First, an apology; the A-U Pre-view did not get done. Sorry.
The remaining planned posts were one profiling the defense (obviously), and one wrapping up the series with a game-by-game review of the schedule and a final prediction for the season. I hated not getting to them, but I was hopeful the Utah State game would be lopsided enough that I could write them anyway; would whatever Auburn did against a 4-8, sixth-place WAC team really tell us so much about what the rest of the season would be like, particularly when a full 7/11ths of that season would take place against teams already ranked?
As it turns out … uh, yeah. It would.
And not in a way that made me want to write those last two posts anyway. Where before I would have written something like “DEFENSIVE LINE: Should be excellent on third-and-long, will struggle vs. run game early in season with chance to be very good by season’s end,” now I feel like I’d end up writing “DEFENSIVE LINE:” and just posting that picture of the crying Indian underneath it. Where I had planned on confidently predicting a 7-5 year* and a bowl win, now I can’t even visualize Auburn finishing the year against, say, Syracuse in Birmingham without reflexively thinking DON’T NO STOP ARROGANT YOU’LL JINX IT.
Believe me, I don’t want to go around sounding alarm sirens. I’d rather be one of the Auburn fans determinedly pointing out the positives, and it’s true there were a good many. Young as it is, thanks to Chizik the team is still clearly as resolute and fourth-quarter determined as ever. Barrett Trotter is–surprise!–a Gus Malzahn quarterback. Travante Stallworth and Trovon Reed should give us a functional-at-worst-outstanding-at-best receiving corps. Tre Mason, man. And speaking of, that was as fine a special teams performance as I can remember Auburn ever having.
And there’s this, above all: nothing we saw Saturday should have surprised us in terms of what kind of team Auburn is. We knew coming in this would be a team that put a ton of points on the scoreboard and dared the other side to execute well enough — even against Auburn’s defense — to match it. If we had to pick a side of the ball to watch struggle, we’d have taken the defense 10 times over, right? As long as Gus is doing his Gus thing and Trotter continues to throw the ball the way he did and maybe after some line shuffling we can manage some kind of running game, hope is most certainly going to remain alive.
But there’s hope, and there’s willfull blindness. Full credit to Utah State, a team that clearly knows how to prepare for the big dates on their schedule (see their narrow loss to Oklahoma last year, or their bludgeoning of BYU), executed accordingly, and could prove as big a surprise as Miami (Ohio) did last season, when they stuffed the Gators for three quarters and went on to win the MAC. But as good as those RedHawks proved to be, it still wound up a looooong season for the Gators. When you gain 25 yards in three quarters against a non-BCS team, legitimate trouble is brewing.
And so it is when you give up touchdown drives of 16, 15, 14 and 14 plays to one. It would be one thing if USU’s lead had arrived via a series of turnovers, lucky bounces, special teams breakdowns, etc. But it arrived because down-to-down, play-to-play, drive-to-drive, the Aggies were straight-up the better team.
I still believe Auburn is going to give us some outstanding performances this fall. I believe there will be some huge wins. I believe we’ll have flashes of the joy that swept this program last season. But there’s going to be some tough, tough times in-between, too, before 2012 arrives and everything goes full Technicolor again. Gird yourself.
— You’d think accomplishing something like “coordinated a defense that won his team the freaking BCS national championship by holding the nation’s second-best offense to 19 points” would earn a guy more than one game’s worth of slack … but no. To many Auburn fans Ted Roof has been an incompetent villain from the start, and for them apparently no amount of success will earn him any goodwill for any longer than it takes for the next game to kick off. This is disappointing.
To those of you on the “fire him” bandwagon (and I know you’re out there), yes, the defense’s performance — even accounting for its stunning youth — was embarrassing. Yes, if it stays this embarrassing throughout the 2011 season (which I seriously doubt), once the offseason hits we can discuss if maybe Auburn could do better. But one damn game after a national championship won primarily by his charges is a stupid, ungrateful time to call for Ted Roof’s job.
— And if you need proof that knee-jerk evaluations of coaches are for teh stoopidz, I give you: Jay Boulware. In 2009 he was allegedly the one weak link on Chizik’s staff. In 2011 his units executed the most precise onsides kick I have ever seen, returned a kickoff for a momentum-changing touchdown, averaged a 40.6 net on five punts, sent four of six kickoffs for touchbacks and limited returns on the other two … in short, Jay Boulware’s special teams won the game.
Amazing what happens when you give a coach the right pieces to work with, huh? (This is not to say that Roof has the wrong pieces, mind. The pieces are inexperienced.)
— A special shout-out/apology to Chandler “Chris” Brooks, whose Sistine Chapel ceiling of an onside kick I credited to Cody Parkey on Twitter. There’s pretty, there’s beautiful, there’s exquisitely beautiful, and then there’s that onsides kick. Thank heavens the kick was not a woman, or I’m pretty sure we’d have had a spontaneous performance of the “Material Girl” video in Jordan-Hare. Chandler/Chris: you, sir, are the man.
— Absolutely no offense to the players that started Saturday’s game along the offensive line … but if we’re not going to get any more push along the line than that, it’ll be time to get Christian Westerman and Greg Robinson into the lineup. If whatever player Grimes choose is going to take his lumps, those lumps are a lot more valuable on precocious freshmen than juniors or seniors.
(Grimes knows this, of course … which is why I think both of them get starting nods before the year is out. 2007 says be not afraid.)
— If the offensive line was a notch below what I’d hoped, the wideouts were a good few notches above. When Blake and Stallworth have moves like those , who cares how tall they are?
— Eltoro Freeman, if we have ever needed you, we need you now. We could get by with Evans-Holland-Bates if the line was outstanding (Evans in particular–I thought he was the defense’s best player, for whatever that’s worth), but it is not. Someone in the linebacking crew has to be more than merely “adequate” for the run defense to avoid being, well, what they were last Saturday. And if there’s a potential star in the bunch, it’s got to be The Toro.
— Pre-USU, I would have broken down Auburn’s schedule like so: a 3-1 start with a split in the MSU/Clemson tilts; a 4-4 mark after eight games, with just one win in that ridiculous Carolina-Arkansas-Florida-LSU stretch; a 7-5 finish after downing Ole Miss and Samford and upsetting one half or the other of Amen Corner. Now … well, I’ll just say these next two weeks are awfully important. Lose ’em both, and even sweeping the remaining non-‘Bama home games only gets us to five wins … and I’d really rather bowl eligibility not hinge on a team this young winning an SEC road game or beating the Tide. I remain highly optimistic Auburn will make the postseason … but it may be a close shave.
— Finally, here’s my BlogPoll ballot. If you haven’t beaten anybody yet, you don’t make the cut. First nine teams are good enough that they’re not subject to resume-ranking just yet, followed by teams that beat somebody real in Week 1, followed by teams that either didn’t or beat a half-somebody by a close margin, followed by … look, I was in a hurry and I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense.
* LSU girls love Auburn men, says HBO’s Treme
* Auburn fan selling Toomer’s Corner toilet paper for Tuscaloosa relief
* Toomer’s Oaks sapling to be planted on Capitol lawn
* Coeds. Watermelons. 1973.
* How Bama remembers “Punt, Bama, Punt”
* Charles Barkley avoiding the Noid, 1981
* Nikki Cox, Auburn fan
* Rare candids of Pat Sullivan at the 1971 Heisman banquet
* My first meeting with Dean Foy
* Former Auburn cheerleader stars in ‘Best Worst Movie’
* Auburn’s Miss Universe contestant, Audrey Moore
* Auburn amputee has tiger-striped prosthetic legs
* Mates of State’s Jason Hammel talks football
* Pat Dye responds to ‘loudmouth’ allegations from 1959