9/20/2008 – Auburn 21, LSU 26 – Uh, Michigan is still 1-2
So. I have ventured into the heart of darkness to experience their football and have returned. Evaluations are in order but they should be prefaced with some context: college football is awesome. I have seen eighty-seven thousand people scream this at the top of their lungs:
I defy you to find another activity outside of speaking-in-tongues-style Christianity that can cause large masses of people to say "bodda getta, bodda getta, bodda getta bah." All of this should be prefaced with that truth. College football is awesome. What makes the ESSSS EEEEE CEEEE garbage so odious is its claim that college football outside of the SEC is not awesome. Going to Auburn was awesome. End of big picture opinion.
But I'm sure people are curious about how it compares, so some comparisons:
The chintziness. On a chintziness scale where Michigan is zero—pending the public shaming of whoever piped in RAWK MUSIC over the highlights at the end of the third quarter in the Miami game—and Michigan State is ten, Auburn is around a six.
- Jordan-Hare's advertising isn't too obnoxious, and the edifice itself is extremely nice.
- Aforementioned ridiculous college-only cheer.
- There is a freakin' eagle that flies around the stadium in the pregame.
- Related: "War Eagle" is way, way cooler than "Go Blue" and any other "GO BLANK" exhortation you care to name. War Eagle. Just say it. War Eagle.
- Tiger Walk, the first "team walks to stadium surrounded by fans" event, was really impressive.
- Despite having a couple of bands in the stands, evil recorded music was played over the PA on a regular basis.
- YMCA was one of these songs. YMCA. Come on! My Auburn compatriot said he wanted to run around telling everyone the song was about anonymous gay sex so they would stop, but he was nodding his head to the music just moments before.
- There is a band hype video. It's actually a really well done band hype video but the mere concept of it sent me into hysteric giggles. It also sort of worked, so I was simultaneously FIRED UP about Auburn's band and laughing. It was a weird 30 seconds.
- Auburn has a male cheerleader on a stand in front of the student section that acts like a hype man. He's got a mic, he exhorts the crowd to do things, and it's pretty meh.
- Exception to the non-obnoxious advertising: there's a video board with replays of every play, but sometimes instead of a replay there's an Under Armor commercial, which is a really good way to 1) get me to look at an ad and 2) swear a blood oath against whoever's running the ad.
It was nowhere near the Michigan State experience—if you've never been to MSU, their hype video ends with a computer-animated Sparty coming to life and blowing up a logo of the opposing team with frickin' eye lasers; also at one point they had this plastic chariot that looked like it was made of legos—but I'm a zealot about the piped-in music.
The noise level. We were in the upper deck, so determining if the vaunted SEC noise levels lived up to the hype was impossible. The organized pre-game cheers were pretty blasting all the way up there but I didn't get my face peeled off at any other time during the game.
Shockingly, on LSU's final drive—Auburn up one, this is a BFD—I stood up to yell at some point and had to sit back down sheepishly because no one else in the section was up. WTF? I sit in one of the oldest, lamest sections of Michigan Stadium and I personally guarantee you that if Michigan was up one with six minutes left and the other team had the ball, the section would be on their feet, gurgling out whatever noises their suppurating intestines could manage. This was a game-long issue. The noise levels in my immediate vicinity were no louder than I am used to. Maybe it's an upper deck thing.
The scoreboard. Auburn just has one video board but it's huge and in HD. It is killer. We need one. You have no idea.
However, I suggest that the awesome enormous HD scoreboard at Michigan Stadium should have SEC scores on it. Though Auburn was plenty happy to inform us that Utah had beaten Air Force 30-23 and Missouri had defeated mighty Buffalo 42-21, there was not a single Big Ten score, and the only Pac 10 score was the Georgia-Arizona State game.
The people. Auburn fans were friendly. There were some undercurrents of "Michigan sucks hur" but I took that more as a commentary on society than Auburn.
One thing became terribly annoying, though: "you guys are at the wrong game!" We heard this bon mot at least a dozen times. By the end when people would say it I would have one hand make the universal sign for "yap yap yap" and then have the other eat it violently. We get it. We're not from around here. We are probably aware of this fact.
I assume anyone in a random neutral college football shirt at Michigan Stadium is there to check it off his list of places to see a game before he dies, but apparently the idea of college football tourism is completely foreign to Auburn fans. Why? You have a freakin' eagle.
The coaches. After watching Auburn run what seemed like their eighth consecutive ineffective first down zone stretch with their pounding power back Ben Tate, I concluded that Tommy Tuberville is Lloyd Carr and he's trying to turn Tony Franklin into Mike DeBord.
Later this crystallized into a more general theory of offensive philosophy. Franklin kept running that zone stretch on first down, giving up expectation because of predictability, and hoped to make it back by catching LSU cheating for a big play. Debord was very similar with the zone left-zone left-zone left stuff. The idea is to execute well enough to eke out decent yardage and hit it big every once in a while when you break tendencies. To break tendencies you have to establish tendencies.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, seems diametrically opposed to this. His philosophy is based more on keeping the opponent guessing, whether it's on a play-to-play basis or within the play itself with the zone read. Auburn sort of ran a zone read but when you've got a lead-footed white guy and he's got no options other than a run you're not really threatening much. Rodriguez saw his quarterback's footspeed hampering that part of his offense and implemented that zone read keeper + late bubble screen combo we saw a couple times. I think Rodriguez hates the idea of establishing a tendency; he would prefer the defense to be uncertain at all times, even after Steven Threet's kept the ball.
And then there's Les Miles. At an early juncture when things were going well and LSU looked discombobulated, the Auburn blogger who kindly provided us with tickets sarcastically yelled out "run another trick play, Miles!" and I thought this was a very, very bad thing to tempt fate with. LSU, of course, would later run something I'd never seen before, a halfback pass off the fake-dive-pitch-outside play that would give them a go-ahead touchdown. The two plays before that were identical—someone must have held triangle—deep balls that exploited the same hole in the Auburn zone drops. There was also a successfully recovered onside kick. The Lesticles were in full force, and all of us from the Auburn guy to the three Michigan guys experienced a pang of regret that Miles hadn't ended up in Ann Arbor. The guy is legit.
The sign in the trash. If Georgia goes down and Matt Stafford has a bad game I assume some SEC blogger somewhere will have a use for this picture:
Go for it.
The exploding vein. An enormous black mark on Tuberville: not calling timeout once LSU had driven to around the Auburn 20. At that point they're either going to punch it in or get a makeable field goal attempt; with LSU down to a single timeout they would have little chance to get the ball back if they missed that field goal. You must preserve as much time as possible for a potential response. Instead, Tuberville let the clock run and was fortunate that LSU scored as quickly as it did; Auburn got the ball back with 1:03 and three timeouts instead of 1:43 and two or 2:15 and one.
Also, it was completely nonsensical to use Tate on all those first-half zone stretch plays when they've got a slashing McGuffie type in Brad Lester. Lester briefly enlivened the Auburn run game in the second half before an injury knocked him out.
The fandom. Auburn fans at the game itself were a weird combination of the nouveau Michigan fan who was completely frustrated with Lloyd Carr's coaching style and the old-school Michigan fan who can't stand this newfangled shotgun bullcrap, which was appropriate because their offense was that same weird fusion.
The best example of the latter: Auburn now does the thing where the team doesn't huddle, lines up, looks ready to snap the ball, relaxes, and then looks to the sideline for the call. Whenever Auburn would do this, an elderly Auburn fan was visibly, I-can't-set-the-time-on-this-damned-VCR agitated, throwing his hands in the air in disgust. This obvious discontent seemed to spread to the other oldsters around him as the game continued.
Overall, I got the sense that Auburn fans were a bit more fickle than Michigan fans, ready to turn on Tuberville when something went wrong and willing to turn back when something went right.
The pork and crawfish sausage we got at Winn-Dixie. Like college football, it was awesome.