October 23, 2008
West Virginia 34, Auburn 17. At halftime, I was ready to gush about Auburn's resilience and return to form off a solid month of pessimism and decline. This really was Tuberville Classic: a run-heavy, 20-play drive to open the game, a massive advantage in time of possession, a crazy-like-a-fox onside kick, and even a touchdown, Kodi Burns' scramble to put the Tigers up 17-6, off the old Auburn standby, the play-action waggle with the shallow tight end cross. You can't get more Auburn than the first quarter and a half.
But that was a mirage even in the second quarter. Auburn successfully controlled the clock for a while, but it never really stopped West Virginia -- three of the four real Mountaineer drives in the first half went 48, 67 and 78 yards and ended interception, field goal, touchdown, respectively; the other ended in another interception on the second play, leading to a short-field touchdown. When the Tigers stopped holding the ball for six or nine minutes at a time in the second half and Pat White stopped throwing awful interceptions, it was no contest at all: WVU scored 31 unanswered and Noel Devine made the Tigers look tired, slow and outclassed. Syracuse put up a better fight against the Mountaineers than Auburn in the second half.
For West Virginia, this is the explosive team that was supposed to show up from the beginning, and instantly vaults the Mountaineers back into the Big East race. Bill Stewart looked like a giddy grandfather when he was talking to Erin Andrews after the game, and he needed the win almost as much as Tuberville did.
As for Tuberville ... it's about to get ugly here. Auburn's lost three in a row and four of five, and had zero answers once West Virginia stopped turning the ball over. The offense was shut out out in the second half, went three-and-out on four of its last five possessions and missed a field goal to stay in the game on the only decent drive of the half. Even off a bye week, the Tigers looked gassed, and by the fourth quarter, it was fairly ridiculous: Dorrell Jalloh broke three feeble tackles for a touchdown on a crucial third down play, and Devine wasn't touched on the last of his many big, gashing runs, a 30-yard sprint straight up the middle that the end zone camera angle showed in all its gaping ease.
Bill Stewart's team made the adjustments and looked more prepared than Tuberville's, which at 4-4 and 1-3 in the SEC has nothing in particular to play for over the rest of the season, except its coach's job. Which we have to assume is officially on the line ... now.