OK, so the band’s choice of songs was just a coincidence, but it seemed only appropriate that Auburn’s marching band took the Bryant-Denny Stadium field at halftime Saturday and played Aerosmith’s “Cryin’,”
The band’s mesh of songs also included a slice of the Aerosmith staple “Dream On,” a sentiment most Auburn fans probably shared if anyone even joked at the possibility of a comeback in the 77th Iron Bowl.
By the time the band took the field, Auburn trailed its bitter in-state rival 42-0.
When the game ended, the scoreboard said 49-0, and only a Kenyan Drake fumble in the third quarter and a Blake Sims kneel-down on fourth down in the final seconds kept No. 2 Alabama from besting its series record of 55 points, set in 1948.
It wasn’t because of Auburn’s defense, which gave the Tide plenty of unnecessary help with comical displays of poor tackling. No wonder the Tide scored on their first seven possessions, besting even its week-old output against a one-win Western Carolina team.
At least one of Alabama’s scores against WCU came on defense.
It wasn’t because of Auburn’s moribund offense, which went scoreless in 12 possessions, only two of which ended on Alabama’s side of midfield.
Auburn couldn’t even rely on its normally reliable punter. Steven Clark’s shankadelic day included a short lob to Auburn’s sideline in the fourth quarter, and someone on Auburn’s sideline caught it.
This was Auburn’s worst showing in the modern era of the Iron Bowl, worse even than its 42-14 loss at home a year ago, and Auburn couldn’t have ended its worst season in decades more appropriately.
Yes, two years after Cam Newton-led Auburn staged an historic comeback to sustain a national-title dream, Cam Newton-less Auburn gave a stark view of how far in opposite directions the two programs have gone since.
Second-ranked Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC) will go on to play No. 3 Georgia in a de facto national semifinal in this week’s SEC Championship, hoping to earn the chance to play for the Crimson Tide’s third national title in four years.
Auburn (3-9, 0-8), having just played its third Iron Bowl as an unranked team in Gene Chizik’s four-year tenure as head coach, will begin the mind-boggling process of finding its way back to respectability.
Then, maybe just maybe, Auburn can begin to think of dignity against its chief rival, which Chizik managed to lose in short order 30 years after Pat Dye won it back.
The process should and likely will begin with Chizik’s firing, though he would not answer such questions Saturday.
“This isn’t about me,” he said in one form or another, every time the question was asked in one form or another.
Again, how appropriate, because Chizik clearly never had answers all season. Otherwise, a poor-tackling defense would have found a way to tackle better.
That didn’t happen, and it showed, comically, when three Auburn players crashed into each other around Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper late in the second quarter Saturday. He trotted on past the Keystone carnage to finish off a 29-yard touchdown play on a basic slant-in pattern, one where AJ McCarron’s pass made Cooper jump.
A high throw on a slant-in usually results in receivers absorbing jarring hits, but not against this Auburn defense. The contact was all theirs.
It was that way throughout Alabama’s 28-point second quarter. As the Tide scored on possession after possession, Auburn’s tackling got worse and worse.
But Chizik and Auburn’s players insisted that no one quit fighting, Saturday or all season. Even as Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama combined to outscore Auburn 150-21 in late-season games, no one quit.
Chizik and Auburn’s players also insisted that this season’s unthinkable crash — which came two years after a national title and one year after an 8-win season, complete with a bowl victory — was all about a lack of execution, momentum and confidence that never developed and a snowballing, negative vibe.
It couldn’t possibly have been about talent. Indeed, recruiting rankings say that Auburn has talent comparable to Alabama’s, but Alabama’s talent has outscored Auburn’s 91-14 over the past two years.
It couldn’t possibly be about coaching, not when rivals Georgia and Alabama manage to outscore Auburn 87-0 this year and 174-21 over the past two years.
When a process- and accountability-driven rival that Auburn beat six years in a row from 2002-07 and again in 2010 so humiliates the Tigers two years in a row, it couldn’t possibly be questionable evaluation on top of an atmosphere of lost accountability.
Dream on, indeed, Auburn players and their soon-to-be former coach, and take a cue from the marching band. The band seems to execute its act and have yours pegged.
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.