Whoa, Tide: Why raise Gators' ire? Enjoy Iron-clad win
Nov. 29, 2008
By Gregg Doyel
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- A victory like this, like Alabama's 36-0 thrashing of rival Auburn, should be savored. That's why I'm not mentioning what will happen next week to Alabama and its No. 1 ranking and its national title hopes. Not going to do it. Wouldn't be appropriate.
Today is a day to appreciate how big this win was for Alabama, which had lost six consecutive games to Auburn, and what it means to a state that can now start its 365-day countdown to the 74th Iron Bowl in 2009. Saturday was a day for intense rivalry games all over college football -- Florida State vs. Florida, Kansas vs. Missouri, Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State, Oregon vs. Oregon State -- but there couldn't have been a state that had more invested in a game than the state of Alabama had invested in this one. Put it this way: Five hours before kickoff, I was stuck in game traffic.
And I was still 50 miles from Tuscaloosa.
Alabama loves its football, and really truly insanely loves the Iron Bowl, which is why it would be disrespectful to use this day of all days to look ahead to the SEC Championship Game, when the Crimson Tide will have their asses kicked.
Well, the heck with it. Not like I'm the only one looking ahead. Even the guy on the public-address system, the official Bryant-Denny Stadium announcer, was thinking about it. He signed off on Saturday like so:
"It's on to the SEC Championship Game next weekend in Atlanta!"
See, that's just wrong. There is a portion of the Alabama fan base, probably a very large portion, that on an annual basis would take a victory against Auburn over a national championship, if given a very clear choice between the two. And Saturday was one of the biggest victories over Auburn in Alabama history. In the 73-year history of the Iron Bowl, 'Bama has beaten Auburn by more than 36 points just twice before, most recently in 1962.
Saturday was the final home game for longtime starting quarterback John Parker Wilson and safety Rashad Johnson and starting linemen Antoine Caldwell and Marlon Davis on offense and Bobby Greenwood on defense. About 10 minutes after the game was over, with the field mostly empty and the last several thousand fans heading for the exits, those seniors came bounding out of the locker room and sprinted across the field one more time to an ovation. I'm getting goose bumps thinking about it right now.
But then the last pocket of Alabama fans started chanting:
We want Te-bow ... We want Te-bow.
Why would they want that? Alabama doesn't really want to face Florida quarterback Tim Tebow or his merry group of future NFL playmakers. Not yet. Alabama coach Nick Saban will put that kind of station-to-station speed and skill on the field some day, probably by the year 2010, but he doesn't have that kind of team now. What Saban has is a team that makes fewer mistakes than the opponent, a team that is mentally stronger than its opponent because of Saban's psychotic methods, a team that resembles one of those un-sexy NFL teams that goes farther in the playoffs than anyone imagined because it has a tough interior and a good running back and a quarterback who probably can't win the game but definitely won't lose it. That's Alabama.
That was the recipe for Saturday's feast as well. Glen Coffee ran for 144 yards and a 41-yard touchdown dart. Wilson was 8-for-16 for 134 yards. Only one Tide player, Florida-like freshman Julio Jones, caught more than one pass. (He caught three.) But the Tide held Auburn to 170 yards of offense and won the turnover battle 3-0 and committed just one penalty.
No turnovers, one penalty, and Saban seemed miserable. Somebody in the media actually asked him, "Are you happy?" Because he didn't seem happy. No turnovers, one penalty, the mark of a well-coached team, and Saban looked like a guy with an avocado allergy at a guacamole convention.
"That penalty is like a turnover," Saban grumped. "Make a penalty on third and an inch on illegal motion, and (then) you've got to punt the ball? That's like a turnover."
But he's happy, Saban insisted.
"I'm happy," he said. "I'm really happy."
Then don't tell him what Florida did to Florida State. Saban will find out soon enough, but I was tracking that game on the CBSSports.com live scoreboard, and for every 5-yard Coffee run or 7-yard Wilson pass, Chris Rainey digitally scooted 62 yards or Jeffrey Demps sprinted 44.
Alabama beat Auburn horribly, but Auburn is really bad. The quarterback can't throw, the receivers can't catch and the runners can't run. One punt was rolling dead at the 2 when an Auburn player dived onto it at full speed and slid with the ball 5 yards deep into the end zone for a touchback. This is a bad team, and it's a dumb team.
Florida State is neither, and Florida State was playing at home, and the Seminoles got mauled. The Gators won 45-15 and had four different players produce a running play of at least 24 yards and three different players produce a passing play of at least 24 yards. Alabama has a great college defense, but Florida has a great NFL offense. Any questions?
Still, that wasn't the point of Saturday in Tuscaloosa. Why are we even looking forward? Let's look at the here and now, at the way former Alabama great Siran Stacy -- who lost his wife and four of his five children, and himself was in a coma for a month, after a car accident caused by a drunken driver last year -- swaggered around the field. Stacy fired up the crowd before kickoff as he jumped and postured and posed in his suit and tie and leather shoes. Let's look at the way Alabama punt returner Javier Arenas scared Auburn into waving the white flag by punting out of bounds. Let's look at the way Alabama barely let Auburn cross midfield, much less get into field goal range (never) or the end zone (as if).
Alabama measures itself and its season on the way it compares to Auburn, and on Saturday, the comparison was embarrassing for Auburn. If Tommy Tuberville isn't fired after this game and this season, he apparently has a lifetime contract -- because Auburn can't get any worse.
Alabama, on the other hand, can get better. And Alabama will get better.
Alabama might even be good enough to beat Florida.