It takes a certain amount of devotion to attend a college football game. Face it. They make it so easy to just watch it on TV. Back before HD, well, it was a coin flip, but now? It's not even close. You got the best seat in the house. All you want to eat and drink, bathrooms close by, and your best friends sitting beside you without having to crowd seven onto couches designed for six. Not to mention the weather--no severe heat or cold to contend with. But being in Jordan-Hare during game time has so many of it's own rewards. Because attending games in person can be so tough, economically and time-wise, I believe that it's what separates the casual fan from the devout one, the Dye-hard from the bandwagon. People sometimes denigrate other fans as being sidewalk alumni--I don't. Like someone once said, 90% of it is just showing up. If you are a true fan, you must occasionally beat a path back to where your spirit lies.
For me Saturday, it marked the 26th straight season that I've seen at least one Auburn game in person, (starting with the 1985 season for all you business majors). By no means impressive to many Tiger fans, I'm proud of it because it reinforces and refreshes the Auburn spirit in me anew. Not to mention it's a damn good time. TV just can't reproduce what you witness during the heart of a game. Screaming your head off, the reaction of the crowd, the sight and sound of it. There's something live in the air. It exists--like electricity. You can hear it on TV, but you can't feel it--not unless you are there. And Phil Collins, was it ever in the air Saturday night.
You miss a lot of the game watching it in the stadium. Yeah, it's all there in front of you, but it's harder to follow. You don't get the commentary, you miss the replays, you can't see the reactions. I'd say that maybe it's better that way because it doesn't break your spirit as quickly--not with such a large support group so near by. During the first half, I knew that we hadn't seen anything out of our offense--the Jumbotron updates the yards for each team constantly, and I knew that Clemson was piling them on. A blind man could see that. Yet still, the crowd, as ignorant as we may have been that a potential rout was on, never stopped once. I saw no mass surrenders during halftime, nor an exodus for the gates. Yes, fans were ready for Auburn to finally show up, and I think not only did the team feed off of it, but the crowd consumed it's own energy as well, like a firestorm, and was ready to explode in the second half.
I've seen a lot of negative comments about what we did this past game, and we can break-down and criticize the players and the plays in minute detail, but let's look at the big picture for just a second before we do: The composure that this team retained to shut down Clemson's running attack in the second half and to get our offense cranking all at the same time was nothing short of a miraculous effort. We need Acid Reign to tell us the last time Auburn overcame a 17-0 deficit at home, but it's probably been a while. I'm sure that Chizik was probably a cool customer during halftime, reassuring the team shortly before before the coordinators and position coaches chewed their asses. But I'd also like to think about possible echoes of Pat Dye, perhaps whispering in between coughs into the players' ears that they might not be man enough to come back and beat Clemson. That's Auburn toughness, and would it ever fire me up.
No, it wasn't pretty, maybe we did get lucky-- two weeks in a row, perhaps. It's obvious that this team is still finding itself. We expected more from this group, not as much from some others. But like I've said before, football is a game of momentum. NOT just within the sixty minutes itself, but during the entire season. Fair teams can become good if only they start to believe it. Holding on at State, pushing Clemson to overtime--these are tremendous victories to the players. Small steps like that build momentum. They start to believe that they can win. They start to believe that they shouldwin. If they pick up on that kind of roll with great coaching and support from the fans, our early season limitations can be overcome. Let me tell you. The Auburn-Clemson game was the talk on sports radio in Atlanta today. Auburn earned respect with this win. Yea, we're going to lose a few. No rational fan can deny that with this young team, but I still see the unrealized potential in this team and patiently await until it finally comes bursting through the seams. Our opponents now fear this resurgence as well. War Eagle!
First off, a tip of the hat to the Clemson fan base who travelled down. Knowing quite a few Clemson folks personally, I can say that they're every bit as classy as we Auburn folk are, if not more so. I even met a few more before the game. Think of them as country cousins. They came in force and played hard. Not only were they massed in the visitors section, but they collected in the top right corner of the east stands, in all the empty seats that Auburn fans didn't want to buy (hint, hint, athletic department). They probably thought they had it won, but JHS is a tough place to play at night, and Auburn's 50+ year hex over Hartwell stays intact. Man, I do love these BCS out-of-conference games.
After the Arky State game, I'm sure the coaches told Cameron Newton to quit running people over and taking so many hard hits. Quite frankly, I think it hampers how hard he plays. Even though I know how dangerous it is, I've see a toned-down version of him the past two games. Let the kid play. They eventually quit complaining over Tebow taking the tough hits, and maybe they will with Newton. Every time Cam thrusts forward instead of sliding, his stride carries him another yard and a half--easily. His ability to take off downfield is what drives defenses crazy, so let's not tone it down. A few QB draws worked great, as did pocket passing. The pump fake and long ball to Terrell Zachary is what dreams are made of. We saw a lot of the pocket passing in the first half when the run was shut down. Cam's current QB rating is 5th in the county, actually ahead of Arkansas's Ryan Mallet but behind Alabama's Greg McElroy. Take away those two picks against Clemson and he would be ahead of them both.
Like Jay mentioned yesterday, we have to figure out what we're going to do with the running backs. I will say this about Onterio McCalebb: this kid is tough. I said last year that he didn't have the size to take a SEC pounding with 20 carries a game, but he brings the speed we need to go around the ends. He averaged over 8 yards per on 10 carries Saturday, and continues to average over 7 YPC this season. His run from the kneeling position out of the wildcat formation in the second half was reminiscent of the old fumblerooski days. I hope he's not too banged up to play this weekend.
Michael Dyer was given considerably more carries, but I believe that the Clemson defense was keying on him early--not to mention that our run blocking in the first half was crap. He still had 69 yards on 16 carries and he had to fight for everyone of them. He's going to break one soon, he comes oh-so-close with every carry and initial broken tackle. The hoopla this weekend with South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore coming into town will all be about the battle of the freshman sensations. Lattimore gets over 23 carries per game. After rushing 37 times against Georgia, they rested him against Furman last week, with a paltry 19. They're definitely saving him for Auburn and Ted Roof and company have their assignment. Honestly though, Clemson's Andre Ellington ran all over us with 140 yards and is more impressive than what I've seen out of Lattimore so far--even in that Georgia game.
Another thing missing with our backs, alongside the lack of a balanced attack, is throwing to them. With Fannin out and Eric Smith under-utilized, did we even throw to anyone out of the backfield Saturday night? Darvin Adams was spectacular, but missed a few. Terrell Zachary was MIA except for that long ball and the requisite reverse or two, and with only 14 pass attempts, there's plenty of room for a few screens or balls in the flats. And when are we ever going to throw to the tight end? Phillip Lutzenkirchen is supposed to be a good one, but probably just another in the long blue line of quality tight ends at Auburn that we never throw to. Maybe Gus Malzahn is saving some of that magic for later in the season, but I'd like to see some of it now, please, Gustav!
I haven't seen kickoff times yet for Saturday. Who's all-in for this weekend?