Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Thumbs Down For Tuberville's Preparation

By Jay Coulter
Football Saturday In The South
September 6, 2003. Not since that hot day more than two years ago has an Auburn football team looked as bad as it did on Monday afternoon. And like that loss to Georgia Tech, Auburn’s football team was beaten every way possible, both mentally and physically by a hungry Wisconsin football team.

While Auburn coaches, players and fans laughed and celebrated while wearing their “Fear the Thumb” T-shirts, the Badgers were busy working to earn a little respect and send their beloved coach into a happy retirement.

Can a hangover last six weeks? I think Monday afternoon proved it can. This loss falls completely on the shoulders of Coach Tommy Tuberville. During Tiger Walk you could see in the player’s eyes that the game wasn’t on their minds. Many players danced their way into Citrus Bowl Stadium, all smiles, still basking in their season-ending wins over Georgia and Alabama.

Most of the media and fans thought Auburn deserved better – a better bowl and a better opponent. By dusk on Monday, it was apparent that the Capital One Bowl and Auburn’s fans deserved a better prepared team.

Not to take anything away from Coach Tuberville – he has done a masterful job this season. But on this summer-like day in Orlando he was taken to school by another fine coach, Barry Alvarez.

With more than 70% of the stadium wearing orange and blue, Alvarez and his team did a masterful job of handling Auburn’s offense. Al Borges has never looked so bad. With Kenny Irons having a decent day running the ball, Borges continued to try to throw. From the two yard line late in the third quarter, Auburn inexplicably went to the air in trying to score.

Brandon Cox was never in the game. His mind was obviously elsewhere. And most surprising was the play of Auburn’s sure handed quartet of receivers who early on looked like they hadn’t practiced in a month. Come to think of it, they haven’t practiced much in a month.

Tuberville needs to take a hard look at his bowl preparation. Last year’s team was able to stay focused because it was chasing a national championship. This year’s group was obviously given way too much time away from football.

Auburn blew a huge opportunity to finish in the top five. Does it put a damper on the season? It may for a few days but ultimately this year’s team will be looked upon as one of the best. It certainly doesn’t take away from those season-ending signature wins.

But Monday’s loss does set back a program who’s working to be a perennial top 10 team. It does deny a great group of seniors the right to call themselves the best ever. Although for a lot of us we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

The Tigers lose 15 starters next season. It has much work to do. The Auburn defense obviously has some holes to fill starting with a slow maturing secondary that could become even more problematic if David Irons decides to try the NFL. Tuberville, his staff and the returning players will learn from this experience and it will perhaps help them as they get ready for Washington State. Spring practice starts in a few weeks.

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