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The Iron Bowl recap, half the first

Finally, I know. But it’s not like I was anxious to relive this thing. My heart had a bad enough time the first go-round.

Here is what we think of your Heisman Trophy, sir.
Here is what we think of your Heisman Trophy, sir.

PREGAME

— It’s the Iron Bowl! On CBS! Spencer Tillman declares that Auburn doesn’t have enough depth to contain Mark Ingram, and man, forget the SI cover: when Spencer Tillman speaks well of your chances, then you’re screwed.

— Finally, finally, Auburn makes an appearance on the big (well, bigger) network stage … and wouldn’t you know it, because Verne and Gary are too busy offering “Tim Tebow” his usual Friday mani-pedi, we’re stuck with Craig Bolerjack and Steve Beuerlein, pulled fresh out of the network’s college mothballs.

(Note here that Verne and Gary weren’t offering the mani-pedi to the actual Tebow. I like the actual Tebow and don’t think he gets mani-pedis. Verne and Gary hired one of those sandwich-board advertising guys off the street, dressed him up like Tebow, and gave him the mani-pedi. Verne and Gary get to pretend they’re grooming the Bestest Best Player Of Ever, the sandwich-board guy gets his nails into the best shape of their life, and Tebow goes about his normal Friday business. Everybody wins.)

— We get a snippet of Punt Bama Punt in the obligatory pregame “history of the series” montage, and I swear to you that when I am 111 years old and all my teeth have fallen out and been replaced by gravel and I need the help of cold metal robots to get out of bed and my grandchildren only call three times a week the ungrateful so-and-sos and my bones are made out of pain, I will be able to watch those punts getting blocked and I will smile all damn day.

— Chizik fires up the team by telling them to play for the fans and their teammates, not themselves. “Remove all sense of self,” he says.

That’s our coach. War Eagle.

FIRST QUARTER

— Morgan Hull kicks it out of bounds to start the game. Not so good. But then again, kicking off deep to Arenas: also not so good. Much, much better chance of corralling him on a boot into the corner. And so there’s your first (of what I’ve no doubt will be many) risk/reward decision of the game.

— Ingram in the Wildcat on first down: Ricks bulls in to disrupt the timing, gain of 3. Ingram hand-off on second: Evans fights off a block from James Carpenter (the LT!) and tackles, gain of 2. McElroy drops back on third: no one open, flushed, throws, very close to a sensational play from Julio Jones but he’s ruled out-of-bounds. Replay? No replay, for reasons I’m not sure about, and ‘Bama PUNTS! Bwa ha. The punt even charitably goes into the end zone. Yes, I would say that was a satisfactory recovery from the kickoff snafu.

— Auburn first possession: nothing on first, little play-action dump to Fannin sets up 3rd-and-short, McCalebb picks up the first on a wide pitch as Trott gets a great block. First down, reverse to Zachery … and where is the Tide? GO ZACHERY! GO! GO GO GO GO YEAAAAAHHHH! TOUCHDOWN, AUBURN! 67 yards! 7-0 Tigers!

Oh man oh man oh man was that sweet. Replay: Tate gets the key block, sealing Eryk Anders inside after Anders bit like a biting machine. Ziemba, Adams, Carr, and Fannin all get big blocks downfield, and Zachery does the rest. Pretty cool to see Todd sprint all the way to the goal line trying to get a block in, too.

7-0. Oh man.

— ONSIDES THEY KICKED IT ONSIDES BYRUM’S GOT IT HOLY CRAP! AUBURN BALL! HOLY FREAKING CRAP!

Perfect call, perfect execution by Byrum. Tide totally unprepared and the only guy with a prayer of getting to it–Brad Smelley–is flattened by Darvin Adams.

How do you prepare to take on the best team in the country? You prepare the way Gene Chizik and his staff have prepared Auburn.

— Tate runs twice, 13 yards, first down. Hold on Trott, dammit, 1st-and-20. 2nd-and-15, double-throw from Burns to Todd to Adams … complete! First down at the Tide 28. Next play: flip to Burns, going deep, incomplete. The stops, they’re all getting pulled out today … and it’s worth noting right here that those stops work a lot better when the offensive line is utterly dominating the Tide front, as they are right now.

— Todd QB draw: no one home for the Tide, 13 yards. 70 percent of the time, that play works every time. Two plays later it’s 3rd-and-6 on the 11, and hoooooo boy Auburn catches a break here: Ziemba false starts (of course he does), negating what for all the world looks like it would have been a Burns interception and possible pick-six the other way and, as Auburn’s cherry on top, prompting the disappointed Justin Woodall to throw the ball away in anger and pick up an unsportsmanlike conduct flag. The false start means it ought to be 3rd-and-11. The interception means it ought to be Alabama ball or even 7-7. And instead it’s 3rd-and-2 on the Tide’s 7 yard line.

On the awesome scale, so far this game lands somewhere between Chuck Norris Facts and sex.

— Tate up the middle: 5 yards! First-and-goal on the 2. Tate direct snap: nothin’. Pitch to Tate: half a yard. Todd play-action, to Smith, TOUCHDOWN! TOUCHDOWN AUBURN! It’s 14-0 over Alabama.

14-0.

Over.

Alabama.

I can’t … I can’t even process this kind of joy. If Auburn ends up winning this game, I think I’m going to blow a fuse and walk around the rest of my life as the world’s happiest, most blissful catatonic.

— Should Alabama have seen the onsides coming? Morgan Hull has been their kickoff specialist on the two deep kickoffs … both of which, now, have gone out-of-bounds. Buzzkill in the first degree, Morgan.

— Coleman murders Carpenter on 2nd-and-5 and tosses his corpse into Ingram; loss of 4. 3rd-and-9, great coverage, Blanc, SACK! Three-and-out. I don’t think I can’t feel my toes.

— Washington (who made an outstanding play to hold the Tide’s last first-down play to 5 yards) muffs the punt return, because it’s the year 2009 and that’s what happens, even today. Auburn takes over on their own 18 having outgained the Tide 144-5. Is there another shoe? Will it drop on this drive? Because it’s one thing to be down two scores in the first quarter on the road. It’s another to be down three. come on, Auburn: still too early for a knockout, but you can put ’em on the ropes.

— Oh heavens. Oh my. 2nd-and-5, Todd fakes the swing to Fannin, the Tide ‘backers bite like new-and-improved biting machines 2.0, Trott couldn’t be more open … and Todd sails it a mile over his head, nearly getting it picked by safeties 10 yards behind the play. That … that was the Todd from the Arkansas and Kentucky games. Come on, Chris. We need you, man. Can’t win this without you.

— Same exact play: Trott’s open again (thought not by as much), Todd misses him again (though not by as much). That sequence is an ill, ill omen indeed. (At least the second miss didn’t matter as much, what with Unfrozen Caveman Referee Penn Wagers flagging Auburn for a phantom illegal shift. You might remember Wagers as the same ref who flagged Auburn for snapping too quickly against Ole Miss, the same ref who’s just a humble caveman, who’s confused and frightened by all of Auburn’s shifts and motion. Sometimes, watching Auburn, he just wants to run away to his cave in the hills! But he does know one thing: that play was a penalty!)

— Alabama starts at their own 42 after Durst (correctly) boots it out of bounds. 2nd-down pass on a crossing route is complete; it’s the Tide’s first first down. Similar route picks up 8 on 2nd-and-10 to set up another conversion. Dump-off in the same area to Ingram picks up 6 as the quarter ends. Looks like Auburn’s having some problems covering receivers underneath, especially on crossing routes. Hopefully that’s not the sort of weakness that’ll come back to haunt them at the worst possible time or anything.

SECOND QUARTER

— It’s all right, leading 14-0 after one still feels pretty good. Trent Richardson for 6. Screen to Richardson for 13. Richardson for 5. Richardson for 2, touchdown. 14-7. OK, I don’t feel nearly as good now.

Beuerlein blithers on and on–even after half-a-dozen replays and a commercial break–about Terrence Cody helping out on the touchdown, even though the replay couldn’t show any clearer that Cody’s block had nothing to do with Richardson’s actual run (which went to whole other side of the line) and that Cody was solely on the field for decoy purposes. But hey, he’s a big fat guy who plays defense lining up at fullback! Who cares if he actually makes any difference?

— After a terrific play by Fannin to turn a nothing screen into six yards, Auburn has 3rd-and-4. 3rd-and-4, as you loyal WBE readers know, has been something of a bugaboo for Auburn this year as Malzahn has insisted on calling drop-back passes that Auburn has had little success with. On this occasion, Alabama brings a corner blitz and …

you know what, let’s just skip ahead to where Alabama has the ball again after the punt.

— Alabama throws two more underneath passes, to Peek and to Jones, and pick up a quick 20 yards to go from their 35 to Auburn’s 45, 2nd-and-5. Ingram: Bynes blows things up and Blanc tackles for a gain of 2. Finally on third down Auburn gets some pressure–Bynes again–and McElroy has to throw this short pass into the umpire’s, uh, I’m hoping it was his hip. That may actually have been a break for ‘Bama–McFadden was in great position and might have picked it. Yay punt!

— Boo muff! Boo heart attack!

— OK, Auburn offense: your last two possessions resulted in two three-and-outs. The defense has to be wearing a little thin here in the second quarter, so you really, really need to get a couple of first downs and at least flip the field position here.  What we don’t want is another three-and-out. You’ll basically be guaranteeing a Tide touchdown, or at least a field goal. So no three-and-outs, got it? No three-and-outs! Let’s go!

[Three plays later]

DAMMIT AUBURN WHAT DID I JUST SAY?

(Seriously, this last play-call–a straight hand-off on 3rd-and-9–is not what Auburn needs. They can’t play safe, “let’s just punt” football. One of the few times during this game I disagree with the Auburn approach. Of course, Beuerlein praises it to the hilt.)

— Well, it’s 3rd-and-9 on Auburn’s 35. Maybe I was wrong about ‘Bama being a lock for points on this drive?

[One failed safety blitz with Bynes covering Colin Peek one-on-one and McElroy making a perfect throw later]

No, no, I was right.14-14.

Well.

Well then.

AAAAAARRRGGGHHH.

(By the by, this ‘Bama possession started with McFadden having a shot at picking off a slightly overthrown deep ball and having it bounce off his hands. Those are the kinds of opportunities Auburn cannot blow and win this game. And they blew it.)

— Auburn starts at the 20 after Bates’s (deserved) roughing-the-passer flag gives Tiffin an easy touchback, and Fannin gets outside on another reverse for 14. Saban, already no doubt steamed by the blown assignments on the Zachery reverse, throws a conniption fit in his defenders’ direction worthy of a Wal-Mart six-year-old. So awesome–that was almost as much fun as the touchdowns.

(OK, not quite that fun. And on replay, Ziemba’s out in front and can spring Fannin for some serious yardage if he can do more than just get in Kareem Jackson’s way for a second; he doesn’t.)

— Anders interferes with Fannin on the wheel route and all of a sudden Auburn’s gotten back-to-back first downs. Again, though, you have to wonder what might have been: if Todd can get this out in front of Fannin instead of hanging it up on one of his patented underthrows, this is potentially six points.

–Tate rumbles for 10 and it’s three first downs in three plays, and Auburn’s in business on the Tide 40. Todd, pump fake, sacked, fumble, Tide recovers, shoot me in the face.

Horrible breakdown in blitz pickup: Tate’s in pass-pro but wanders off to the right to block no one as two blitzers scream in from the left. Ziemba picks up one, but it’s the outside one; it’s supposed to work inside-out, right? Then for your giant cherry on top, Todd isn’t exactly blindsided but still drops the ball so easily you’d think he’s on the famous game show Drop Stuff for Dollars.

Worst of all: the linebackers again bite on the pump-fake, so if Todd has time, this play could go for huge yards. So many missed opportunities. It hurts.

— Auburn’s in trouble: Richardson for 4. Pass underneath to Jones for 12. Richardson for 5. And it’s 2nd and 5 on Auburn’s 27. Trailing at halftime after the start Auburn had: no fun. No fun at all.

— McElroy makes his biggest mistake of the half, throwing along the sideline when he could run for a first, and slinging it straight into Thorpe’s arms. He drops it.

And there goes another clump of hair, pulled out and discarded. I guess I didn’t really need it. And OK, I feel a lot better after the Tide decide to abandon the short passing game that’s been so effective for them and run (?) a toss sweep to Ingram (??) on 3rd-and-a long 4 (???). Carter strings it out, Bynes cleans up, and I can’t believe that Leigh Tiffin’s on the field. Huge dodge for Auburn after the turnover.

— Tiffin … misses! From 42! Mike Blanc with what may have been a block. Whew. If Auburn can get into the half with the game tied up, I’ll be plenty, plenty happy.

— Or … could they take the lead? Swing to Fannin for a first, then a big throw down the sideline to Adams for 27, and with 1:07 left Auburn’s on the Tide 36. Another five yards or so and Byrum’s in business.

— Which is why a three-yard loss trying to set up a screen with Fannin–not to mention the shot he takes and the possible concussion he suffers–is so damn maddening. Come on, Auburn. Just a field goal try. All I’m asking.

— Nope: incomplete on failed screen pass, incomplete on hurried drop-back pass, punt. Sigh.

— I’m guessing Alabama will let the clock run out on the half? Yep.

OK, 14-14. Could be better, but could sure as hell be worse.

Photo by Van Emst.

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In 1953, a Bama student, either out of self-loathing, or in an attempt to rile his team to victory in the upcoming Iron Bowl, painted not just random doors and alleys of his own campus with Auburn slogans, but Denny freakin' Chimes. So when someone tries to stop you from relieving yourself on the Saban statue at this year's game, just tell them: "I learned it from watching you."