For college football teams themselves, expectations are a positive. Maybe even a necessity. When you need to find the motivation to power through a Kevin Yoxall workout in the dead middle of summer, I have to think “conference championship” is a much more effective carrot to chase than “win over Arkansas St.”
But for the college football fans, though, I’m not sure expectations do a damn thing for us. We can’t help but have them, of course, but we also can’t help ratcheting them up to the highest level we possibly can while still holding on to some shred of rationality. (Some of us, of course, prefer to let go of that shred and demand domination at every step and annual trips to Atlanta. But I think that’s outside the purview of this conversation.) Your humble Auburn Blogger isn’t even close to being an exception; I try to be as calm and as sensible about our team as I can be, but I’m still the guy who predicted a BCS berth in 2006, 10 wins in 2007, a West title in 2008, and another 10 wins before this year.
So we live in a near-constant state of disappointment with our football team, and on those rare occasions when they actually exceed our expectations–as Auburn did in the five games to begin 2009–our response isn’t to be thankful for those performances and wait patiently for the other shoe to drop, it’s to immediately readjust our expectations to make those performances the new baseline … and then scream bloody murder when the team doesn’t measure up to it.
Which brings us to last night, when beating Clemson in that fashion should have had us all delirious. Sure, Auburn had just about as miserable a first 29 minutes as it’s possible to have. But the last 31 minutes included a sudden, intriguing resuscitation job on the final drive of the first half; a series of darts from our pivotal, struggling quarterback, any two or three of which would be his best pass of the season; the emergence of a pair of tailbacks and the resurgence of our offensive line to offer up a running game again; five stops out of six for a defense that spent most of the first half getting pushed around when they weren’t getting the heads spun, the last couple seeming to hang by a thread and arrive by pure will; that towering, amazing moonshot of a pass from Newton to Zachery, the sort of thing you want to frame from Newton’s poise in the face of the rush to the arc of the ball to Zachery’s tightrope job–I still don’t know how he did it–to the slow cruise into the end zone; and finally, overtime, where Wes Byrum stayed Wes Byrum, the defense got one final desperate stop (how many of you gasped when it looked like Ellington was going to break free to the end zone?) with the help of Parker’s one true missed throw of the night, and Auburn got one, final, decisive break. This was an epic game, a fierce and brutal contest against a team every bit Auburn’s athletic equal, and Auburn won. Like the West Virginia game last year, this is one where I wish I could have been in the stands even more than usual. There was probably some delirium there.
I tried to find some on my couch. No question, I was happy. Very, very happy. Auburn won, against a quality team. There’s enough dopamine in that sentence alone to keep me on a cloud for a few days.
But I also couldn’t shake off that first half. Not entirely. A cloud, yes, but cloud 7.6 or something. After all of that drama, after all of that mental toughness shown by my team, after all of those guts … why?
Because of expectations. I want Auburn’s offense to blow teams off the field the way they did to start 2009 and the way I believed they would again this season. And they haven’t done that. I want to win home games, even ones against good competition, without having to rely on our opponent’s mistakes and overtime. Nope. I want Auburn to look like the team I imagined in August, just once, so I know that team is in there somewhere. So I know the “good offense, good defense” corner of the Punnett square we discussed last week is still a possibility. Maybe it still is. But we haven’t seen it yet.
But you know, that’s my problem. Not Auburn’s. Auburn won, and against a team like Clemson, I shouldn’t really have to ask more of them than that. They’re more than happy. The fans in the stands were more than happy. I should be more than happy.
So I’m giving up my expectations, or at least doing the best I can to give them up. Maybe this is a 10-win West challenger Gene Chizik has on his hands, and maybe it’s not. Maybe they’re going to take the league by storm from this point on, and maybe they’re not. Whatever happens, though, it’s time to live and die with what happens on the field and nothing else. Winning is good, losing is bad. The end. A week at a time, just like the cliche tells us.
And if this week ends in a win … and the week after … and the week after … and the week after that … there’s no reason Auburn couldn’t win any one of those games … then that’ll be just as good without the expectations. Survive and advance. And if they don’t win, well, hell, we’ll just deal with that when if it happens. I’m not going to waste another 2006-type season angry because it’s not 2004.
Other assorted observations
— A large part of the above is written because, dude, Clemson is a good team. Athletes everywhere. Bowers and Ellington are monsters. McDaniel’s damn good too. Most impressively–and most surprisingly, given how little I respected Dabo when he got hired–Clemson’s a well-coached team. They knew their receivers were crap. So when they had long yardage to pick up, they just ran delays, draws, screens, and even wheels, over and over again, until Auburn stopped them (which, unfortunately, they never did). On the other side of the ball, there’s a reason Kevin Steele’s been around forever. The mistakes on that side were minimal.
More than a few comments both coming into and coming away from the game dismissed Clemson as “just an ACC team” … but talent-wise, coaching-wise, I think that team would do just fine in the SEC. (Do you see a lot of difference in that team and the LSU team that’ coming in a few weeks? I don’t.)
They’re also much better than West Virginia was last year, if I’m any judge. Auburn beat the Mountaineers fair and square, but they needed an awful lot of help from the ‘Eers to do it, no question about it. Clemson, on the other hand, gave Auburn virtually no help at all in regulation. Auburn had to come back on their own. That they did it speaks volumes about the improvement they’ve made from last year to this year.
— Yes, they’ve improved, dramatically, and arguing otherwise is just wrong-headed, if you ask me. Think about it: when Auburn had the kind of offensive half they had in the first half last night, what odds would you have given the defense being stout enough to keep the game within reach? Cruddy, cruddy odds, I’m thinking. (Hell, what was the difference between the Arkansas game last year and last night, if not for the size of the gap being 17 points instead of 28 when the offense finally got its head on straight?)
Beyond that, aside from the Arkansas game, last year Auburn had to start out the game moving the ball … because they only got shakier as games progressed. To recover from that train wreck of a half to still put up 400-plus yards is a heck of a display of adjusting from the coaches and mental fortitude from the players.
— Well, we wanted an explosive offense, we’ve got an explosive offense–Auburn averaged an even 7 yards a play last night (after those first few possessions, no, I don’t know how), more than they managed against any BCS competition after Week 2 last year.
Newton going for 203 yards on only 14 attempts (14.5 per attempt, 29 yards per completion) had a lot to do with that, but the key for the offense is what I think Chizik highlighted at halftime–they have to get the tailbacks involved and productive. I don’t know what McCalebb and Dyer averaged after the break, but for them to finish with 162 yards on 26 carries–6.2 yards a pop–they must have just been running rampant.
So the problem, I don’t think, is the offense; it’s just getting the offense to execute consistently.
— Third-down conversions would go a long way towards that goal, obviously; Auburn finished 5-of-13 and missed three different 3rd-and-2’s in the first half alone. (They would finish 3-for-7 on 3rd-and-4 -or-fewer.) Not good enough.
But cutting out negative plays would help even more; 9 penalties for 90 yards (including that bushel of holding flags) is still way too many, and Clemson finished with seven TFLs and 2 sacks. That’s too much backwards movement to expect consistent forward movement. (On the plus side, the broadcast mentioned that Clemson was one of the national leaders in negative plays last year, so maybe things will perk up next week.)
— 81 more snaps for the defense. We’d getter get a big lead and get it in a hurry against UL-Monroe in two weeks, because those guys are going to have to take a few breaks here and there.
— Josh Bynes: 11 tackles, 2 for loss, and a pass breakup. Nick Fairley: 7 tackles (as a DT!), 3 for loss, and a sack. If those guys can keep playing like that, and Stevens can get back up to full speed–he wasn’t himself last night–the defense isn’t going to go anywhere.
— Did anyone else feel bad for the Iowa and Arizona fans? First the game goes into overtime after both teams drive into opposing territory and don’t score in the fourth, then there’s an injury that stretches out OT even longer. (On the plus side, it would have been real easy to go into a second OT.)
Your bottom line
For all the missteps and useless flags and interceptions and runs to nowhere, Auburn is one win away from going to Lexington 5-0. And even more importantly, we have a defense that’s going to keep us even in the games where the offense sputters.
I’ll take that. Would I rather have easy W’s and an offense I felt like I could trust to put 28 points on the board every time out? Yes. But, hey, Auburn’s survived. We’re past the point of expectations now. Just win, baby.
Photo by Van Emst.
Well said Jerry. Lucky? Fortunate? Without a doubt. But hey, you know what? After fortune not smiling on Auburn for what seems like an eternity, I’ll take it. Are there improvements to be made? You bet, but seeing improvement tells you something about the character of the coaches and players because settling for mediocrity is not an option, right?
My biggest disappointment was in the offensive line last night. At least in the first half, there was no push and little time for Newton. It’s hard to criticize playcalling, the QB, or the running backs when there’s no way to execute because the line is getting killed.
To me the defense finally played like their hair was on fire and seemed to dictate the play in the second half last night. That was very refreshing to see.
Justin / AubOrange says
I couldn’t be more proud of this team.
Clemson showed up. And their fans did too. Those fans were as loud and as wild as any road crowd I’ve ever seen in Jordan-Hare. Kind of like those Kentucky fans last year, they just came in with the underdog role and were in pure excitement the whole time, and weren’t held back by any nervousness like fans from Florida, LSU, and Bama are. And their team showed up right out the gate, too.
And yet we still found a way to fight back, in the greatest of adversities, and win that game. I can think of a couple of teams in the Top 10 that wouldn’t have been able to do that.
Clemson played a perfect game. They jumped out to an early lead, they gave up zero turnovers all game, and they had an 8 play touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. And we still beat them.
It was an awesome game, in an awesome atmosphere, and I’m glad we got that win. Not just for this season, but for the grander scheme of things as well. That was one for the history books.
So excited for next week. It’s encouraging to think that we’ve been through two battles, against Mississippi State and Clemson, and South Carolina really hasn’t been in that type of game yet. Because that’s exactly what it’s going to be next week; a battle.
Nothing but encouragement going forward. What a win.
Well Jerry, I think I’ve earned an, “I told ya so.” I like where you went with this. Having the wrong expectations can really ruin what should be fun games to watch. War Eagle.
All we do is win. (For the record, everyone in my section freaking loved that song, including me. My hands were up in the air for various amounts of time.)
It seems we are getting every team’s best shot so far. It says a lot that we’re 3-0. Clemson has been preparing for Auburn pretty much since fall camp started. It was a big win. I am still very concerned about the defense. Yes, Coach Roof made great halftime adjustments, but guys constantly looked out of place, poor tackling, and, most important, through 3 games, we have forced 2 turnovers. That won’t cut it in the big games. WDE anyway!!
Justin / AubOrange says
I’ll admit, All I Do Is Win was righteous. Still doesn’t really work as a tunnel video, but when they played it during the 3rd/4th quarter break that was pretty awesome.
Auburn Elvis says
I have to admit I was wrong about the blue helmets/ pants. If Auburn had worn them, we would have beaten Clemson… What’s that? We won without a gimmicky uniform? Hmm. Maybe this place really WAS great long before we got here.
Tommy Armour says
Jerry, I’m guessing you’ll cover this when you do your recaps of this game, but two things jump out at me:
1) It could be because of the defensive schemes that Clemson used, but I don’t recall Auburn using screens or swing passes at all last night. Seems to me that with Newton struggling in the first half, those type plays might have given him some confidence (of course they may have planned to, but we hardly had the ball in the first half).
2) I’ve not been impressed with Shoemaker’s punting through 3 games, and when we needed a big one last night in the fourth quarter, he failed to come through. I wonder if it may be time to consider a change.
Penalties, turnovers, time of possession–3 facets of the game which have been incredibly lacking under the CGC administration. Until we get better in those areas, we’ll continue to be an average at best SEC team.
The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.
I’m impressed with our teams guts. Only ‘cocks and hawgs have been tested like we have with tight games and passed. Last spring I expected 8 wins minimum, happy with 9, and elated with 10 wins (pre-bowl). Cam isn’t going to win the heisman. Dyer will still be a good/maybe great back. We will win more games this year. Maybe alot if we can keep moving forward. IE fix the turnover and penalty problems. Maybe some kind of championship if the O-line tightens up, cam learns to complete passes quickly from a 3 step drop, and DBs get their heads around and swat some balls. You win some, you lose some, and we are 3-0 with a big game at JH next saturday for our 4th consecutive prime time game. War Eagle! BTW, we did see the bottom right corner of the punnett square during the 3 quarter last night. It’d be awesome to see it for 4 straight quarters, but we need to see some consistency before we can begin to expect it.
Although it was hard to watch.we found a way to overcome. Clemson is no slouch. They ranked 19th last year in yards allowed and 25th in points allow..and all indications they should be just as good this year.
They are some obvious improvements we need and hopefully we will continue to mature each game.. Defense is coming around each game and thats a lot better than we were last year… Last years team would have lost the last 2 games.
Jerry- great writeup. I totally agree with everything you said. It is really freeing actually, to approach each Saturday with this attitude. One of my good friends is a Clemson fan, and I took him down to the Plains last night (he’s not onmbnocious at all). He wanted to see the whole production- so we did tiger walk and the whole bit. To see those kids exuberantly walking to the stadium, it made me realize- – they are doing the best they can and have high expectation of themselves (and also they pay a huge price to play each week). So I’m really trying not to think about what didn’t work, what looked bad each week – just be happy when we win, and although it stinks, realized that life goes on if we lose (except for the last game of the regular season).
Not the prettiest win but a W nonetheless. Encouraged that when we could have folded like a taco, we didn’t. Credit the coaches and Newton for rallying the troops. A good sign for the future. Looked like Newton set his jaw when things were tough rather than going into shell or worse. Seems to be a warrior.
Speaking of warriors, that Parker kid from Clemson made a believer of me. That last throw doesn’t sail on him, we’re 2 and1 instead of 3-0. I bet he’s sore today.
I’m no football expert, so I would like to hear from some of you that are. Where is the passing game? The 10 and outs, the 5 and stops, the slants, the in’s? All but three of Newton’s passes last night that I remember where bombs down field. I feel like we are playing very one dimensional and teams are not respecting the pass. That is why our offense struggled last night, to me. Thoughts?
Jerry, that might be the best college football piece I’ve this year. Nice work.
Alex P in Smyrna G says
Tommy – I think that Fannin was missing had something to do with the lack of screens and swings. If we can get him back, it’ll help a lot.
AU has played a progressively better opponent each week and passed each test. It wasn’t that long ago that I had lost faith in my Tigers late in close games. Now I think both sides of the ball at least give themselves a chance to pull out a W if they can just hang in there until the end.
If it’s a dogfight, then I think our guys are more battle hardened.
The defense got flat owned on the first drive of the game. Outside of that, I think they did well enough to win most any game. Remember, the PI call on third down that would have resulted in a punt? That call goes the right way and there is no OT. Compared to what we got last year, this D is just fine.
On offense, Newton, Dyer, McCalebb, Adams, The O-line and the rest of the offense showed us all something last night about their ability and their determination.
I have seen a lot of comparisons between last night and other games from the past. How about this one?: Florida 2002.
When Carnell went down at about the half we all wrote them off. Then Ronnie Brown and the O line simultaneously find there manhood. AU loses in the end, but from that point on, we knew something special had clicked.
Something might have clicked with about a minute left in the first half last night that we’ll see play out the rest of the season. We’ll have to wait to find out for sure.
Easily Josh Bynes’ most complete game. He had some devastating TFLs. He even had a pass breakup. Stevens was REAL rusty. He was (not) involved in too many of Clemson’s big offensive plays. Two horrible pass interference calls on their 2nd half scoring drive but hey they missed a Stevens offsides call on that 3rd down play in OT. The battle for the state championship of South Carolina continues this week. And also the battle to show two RBs (Lattimore and Howard) that they made the wrong choices in schools! War Eagle!
The one thing I’ll point out is this: under Tubs, I never had real faith that an Auburn team could come back from TWO scores down, much less THREE to win the game. Especially if they were down that much at the half.
It’s different under Chizik and Gustav the Mad Scientist of Football. I have faith in this team to fight it out to the very end no matter what. WDE.
Here’s hoping in 2 weeks Clemson knocks off Miami and this win looks lots better.
Foy Onion says
A few thoughts regarding teh game/telecast:
– We missed Fannin more than most people realize. The absence of his non-ball-carrying roles really hurt the offense in the first half. Perhaps Clemson’s D isn’t quite as aggressive when they’re having to keep track of Super Mario at all times.
– Thank you Coach Chizik for not playing it conservative at the end of the first half.
– The two PI calls on Clemson’s second half TD drive belonged on a stable floor as did Herbstreit’s analysis of the first one. Really Kirk? PI should be called when the DB looks at the WR the wrong way?
– ESPN had the wrong answer on the Aflac trivia question. Heisman did not give the Tiger nickname to Auburn or Clemson. How about a little research, folks?
– Although I was ecstatic over the win, my gut reaction was disappointment that we did not play the whole game like we did the second half. Once I rationalized it, though, I realized that there’s no way we win this game last year. It’s a great win against a good team that had plenty of time to prepare. I’ll take it! Now let’s fry up a nice chicken dinner on Saturday!
– War Eagle!
Mule Summit says
Terrific column. Right on the mark.
A bud sent me the link. I’m going to have to start following your blog. Thanks.
Here’s what I know… We’ve seen plenty of good, and the bad can be fixed, unlike in years past.
When the problems are a lack of coaching, very poor scheming, or lack of effort, or worse yet, lack of talent – then there’s not a lot you can do.
When you know halftime is as good as it gets and the coaching staff is incapable of adjusting at half, that’s a problem.
Fortunately, right now, the problems are mostly execution – the most easily fixable of all problems. There’s enough talent across the board – not an excess but enough – to win any (and I do mean any) game on the schedule. The coaches have shown (in abundance) an ability to adapt. Effort has not been an issue – period. So I still have high hopes.
And let’s not forget the people and coaches that AU has played. Even Ark State – they had a VERY good O-Line. Huge and experienced. Fresh legs and active. MSU had a cowbell fueled mad-on, Thursday night crowd, and enough talent and physicality to give anybody fits. And Clemson – that bunch is just plain ole good. Fast, strong, talented. NFL players all over the field. Even at QB, even though he’s gonna play baseball. Plus a coaching staff that has enough talent and anti AU venom to get especially worked up over this past weekend.
I know that the message boards are gonna be up in arms, the sky is falling, and woe-is-me from sea to shining sea, but that’s just AU folks being AU folks. And this team will just keep in playing – and winning – just about every time.
I am going to predict a loss against the gamecocks…spurrier wants revenge for that 48-whatever game against us a few years ago.
Gabe, you mean the game where his Cocks didn’t get to touch the ball in the third quarter after our onside kick? One of my favorite quarters of football ever. All Ol’ Ball Coach could do was pace around, wringing his hands. Heh.
Gabe/JM, I was at that game in columbia. Correct on the 3rd quarter TOP, but I believe the 48ish point game was the year before in JH. The SC fans applauded the team after the loss in columbia. I listened to postgame and spurrier was ripping the fans about it. Yeah, their fans want revenge, but I’m pretty sure none of these players or coaches are the same as those groups with the exception of spurrier. AU staff has turned over and spurrier has probably changed coordinators in that time I’m guessing. Gamecock fans jumped up my SEC worsts fan list right behind alabama after that weekend. I still have more opponents stadiums to visit, but have been to UGA, tuscaloosa/b’ham, MSU, MISS, and USC.
Just saw where Kenny McKinley (former gamecock receiver) appears to have commited suicide. gamecocks will come in with heavy hearts. We all need to pray for his family and friends. I’m hoping AU will give a moment of silence before the game.
Mule, thanks. Do stick around. Thanks also to eveyone else who had something nice to say.
BigDawg, an excellent point on the Stevens offsides. It’s excruciatingly hard to remember it during a game ,but calls almost always do even out over the course of 60 minutes. For realsies.