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The Ball St. recap, half the first

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PREGAME

— Your announcers for this evening: Bob Rathbun (who I called “Rathman” in this space two weeks ago, because I like being wrong) and Dave Archer. Despite the fact that they’re working on the lowly farmed-out-to-FoxSports-by-ESPN broadcast, they are 1,112 times better than either of the two sets of ESPN announcers Auburn has had.

That said … uh … was Rathbun’s hair really that black for the Miss. St. game? Two words for you, and they rhyme with “Fly Snob.”

And they’re “dye job.”

— The rain delay gives the broadcast a chance to air their behind-the-scenes look at the Raptor Center and getting War Eagle ready to fly. Reporter Cassidy Hubbarth says that the eagle (or the Center? I’m confused), and I quote, “gives new meaning to the term War Eagle.”

Cassidy, I don’t mean this in a snarky way, I really don’t, I’m just asking because I just want to know: what the hell does that mean? Saying an eagle gives new meaning to the term War Eagle makes it sound like Spirit’s about to be deployed to the Middle East.

— The best part of the segment (which, admittedly, is pretty well done) is a brief statement from the Raptor Center’s Roy Crowe and a young-looking golden eagle (I don’t think it’s Nova) on his arm. Turns out they both have something to say. It goes something like this (the Crowe quote’s not even close to verbatim, mind):

“Here at the Raptor Center KEEEEEEEE our job is to KEEEEE work with these magnificent KEEEEEE birds and aid conservation KEEEEEE efforts while helping serve KEEEEEE the spirit KEEEEEEE of Auburn KEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.

It’s awesome.

FIRST QUARTER

— Auburn forces a game-opening 3-n’-out as expected, and now Anthony Gulley, firmly entrenched as our punt returner, will cleanly field this punt because as we all learned this week he is a baseball player and baseball players don’t fumble because of their hand-eye coordination and ability to judge balls in flight and David Eckstein-inspired grittiness and love of stirrup socks and …

and …

Oh, come on. This joke isn’t funny anymore, guys.

— Archer, spinning the muff into a positive in a manner worthy of someone who actually lists “Life Coach” as their occupation on tax forms, says Auburn’s defense now has a chance to work on their “sudden-change” situation response. Thanks, Dave, but no, the glass really is half-empty. (At least until one of punt returners accidentally knocks it over.)

— BSU strings together a few nice gains and on 2nd-and-goal MiQuale Lewis gets around Stevens to the corner … touchdown, Cardinals. Honestly? Not a big deal. So Auburn waits a little bit longer to take a lead. And some part of me–the part that roots for basketball teams you’ve never heard of every March and has a giant soft spot for guys like Lewis, players with real talent and dedication who run their freaking hearts out for anonymous teams going nowhere–is almost glad the Cards and Lewis got their One Shining Moment out of this trip.

I said almost. And it won’t even be that if BSU pushes the lead any further out than it is now.

— Auburn’s first real possession nets one first down, and then Terrell Zachery giveth on second down–juking his way past a linebacker to turn a six-yard loss into a six-yard gain–and Terrell Zachery taketh away on 4th-and-1, as his whiffed block strings McCalebb out on a pitch. McCalebb’s tackled for loss, and BSU is 46 yards away from making things kind of interesting.

— Commercial break, and dammit, it’s hard enough having to watch these Chik-Fil-A commercials when they don’t show a close-up of the sandwich itself. Mercy, Chik-Fil-A ad agency, I beg of you: please, mercy!

— This time it’s BSU’s turn to go for it on 4th-and-1, and they convert on a bootleg completion … that Etheridge flies over and savagely strips out of the tight end Fakes’s hands. Etheridge recovers, and not that I was worried, but now I don’t even have to worry about worrying. Parrish is incensed Fakes wasn’t called down, but the wonders of frame-by-frame DVR show that Etheridge had completed his stripping motion before Fakes’s knee hit the turf. We can’t see the ball, but assuming the strip is what caused Fakes to lose control of it, it’s the right call.

— Todd fires a dart to Adams for 9 yards on one of those we-kind-of-have-to-screw-this-up-ourselves-for-it-not-to-work-because-there’s-not-much-you-can-really-do-about-it out routes Auburn hasn’t completed regularly since The Year of the Good Brandon. It’s a thing of beauty.

— OK, 3rd-and-1, and Tate gets less than nothing over the right side. Look, obviously (it couldn’t be any more obvious, really) I’m no Gus Malzahn, but … this is Auburn’s second straight time trying to make a short-yardage conversion behind the right side of the line. You know, the side where we’ve just started a true freshman seeing his first-ever college action and a fifth-year senior converted from tight end who’s making his fourth career start. (Oh, and the side where Tate also just got stuffed on first down.) I dunno, wouldn’t the odds be at least a little higher running behind Berry and Ziemba? It’s not just me, is it?

— Kelly Page has now completed his first five passes as Rathbun tells us he’s “42-92 on the year with 2 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.” Thanks, I feel great about that.

— Well, at least Rathbun appears to have put the jinx on: Page stands in the pocket for a good several seconds too long on third down, and Daren Bates pops up to sack and strip. Bynes recovers (he or Stevens could have scored if both he and Stevens weren’t trying to recover the fumble) and Auburn has a short field to work with. The cameras catch Stan Parrish screaming “THROW THE BALL” at Page as he comes off the field. Good advice.

— Tate gets stuffed yet again testing the right side before Todd finds Adams just inside the BSU 10. Two plays later Todd starts selling the play-action fake before the ball is even snapped–he’s at a 45-degree angle to the line of scrimmage when he catches it–and Trott comes open in the end zone for the TOUCHDOWN. First of many, we hope. 7-7. Trooper Taylor, showing himself to be an equal-opportunity hype man, gives Todd the jump-hip-bump treatment. Todd looks appropriately awkward.

— Hull’s kickoff flies out-of-bounds. THEY ARE THE TEAMS CALLED SPECIAL.

— BSU tries to set up a screen and it’s blown to smithereens by Bates, who’s suddenly all over the place. He’s going to be a fine, fine player, if he’s not already. Someone should open up a House of Turkey and name it after him.

(Yes, I know, that’s a horrible joke. I’m sorry. We should open up something a little less conspicuous for him instead, like, I don’t know, a motel or something.)

— BSU punts, and Gulley awkwardly approaches the bouncing ball before scurrying away from it. Not instilling me with a lot of confidence here, Anthony. But hey, he’ll get another shot, because there’s a penalty on BSU and a re-kick, and he fields this one cleanly. Aaaaaaaaand takes two steps before being hit and–you’ll never, ever guess–fumbling the ball. (I know you didn’t guess.)

Auburn recovers, but I think that’s the last time this season we’ll hear baseball-playing and punt-returning analyzed re: ability to play one influencing the ability to do the other. (Which is a shame: Gulley’s got loads of potential and is by all accounts a great kid. Sure we’ll see him again soon in some capacity.)

SECOND QUARTER

— Auburn’s crossed midfield and throws a harmless-looking screen to Zachery … but when the opponent’s in man coverage and you’ve got Jay Wisner, “The Pride of Montana Even if Montana Doesn’t Know It Yet,” blocking for you, it ain’t so harmless. Zachery’s man gets juked out of his shoelaces and he’s gone, 46 yards for the Auburn TOUCHDOWN!14-7.

This is why Auburn’s rushing success is important–BSU has the usual seven guys in the box even though with two receivers split out to either side, that’s seven defenders for just five blockers and the RB. But they don’t want to risk getting gashed, and the result is one-on-one on the outside and leaving Zachery one shimmy away from six points. Good times.

— Turns out Philip Lutzenkirchen will only hold the Guiness World’s Record for Most Obvious Block in the Back for a week, because some BSU guy on their kickoff team just stole it away. I’m sure Lutz is devastated.

— OK, now this is the sort of thing I was expecting to see from the BSU offense v. Auburn defense match-up: after BSU starts on their own 8, Zach Clayton blows through the line for a five-yard loss on first down, and Bynes flies in untouched on second to tackle Lewis for a safety. Well done, gents, but what took you so long? 16-7.

A bug-eyed Parrish, meanwhile, is going absolutely grape-nuts at the officials and has to be mildly restrained by his assistants. For the life of me, I don’t understand what he’s on about. Alan has hypothesized Parrish thought Auburn had been offsides, but on replay: nope, no one jumps, no one appears to be in the neutral zone. The side judge dropped a flag for an illegal formation that Auburn declined, but … was Parrish’s possible expectation that would be an offsides call the only reason he went berserk? Between this litte moment and Parrish’s, ahem, enthusiastic coaching of Page after the fumble, I’m not getting the strongest “calm, steady hand of leadership” vibe from the BSU head man.

— Fannin’s return of the post-safety kickoff is Auburn’s best of the year, which means before it’s even finished you know there’s been a penalty committed somewhere. Hey, there it is. THEY ARE SPECIAL.

— Auburn runs the option with Todd and McCalebb, and you can see the difference between a well-coached, experienced defense like West Virginia’s and, well, Miss. St.’s or BSU’s–where the ‘Eers flew out to the pitch man and let Todd do his thing, the BSU linebacker reacts here by leaping out after Todd and leaving McCalebb to … no one. Dude, trust me on this one: the quarterback’s not the guy who can hurt you here.

The result is pretty much the same as it was against State, with the exception that Card corner Jason Pinkston makes a tremendous effort to sneak up and haul McCalebb down at the 1. It’s not an important effort, mind you, since McCalebb walks in for the TOUCHDOWN on the very next play. But a good effort nonetheless. 23-7.

— BSU’s offense takes over and does some … things. You know, stuff. That they … hold on … *yaaaaaaawwwwwn* … sorry. Stuff. That they do. Look, they’re running for 2 yards a pop and every one of their passes goes 3-5 yards downfield. Wake me up if they cross Auburn’s 35. (They don’t.)

— Todd drops back, pump fake, Zachery, wide open, TOUCHDOWN. Too easy. Questions about Todd’s arm strength are officially put out to pasture, now, by the way: this pass was a 45-yard rope that hit Zachery dead in stride. Until further notice, any throws that come up short are because Todd put too much air under them, not because his shoulder couldn’t get the ball down the field. It’s 30-7, and if there was ever any genuine drama in this game, it’s long gone now.

As an aside: is this game just two football gods playing NCAA ’10 on Xbox? Because Pinkston is a good six or seven yards behind Zachery as he races into the end zone, but Pinkston dives at him around the 5-yard line anyway. I swear it looks exactly like the classic “I can’t catch him, I’ll just make my players do things for the hell of it” video-game move. I didn’t see the little ring around his feet that showed that he was the player being controlled, but I bet it was there.

— Lewis is of course their best player and finally gets something going, running for 9 and 8 yards on back-to-back plays. Naturally, the Cards take him out immediately. And eventually turn the ball over on downs at Auburn’s 34. Good work there.

— Jared Cooper has taken over at right guard for this Auburn possession. And if you’re wondering why Sullen got the start over him, it might have something to do with Cooper getting torched on a third down McCalebb draw play and singlehandedly ruining what otherwise looked like a likely conversion.

— This is where Auburn tries the fake punt, and even if McCalebb would have run all day if Pinkston (there he is again!) had bitten on the fake run the other way, he didn’t, and it’s still just as stupid a call several days later as it was at the time. I SAID THEY WERE SPECIAL.

— Archer says that this is another “sudden-change situation” for the Auburn defense. Um … wasn’t Auburn lining up to punt on 4th-and-11? If the Auburn defense is truly surprised to be on the field,uh, they had truly stunning amount of confidence in that fake punt call.

— BSU kicks a field goal. 30-10. So it goes.

— We’ve seen plenty of Auburn’s big-play offense, but not as much of the “grind the ball methodically down the field” offense, so it’s nice to see it make an appearance on the (9-play, 49-yard)  final drive of the half. Auburn picks up a third down conversion when Travante Stallworth makes the first catch of his career and jukes his way for 16 yards. A family member gets soptted on camera holding up a “T. STALLWORTH: FUTURE STAR” poster, and that’s awesome (and after that catch, I agree), but I also sort of feel bad that that poster’s probably been brought to the game for four straight weeks and this is the first time they’ve really gotten to show it off.

— Byrum’s good from 32 and it’s 33-10 at the half. Could have been better, could have been a lot worse, too.

— Sideline reporter Jenn Hildreth asks Chizik about injuries to Burns and McCalebb as he leaves the field for halftime. Chizik avoids saying “Lady, the KGB couldn’t drag that information out of me” and laughing in her face, so that’s good. It wouldn’t have surprised me.

END OF HALF

Photo by Van Emst.

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