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The Outback Bowl recap, half the second

Hoo boy. I doubt you’ve forgotten this, but for the record, this must have been the most … eventful half of football Auburn’s played since I’m guessing the J**n V****n game. This was not the sort of game this recap format was designed to cover.

But cover it we must. First, though, an announcement: you can see every Auburn offensive play–including the Ben Tate run from the first half that had me tackling various parts of furniture in excitement the other other day–in the clip reel available here, courtesy of the Auburner.

THIRD QUARTER

— Announcer exchange to start the second half:

Chris Spielman: “Auburn’s done a great job of executing on the offensive side of the ball. Ben Tate’s got 70 yards, so …”

Bob “Taco” Griese, speaking over the top of him: “They’re definitely the Rodney Dangerfield of the Big Ten. Northwestern gets no respect.”

[brief moment of terrible awkwardness]

Dave Pasch: *throws it to the sideline as quickly as possible*

Even without the taco business, dude, Griese was toast as toast can be.

— Auburn takes the opening kickoff and moves across midfield on a 3rd-and-15 conversion, Todd to Adams–the line is manhandling the ‘Cats on passing plays–and then converts 3rd-and-10, Todd to Adams again–did I mention the line is manhandling the ‘Cats on passing plays? 27 yards away from the knockout blow … and so why are we going to the Wildcat on 2nd-and-12? Run for nothing. So why are we staying in the Wildcat on 3rd-and-12? Why? WHY?!? Burns goes deep to Fannin, great play by the NU safety, picked. Sigh. Look, these haven’t been terrible throws by Burns, and the ‘Cats deserve a ton of credit for making the plays, but the way Todd’s throwing the ball, especially on third down, taking him off the field for the element of “surprise” on a 3rd-and-12 play-action is too clever by half.

Game, sadly, is still on.

— At least NU is pinned on the 1 … until they run off-tackle for 8 on first down. From the 1. Northwestern. C’mon, D. Fortunately, they do come on, forcing a pair of incompletions and a punt. Spielman’s advice for the NU offense is a term I won’t repeat that rhymes with “flan-fleaters.”

— All right, offense: great field position at the Auburn 45, great rhythm for Todd, one touchdown to finally stretch the lead to three scores and knock NU into desperation mode … let’s do this.

What they do instead is nab one first down, then run for nothing, coverage sack, incompletion, punt. That is not what I asked you to do, offense. It’s kind of the opposite.

— The D is all over the ‘Cats at this point, though: blanket coverage on first down, pressure and a sack on second, deep ball is picked by Thorpe–who is having an absolute monster game–on third. Auburn starts at midfield. If the offense doesn’t score on this drive, we’re officially in “we might as well just accept that Northwestern is going to work their way back into this game, because we’ll have given them way too many chances to do it for them to blow them all” mode. Your boot can only miss the throat so many times before the boot-ee gets up, guys.

— Run for 3, Trott drop, weird-looking screen is blown up, punt that lands at the four bounces into the end zone despite being surrounded by Auburn players. How would you like to cut the game to one possession, Northwestern? Long, slow steady drive? Big bomb pass play? Comedy of errors special teams coverage leading to a huge return? We’re just waiting on you guys, man. Whatever’s good with you.

— Oooooooh, the “Pick on the true sophomore fifth corner who hasn’t played all season” special! An excellent choice! As D’Antoine Hood illustrates by 1. getting beaten and giving up a pass interference flag on 3rd-and-15 2. getting beaten and giving up a 35-yard touchdown two plays later. Sideline guy Rob Stone tells us–immediately–that Hood has been pulled, but we already know, having seen Roof violently yank him off the bench where the defense was regrouping. He is, as Stone says, “definitely out.” And kind of sadly, for Auburn, he’s never in again.

— Third-and-short for Auburn at their own 37, and always in this situation (in 2009), I’m desperately hoping for some kind of draw or quick-hitting running play, and totally expecting a straight drop-back and incompletion.

Oops, I was wrong. Todd held the ball forever and took a sack. At least it’s a change-of-pace.

When you remember this games, yes, it’s worth remembering that the defense gave up all those yards and all those points. But also remember that in this third quarter, the offense took snaps on successive possessions from the NU 27, the NU 44, the NU 46, and the Auburn 38, and registered infinity more three-and-outs (two) than points (zero).

— So, yeah, this is that play. You remember the one. Washington and McFadden getting shrugged off like Tecmo Bowl defenders hurling themselves at Video Bo. Worst defensive play of the season, right? Has to be, right? It’s not just the broken tackles, it’s Washington slowing him up and the rest of the team not so much “swarming” to the ball as … well, have you ever seen cold honeybees, where they just sort of shiver or roll around or take these slow, painful steps that remind you that for all the summer buzzing, they’re still very much cold-blooded creatures? Yeah, that was this play’s definition of “swarming.” Spielman, the old linebacker whose career was cut short by injury and who never does much to hide his envy of the lucky ones still going through the wars, sounds disgusted. He should be.

FOURTH QUARTER

— The offense’s response? Zachery takes a swing pass and gets past the sticks for what ought to be the first first down in three possessions …  then fumbles backwards two yards to set up 3rd-and-1. (On the one hand, it’s fortunate Jay Wisner was standing right there to pick up the fumble. On the other, if he doesn’t kind of get shoved backwards on his attempted block, Zachery likely picks up another 10 yards and never fumbles to begin with.) Burns comes in and out of some funky sorta-Wildcat formation, plunges into the line (what a shock!) for nothing. Punt. Auburn now 0-for-3 on third-down conversions of 4 yards or less. Shoot me.

I’m serious. Not in the head. But wing a toe or something. It’s got to be less painful than this. (Hey, I’ve got an idea about this third-down thing … maybe next year we can get, like, some gigantic-yet-agile running back? And give him the ball? Or sometimes use him as the world’s glaringest decoy? Does this sound like a good plan?)

— Finally, Northwestern decides to try their hand at charity again, as Kafka repays the Coleman roughing-the-passer penalty that got the ‘Cats out of the goalpost shadow by trying to throw across his body with Bynes wrapped all over him … it’s PICKED! T’Sharvan Bell, again. But ah, like the person who you just held the door for holding the next door open as you enter a mall department store, saying “No, after you,” Nick Fairley decides to give away 15 yards on an idiotic personal foul. We’re all so polite here in the Outback Bowl!

— Just a funny microcosm of how fast the praise/fury yo-yo can yank on a given player: on first down, Tate’s in pass protection, and he hurls himself into a blitzer, stuns him, then shoves him back behind Todd so that even after forever, Auburn gets a five-yard completion out of it. Fantastic play. Two plays later, 1st-and-10 again, Tate in pass-pro again, and he gets so antsy to run his safety route out of the backfield he totally misses that there’s a blitzer coming straight past him, unblocked. Sack. Terrible play. What an incredible player! What a total buffoon! (This sequence starts at the 5:43 mark of the Auburner video, by the by.)

— Fortunately, by this point Malzahn is just like, “Screw it, we’re just going to have Todd throw it to Adams every damn time,” and since Adams is a houseafire today, this is a good plan: 4 yards, 8 yards, 10 yards, 16 yards (on 3rd-and-6), first down at the NU 28. Every yard of it Todd-to-Adams.

— Big pass to Burns now that the ‘Cats are safely ignoring him–mwa ha ha–Tate from the 5, Burns great block, TOUCHDOWN! Finally! 28-21, Auburn. Maybe that toe-shooting thing wasn’t such a good idea after all. It kind of hurts now.

— Still, the Auburn defense sort of has that “hey, have we mentioned we don’t have a second string? And that our offense went three-and-out three straight times earlier this half? And that we gave up a 17-play drive followed immediately by a 7-play drive in the first half?” kind of look. the ‘Cats cross midfield with ease, go deep on 3rd-and-5 … and get called for a huge–but correct–offensive pass interference flag. That could be a game-deciding play right there, folks.

[Come on, we all thought that at the time, right? And somewhere, the football gods laughed and laughed and laughed.]

— After 13 games, how the reverse-flip- to-Zachery play is still working every single time, I have no idea … but I’m not complaining. He takes it 50 yards down the to ‘Cat 7. C’mon, Auburn, stick this in the end zone. Tate … TOUCHDOWN! 35-21 Auburn! Two scores, less than 7-and-a-half minutes remaining … that ought to be the game. Surely. It must be. Gotta be. No way they come back. No way. I’m relaxing. It’s not gonna happen.

Stupid lack of depth.

— And as for Tate’s slam dunk over the goalpost, he’s one of the all-time Auburn greats regardless. But it’s probably the single most selfish thing I’ve ever seen an Auburn player do on the football field.

— Man alive, you can’t complain about putting 7 more points on the board, but I’m going to go ahead and wistfully regret that drive not taking up a lot more time … because Auburn’s defense looks like it’s hanging by an Under Armour thread. After one easy first down, they force a 4th-and-2 … and Fairley and Blanc are just smashed apart in the middle of the line for another easy first.  Then it’s 4th-and-6 after a couple of nice pressures from the front four, Roof brings the blitz, but Kafka’s a little too smart … easy completion on the slant, another first. On the one hand, it’s good that this is taking NU so much time. On the other, the longer it drags on, the more likely it becomes that it ends in a touchdown. I am … uneasy.

— Timeout Auburn before a 4th-and-5. Doesn’t help. 2nd-and-goal, Kafka bulls his way in. Sigh. 3:20 remaining, 35-28, Au … NO! THE EXTRA POINT IS BLOCKED! 35-27! Man alive, for all of Auburn’s other special teams failures, Jay Boulware and Tracy Rocker have that field goal unit in phenomenally fine form.

— Seems to be a bit early for an onsides kick, but here Northwestern goes … recovery by Auburn! Burns goes up and grabs it, no problems. Cue a “does the little things” monologue, please.

— OK, so, two timeouts for Northwestern, which is both good and bad. Bad, in that they’ll be able to stop the clock; good in that by taking them, they’ll give Auburn’s defense some rest. And after the onsides, even if they do force a punt, they’ll have so far to go without any timeouts it’ll be a pretty touch undertaking. Really, as long as Auburn doesn’t turn the ball over, they should be golden. And surely, surely, with his track record of fourth-quarter fumbles and need for redemption after the penalty, there’s no way Tate is putting the ball on the ground here.

Surely. No way.

— #$%@! &%#$%@! &%$#@#%$@&@$#%^&%&^$#(((((((())))))%%%%%%##@@@@@%%%^^^&&&&&!!!!!

— They didn’t even have to take a timeout. First down, easy. Another first down, almost as easy. Honestly, the only question is whether they make the two-point conversion or not. Well, maybe we’ll get lucky on this 4th-and-3 …

…and Fairley’s in! SACKED! THE GAME IS …

not over. Oh man. Oh man oh man oh man. Fairley just grabs a bit of the facemask, a tiny bit, as he reaches out for Kafka. Not his fault. But a flag every damn time. Just one of those things, a crushingly bad piece of luck. Maybe the football gods will pay us back here in these next couple of plays?

— Not here. One play, 18 yards, touchdown. Two-point conversion time. C’mon Auburn. Don’t collapse like this. Please.

— Nope. Brilliant Boise-esque two-point play. No blame to be placed on that one. Tie game, 35-35. All-time great or not, right at this second, I hope Ben Tate falls in a hole.

— OK: 1:15 left. Two timeouts. If we can a good return from Washington here, there’s plenty of time to get Byrum into range. Washington past the 30 … go, Demond! GO! GOOOOO!

I … I … what? No. Come on. His knee was down. It must have been.

AAAAAAUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. No. NO!

Damn everything to hell.

— Northwestern picks up a first down. They’re at the 28. I guess. I’m barely processing all of this.

— Plow into the middle of the line. 44-yarder, Pasch says. Auburn ices him. He did have the extra point blocked a minute ago. 44 yards.

Please. Come on.

Go wide … go wiiiiiide….

OVERTIME

— Well no wonder Auburn couldn’t finish this thing off in regulation … we still haven’t heard the “Kodi Burns pleaded for unity in front of the team after losing the starting quarterback position” story! Griese obliges, making his first useful contribution to the broadcast.

— Normally, I’d be despairing over having to go on offense first, but in this case, I think every second of rest the Auburn defense can get is a positive. That coinflip was pretty much a win-win situation for Auburn. I can’t explain why they’ve chosen to play on the Northwestern fans’ end of the field, though … I’ll just chalk that up to the players and coaches’ brains being as fried as mine is.

— Pump-and-go action for the immediate touchdown on first down … not there. Wrap-around draw to Tate … he’s loose! To the outside! First-and-goal from the 9. C’mon, Auburn.

— Tate to the 5. Wildcat, Burns around right end … gain of 1. Damn. Looked like something was there for a second. Third and goal … batted at the line. Linebacker got it. Damn damn. Damn damn damn.

At least Byrum won’t miss this … and he doesn’t. 38-35.

— This has been a long, long rest for the Auburn defense by now; a touchdown isn’t the inevitability it was on the last possession. First down, Northwestern tries the home-run passback to the quarterback … nothin’ doin. (Spielman calls the play a flan-fleater, ringing up his 187th usage of the term this half.) Second down, short completion, Drew Cole–Drew Cole!–makes the tackle and strips the ball. It gets batted around and Kafka winds up with it … what the hell is going on!?! Replay shows it was an incompletion … but after the drop, Thorpe could have recovered the ball and just decided to swipe at the thing, because … why?!? The play’s under review, and if they’d ruled this a fumble, he could have ended the game!

And the booth decides … he was down before the fumble?!?! Say wha!?!? I’m sorry to keep beating the combination of exclamation points and question marks to death, but that’s the only proper punctuation for a play–and a game–like this. Out of all the possible rulings, I swear, that’s the one that’s most obviously wrong. Guys, I told you, putting the sugar gliders in charge of the replay booth was a bad idea. Nocturnal species can’t work day games. Duh.

— Kafka sorta gets the first on a 3rd-and-1 sneak. First down, SACKED, FUMBLE! THE GAME IS …

not over. Booth review. What are the sugar gliders going to do? Frankly, the right call here is a sack: both of Kafka’s elbows hit the ground before the ball pops loose. Aaaaand … the get it right this time. Damn marsupials.

— Still, 2nd and 24, and thanks to all the reviews and stalls, fatigue shouldn’t be a factor anymore. Incompletion. 3rd-and-24. Over the middle … complete to the 19. 37-yarder. Miss again, Demos. Come on. Miss!

HE DOES! OFF THE UPRIGHT! THE GAME IS

No way.

It’s not over. Roughing the kicker. And it’s a good call. Bell just gets too close to him. Too diagonal, not flat enough back across the line of scrimmage. If that had been Auburn’s kicker, I’d have screamed until my ears fell off for a flag. No complaints.

First and goal. Come on Auburn. Please. You can’t lose this.

— Piece of luck: the usually-reliable Markshausen drops the first down pass, negating a gain of about 4 and keeping the running plays out of the list of options. I stopped breathing an hour ago. Second down … Carter flushes Kafka, Bates tracks him down after a gain of 2. Third down. Kafka drops back … no one open, TACKLED. Fourth down! Backup kicker on to try a 22-yarder! Please, pardon my language the seven of you who have read this far, but MISS YOU ASSHOLE. MISS. MIIIISSSS…

THEY’RE FAKING IT! WHERE’S THE BALL? DID THEY GET HIM? THEY GOT HIM! THE GAME IS …

OVER!!! Thorpe!

It is over, isn’t it? It is. 38-35 Auburn. Oh man. Helmets flying. Gatorade all over Chizik and Rob Stone. Guys collapsing. Oh man. Holy hell. I hope whatever director or cameraman chose that angle rots in hell.

Wait, Auburn won! No I don’t! Buy that director and/or cameraman a drink! Buy Ben Tate a drink! Orange juice and something blue! We’ll call it a man-beater!

WAR EAGLE!

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