Picking up where we left off …
— OK, so if there’s any consolation to placing three points carefully inside the toilet bowl and pulling the level at the end of the half, it’s that Auburn gets the ball to start the second half. And hey, Demond Washington’s been fairly quiet on his kickoff returns tonight; maybe this is the one where he does something to make us all sit up and take notice of him.
[One startlingly easy fumble later …]
NOT WHAT I MEANT, DEMOND.
— Joke for those of you who watched the game on TV: who knew Jonah Hill was an Auburn fan? (You know the kid I’m talking about. They only showed him half a dozen times, this particular time as he cheered on the defense.)
— Arkansas St. runs for a total of three yards on first and second down, thanks to good plays from Bates and Carter/Fairley. Couch observes–accurately, in my opinion–that the Red Wolves would have been better served going immediately to the air and taking their shots down the field after the turnover. The announcing gets a gold star tonight, and puts this Auburn fan, at least, in the very peculiar position of preferring his Auburn games to appear on the “SEC Network” backwater rather than on ESPN2, where we’ll all have the fact the terror of … *shudder* … Davie-Jones’s Locker.
— So, 3rd-and-7, Arkansas goes four-wide, Frampton does a simple little out route, Freeman overruns him trying to make the tackle, Frampton cuts back around him (and away from the pursuing Thorpe) and slithers forward for 16 yards. On the one hand, this is not an impossible tackle for Freeman to make, especially with Thorpe providing outside support, and if he does, it’s probably short of the sticks. On the other, why is Freeman even on the field? Why are there only four defensive backs lined up against four wide receivers? Isn’t asking Freeman to take responsibility for a guy as shifty as Frampton in the open field just asking for the kind of play Frampton made? I don’t get it, man.
— But maybe this is why: two plays later Auburn does bring on extra DBs and spreads the field to match ASU’s four-wide, and the Red Wolves go straight up the middle the field with a draw. Clayton and Fairley are split like the Red Sea, Bynes is snowed under by a double-team, and Savage is a little too late arriving to prevent the ASU touchdown. Sigh. They go scissors to our paper, we switch to rock, they go back to paper. In other words: Hugh Freeze just plain owned Ted Roof on that possession. 35-23.
— Well, Washington doesn’t fumble the ensuing kickoff, so at least this possession is guaranteed to be more productive than the last one. See, here’s Fannin, he’s got about four, and … why is the Arkansas St. sideline going nuts? It was a big hit, but I didn’t think …
no way …
you’ve got to be kidding me …
come on, replay, show us something we can …
Nope. He fumbled. Dammit, Mario. Dammit.
For God’s sake, Auburn. Get a stop. Let’s go.
— Couch says ASU has “Big Mo” on their side, betraying the same number of hours lost playing NCAA Football in the mid-Aughts the rest of us did. Somewhere, Computerized Lee Corso is positively beaming with pride as he tells us that’s why a defensive back is on defense, and NOT playing offense.
— ASU’s possession: run for nothing (nice play by Bynes), pass for 2, false start, Fairley sack! (with an assist to Clayton’s huge push against a double-team), false start, why are they still going for it on 4th-and-18?, whatever, SACK! Mostly coverage on that last one, though Carter will get the credit. Outstanding defensive series that time given the quick-change nature of the possession. Terrific field position for the Auburn offense, too–now would be an excellent time to re-seize control of the game, wouldn’t it, guys?
— Or, you can gain nothing on a buck sweep thanks to some half-arsed blocking, follow it up with an easy offensive pass interference call even though it’s almost impossible to get called on a pick like that–good work, Zachery–let an option go for nothing FUMBLE? ARE YOU %@#$ING SERIOUS?YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS.
OK, you’re not serious: on replay, it’s not a fumble. His elbow is clearly down. But of course the review official could see whatever he wants to see. It’s a good sign that the review is taking so long; he’s probably trying to get the spot right. And now that’s what happens. And now we wait another five minutes while they get the chains reset. And finally Newton air-mails one for Adams … no flag? Replay shows the ASU corner throws his arm around Adams’ waist just before Adams goes up for the ball. It’s not the worst call in the world–there’s not a lot of contact. But the correct call there is a penalty, and even ignoring “the book,” that’s a flag way, way more often than it’s not.
So I nominate this for Worst Offensive Possession in the History of the World. It had everything! Terrible execution, a useless 15-yard penalty, a heart-stopping turnover scare (following more poor execution), frustrating officiating delays, and finally an outright bad call. If that bad possession had been a movie, it would have been one of those huge 1920’s DeMille-style epics that cost the GNP of several African countries’ in today’s dollars. Everything you could possibly want to see in a horrorshow possession! It’s all there! Tickets just 5 cents!
— Fortunately, the Auburn D has started to figure this coverage thing out: on 3rd-and-5, we’re playing press vs. a four-wide with our nickel and even dimebacks in (yep, that’s Chris Davis to the bottom of the formation), a blitz gets Bynes through untouched, and Aplin has to (over)throw to a well-covered Frampton. Punt. At least the defense showed up to play this half.
— Dyer, big hole, gain of 19. Dyer for 5. Dyer for 7–that time it’s a zone read that looks like Newton ought to pull it out and keep it himself, but Dyer’s so quick into the hole–and the ASU D already so slowed by the AU tempo–he just runs right past the unblocked, crashing DE. The Auburn line is blocking like they’re angry, too.
And just like that, broken play, flip to Fannin, no one home, TOUCHDOWN! 41-23. ASU should probably work on this whole “leave every one of our defenders on one side of the field and not cover the flat” thing. 4 plays, 69 yards, 1:01 off the clock. Sweet merciful heavens, this offense is frightening. Both for opponents, and four our own defense.
— Which is why the backup d-line is in to start this drive. One first down for ASU–on 2nd-and-14, Etheridge is too soft in coverage, bleah–but after that it’s quick tackle underneath, incompletion, check-down as Whitaker (!) provides pressure, punt. URGE TO KILL (the defense): fading.
— Seriously, what the hell is up with Darvin Adams tonight? He just let a perfectly decent ball from Newton go right through his hands, his second or even third drop of the night. A little high, yeah, but totally catchable. At least he’s getting them out of his system now, I guess. Dyer does his best on a 3rd-and-11 check-down, but Auburn punts.
— The defense has been OK the last few series, so it’s time for some more AAARRGGGHHH as Bates and Freeman cover the same crossing route and leave another guy open for 14. But: incompletion, run for 6, run for nothing as Fairley and Whitaker clog up the middle, terrific play from Thorpe to whip the ball out of the receiver’s grasp from behind on fourth down. I can handle a little bit of bending as long as they’re not breaking, and in the second half, they’re not.
— Auburn starts off their next drive in a type of jumbo package–Brandon Mosley at left tackle, then Berry-Pugh-Isom-Greene-Ziemba across the line. First play: 19 yards for Dyer up the middle. Sweet. Next time someone suggests Malzahn’s offense isn’t physical, just laugh in their face, please.
— 3rd-and-9, Newton goes deep to Carr, down to the 1 as easy as you please. The way the line has looked the last couple of series, this will be an easy punch-in.
Or, you know, Dyer could get stuffed on first down, Eric Smith could do a terrible job of blocking on a Burns Wildcat run on second down, and a blitz could haul down Newton from behind on third. Field goal’s good, at least. 45-23 Auburn. But between the end-of-half screwup and this possession, Auburn really should have crossed the 50-point barrier by now. Blerggh. (Would this matter if the D had been better in the first half? Not in the least.)
— Well, it’s now a 22-point game and we’re into the fourth, so the outcome is pretty well decided. But a big quarter to really stretch out the final margin would be nice, right? Bates gets us off on the right foot by going for a big hit but not wrapping up, allowing White Running Back to plow forward for a first down. LITTLE THINGS, dammit.
— Fortunately, the D gets good pressure and tight coverage over the next three downs, and ASU punts. After one first down, Newton keeps and falls over after a gain of four. Couch praises him for wisely not taking an unnecessary hit. Very next play: Newton keeps again and slices throug hthe middle for 19. Couch praises him for “finishing the run.” “Defensive backs just bounce off the guy,” he says. Good work, Tim: that was a downright politician-esque reversal of opinion there.
— It’s the Mike Dyer Show all of a sudden: Dyer for 0, Dyer for 16, Dyer for 6, Dyer for 2. Newton takes to the ASU 2 and I will bet a substantial amount of money that Dyer is given the opportunity to finish the drive. And I win a substantial amount of money, or would if I could have actually made that bet, because it’s Dyer in for the easy TOUCHDOWN! Yes, I will take three or four years of this, please and thank you. 52-23 Auburn, and we’re officially in pure, undiluted garbage time.
— Craig Sanders hauls down Frampton from behind on the kickoff return–his third special teams tackle of the night, if I’m not mistaken–and you can see Jay Boulware hopping over giddily (maybe even “Trooper-like”) to give him his well-deserved props. It may be later in the year before we really see the new second-string pay off on defense. But it’s already paying dividends on special teams, because last year? There was no Craig Sanders on this kickoff unit.
— Save for Freeman, the starters are totally off the field. I’ll be impressed if the second-string can force a punt here.
[13 plays, 54 yards, and one field goal later]
Eh … they weren’t terrible. This wasn’t the Furman showing. And the schemes were as vanilla as humanly possible. But … I still can’t say I’m impressed, either. 52-26, and I’ll be stunned if either team bothers to score again.
— Davis Hooper takes the handoff from Barett Trotter and runs behind Blake Burgess and Jorrell Bostrom for a couple. We should just call this the Victory Cigar Unit. And hey, a Derek Winter sighting! This part is fun.
— Hooper grinds out another first down, and that’s it. Your final: Auburn 52, Arkansas St. 26.
I will take it, and not without some gladness. But we’re all going to want more down the road.
Photo by Van Emst.