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The Mississippi St. recap, half the first

See the sand popping up underneath McCalebb's cleat? I doubt it was anything intentional--the MSU groundskeepers have a lot of pride from what I understand--but the field was not in optimal shape, that much we can say for certain.

Getting right to it:


— We get a brief intro from Rece Davis and a shot of MSU’s multi-colored-but-probably-much-much-healthier-than-Uga bulldog, but instead of moving directly to kickoff, what we get is Davis sending it back to the studio for some weekend previewin’ with John Saunders and the Holtz-May tag team. Now, I forget who it was, but someone on Twitter mentioned around this time that Mark May has gigantic, freakishly large hands … and this is correct. Next to his, Holtz’s hands look like doll hands, best used for holding teacups and lifting lace napkins primly to his lisp.

I mean, lips. Totally meant to type “lips.” The point: I’m never going to be able to listen to Mark May again without staring at his hands. Thanks, Twitter helper!

— Auburn and Mississippi St. run onto the field simultaneously, and Davis tells us how deafening the cowbells are. I might be a little more impressed if I couldn’t hear the Auburn band, though. Which I can.

— Heaven help us all, we’ve got Craig James and Jesse Palmer as our color guys. Poor Davis. I’m not going to chronicle all of James and Palmer’s mistakes–not in this post, anyway–because this post would run into the thousands of words. (Well, it’s a WBE recap, it’s going to do that anyway. But you get my point.) But I do have to tell you that James’s first contribution to the broadcast is to say that Cam Newton “looks like Superman” before asking “But does he play like Jane?”

I’ll sum up the James/Palmer pairing right here and now: sometimes, you try and give yourself the lowest possible expectations for someone or some thing, and that person or thing finds a way to fail to meet even those expectations.

— Photo of Newton ringing a cowbell on a recruiting visit. Irony is fun sometimes.


— Demond Washington returns the opening kickoff to the 31, a development that has Craig Sanders so fired up he bounds off the field like a special teams Tigger. You are well on your way to earning “fan favorite” status, Mr. Sanders, sir … and already have it in the WBE household, I have to admit.

— Remember how Auburn didn’t throw any swings against Arkansas St.? First play: swing to Zachery. 13 yards. Gosh, I wonder if not using them in Week 1 was by design? What do you think?

— 3rd-and-1, Newton goes under center, quick handoff to Smith as the fullback … nothing. Glad to know that problem’s fixed. 4th-and-1, and Chizik/Malzahn correctly decide to go for it. Play-action, nothing open, Newton takes off … makes it. Whew. Juked the MSU corner just about out of his pants. Odds Chris Todd salvages something out of this play: one in eight sesquicentillion.

— 3rd-and-long from the State 39 after back-to-back buck sweeps go nowhere, blitz, Newton flings a swing to Blake … IS HE GONE? HE’S GONE! TOUCHDOWN! 7-0, Auburn! Zachery’s cut-block was so perfect they’ll use it in the instructional videos at Art of Cut-Blocking Instructional Academy, Burns catfought his guy long enough for Blake to get around him, and from there no one had a prayer. Easy-peasy.

Yes, thank you, I would like a long touchdown drive on Auburn’s first possession of the game on the road against an SEC opponent. It’s much appreciated.

— The Auburn defense takes the field, and it’s time to see if there’s been any improvement from last week. 3rd-and-4, swing to Chad Bumphis, Auburn has three defenders taking on three blockers in the flat and none of them (Thorpe, Washington, Etheridge) are able to get off of their blocks before Bumphis picks up an easy 7. Next play, Relf keeps on an option, whoever has QB responsibility–I think it’s Goggans here–does not keep that responsibility. Relf rumbles for 14. The early returns are less than encouraging.

— Another long completion follows, but hey, one short run and one bobbled snap later, it’s 3rd-and-13. T’Sharvan Bell blankets his guy, pass falls incomplete, State punt. Field’s flipped now, but the “Auburn up 7-0 with the ball” part more than outweighs that. Though having the ball at the 4 is a pain.

— Uh, wow. Three consecutive runs for McCalebb, all in the middle of the field, none of them well-blocked. (Though on this third down run, it’s more MSU DC Diaz making the right call, or Malzahn the wrong one: at the point-of-attack, State has four defenders taking on three Auburn blockers. Not much our guys can do about that.) I don’t have any hesitation in calling that most conservative drive I’ve ever seen Malzahn call. Three-and-out, and already you have to worry a bit about the defense going right back on the field.

— First down at midfield, Mike Blanc SACK! Is there anything more heartwarming than seeing a ground-dependent opponent facing 2nd-and-18? No. WAIT YES it’s watching Fairley plow through a double-team and take down Relf on a QB draw for a loss of four. 3rd-and-22! Oh man. Fairley and Goggans sacking for a loss of 1 is just icing.

— State punt, Carr under it … muffed like hell. Right through his arms. Bulldog ball at the Auburn 20. Dammit, dammit, dammit. You get one one these, Quindarius. Next time we’re throwing Darvin Adams out there and just accepting a fair catch every time. (Yes, the fact that Auburn had no rush whatsoever and allowed the State punter to bobble the snap and still punt it away totally unmolested–meaning that the coverage had an extra second or two to get down into Carr’s face–didn’t help. But it’s still on Carr, 100 percent. Traffic happens, man.)

— So, medium-length State drive followed by offensive three-and-out followed by awesome stand but now followed by a quick-change situation … I’m not feeling good about Auburn’s defensive chances here.

Aaaaaaand that’s why: 11 yards, 7 yards, 2 yards, touchdown State 7-7. Though on replay, the Bulldogs need to thank their lucky dog stars: Corey Lemonier knocked the ball out of Relf’s hands as he crossed the goal line, but the fumble sat right up for a Bulldog lineman to fall on it. Lucky to have the ball there in the first place, lucky to have the fumble recovered, lucky, lucky, lucky. I’m going to be very disappointed in the football gods if we don’t catch our own breaks later this game.

— A State personal foul on the extra point (nice work there, Bulldogs) and solid Washington return lets Auburn start at the MSU 48. Newton to Zachery, that’s one first down. Newton to Adams … bleaaarrgggghhh. Terrible work all the way around from Newton here: Adams is triple-covered, he throws it anyway, and throws it where only his guy can catch it … if, you know, his guy was the deep State safety. Worst play he’s made yet this year, and a terrible waste of great field position. And now the defensei s back on the field after all of three plays. This game has taken what I believe is referred to in technical, coaching jargon as “a turn for the worse.”


— Yay quarter break; I suspect the defense needed it after giving up one easy-looking first down on 3rd-and-4. And we get our first look at Tyler Russell. After another first down, Russell stands in against a Fairley rush and makes a nice throw to pick up a third … dropped. Thanks, Bulldogs! 3rd-and-8, zone blitz, Fairley! Tips it, PICKS IT! Ridiculously good play. It would be wrong to say Fairley is having a whale of a game; Fairley is having a paleozoic crocodile the size of  a city bus that swallows whales whole of a ball game.

— Ball’s spotted dead-on the midfield stripe. Please, please offense, don’t throw this one away. A 13-yard option to McCalebb is a good start …

… but watching Lee Ziemba go down gesturing to his knee is a terrible way to continue. AAARRRGGGHHHH. C’mon, big guy. Be all right. You’ve come too far for your body to betray you now.

— Brandon Mosley on. 3rd-and-6. Newton scrambles, bowls over a hapless defensive back, first down. Newton lead draw, tons of space, 17 yards, first-and-goal from the 8. Come on, Auburn. Zone read … fumble on the handoff. Newton falls on it. Second down, screen to Zachery, totally blown up, with a block-in-the-back flag for good measure. Dammit. 3rd-and-goal after State declines the penalty, which maybe makes some sense in the middle of the field but here, I would think you would want to make Newton throw the ball as far as possible to score the six points. He drops back, terrific blitz pickup by Fannin …

TOUCHDOWN! A strike to Adams! 14-7, Tigers! Hells yeah.

— Deep kickoff and excellent coverage pins State at the 13; when was the last time you saw Auburn do that? Not that it matters–three straight triple-options run right at Carter and Evans yields 31 yards. Sigh. This has the look of a long State FUMBLE! THEY FUMBLED THE SNAP! Fairley recovers! First down Auburn at the State 44! Wow, even I didn’t expect State to repay us for the Carr muff and end zone recovery this quickly, or this stupidly.

— Newton with another “oops, I ran you over” first down on a 2nd-and-8 scramble. 15 more yards on a sweep with McCalebb; first down at the State 18. Burns at Wildcat, throws towards Newton, matched up against a corner a foot shorter than he is … and completes the pass to a photographer standing six yards out of bounds. Siiiiigh. I know it’s tough throwing one pass a game, but hanging it up for a 6’6″ receiver doesn’t seem like too tall a task for a guy who was a full-time QB two seasons ago, is it?

3rd-and-4 after a Newton draw. Auburn takes a timeout. Newton keeper again, first-and-goal … flag? Illegal formation? blzredxgxjsghsbagtchrkgkf *HEAD EXPLODES*

— Seriously, that it the stupidest possible penalty to pick up after a timeout, and I have to say I think it’s on Malzahn. Auburn has Smith, the Swede Killa and McCalebb all in the backfield with Newton, plus two wideouts (Zachery and Burns) split to one side. The fifth player in the backfield is Zachery, playing off the line. But he has to, since if he doesn’t, Burns is “covered” in the formation and would be unable to go downfield. State would be instantly tipped a run was coming (or Burns would draw an “illegal receiver downfield” flag). Either 1.one of the wideouts was supposed to line up on the opposite side of the line 2. Malzahn drew up a play with five guys in the backfield. Either way: bleah, offensive coaching.

— 3rd-and-8, screen is snuffed out (again), Byrum on. Field goal good, 17-7. Oh well. There are worse things than a 10-point first-half lead on the road in the SEC. But that penalty, man, that penalty. #smh*

— Sanders with a big stop on the kickoff. Q: How awesome is it ‘Bama decided to risk his commitment to sign a player–Alfy Hill–who’s not even on their team anymore? A: I hear face-melting electric guitar solos every Auburn kickoff now, that’s how awesome.

— One first down for State, followed by a Freeman stuff, a just-out-of-reach toss downfield, and a bat-down by Clayton to force fourth down and a punt. State will end the first half with one 20-yard touchdown drive to show for six possessions. The botched snap and drops helped, but that is still some damn good defense.

— 2:18 left in the half, two timeouts, ball on the 14: no reason we can’t get three points or even more here, Auburn. Let’s go.

Or, instead of going, we hand off to McCalebb up the middle and watch 35 seconds run off the clock before we snap the ball again. The run call, that I can understand. There’s time enough. The slow march to the line … I have zero idea what that’s about. It’s a total 180 from the aggressive approach that got us big scores right before the half against teams like, say, MISSISSIPPI STATE. And I hate it, frankly.

— Big run for McCalebb, followed by some actual hurry-up and a nice draw for Fannin, followed by a strong run by Newton to the Auburn 46, timeout. But now there’s only 41 seconds left and one timeout. (Ziemba starts walking up the ramp to the locker room, but stops to watch the end of the half. He looks … ah, what does it matter how he looks? We have no idea what’s going on inside his knee. It sucks.) Incompletion, another draw to McCalebb for 12, incompletion. 18 seconds, need about 8 or 9 yards to give Byrum a real shot. Newton, scrambling, pass to a wide-open Blake is batted down. Nine seconds. Draw to McCalebb … DAMMIT TO HELL. He trips cutting into the wide-open middle of the field–if he keeps his feet (and no one touched him) it’s at least 10 yards and more like 15. Then Auburn calls its last timeout, and it’s three big points. The right call was made, the right execution up front, and McCalebb just falls over. Crap.

Instead of those three points, Chizik decides to let the clock expire with the timeout in his pocket… and I’m actually OK with this decision. It’s either a 56-yard field goal (not happening) or a 39-yard Hail Mary, and even if the odds are more in Auburn’s favor than State’s of something good happening, the bad happening could be very bad and up 10 in Starkville, I understand not risking it.

That doesn’t mean I understand not “risking” a quick three-and-out to start the possession. Let’s say Auburn hurries up but doesn’t pick up a first down, handing the ball back to State with around 60 seconds left … what’s Chris Relf or Tyler Russell going to do with it, especially the way Auburn’s been collapsing the pocket? And the 25 seconds Auburn just watched slip away could easily have equaled the three points we didn’t get on the other end.

So not the best way to end of the half, but with only 7 points allowed and a 10-point cushion, I’m not going to complain too much.

*“Shakin’ my head” in Twitterspeak.

Photo by Van Emst.

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