Make no mistake: We thumped the unbeaten Auburn Tigers, turning Tommy Tuberville's now-infamous prediction on its head with a three-touchdown margin of victory. There's a picture going around of Petrino walking off the field with a satisfied grin on his face, showered in a beam of mid-afternoon sunlight. He knows that our players and coaches did a hell of a job against a very dangerous Auburn offense. He knows that we made our own luck with such a well-fought game. He knows that this is a turning point for our season.
Only you couldn't tell by the coverage of the game itself and the ultimate shake-out in the rankings. The commentators, centered around living legend Bob Griese, were wholly unprepared for the game. After fumbling to nail down their exact geographic location, they alternated between cracking wise and falling silent for much of the game. Bored and lethargic, they clearly had done no real research heading into Saturday and finally settled in to casting aspersions about Petrino's loyalty. Maybe they spent too much time in the bar at Carnall Hall the night before, but they should be ashamed of themselves for that performance.
And it didn't stop there. Sure, the fierce loyalty of Hog fans often morphs into paranoia, but ESPN's basic respect for our program repeatedly comes into question. The Worldwide Leader's Chris Low notched us two spots below the Tigers on this week's SEC power rankings, a slight that just boggles the mind. Even accounting for Auburn's being an untested road team, his ignoring our complete domination of the Tigers is just willful.
The early kickoff would seem to give the visiting team the edge, taking the more raucous (i.e. drunken) fans out of the game, though it was repeatedly trotted out as the reason Auburn couldn't “wake up” in the first half. The third quarter resurgence can easily be attributed to scripted plays out of halftime. The ball bounced our way a couple of times, and a couple of big plays just barely didn't connect for the Tigers, but maybe that's because we were kicking their asses in every aspect of the game.
Jericho Nelson earned a place in Razorback lore when he tore past his blocker and crushed Mario Fannin in the backfield, hooking facemask to facemask and ripping the helmet off Fannin's dazed head.
Defensive Coordinator Willy Robinson got his defense ready for this game. That first series — particularly when our defensive tackles broke through the line, read the screen, and immediately dropped back into coverage — you just knew he had Auburn's number.
Our offense looked as good as ever against an atrocious Auburn D. Even the three-and-outs were just byproducts of a masterpiece of game management. Our running game reappeared of necessity, and the backfield stepped up to the challenge with aplomb. Even at his most mortal, Ryan Mallett's a beast. (One thing that should be clear at this point is that he needs time develop. His arm's there, but his mind's a little behind and it works against him in pressure situations.) And our depth at receiver is truly emboldening, especially with rock-steady receivers like Lucas Miller.
Even special teams got in on the act, with Miller coming in handy once again and downing a punt within Auburn's five-yard line. And Dennis Johnson is likely to break every record we have for kickoff returns. He sucked all the wind out of Auburn twice.
Next week, we're headed to the center of ESPN's universe against meathead messiah Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators. I'd like to say we have a chance, but the Gators returned with the same top-ranking defense as last year. They can be stopped on offense, but the team itself is as big and strong as Alabama. Our run defense can keep them in check for a while, but I'm not sure we won't wear down as the game trudges on. And Urban Meyer loves to trudge. The main goal is always to win the game, but a secondary hope would be to survive the game mentally in order to take whatever momentum we can muster into Oxford the following week.
PS: Joe Adams, our single most talented playmaker, suffered what is being characterized as a “minor stroke” last week. His future is uncertain, but while football is probably among the most immediate concerns of his young life, we should all look past that to the long life ahead when our thoughts go out to him.