Same drill as last week.
— Your announcers for tonight’s game on the “SEC Network”: Bob Rathman and old Jefferson-Pilot friend Dave Archer. The pregame storyline is, of course, that it’s both Mullen’s and Chizik’s first game. Archer says both coaches want to get their programs back to doing what they do best, i.e. running a full-speed no-huddle multi-formation attack where both of the team’s two quarterbacks regularly line up at wide receiver. You know, the sort of thing this Auburn program was built on.
— Spirit’s wearing a selection of patriotic red, white, and blue ribbons for her flight to the field tonight in honor of 9/11. I ask you: did Mike the Tiger change his stripes to red and white for the occasion? Did he? Did Uga change the black on his little sweater to blue? I doubt it. Just another reason we have the most awesome mascot in existence.
— Our cameraman is a little confused on the opening kickoff, seeming to focus on the up-men and leaving McCalebb’s catch of the kick entirely off-screen. If you think this is an ill omen for the quality of this cameraman’s work for the duration of the game, you would think very, very correctly.
— Second play of the game, Ryan Pugh humiliates one of the State tackles and McCalebb glides through the middle untouched for 8. Nope, don’t think that domination up front last week was a fluke, sure don’t.
— Todd bad the passing game’s a little off, though. After a big Fannin run moves the ball across midfield, Todd misses an open Zachery down the right sideline as McCalebb whiffs in pass protection, and then Todd throws the third-down swing pass way the hell out in front of Fannin and incomplete. I guess it doesn’t matter, though–Zachery had missed his block and Fannin wasn’t going anywhere. It is Patriot Day weekend, right? Maybe Auburn should just follow the service academies’ example and run on every down.
— I have no doubt that with Mullen around, State’s not going to finish this game with 120 yards of offense and zero offensive points. But they’re not showing us why on their first possession: incompletion, run for nothing, false start, crazy Tyson Lee scramble, punt. (OK, so the Lee scramble only came up a yard short, but that’s not really the kind of play that makes you think “Hey, they have improved.”)
— OK, if there was ever a battle for “go-to wide receiver” on this team, it’s already over: Darvin Adams makes two long grabs on Auburn’s second possession to push his number of receptions to double any other wideout’s on the team. (And move the ball inside the State 20. I guess that’s important.)
— This is the kind of sequence that makes me want to find Gus Malzahn and buy him, like, three seasons of whatever his favorite TV show is (Sopranos? The Wire? something involved and operatic, I bet): Chris Todd quarterback draw for six (yes, I said “Chris Todd quarterback draw for six”), sudden switch to the Wildcat, three hurry-up straight-ahead carries for Burns from the State 10 to the 3 to the 1 to the TOUCHDOWN, Auburn! 7-0.
— It’s our first Eltoro “The Toro” Freeman sighting! Surprisingly, State fails to concede the moment he steps on the field, though he does tackle Christian Ducre for just a two-yard gain on his first play. Fortunately for Auburn that’s the most exciting thing that happens on the possession, as the rest of it goes incompletion, State timeout, four-yard QB draw, punt.
— After (another) long Fannin run moves the ball across midfield (again), we get the season’s first indication that maaaaaaaybe Todd’s shoulder still isn’t entiiiiiiirely 100 percent, as he gets good protection on a play-action pass and lofts it for an open Zachery in the end zone … only to watch it land somewhere around the 2 and nearly have it picked off. So we’ll just throw those passes a little earlier in the route, right? Right?
— Well, that might be the ugliest single down of Auburn’s offensive season so far: an unmolested Todd throws the ball a mile and a half over an open Fannin’s head as it turns out the reason he was so unmolested is because Ziemba was busy hauling down State lineman Pernell McPhee like a rodeo calf. Punt. (Downed at the 1, at least.)
— The Bulldogs manage to shove themselves out of the hole and even earn a 3rd-and-5 conversion when Daren Bates doesn’t quite find the right tackling angle on an option left. So good for them! But three plays later Chris Relf gets completely suckered in by a Roof zone blitz and throws a pick directly to Coleman, who returns it 20 yards and sneaks past the pylon (sort of) for the TOUCHDOWN! 14-0!
So … bad for them on that one. (By the by, props to Neiko Thorpe on this play, who races past Coleman during the return and makes the block that gets him into the end zone. Well done, sir.)
— Auburn follows that play with Hull blasting the kick into the end zone and Smith and Slade combining on a tackle on the State 17. Might as well leave now, Auburn fans! It’s a 14 point lead and our offense can’t be stopped! Same old Bulldogs! This one’s in the bag! I don’t know why I’m even still watching!
— Well, because they might do something like pick up yet another Auburn facemask penalty (STOP IT) and drive to the Tiger 32 as we come to the …
— … but it’s OK, because they’re facing 3rd-and-13 and Lee’s throwing a five-yard out. All Demond Washington has to do is not take a flying leap at the interception, miss, and watch the receiver stride away for an easy 20-yard gain. That’s all. All he has to do.
— OK, so after a completely whiffed Stevens tackle, it’s 1st-and-goal. And 2nd-and-goal. And now 3rd-and-goal, thanks to an accurate replay reversal and a solid tackle by Freeman. And now 4th-and-goal, thanks to Etheridge shooting through and taking Dixon’s legs out from under him. Do it, Auburn! Goal-line stand! Let’s go!
— No, I didn’t mean “go” as in “Get out of Dixon’s way,” guys. 14-7. No problem, no way they force this offense into a third punt in four possessions.
— OK, even though Durst is punting, I was right, because State had nothing to do with Ziemba false-starting Auburn out of 3rd-and-1 or Todd (whose pass is behind his target) and Adams (who should catch it anyway) combining to blow an easy, open six-yard out.
— Durst shanks it all of 27 yards. Clearly, I’ve gotten some kind of first draft of this game’s script, because this revised version I’m watching isn’t how things are supposed to go at all.
— 2nd-and-7 State on the Auburn 35, Relf fakes a counter handoff, and Bynes couldn’t bite any harder if you gave him cybertronic alligator jaws. Or something. Relf dashes politely through the opened-up acres of space down to the Auburn 9.
— Fortunately for Auburn, State returns the favor by holding Zach Clayton on a run around right end, politely backing themselves up to the 20. Still, the field goal is good three plays later, and State’s within 3. At least they don’t have the lead.
— On Auburn’s ensuing possession Todd hits Zachery for eight and then McCalebb takes the 3rd-and-1 handoff for six yards out the Auburn 47. So hey, things are back to normal. Except for the McCalebb loss of four on first down. And the blown snap count on Pugh’s part to set up 2nd-and-19. And Todd’s dangerous throw into deep coverage. And Adams failure to bring in a catchable ball for what would have been a massive third-down conversion. Except for all of that, Auburn’s right back on track. Or will be, at least, right after this punt.
— Oh heavens. Oh goodness gracious. The personal punt protectors give new meaning to the term “sieve-like” and Durst is buried. Blocked, returned, touchdown State, 17-14 Bulldogs, Durst is limping as he comes off the field. The wheels have come off the wagon. Flying, spinning, whirling off, in fact.
— Now is the time when Auburn could use one of those nice, fancy, newfangled drive things Malzahn’s talked about where we just flat run over them. Tate returning to carry for 28 yards and two first downs over three snaps is a pretty good start on that, I’d say.
— McCalebb takes an option pitch wide left (why State’s bothering to cover Todd on these things, I don’t know), Trott shoves a guy out of the way, and when the safety makes one of those hopeless dives that doesn’t even come close to clipping FAST’s heels, you know he’s freaking gone, baby. 48 yards, TOUCHDOWN! 21-17! State’s lead lasted all of 1:36 in clock time. Time to start breathing again.
— State gets one first down, and then it’s Dixon for 2, Dixon for loss of 1, Dixon again for … come on … whew. 8. 4th-and-1, State punts the ball back to Auburn with 1:29 left in the half. Got news for ya, Bulldogs: that’s way too much time this year.
— Not that Auburn looks like taking advantage of it with a awkward sidearm incompletion thrown Fannin’s direction on first down and a swing to him for three on second. Then: to Adams along the sideline for 21. Tate for 5. To Adams on the pump fake for 28. As Ziemba lines up out wide and as he waves his arm in the most obvious LOOK AT ME display since peacocks were invented, to Adams for another 20 yards and 1st-and-goal on the 1. Ask State about this drive later and they’ll sound like they were in a car accident: It all happened so fast …
— With just 21 seconds left and Auburn having taken its last timeout after the previous play, Burns can’t afford to go down in bounds if he’s running the ball … and he is … and he doesn’t, because it’s a TOUCHDOWN! 28-17! Man, is this team scary–in the bad way, sure, with the series of possessions going thbbbppt and the special teams catastrophes, but going from down 3 to leading by two possessions in just under four-and-a-half minutes is some awfully frightening stuff in its own right.
— State takes a knee, and that’s the half.