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War Eagle: echoing off the rocky top

October 4, 2009

Auburn moved to 5-0 Saturday night in Knoxville, Tennessee and will hopefully earn the requisite votes to crack the Top 25 later today as a reward. Most of us were somewhat stunned to only be up 13-6 at the half, even though that same ‘most’ would have never guessed Auburn’s defense would stand up the way they did, or our offense would move the ball so well, only to stall deep in the red zone.

And what a week of building excitement for a game between two unranked teams? Between wondering what foolishness Kiffin would say next to UT canceling Tiger Walk, to all my fellow bloggers wondering about Isom, injuries and praising Kiffin the elder’s defense – you would have thought this was a top 5 matchup destined for ESPN Classic. And yet, Auburn didn’t need this game nearly so much as Tennessee. Yes, Coach Chizik could use erasing the zero in his road wins column as a head coach and yes, Auburn could use a good performance on the road to continue learning, but Tennessee needed this game to remain relevant for something other than ESPN soundbites.

As we all now know, your final was much more than a scoreboard showing the Tigers victorious over the Vols, 26 to 22.



The Tennessee Offense, largely extinct

 Tennesse managed just over 200 yards through 3 quarters. Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens were terrors on the field and Walt McFadden added some terror of his own with an injury scare but couldn’t be kept off the field. Most of UT QB Crompton’s success actually came not only in the 4th quarter, but after Auburn had the game tucked away and played softer coverage patterns. A personal favorite was when Crompton got rushed and plunked one of his unsuspecting receivers in the head as he crossed the center of the field. Yes, the UT fans cheered each completion. It was easy to see why.







The Auburn Defense, Phoenix rising

 Someome forgot to tell our Defense they were dead this year and Tennessee would torch them on the high ground of Neyland Stadium. UT did open up on offense with their own wildcat formation and the initial run elicited groans from the AU faithful. However, a couple of long runs aside, Auburn stuffed the vaunted UT attack and kept Crompton scrambling with 5 hurries (no sacks?!) and a string of bad throws. True, the UT receivers provided no help and looked more like Auburn’s punt return team during the first four games. But still – Auburn proved they can still play defense, even in the shadow of the offensive giant getting the press this year.






Auburn's Offense, fastest in the world (at times)

Auburn's Offense, fastest in the world (at times)

You just can’t say enough good about Coach Gus Malzahn. I absolutely love the way he paced the game. In the first half, the offense would line up, look over the Tennessee defense and adjust – showing tenacity as the UT defense called on the crowd over and over again. In the second half, comfortable with the way they were controlling the game, Auburn stepped on the gas, and literally ‘gassed’ the UT defense. Ben Tate showed determined running, losing his helmet on 2 plays and flattening Eric Berry on another. McCalebb led the way with all-purpose yards and Fannin and Todd corrected their mistakes on the out pattern. Add to the game management, the zero turnovers and the over 400 yards, AGAIN, and what is not to love?
Auburn Special Teams, still proud

Auburn Special Teams, still proud

Auburn’s special teams had a night in their own right. Frenchy returned to return punts, and I admit I laughed at his first two thinking, “he’s been told to fair catch everything. Emphasis on ‘catch’.” And, although he didn’t have a return of more than single digit yards, he didn’t fumble any either. Kick returns were much improved, but coverage showed vulnerability (still). Wes Byrum missed his first FG attempt, but connected on crucial ones at every stage of the game, early and late. Plus, we blocked a PAT, which probably took some of the wind out of UT’s sails just before the half. And finally, how could you not just stand up and cheer when McCalebb took the last UT kickoff up the field and put Auburn in near FG range at the end of the game?!
You have to feel much better about going on the road to Arkansas and the building momentum and confidence this team is gaining. The Tennessee game looked like one of the more complete games we’ve seen on execution and lessons learned from the first third of the season. It appears the team is on board with the coaching staff and having fun at the same time. The next test? A pre-noon kickoff (CST) against a team that has had our number the past 10 years *ahem*. Two things alone which in the past would have caused the Tigers to stumble mightily. Will we be suffering from a Rocky Top hangover? Let’s hope not, but until then….
War Eagle never sounded so nice, sung so loudly and all night long in the hills of Tennessee.
War Eagle, fly down the field!

War Eagle, fly down the field!


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