— Your announcers for tonight: the ABC/ESPN No. 1 crew of Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit. Hey, anyone who’s not Davie and Jones. Plus, if you take a drink every time Musberger says the phrase “snaps one off,” you’re drunk by halftime and comatose by game’s end, so that’s fun.
They start the broadcast by reminding us that Kyle Parker hit a home run in the decisive third game of Auburn’s baseball regional. Like I didn’t want him to fail badly enough already.
— And your uniforms are … our beautiful normal uniforms, even classier than “normal“ now that the white socks and shoes are back. Thank you, Powers That Be. Everyone remember this moment the next time we PANIC PANIC PANIC about a rumor that Chizik and Co. themselves have shot down. (The all-blue shakers are sweet, though. They can stay.)
— Musberger pronounces Dabo Swinney’s surname “Sweeney,” and will continue to do so for the duration of the broadcast. I know “Sweeney” is the much more common name and all, and for all I know Swinney pronounces it like that himself … but it’s going to bug the hell out of me all night long anyway. Is Musberger also going to say that one of these two teams is going to be the weener tonight?
— 2nd-and-10 for Clemson, delayed handoff to Andre Ellington, picks up 10 yards and the first first down of the game. I’m sure Auburn will make an adjustment soon on those kinds of plays.
The next play, the officials throw a flag for illegal formation, then decide Clemson didn’t have too many players in the backfield, so they pick it up, but the ref’s mic isn’t working and we have to read his lips. I’m sure this will also be the last time the officials stop play for either no apparent reason or because they’re having to deal with some sort of technical issue,
— 2nd-and-13, screen, Stevens lets himself get cut by a lineman and Jamie Harper’s got 15 yards. 2nd-and-8, Ellington runs for 6 to set up a short third-down conversion. So much for first down being the key down, huh?
— A few more sadly easy runs sets up Clemson inside the Auburn 10 before Nick Fairley barges into the backfield to break up a CU handoff and force a loss of 4. Well, we know his GRRRAAARGGH performance against State wasn’t a fluke. 3rd-and-7, shovel to Harper, Stevens has him dead to rights and just slides off of him. Sigh. I’ve seen old Ford tractors from the ‘30s left to decay in a field somewhere that weren’t this rusty.
–But hey, no doubt Auburn’s offense will have a little something to say … right after the officials stop play, twice, to try and resolve some clock issues. Newton scramble for3, Dyer for 5, buck sweep on 3rd-and-2, DaQuan Bowers powers (Bowers?) past Berry and blows it to pieces. Loss of four, punt. That blew. I blame the clock shenanigans.
— Clemson never bothered to get the ball to their wideouts on their first drive. We find out why when on 2nd-and-long one of them nearly bobbles an easy pass into an interception. Pressure comes on third down from … Jessel Curry?!? … and Parker throws it away. OK, of all the ways to get Josh Bynes some rest, “replace him on passing downs with Jessel Curry” was not the one I expected the coaches to settle on.
— Nice field position for Auburn, at their own 39. Until McCalebb is eaten alive by an unblocked Bowers on an end-around. No, literally. I think Bowers just used McCalebb’s tibia to floss his teeth. Somehow, I don’t think “leave Clemson’s best defensive player unblocked, then run directly at him” was Malzahn’s plan there. 3rd-and-16, Isom reaches out and pulls down the tackle (despite the fact he’s double-teaming him with Pugh), and this is the least exciting scramble for 21 yards and a big third-down conversion ever. Auburn punts. I blame, um, one of the guys holding the little signal cards, who somehow told Eric Smith not to block Bowers on that first down.
— Clemson tries a swing on 2nd-and-long, The Toro reads it in a flash and gets blatantly held to prevent the loss. Excellent play … one totally undone by a tough 16-yard completion by Parker throwing across his body. Stupid talented players. Clemson picks up the first down with a well-executed quick out. 2nd-and-8, they run the little play-action drag route to the TE that works every single time I ever see it run, 14 yards. Clemson’s average yards-to-go on their seven second downs in this quarter: 9.7 yards. That’s pretty good! Their average gain on that second down: 8.1 yards. That’s pretty bad.
— 3rd-and-9 after Fairley destroys yet another handoff, great blitz call gets Savage in unblocked, Parker stands in and fires a strike to set up 4th-and-1. Toto, I don’t think were in the Kansas of facing Chris Relf on third-and-long any more.
— Handoff to Harper … STUFFED! Clemson’s fullback and pulling guard both decided to block McNeil, leaving Bynes totally free to tackle, which he does with aplomb. Execution fail LOLZ. Refs give Fairley the benefit of the doubt on what could have been an offsides call when he jumps the snap. Hmm: I wonder if Auburn might get the same treatment at some later, even more critical junction? That would be nice.
— For the first time, we see someone other than Kodi Burns operate the Wildcat, as Trovon Reed plunges ahead for 6. Dyer carries for 2 on the zone read. 3rd-and-2, we know this was a major problem all last year, surely Malzahn has some special play worked up for this situation, surely we can’t fail again on third-and-short surely we’ve got to give the defense a blow … and Newton throws a fastball a mile over Smith’s head. And it wouldn’t have even mattered: Ziemba didn’t announce himself eligible and when he went downfield, he drew a flag.
I’m trying to figure out which is more frustrating: not getting close to getting the first down, or knowing that even if Auburn had, we would have had it called back on another idiotic mental penalty. I blame the players getting distracted midweek by all the uniform discussion.
— Parker to Ellington for 7, screen to Ellington for 22, Ellington for 9, incompletion, Harper for 3 (terrific spin move past Bates), incompletion, penalty, pass for 14 (another huge gain on 2nd-and-long), offsides on Auburn. 1sta-nd-10 at Auburn’s 22. First downs so far: 11 to 0. I’m so glad my team’s depth-challenged defense has spent this much time on the field already and already seems to be struggling to keep up with Clemson’s offense. How glad? I’ve only stabbed four forks into my coffee table. That glad!
— Screen, DEFLECTED, Carter just loses his balance when stable footing would have been a certain pick and possibly even a touchdown the other way. Not that Auburn would deserve to be tied 7-7 at this point, but: Damn! Between this and the McCalebb stumble on the end-of-half draw, maybe we need some sort of balance-keeping drill? Anyway, Bynes tears through the line on a 3rd-and-4 draw, buries Harper for a four-yard loss. 42-yard field goal good–hey, freshman kicker, you’re supposed to be more easily rattled than that–and it’s 10-0 instead.
— First down, Dyer sweep, the offensive line barely moves, Dyer swarmed, loss of 2. Herbstreit calls the Auburn offensive line a collection of middle school cheerleaders, basically, and I can’t blame him. 2nd-and-12, Dyer smack up the middle for 4 … and the boos are audible. Yes, fans, I know this is beyond frustrating–I’m the one building Fork City (check your lease, man!) over here by the candy dish, population: Anger, elevation: WHY ARE YOU RUNNING STRAIGHT UP THE MIDDLE ON 2nd-AND-12 DOWN 10 POINTS?–but we’re Auburn, man. Cut it out.
Wheeeeew: Newton does a terrific job of standing in the pocket and finding Adams for 23. A first down, finally, and now we try the hidden running back trick, and McCalebb picks up 17. Two first downs! Ah, ah, ah! We’re now on an unstoppable march to the end zone, surely.
— 3rd-and-1, Newton’s free! First down inside the 20! Eat that, Clemson, it’s all sugar and rainbows now that … what? Another hold? On Greene? You have to be kidding, ref. Tell me you’re kidding.
Replay: he’s not kidding. It’s not as braindead as his hold against State–he’s got Bowers shoved well out of the play, but Bowers rears up and Greene doesn’t let go in time–but it’s still not the sort of play you’re going to see an experienced lineman make. BLEAARRGGHH. 3rd-and-12, incomplete, punt. (Which, hey, a touchback, wonderful.) Just a devastating penalty. Damn. It. To. Hell. I blame the boo-birds for bad karma.
— Sorry, Auburn defense, but you’ve got to get a stop here. A three-score deficit is going to be way, way too much for this seventh-grade science fair robot of an offense to overcome. Tight end drag to start, 16 yards, it’s the Clemson equivalent of MSU’s swing pass. But finally Parker misses on a couple of throws, and Auburn gets the ball back at the 20. At least we showed signs of life on that last possession. Maybe this is the drive.
— Or, Newton could loft a jumpball towards Kodi Burns that gets easily picked off. A jumpball. Towards Burns. Kodi Burns. That Burns. A jumpball. Picked off.
This half has been the football equivalent of, I don’t know, that one scene in every animal documentary where they show you the cruelty of nature, where the hyenas run the lions away from the kill they’ve been tracking for days, where the crabs haul down the little bird on the beach with a broken wing. It has been depressing in a way that goes far and beyond normal football depressing, even for Auburn.
— Three Clemson screens, all of them for first downs. Parker, deep for Harper … he got it. Touchdown. Review is pointless. 17-0. Totally fair score given how badly Auburn has been dominated. A total nightmare. It’s Arkansas ’06, LSU ’09, etc. There’s nothing else to say.
— Auburn takes over with a little more than a minute remaining at their own 30. Newton tackled for a loss of 1. Of course he is. Pass interference gifts a first down. Newton sacked. Holding declined. Whatever. McCalebb draw, keeps his footing, gains 11 or so. Ball on the Clemson 46. Newton scramble … and hey, that’s 14 yards. We’re in Byrum range. Newton again, 12 more yards, smartly dives, timeout. This is the drive Auburn should have had last week.
C’mon, Wes, we need this. Up from 35 yards … good. 17-3.
But … I can’t say I’m that encouraged. Auburn had five drives against Clemson’s non-prevent defense, and finished with three three-and-outs, one horrific turnover, and one drive that crossed midfield. They just don’t seem to have it. Newton doesn’t seem to have it. And I’m not sure they can find that much of it at halftime.
Photo by Van Emst.