First, a word of introduction: this is the continuation of the game recaps I wrote over at the old place, which ended up taking two forms: 1. a rough series-by-series breakdown laced with jokes, little observations, cracks on the announcers, etc., like so, the point of which was to be funny and allow visitors to “relive” the game on the blog page 2. a detailed play-by-play recap complete with plus-minus charting for most players, like so, the point of which was to accurately analyze and evaluate Auburn’s strengths and weaknesses and individual player performance.
I tried out style No. 2 during the second half of last year, and though I loved having the insight that came with the analytical, fine-toothed-comb approach, but I can be honest about this: the play-by-play was a total slog to read (and to write). I missed the more free-flowing, emotionally-charged style of the former recaps, so this year I’m going with the best of both worlds: old-school write-ups, but I’ll chart during the rewatch and present those conclusions separately, sans play-by-play.
So, watch for that–and the second half–tomorrow, as a starting point for WBE’s preparation for the Miss. St. game. Without further ado …
–Your announcers: the legendary Eric Collins and the equally legendary Brock Huard! As they’ll be on SEC evening-game duty all season, they wisely take all of 10 seconds before beginning the “SEC RuLeZ, ur conference dRooLz” sucking up.
— Chizik is asked about his emotions pregame by sideline reporter Beth Mowins and responds by using the word “blessed” about eight times in six seconds. Given the gulf between coaching a 5-19 team in Ames and coaching Auburn in Auburn, yeah, I bet that’s how he feels.
— Three plays in and we’ve seen 1. Tate find a ton of space over the right side despite having four receivers split out 2. Zachery take a flip reverse for 11 3. Burns take a snap with Todd split out wide. You know those movies where some ghost gets exorcised and there’s some horrible scream as it disintegrates into thin air? I think I just saw the specter of Tony Franklin drop a set of ethereal books and screech “Someone fiiiiiind meeeeeee a reporterrrrrr!” as he dissolved into the air above the stadium.
— Collins apparently thinks it’s “McCollubb,” but hey, it’s not like he’s had much time to prepare for this game.
— Todd keeps on the zone read … while the defensive end sits there and waits for him and Tate strides untouched into the hole with blockers in front of him. (At least he cuts back into that same hole for 3.) Hope you paid attention, because you may not see that again. Like, all season.
— On 3rd-and-3 across midfield, Todd can’t find anyone open despite a ton of time (Hi, we’re Auburn’s wide receiving corps!) and grounds the ball, only for Auburn to escape when Tech’s called for a Charmin-soft “blow to the head” penalty. (This is the nice thing about rewatching games: thanks to the upcoming interference flag on McFadden, I don’t feel the slightest bit sheepish about it.)
— OK, so maybe not everything’s exorcised just yet: Ziemba false starts to ruin what looked like a walk-in TD for Burns. You’re just joshing us with that kind of stuff, right, Lee? Right? Byrum hits a chippie and it’s 3-0 Auburn.
— Tech fumbles a first down snap–tee hee hee–and Ricks and Goggans blow up a 2nd-down running play, leaving Tech in 3rd-and-16. Ha ha! Get your punting team ready now, Bulldogs!
— Now comes that flag. The one on McFadden. You know the one. “I don’t think Gene Chizik liked that call one bit,” Huard says as Chizik tells the closest official in no uncertain terms that lizard eggs must have hatched in his brain overnight. No, Brock, I don’t think so either.
— Two facemask penalties later–that’s 45 yards’ worth of flags on the drive, if you’re keeping track, or five yards less than half the freaking field–Tech QB Ross Jenkins hits his tight end down the seam for a 19-yard TD. 7-3 Tech, dammit. Adam Herring’s on the coverage and … you know, he’s forgiven, because 1. The coverage was not all that bad; Jenkins made a hell of a throw 2. Dude came back from heel surgery a week ago. Get ‘em next time, Adam. (And if you’re wondering why Tech won 8 games last year, it’s because their coaches are smart enough to think “Hey, what if we went after the guy who came back from heel surgery a week ago?”)
— As Auburn grinds Tech for three, four, five yards a pop (and Todd hits Fannin for a big gain on the first deep shot of the year), we get a couple of shots of Malzahn exhorting the team to GO GO GO I SAID GO and … well, he looks every bit the “great big nerd whose genius just happened to be football instead of the violin” he’s been promised to be. Speaking as a great big nerd myself, I couldn’t be happier to have him.
— Speaking of “couldn’t be happier,” over two plays 2008 QB A throws a perfect strike to Fannin on a third-down out pattern to set up 1st-and-goal, and then 2008 QB B runs in untouched from the Wildcat for the Auburn TOUCHDOWN! 10-7! It’s like Khrisodi Burn-Stodd’s come back to us, but he’s gotten a haircut, dropped 15 pounds, and has a job and a 25-percent stake with this software start-up that’s on the verge of going public. Or something.
— Tech’s moving the ball, but primarily via little swings to this shifty Livas kid (who Auburn’s playing waaaaaay off of in a nod to his deep speed … or at least, I hope that’s what they’re doing). They’re not getting any push or protection up front … which is why I’m confused when they call a slow-as-snail-molasses play-action pass on 1st down just across midfield. Stevens bites on the fake, overruns the play badly, and still has more than enough time to regroup and sack Jenkins for a six-yard loss. Can you call that one again sometime, Bulldogs? Please? Preferably after Auburn’s turned the ball over and the momentum is shifted precariously towards you guys? Just wanted to get that little request in. Thanks.
— Tech punts, and in Fannin’s much-awaited debut as the starting punt returner, the ball bounces right off his shoulder pads and disappears under a pile of bodies just outside the Auburn 10. The Tigers recover, but not before I develop an arrythmia. I now await Fannin’s much-awaited removal as starting punt returner. (Major kudos to Chris Humphries, the redshirt freshman walk-on who recovers the fumble. Major demerits to the ESPN crew, who never bother to mention his name on what might end up the biggest play of his Auburn career.)
— Speaking of heart problems, Todd starts the Auburn drive by slipping around like a cartoon character on banana peels while trying a delayed handoff to McCalebb. Somehow, some way the handoff comes off without a hitch–surely Auburn’s not so sneaky as to have Todd pretend he’d lost his footing?–and McCalebb turns on the FAST for 11 yards. Here, just a sec, I’ll look up the number of times a play like this didn’t end in disaster for Auburn last season.
OK, it’s zero. That’s what I thought.
— Auburn winds up punting a few plays later, but before La. Tech can do anything with it … well, that’s not quite right, because Jenkins does do something with it. What he does is fake a handoff, bobble it, and flat drop it on the ground–I’ve watched the replay a dozen times, and while Ricks is close by, he never touches him–to hand Nick Fairley a fumble recovery on the Tech 32. Auburn is in business.
— Oops, I guess, they’re not, because Tate just hung a “Going Out of Business Sale: All Balls Must Go (on the Ground)!!!” in the metaphorical window. By which I mean he fumbled. On the Tech 6. This is (mostly) a family blog, or this would be where the swears and sailors’ oaths would go.
— At least Auburn has the Bulldogs pinned deep. Until Jenkins starts hitting a whole series of underneath passes–some of them solid throws, some of them depressingly wide open–to move Tech across midfield. Oath. But at least Auburn forces Tech to convert a 3rd-and-3. Until Goggans is flagged for–you guessed it–a facemask. Oath! But at least Auburn forces Tech to convert another third down, this one 3rd-and-4, on the 29. Until Bynes whiffs the world’s simplest tackle on an easy dump-off to hand Tech a first down on the 18. OATH! But hey, 3rd-and-10 on the 18? Jenkins up the middle for 11. OATH OATH OATH *head explodes*
— Oh thanks heavens. After moving to the 3, Tech decides to throw on both 2nd- and 3rd-and goal. Coverage is terrific–Thorpe is all over his man on the fade–and Tech settles for the field goal. 10-10. Which, whew. I can handle being tied at the half, but going into the locker room down to this bunch would have been a very ill omen indeed. Not that giving up an 18-play, 90-yard drive is all that great of an omen regardless.
— OK, time to offer up a token handoff and get ready for the second half. Of course, McCalebb’s as nice a weapon as you could have for that sort of thing–and hey, sure enough, he picks up a quick 9 on the wrap-around handoff. Two timeouts, will Malzahn take a deep shot? Todd drops back … FANNIN! 20 yards! Timeout! This is so worth this many exclamation points.
–So, is Wes Byrum back? From 49 yards … PERFECT. Not possible for him to look more back than looked right there. And–somehow–Auburn leads at halftime, 13-10. That is, as the saying goes, what I am talking about.
Photo by TWER’s Zac Henderson.