— Wow, that edition of Dr. Lou was like the wrong episode of Lost: so bizarre and hard-to-follow it wasn’t even entertaining. Here’s a dollar if you make him bring back the pep talks and magic tricks, ESPN.
— Jenn Brown reports back from her off-camera interview with Chizik that Auburn has to a) on offense, sustain drives by not committing penalties (which they did just the once) b) on defense, get State off the field. Even by off-camera halftime sideline interview standards, that’s some weak informational sauce, there, Jenn.
— OK, the defense is good and rested, Roof’s had a chance to make his halftime adjustments (which worked very well a week ago), and State never did have an answer for Fairley. We should see a solid defensive series here from Auburn.
[One 22-yard throw to a wide-open running back, one swing for 8 yards, one easy four-yard out, one 10-yard option, one third-down conversion on an out to the fullback, another swing for 9 down to the 2-yard line, one straight-head push inside the 1, 5 minutes and 56 seconds off the clock, and one touchdown later]
That was was not what we should have seen at all, Auburn. NOT AT ALL. 17-14, Auburn.
— OK, MSU kicking off, and after last week’s Washington debacle, the one thing we don’t want to do here is fumble the ball away or turn it over somehow and not even let our offense get back on the field. You hear me, kickoff return unit? Just make sure we keep possession, and everything will be all right.
[One pathetically easy onsides kick recovery later, seriously, like Auburn against Alabama 2009 easy]
YOU’RE NOT LISTENING. Sigh sigh sigh. Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh.
— Come on, defense. Time to suck it up. We’re still only a few minutes removed from halftime. You’re not that tired. Let’s go.
First down: Mike Blanc plows into Relf as he throws on play-action; the throw downfield is just off. Second down: Carter breaks in and Relf hurries just enough to totally miss on an out route. Third down: OK, this time Relf just throws a terrible pass, but Thorpe would have had the play stopped shorto f the sticks anyway.
James and Palmer immediately second-guess Mullen’s decision to throw three times after the onsides kick, and there’s plenty more of it in the days since. However: 1. the play-action pass deep after the quick-change is a common (and commonly successful) call 2. the five-wide second-down pass was open if Carter doesn’t make Relf hurry a bit 3. it’s not like they had a choice on 3rd-and-10. If they’d run the ball and gotten stuffed, everyone would be wondering why Mullen wasn’t more aggressive after the big play. It’s all 20/20 hindsight, and it doesn’t give Auburn credit for big plays out of their pass rush on first and second down.
— OK, after the punt, first down Auburn at their own 12. McCalebb salvages a busted option to pick up 3 on his best run of the night, yardage be damned; Dyer deftly bounces one outside for 6 more; it’s 3rd-and-1. Huge play here, and the sort of play Auburn gagged on time and time again last year. And after a timeout, big hole, Newton keeps for a solid 7. YES. If Auburn can do that consistently, there’s not going to be any mid-year swoon this go-round.
— Of course, it will help if we don’t throw swings directly to opposing defenders. Blake is lined up in the same spot he was for the touchdown earlier, the MSU corner jumps the route from the snap, and only the velocity Newton puts on these things–which forces a drop–keeps it from being a pick-six the other way. I’m not sure anyone on Auburn’s side is necessarily to blame for this–Zachery is supposed to block the guy, but with him coming at full speed at the snap, he didn’t have a chance–but next time, let’s not bother with the play-fake, hmm? (Also: it’s worth noting that if the pass is completed and Blake can get past him, he’s got a metric ton of yards in front of him. Food for thought.)
Oh, and by the way, I’m writing this from the afterlife, because my heart stopped when the ball hit the corner’s hands. Just so you know.
— 3rd-and-5. Newton over the middle to Adams, bang, 18 yards. Auburn taking their time on this drive, and frankly, again, I’m on Chizik’s side on this one. Back-to-back possessions for the defense, one of them a 12-play drive, with the 84-snap Arkansas St. game just five days ago? Some modicum of restraint is needed, I think.
— Another 3rd-and-1: Newton thuds into linebacker Chris White (who has had an outstanding game for MSU) and twists for 2. Another timeout taken; good news for the defense, but that’s going to bite us and bite us hard if State takes a lead late in the game.
— Fannin goes backwards 6 yards on 2nd-and-5; if you watch the replay closely, you can see the DE McPhee lean into the hole (though Berry’s got a decent block on him) and make Fannin think his chances were better outside. They were not. Frustrating. 3rd-and-11: Newton gets overly nervous in the face of a blitz and steps backwards into a sack. The drive ends. Shoemaker at least forces a fair catch at the State 11.
Now, we’ve all complained about the offense this week, and certainly to reach the State 33 and go backwards 19 yards is a pain. But that was still a phenomenal drive: 12 plays, 6:16 off the clock, field position flipped from our 12 to their 11. Maybe it’s not Dr. Gustav’s Flying Circus, but that will certainly do.
— Freeman makes a great play to set up 2nd-and-11, and here comes the swing to Bumphis, and for the gazillionth time tonight he picks up a simple 9 yards when Thorpe is slow to react and slow to get off his block. I don’t know why State’s run anything else.
For instance, on 3rd-and-1, they roll out Russell and get the ball to Bumphis; but it’s not a swing, so he drops it. Bwa ha. State punts, Carr returns it 11 yards (LET’S THROW A PARTY!).
— Auburn’s moving again: a Newton scramble for 12 just before the break, a dump-off to Fannin for 14–State’s simply refusing to allow Newton to go deep–and here goes Fannin! 26 yards, first down at the … nevermind. Holding. Replay: Fannin is well past the man A.J. Greene is blocking, Greene takes a blatantly obvious tug of the jersey anyway. 10 yards Every. Single. Time. Not that Jenn Brown’s investigative reporting was that memorable, but didn’t Chizik says he didn’t want to stop red zone drives with braindead penalties? I mean, I could have it backwards, which would explain what Greene was doing there. But I could have sworn Brown said he was against penalties.
Oh and hey, Fannin gets up nursing his bum shoulder, so great stuff all around on that snap. Anyways: 2nd-and-19, McPhee toasts Greene, Newton gets five anyway; 3rd-and-14, good coverage by State, Wisner makes the catch but is out-of-bounds. (It’s not often at all I disagree with Acid, but Wisner was the opposite of “wide open” on this play; if the ball stays in bounds, the safety picks it with ease, Northwesten-style. I don’t know if all of Newton’s reads were this well-covered, but if he’s throwing to Wisner, he kind of has to miss the way he missed here.) Auburn takes an intentional delay penalty to give more room for Shoemaker … meaning that this time, after getting inside the State 35, Auburn only went backwards 9 yards instead of 19! Progress!
— Between the quarter break and the 3:09 Auburn’s offense burned off the cl0ck, I’m betting we get a good series from the defense. No, really, not like that last time. Please, defense?
OK, so maybe this is why Thorpe has been so passive in swing-pass defense? Russell tries to fake-swing-and-go … and Thorpe is absolutely all over it. (He ought to pick it off, in fact, but given how much success State’s had with the swing, full credit for laying off the bait and getting his hand to it. Still, if hadn’t misjudged it … ) So that’s a start. A swing … Etheridge leaves his blocker grasping at air and makes a shoestring tackle, no gain. That’s even better. Third down: GET HIM! GET HIM! Close: Clayton torches his blocker and forces Russell to scramble out of the pocket, and he barely gets rid of it before Fairley and Clayton murder him. State punts from their own end zone.
See, defense? I knew you could do it. Not like that other time, where I said I thought you could, and you didn’t.
— All right, offense, fantastic field position again–the ball’s at midfield–and one touchdown puts the game away. LET’S GO.
First down, enough time for Newton to wash his hair in the pocket, eventually he finds Smith on the check-down for 13. A third drive inside the 40. Newton for 1 as Mosley misses a block for the first time I’ve noticed. Newton, sacked as Berry whiffs. 3rd-and-15, throw over the middle to Burns … incomplete. Replay shows Burns was 100 percent bumped before the ball arrived, but the umpire was busy ducking under the throw and didn’t get his head turned in time to see it. Bad break for Auburn, they’ll have to punt, and …
… where’d all this hair come from? Is it mine? It seems to be falling out in clumps. Or maybe I’m tearing it out after the third straight drive that’s gone into State territory without points in a three-point game with a defense on the other side that allowed 26 points to Arkansas St. I think it’s the latter. Not sure. You want it?
— OK, so maybe State shouldn’t run the swing all the time; it should be half-swing, half-option, as this time no one picks up Bumphis around the edge and he picks up a quick 16. But nice plays by Freeman (on first down) and Fairley (on second) set up 3rd-and-4, and on the triple-option shovel Bynes HAMMERS the RB for no gain!
But yeah, sure, the fact that State doesn’t score at all this half is all because of drops and bad play-calls. Uh-huh.
— Carr again makes a fair catch in traffic. 6:30 left, and we’re officially in “burn clock” mode. Handoff to Dyer, broken tackle, juke, 16 yards. Been waiting all night for a run like that. (Well, one that wasn’t called back for holding.) Dyer, 11 more as Mosley and Adams seal the left side, staying in bounds to boot. Where have you been, straight ahead running game?
Lateral to Burns … uh-oh. Is now the time for this? One-footed, lofted pass back towards Newton … complete! Pugh just caused the State DE to forget his mother’s name! Newton with blockers! 22yards! Gus, don’t ever do that again … but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t fun just this once.
— OK, Auburn, punch this in and let’s all go home. Dyer for 7. Dyer for a yard. 3rd-and-1. Come on, Auburn. Newton, zone read … that’s the wrong read. Newton keeps despite McPhee standing there waiting on him, and McPhee tackles.
Well, at least we can get 3 and force State to drive for a touchdown. From 37 … blocked.
BLOCKED! I can’t believe it.
I can’t. Blocked now. Four drives, all of them past the State 40, zero points. I freaking swear.
(The guilty party? “No Longer Son of” Jorrell Bostrom, blown backwards from the snap. Sorry, big guy, but that’s not going to cut it.)
— And now State will have the opportunity to tie the game or win it on their final possession. I cannot believe this game has come to this. At least, with only one timeout remaining, they’re forced to have Chris Relf try to throw them to victory. First pass: 6 yards, an out. Second pass: dreadfully short of an open receiver. Third pass: woefully high of another open receiver. Fourth pass … do this, Auburn, come on …
… complete. Picked on Chris Davis, the dimeback on to face the five-wide. Coverage wasn’t terrible, but he couldn’t get his head around fast enough. Dammit. Still at least 20 yards to go to get into field goal range, though.
Etheridge stuffs a swing–amazing how much closer Auburn can hug up on the wideouts when they don’t have to worry about the run. Second down … sack! Nick Fairley! 3rd-and-14, MSU calls their final timeout. Come on, Auburn. Do this.
Relf back, throws … pass interference. And it’s not the dumbest call I’ve ever seen, but it’s crap, nonetheless, frankly; Relf underthrows the ball badly, the receiver runs into not even Thorpe but Thorpe’s arm, Thorpe gets called. I declare the breaks in this game officially, totally even, if not slightly in Mississippi State’s favor.
— First down at the 40; 10 yards or so to get into field goal range. Bynes comes in unblocked on a blitz, crushes Relf as he throws. Second down. Please. Relf throws, perfect, in the receiver’s hands … dropped.
Hooooooooooo boy. Hoo boy. Hoo. Boy. OK, maybe now the breaks are ever-so-slightly in Auburn’s favor.
— Third down. Terrific coverage; ball caught out-of-bounds. Fourth down. Come on Auburn. One play. Come on. DO THIS.
INCOMPLETE! Auburn ball! Auburn wins!
— Victory formation, and it’s see ya later, Starkville. Not pretty offensively there in the second half, but a damn Van Gogh defensively.
And it’s a win. On the road. In the SEC. Against a team this was not Vanderbilt, was not even close. I will take every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
(p.s.: Nick Freaking Fairley, man.)
Photo by Van Emst.