— That … what do you say about that? Craziest, nutzoidest, most back-and-forth game Auburn’s played in ages. I’m spent. Utterly spent. I barely even screamed when Thorpe drove the NU ball-carrier out-of-bounds, I was so sure something else was going to give the ‘Cats a 15th chance. Insane. Fun, in a lot of ways–we’re going to be talking about this one for a long, long time, that much is certain–but insane.
— Just when I couldn’t be any more frustrated with Auburn’s offense or more disappointed in Gus Malzahn, voila: back-to-back scoring drives and a 14-point fourth-quarter lead. This game was so, so close to becoming another gut punch; when the offense absolutely, positively had to get off the deck and give their team a chance to win, it did. 28 points and 400-plus yards with this group of players against a BCS-conference defense … I’ll take that every time.
— What a freaking incredible play by Thorpe on the final snap. He should have been blocked. It should have been a touchdown. Auburn should have lost. But he made the play. After dropping back into coverage for 78 different pass attempts and staying on the field for a bunch of special teams plays on top of it.
— Which is why, even after looking at Kafka’s gaudy final stat line–47-78, 532 yards–the secondary deserves the game ball. It wasn’t just McFadden and Thorpe–T’Sharvan Bell (!!!) had two massive picks. Daren Bates was all over the place. Demond Washington did everything we could have asked of him (save, of course, not fumbling the ball on Auburn’s final possession of regulation). Drew Cole was on the field for overtime and made a nice open-field tackle. In the end, for all his yards, Kafka wasn’t particularly threatening–6.8 yards per-attempt, and if you take away the 66-yard run by Dunsmore, it’s a lot less than that–and those picks were the difference in even getting Auburn to overtime. Huge game by that unit.
— The fumble by Tate sucked. Sucked. The game should have been over. But every now and again, it happens. Whatever. I might be able to deal.
The dunk, however, was one of the most selfish things I can remember an Auburn player doing. It’s one thing for an excitable player to get a little overexcited, a la McFadden, even if the glaring lack of discipline from one of your senior leaders is beyond disappointing. But to consciously go through with a celebration like that that you know beyond all doubt will cost your team 15 yards, just because “hey, the game’s won, I’ve always wanted to do this, screw it” … that’s horrible. Horrible. I’d have preferred to see him sit the rest of the game.
— Still: I’m glad he gets to walk off the field one final time a winner. I’m even gladder for Coleman, Todd, Ricks, McFadden, McCain (who did an excellent job on Wootton) and all the rest. That’s really the biggest positive out of this game: those seniors get to remember their final game fondly, and as something other than a third consecutive kick in the balls.
— More heroes: Darvin Adams, and his 12 catches for 142 yards (take THAT, All-SEC voters); Coleman, whose blocked extra point I think screwed just enough with Demos’s head to force the regulation-ending miss; and Gabe McKenzie, who celebrated his final appearance with a sack and plenty of other positive contributions when NU’s huge play-glut–they ran 115 plays to Auburn’s 72!–meant Auburn had to get something from their second string.
— Your final tally on the first season of the Gene Chizik era: 8-5, two big, big wins over nonconference opponents, a win on New Year’s Day, just about the best possible performance vs. the Tide, wins over two upper-half SEC teams … yessir, I will take it.
— Do take a second–just a second–to feel some sympathy for Northwestern. This was the biggest game of their season, just as last year’s bowl game was the biggest game of that season. Both times they arguably outplayed their opponents and had their chances to win both in regulation and in OT; both times they lost. That is an extremely well-coached team that very obviously gets the absolute most out of its talent, and I tip my cap to them.
— And finally: War Eagle. I’m going to take the rest of the day to process whatever the hell just happened and watch the rest of a mouth-watering slate of bowl games, then be back tomorrow with some more big- and small-picture thoughts.
It’s worth saying again: War. Damn. EAGLE.
— Hard to describe how big that T’Sharvan Bell interception is, isn’t it? Instead of a 14-point swing and Northwestern going into the half with all the momentum, Auburn’s still two solid touchdowns up and will get the ball first to start the second half. Auburn could easily be up more than those two scores, but at this point you have to say the ‘Cats could be even more easily 7 points closer or even tied.
— Walt McFadden is the freaking man, man. What the ESPN crew (who I think has actually been pretty good today) failed to mention when discussing whether he should have been out there for the last NU drive was that Auburn just doesn’t have anyone to replace him. If Bell, Hood, and Washington are already on the field … who’s on the sideline?
— I don’t think I’m worried about Auburn’s offense, because if they’ll ever quit shooting themselves in the foot–a la Todd’s poor throw on the 4th-down play to Adams (more on this in a sec), Eddins’ dreadfully stupid tripping penalty (singlehandedly ending a promising drive that had already crossed midfield is not the way to start making your case for a starting job in ’10, Bart), the Kodi pick–they’re going to put some serious points on the board. Northwestern hasn’t done much themselves to stop the Spread Eagle, so if the kinks get worked out …
— About the Adams fourth-down play: it’s a terrible, terrible call, obviously. But I’m not going to complain that much, for two reasons: 1. the replay booth provided the critical game-altering reversal in the Ole Miss game, so Auburn was due for one of these kinds of bonings 2. that just made it Auburn’s turn to get a hand from the officials, which they got by letting Carr’s rather obvious push-off go uncalled.
For the record, I’d rather see a play like that go flagless on general principle. But I’ve also seen that play called a million times. Kudos to Carr for the play, but Auburn also caught a break there. A breaks they deserved after the Adams screw-job, of course, but a break nonetheless.
— 288 total yards allowed in the first half. Holy crap. Three different Auburn drives that crossed midfield totaling zero points. Also holy crap. Again: maybe Auburn ought to be only a few points up, but maybe they also ought to be a few more points ahead. Weird half.
— Bottom line: I think, as I did ahead of time, that Auburn’s got the better all-around team despite the yardage mismatch. If they play like it in the second half, they win. See you post-game.
— Mountain Time. 11 a.m. Eastern kickoff. New Year’s. Ugh. Let’s do aim for the Cap One next year, shall we fellas?
— Hey, it’s raining this morning in Tampa. On the one hand, that ought to play into Auburn’s hands, since w’ere the team with the strong running game and they’re the team that can’t run their way out of a paper bag. On the other, way more chilling hand, that makes for a terrifying parallel between this game and the epic Bowden no-show against Penn State in the rain in ’95.
— I’ll admit that both teams going up-tempo should make for a hell of game. I’ve seen this game dinged as unexciting in more than a few places, but it should be close, fast-paced, well-coached … what else do people want?
— Back at halftime with some insta-analysis (and some coffee). Let’s go, Auburn. War Eagle!