dog Country.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Oh No, William And Mary Won't Do

I never liked Al Groh. He and Charlie The Hutt epitomize the arrogant NFL coach who thinks he can just waltz into college football and win ten or eleven a year without even trying hard.

Not so much, and no way Groh survives this score, which is easily the biggest shocker of opening week: William & Mary 26, Virginia 14.

Starting Strong

While a comfortable win, complete with some genuine offensive fireworks, was a more than welcome sight to sore Auburn eyes, I think I was most relieved--and impressed--by things I didn't see Saturday night.

In the immediate aftermath of Gene Chizik's hiring, a number of articles and blog posts popped up out of Ames, Iowa complaining about the kind of things that made Doug Barfield's inauspicious tenure in Auburn the anti-legend it is today: poor game planning, chaos on the sidelines, indecision at key moments, and a general state of haphazard-ness that allegedly permeated the Cyclone program. Happily, there were no signs of any such foul-ups in Chizik's Auburn debut. When a team with an entirely brand-new staff, including their third brand-new offense in as many years, has exactly one off-sides penalty and no delay of game penalties in their first outing, that speaks quite well of the level of preparation and organization on the part of the coaching staff. Not everything was perfect, but Auburn didn't look like a team with a new coach on Saturday; they just looked like a team playing their first game.

On offense, this was quite obviously the best Auburn has looked in a long, long time, perhaps going all the way back to the 2005 season. There were no traces of Tony Franklin's chaotic first half of 2008, much less the entirely inept second half allegedly "coached" by Steve Ensminger. As my dad noted afterwards, I'm not sure the 2008 Tigers could have amassed 550 yards against Auburn High School. It would be going too far (way too far) to call Gus Malzhan's first Auburn offense a well-oiled touchdown machine at this early date, but look at things this way: if the Tigers had possessed a merely mediocre offense last season, as opposed to the catastrophically awful one that actually showed up, they'd have won at least another two games (and possibly two or three more than that), and played in a bowl.

If Auburn can simply keep improving on what they did this week, they'll be considerably better than just mediocre on offense in 2009. Literally everything was better. I freely admit that I was not thrilled at the idea of Chris Todd getting the start at quarterback (although I didn't exactly have any better options to offer), but Todd played a fine game Saturday. I only saw one poor passing decision, and he just nailed that uncoverable corner fade that Danny Wuerffel won about a million games with for a nice fourth-quarter score. The offensive line, returning to a down stance, was able to play power ball up front, and as a result the running game was immensely better--proving once again that such things are possible with that exotic commodity known as "blocking" (and the hot rod wheels on Onterrio McCalebb didn't hurt any, either). While the receivers didn't make anybody forget their counterparts at Florida or Texas, they also didn't much resemble the concrete-handed bunch we'd see in Jordan-Hare over the last few years.

Regarding Kodi Burns' alleged move to wide receiver, after watching this first game, I think I'm safe in saying that said position switch was much more real on paper than in reality. It's clear to me that Auburn has a 1-A quarterback, Todd--and a 1-B quarterback, Burns. If Malzhan can make the combination work--and it worked pretty darn well on Saturday--he's going to have an awful lot of options for this offense, and a lot of opportunities to be quite sneaky in key situations.

Tech has a pretty good offensive team, and it was heartening to see Auburn shut them down for most of the game. The Bulldogs would not have scored their initial touchdown without the Tigers giving them 30 yards in gift penalty yardage (plus another 15-yarder on that bogus interference call courtesy of referee Steve Shaw's typically-inept squad), and they rarely threatened to score afterwards. I really liked what I saw from Jake Ricks up front, and while La Tech's Derek Dooley quite sensibly called a game designed to pick on Auburn's thin linebackers, the patchwork corps was still able to crush Tech's running game and control the passing of QB Russ Jenkins; I was particularly impressed with Josh Bynes. And as far as the special teams are concerned, hey, what's wrong with having over 100 yards in field goals?

Louisiana Tech is obviously not a SEC team; if they were invited to join the conference, it would constitute a monumental success for them to finish higher than twelfth out of thirteen... but they're not Florida International or Charleston Southern, either. La Tech returned most of an offense that won eight games including a bowl last year, and they're clearly a well-coached squad. Beating them soundly won't mean much to Auburn's reputation nationally, but it should make quite a difference in the way this team regards itself, and in the way Auburn fandom regards the team and their coaches.

There's still an awful long way to go in this season, and the real tests haven't even started yet, but if my inbox is any indication, that adjustment among Auburn fans is already happening. Those who were watching Saturday were impressed, and they're starting to feel some confidence again after a long dry spell. Maybe that's the best thing that happened on that humid night of September 5, 2009: for the first time since the last hour of 2007, Auburn football was fun again.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Morning Report

A quick post while I'm waiting for breakfast... I'll have something up about yesterday's win later; for now I'm in recovery mode. Just as my wife and I got back home last night, around one in the morning, my cell phone rang. It was my dad, telling me that he'd just had a wreck on his own way home. He and my mom are fine, if a little worse for being stuck in the middle of nowhere for most of the night.

As much fun as night games can be, the reality of tens of thousands of tired people driving through the night afterwards is a reality that neither ESPN--which popularized prime-time college football--nor the universities and conferences have been willing to acknowledge. To the networks, fans at games are by definition not tuned in, and a non-factor. The schools long ago sold off their kickoff time rights to television, and also ignore the ticket holders--better known as their best customers.

I have no illusions about this situation changing, especially after this year's umpty-million TV deals, but the older I get, the more convinced I am that the late Shug Jordan was right in every particular when he said college football was meant to be played, "On campus, on grass, and in the afternoon."

Saturday, September 05, 2009


An annual tradition here at FTB, and elsewhere. From 2000, Geoffrey Norman:
We were supposed to be talking politics but we couldn't help ourselves. It was hot. It is always hot in the black belt of Alabama in the middle of August, and it feels like it will be hot for all eternity. So we talked about sports for some relief.

"You know," the man said wearily, "I just can't wait until they kick it off again. I mean, I feel like if I can just make it for another two or three weeks, then they'll be playing football again and then everything will be okay."

Hallelujah, Amen.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


From the Auburn Eagle, check out this great story from my buddy Eagle5 about former Tiger (and fellow Enterprise grad) Thomas Bailey. Very nice job.