Both Tigers, Tide had off weeks on Saturday

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Sports Columnist

As followers of the Auburn University football team looked over the schedule for the 2001 season, they probably noticed an off-week in the last half of the season.

However, that week was supposed to be this week, not last week. Unfortunately, the common "week-after" let-down hit the Tigers last Saturday, as they endured a sound whipping at the hands of the Arkansas Razorbacks, one week after arguably one of the greatest victories in Auburn history. Coaches, media and fans alike are always wary of the emotional state of their favorite team after a huge victory and the boys from the Plains found out just how difficult it is to "get up" for the next game following such a win.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Is there any way to explain this phenomenon? It definitely isn’t unusual in the world of college football, and if you listen to the prognosticators and oddsmakers, it is even expected. Often you’ll notice that the big-time programs will schedule a pushover of one kind or another the week following what is perceived to be their biggest games in expectation of the dreaded let-down.

The part of the team that Tiger fans have come to count on – even in relatively poor years – has always been the defense, and this year was expected to be no exception. However, after giving up 40 points for the second week in a row, Auburn fans and critics may be quick to point fingers in that direction. But in the words of Lee Corso, "not so fast, my friend!" First of all, Florida scores 40 on everybody ­ and that’s only if Spurrier doesn’t get the opportunity to run it up ever further. And secondly, it was the Auburn offense that shouldered at least equal blame for the points scored by Arkansas on Saturday.

With 20 seconds remaining in the first half, Tuberville & Company outsmarted themselves and Daniel Cobb’s overthrown pass was intercepted and returned to the AU 16 yard line. Just like that, instead of being a mere four points behind, they were faced with a 21-10 deficit and had effectively swung all the momentum in the Razorbacks’ direction.

Then in the fourth quarter, the wheels really came off. After driving to the Arkansas 26 yard line, Casinious Moore fumbled and Arkansas returned it to the Auburn 30 to setup another score. Finally, in response to the question you should never ask, "what else could possibly go wrong?", the Razorbacks returned yet another interception 88 yards for a TD. On the other hand, the defense did show a disturbing inability to stop a one-dimensional offense after the Razorbacks switched to an option attack late in the game (led by a freshman quarterback). So it can truly be said that it was a team effort.

By the way, don’t expect to hear any rousing renditions of Willie Nelson’s "I Can’t Wait to Get On The Road Again" coming from the Plains anytime soon. After being thumped by Syracuse and Arkansas and narrowly escaping Vanderbilt with their pelts intact, their recent misfortune on the road may revive the old joke about changing the school mascot to a Possum or Armadillo. Things aren’t all doom and gloom however, as Auburn still remains in the driver’s seat in the SEC West. If they can patch up the holes in their gameplan in the two weeks before they pick back up with Georgia, this past week’s debacle will be quickly forgotten.

Meanwhile in Tuscaloosa, Coach Fran and his crew have had plenty of their own wrinkles to iron out during their open date before their meeting with LSU, mostly on the subject of their fourth quarter disappearances of late. They have seemed to have a great gameplan going for the first three-fourths of their games this year, and have put up surprising numbers through their first seven games. They came into Saturday’s open date ranked first in the SEC in rushing (220 yards per game), 5th in scoring (28.6 points per game), and 6th in offense (408 yards per game). And they haven’t displayed a habit of handing the ball to their opponents, with only nine turnovers in seven games. They just can’t seem to "close the deal" when it really counts.

This has served to re-light the quarterback controversy to a small degree. Although Tyler Watts is obviously the man at the helm of the Tide offense, his performances in the fourth quarter in losses to South Carolina, Ole Miss, and Tennessee have left much to be desired (although I still contend that play-calling hasn’t helped a whole lot). In those losses, he has completed only 3-of-16 passes in the fourth quarter and has completed only one pass when trailing in the final stanza. That doesn’t exactly draw Elway or Montana comparisons. There have been comments coming from Coach Franchione that indicate he is considering using Andrew Zow as his "Mayday" quarterback (his term for the two-minute drill). Remember his 3-for-3 performance for 95 yards and a TD before a late hit knocked him out of the final minutes of his relief effort against UCLA? Bama fans will always wonder what would have happened if could have continued. And in a scrimmage last week, Zow went 6 for 6 in "mayday" drills.

Other positions where changes may be in order for the Tide are tailback and defensive back. Santonio Beard evoked fond memories of Shaun Alexander with his stats and running style against Tennessee, and is certainly deserving of a starting job. Don’t be surprised if it happens, as Franchione has held true to his vow that no one’s job is secure in the starting lineup. Likewise, the secondary is in desperate need of some stability, as they have received much of the blame for their inability to protect a lead. Seven different defensive backs have started at the four available positions this season, with only Hirschel Bolden starting all seven games. In each loss, the defense has seemed to be just one or two plays away from putting the game on ice. If they can begin to make the big plays that have always been the staple of Alabama defenses of the past, we may see the Tide finish with a bang and end up with the victories required to be bowl-eligible. It ain’t exactly what Bama fans have come to expect over the years, but after last year, I’m sure it will dofor now.