Behind Enemy Lines – Part 2
It almost gets a little too much around the second half of paragraph seven (coincidence?), but I guess that’s why he’s here. Let him have it Auburn fans, or do we have any real ones that actually disagree with him anymore?
Things I refrain from at all costs: Rascal Flatts, orange … and needling my rival fans, just because they’re struggling. Maybe it’s because I grew up around so many Auburn fans, and I learned what it’s like to be on the receiving end of the aforementioned taunts and smug grins. So I take no great pleasure in examining the Tommy Tuberville era, now that it may be on life support.
After last week’s post saying Auburn wasn’t playing good football offensively, Tuberville — an apparent avid reader of WarBlogle.com, and who could blame him? — called Franklin on the carpet, and the OC walked right out the door as a result. To the utter surprise of no one, Auburn responded flaccidly, posting fewer than 200 yards of offense in a stunning 25-22 loss to Arkansas. While there is no excuse for losing to Arkansas — a turgid football team that lost by more than 20 points in three consecutive weeks, two of those coming at home — it wasn’t a huge surprise to see Auburn struggle, given the distractions they’d dealt with off the field.
The pressure has to shift over to Tuberville, who gambled on Franklin’s hire in December like a high-stakes poker player betting his house. At this point, the team is 4-3, and every game on the schedule looks eminently loseable other than the Homecoming game against UT-Martin (the only challenge in that game is that Auburn might get confused, since their uniforms look exactly like Auburn’s). It was bad enough that my friend Zach — as legendarily pessimistic about Auburn as I am about Alabama — had already fired Tuberville after the Arkansas game, and my cousin’s husband (cousin-in-law?) Jamie had already bandied about names like Butch Davis and Will Muschamp.
(Note: Count me among the people who hasn’t exactly been floored by Muschamp thus far. I know, I know — Texas beat Oklahoma, but it’s not exactly like Muschamp’s unit shut down the Sooners. And he did nothing at Auburn to impress me — if anything, he rode the coattails of a team already known for strong D and did a lot of chest-bumping and posturing to make the cameras focus on him. Tuberville, like Nick Saban, is and always has been the defensive coordinator of his team.)
We’ve been here before with Tuberville. Auburn fans wanted him gone in 2001 after the team fell apart with three straight losses, in 2002 after the squad lost consecutive games to Arkansas and Florida, in 2003 after a potential national-championship contender went in the tank. Amazingly, a five-point victory over a 4-win Alabama team somehow softened the stance of many in the Auburn family; then the famous “Jet” incident (OK … “Jetgate,” whatever) followed by the 13-0 ’04 campaign seemingly gave Tuberville a lifetime contract.
Before ’04, there wasn’t much separating Tuberville from Tommy Bowden at Clemson, both of whom seemed to always helm underachieving teams but both of whom always got hot at the right time so they could hang onto their jobs. But 2004 ignited Auburn — between ’04 and ’07, Auburn won an incredible 42 games, against only 9 defeats. And, most important to Auburn fans, they’ve dominated their archrivals from across the state — Tuberville lost two of his first three to ‘Bama and hasn’t lost to them since.
Of course, an objective analysis of that same stretch must also point out the following: Tuberville’s Auburn teams have only visited the SEC Championship Game twice in his 10 seasons, winning once. They’ve compiled a record of only 2-4 against Georgia the last six seasons — with this year’s game still pending — and gone 3-4 against LSU in that same span. The Alabama streak, obviously, overshadows everything. But it’s not as though Auburn has been slaying giants in that span, right? The 10-year span of Tuberville’s career has coincided with what is arguably the worst period in the history of Alabama football: a crippling NCAA probation, an incredible FIVE head coaches and four losing seasons. In fact, only once during that period could you argue that Alabama’s talent was equal to any of the SEC’s elite — in 2002, the first season of this streak.
The question is how restless the Auburn fans will be if things go further south. There’s no guarantee that will happen, of course — the team has the off week, a not-so-daunting-as-it-used-to-look trip to West Virginia, a trip to Ole Miss and Homecoming vs. Martin before preparing for “Amen Corner.” Just as every game appears loseable, there’s no game left on the schedule that looks completely unwinnable, either. And besides, as we’ve already illustrated, Tuberville has a knack for wriggling out of this sort of thing.