OK, getting down to more of the nuts-and-bolts of Saturday’s game …
— I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but the Dawgs won this game on the defensive line. The Auburn offensive line has given up some QB pressure from time-to-time and struggled opening running lanes from time-to-time, but this is the first time this season they’ve done both of those things for as long as they did against Georgia. Getting Tate shut down was particularly big–even Auburn’s touchdown drives came after strings of 3rd-and-long conversions that even new-and-re-improved Todd wouldn’t be able to keep up for a whole game, or even a whole drive. Todd, Adams, and McCalebb were good enough to get the ball across midfield, but without Tate, there was just too much ground to cover on second and third down to finish things off.
So the answer, I think, to the question of what Auburn did differently on those first two drives they didn’t do the rest of the game is “nothing.” Georgia just got the pass rush going on 3rd-and-long and Todd naturally didn’t have quite as much luck in those situations as he did in the first quarter.
— Boy, not that this is the first time one of my predictions has been “Dewey Defeats Truman”-grade FAIL, but my contention Friday that Auburn would match up well with Georgia’s running game ranks up there with the best/worst of them. Losing the Toro hurt, of course, but the Dawgs were already punching some huge holes in the Auburn line and Washington just couldn’t provide the kind of run support an already-hamstrung linebacking corps needed. I can admit this, too: Ealey was a lot better than I expected him to be.
— Man, I hate to do it, but it’s time to call a spade a spade: Neiko Thorpe just hasn’t been as good as I thought he would be this season. Another questionable-to-poor game from him, and though I don’t want to make any kind of pronouncement about the coaching job here, between Thorpe and the very occasional struggles at the nickel, cornerback might be the one spot on the team where Auburn’s maybe not playing up to their talent level. We’ll see what happens next year, when hopefully there’ll be more than three or four healthy corners on the team.
— I knew Auburn was in trouble when Georgia kept handing them chances to put the stake through their heart in the first half and the Auburn offense just kept declining. The Tigers started five drives spanning the end of the first quarter through the start of the third at the Georgia 44 and their own 39, 42, 39, and 37 … and produced two first downs and zero points. Blecch.
— That kind of field position comes in part from good defense, but it also has a ton to do with special teams, and that’s what’s most frustrating about this defeat: for the first time all season Auburn not only won the special teams battle but won it decisively. Durst was on fire; Todd nailed his pooch punt again; Washington put together the best punt return of the season (and kicked his fumble out of bounds, thank heavens) and then of course housed the kick return that made that last Auburn drive worth watching in the first place. If you’ve told me before the game that Todd would go 20-for-28 for 8.5 an attempt and Auburn would score on a kick return while not allowing Georgia any special-teams-related short fields, I’d have beta substantial amount of money on the Tigers pulling the game out.
— But when you finish -2 in turnover margin and have five possessions that cross midfield without scoring points, those sorts of things happen. The second Todd pick, in particular, was the biggest play of the game by a mile-and-a-half.
— I forget the exact numbers, but Tubby had an unbelievable run in close games from 2001-2006, going something like 17-5 in games decided by a TD or less. I don’t know of a statistically-minded football writer anywhere who’d view that as sustainable, and so I have to wonder if that bill is finally coming due: not counting this year’s Tennessee game (which of course was a four-point game in name only), Auburn has now lost five straight one-possession games. It might also be worth noting that the only other team to reproduce Auburn’s mid-decade success in nailbiters, Wake Forest, has lost five games by a total of 13 points this season.
— Credit to Baccari Rambo and the Georgia secondary: their tackling on Tate was as solid as any team’s that’s faced Auburn this season. Very glad Rambo will be OK. (Do have to note here, however, that if Rambo’s hit guaranteed that Fannin would drop the ball, it was already a drop before the hit occurred. The ball had hit Fannin in the hands and bounced off of them.)
— Gus, you’re great, you’re amazing, don’t ever think I don’t think that, but you’ve got to quit pulling out the wacky stuff on critical third downs. It’s just not working. (And while we’re at it: this is twice in two games huge plays have been brought back not by holds or clips or even illegal procedures, but by illegal shifts, a penalty that’s nothing more than a wide player getting antsy and moving a place he shouldn’t before the snap. More discipline is needed from your charges, thanks.)
— Man, was it nice to have McCalebb back, even a half-strength version.
— Four straight losses to the Dawgs: Sigh.