The Auburn cynic in me saw this coming. I want to believe that I knew this team could piece it back together from the ash heap of 2008, if only we could avoid the glare of stares from the outside world. Auburn does best when expectations are low and attention is unwarranted. But can this team stave off the pressures that come with being in the cross hairs that any ranked team is? Certainly, Mean Gene has instilled in these boys belief in themselves and each other, but has he also taught humility and unselfishness? Chizik is as smooth as a Mormon missionary with an Amway franchise, and exudes quiet confidence--something that we hope trickles down on the players. From what I've seen in the locker room after games, I'd say that the tribe is buying in and emulating their coach. War Eagle!
Post Game Acclaim
Best Back: Onterio McCalebb, (not to be confused with Monterio Hardesty) who in addition to supporting Ben Tate's spectacular rushing performance by adding 51 yards on the ground himself, was our leading receiver with 62 yards on only 3 catches. McCalebb showed yet again that his speed is something to contend with, as he gained most of his yards by getting around the corners, both rushing and receiving. And I think we've found a new kick returner
Best Guy Off the Bench: Eric Smith, who's proving to have the softest hands of any back since Ronnie Brown. Smith had 3 catches for 45 yards, but no rushes. As much as I like Fannin as H-back, I wish that we could work Smith in some more.
Non-Factor: The crowd. 102,000 just isn't what it used to be. Stage-fright could have been expected from this young squad, but the offense having it's way with Tennessee early kept the crowd out of this one for the most part. Consolation: They weren't filming Fields of Glory again like they were during our last trip to Neyland in 2004.
Goat:Tennessee receivers. Yea, I know that Jonathan Crompton was throwing it behind you all night, but most of those were pure drops. Things got so heated on the sidelines that it appears that Vol WR Brandon Warren has been suspended for the remainder of the year for getting into an altercation with WR coach Frank Wilson.
Best of Times, Worst of Times: Averaging 35 yards per kickoff return with our core of three running backs on four returns but allowing 25 yards/return on seven to the boys in safety orange. McCalebb, Smith or Tate for punt returners, anyone?
Best Respected/Victimized: Eric Berry, the all-world safety for the Vols. We wouldn't throw it deep his way out of fear of being victimized ourselves, and Berry certainly laid some major hits our way, but I saw him bouncing off some guys like ping pong balls on a few occasions. Granted, it wasn't Jason Allen-esque, but that time in the second half that Berry tried a flying tackle against our own bowling ball Ben Tate, (someone cue Youtube for me, please!) who had broken into the secondary, he went bouncing off on his head.
Cringe Moment: Tie. 1) Allowing Crompton to run a hurry up offense to score a TD in 1:20 before the half, then 2) allowing the same in garbage time to end the game. I thought 'style' points were supposed to be for the winners? Never quit, guys. Don't do it!
Best Decoy: Darvin Adams, who was sacrificed out of fear of Eric Berry, but still had 2 catches for 29 yards. With the emerging Adams marginalized, Chris Todd threw mostly to the running backs, with six throws to them out of the backfield in addition to another eight to Mario Fannin alone.
Best Play: The fumblerooski-like run by Travante Stallworth, who was hiding behind the right guard, squatted down, and received a quick hand off from Todd, running around the left end. Hey, it fooled me and the cameraman, looking north-south, and I guess it fooled the defense since it gained 10 yards. Honorable Mention: The quick kick by Todd on the first drive. Learn that rugby-style kick, son!
Individual Performance: Wes Byrum, who was called on to do what none of us thought he would have to--attempt five field goals. Hitting four, Wes appears to have his mojo back. Two were chip-shots, which is deplorable that we had so limited success in the red zone that night. Hat tip to Tennessee's defense for that.
Glad We Kept a Good Man Down: Monterio Hardesty ( rhymes with Onterio ) The leading rusher in the SEC going into last week, actually did most of his damage through receiving. He scored from a screen pass right before the half and busted one medium-length run, but was kept in check most of the rest of the evening. Hardesty still leads the SEC in total yards rushing, (575) followed closely by Tate with 540.