NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 3: Head coach Frank Beamer (R) of the Virginia Tech Hokies congratulates head coach Tommy Tuberville of the Auburn Tigers after his team lost to the Tigers 16-13 at the Nokia Sugar Bowl on January 3, 2005 at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
For the second time in 12 seasons, Auburn was aiming to complete an undefeated campaign without a national titlle; meanwhile, Frank Beamer and his Hokies were aiming to prove themselves further after winning the ACC title in their first year in the conference. This was a fun game, if one full of missed opportunities.
- I'm not the one who is supposed to say such things, but this game is a fantastic example of how numbers only take you so far in figuring things out, and specific plays and "the little things" can make all the difference in the world. Trips to the red zone completely defined this game: Auburn plowed through the Virginia Tech defense on three early drives but ended up with only field goals each time. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech scored exactly zero points on its first two trips inside Auburn's 20. Virginia Tech fullback Dusty Allen dropped a touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal on the first trip, then Brandon Pace missed a gimme field goal on the second. This was a game where Virginia Tech fans thought their team should have won, and Auburn fans thought their team should have won by 20. And both had evidence on their respective sides.
- Tommy Tuberville drives me crazy sometimes. He has obviously experienced quite a bit of success in his career (and specifically in 2004), but his brand of conservative is so often maddening. Late in the first quarter, Auburn faced a fourth-and-goal from the Tech 2, up 3-0. Unsure of whether to kick the field goal or go for it (and of course they were kicking the field goal), they called a timeout. They came out of the timeout ... to run a freeze play. Virginia Tech didn't jump offside, so Auburn called another timeout. You know, instead of just taking a five-yard delay-of-game penalty and kicking a 24-yard field goal instead of a 19-yarder. They didn't end up needing those timeouts, but they obviously didn't know they wouldn't at the time. If Tuberville were a baseball manager, he'd bunt twice every time a runner got to first base.
- This game was Jason Campbell in a nutshell. Early in the second half, he unleashed a picture-perfect scramble-and-bomb, creating something out of nothing and finding Anthony Mix for a 53-yard strike. Three plays later, Auburn scored the first touchdown of the game and went up 16-0. Two drives later, he threw a terribly ill-advised pass that was picked off at the Auburn 32 and set up the aforementioned missed field goal by Pace. Some quarterbacks are robots, and some are artists. Campbell was much more the latter than the former, and it created large handfuls of great and terrible moments.
- Auburn cornerback Carlos Rogers' nickname was (or is) evidently "Cash." The more you know...
- One obviously can't talk about this game and not bring up the "Auburn got screwed by the BCS" issue. From my standpoint, Auburn didn't even remotely get screwed. As I have often said, the BCS' problem is usually not who it chooses for the title game, but the simple fact that it cannot figure out how to fit three teams on one field. Auburn had one of the best (if not the best) defenses in the country in 2004. Meanwhile, USC and Oklahoma had two of the best offenses. All three teams were fantastic, and since USC and Oklahoma were fantastic against tougher schedules, they got the nod. With three excellent, nearly indistinguishable teams, somebody was going to get left out. Such is/was the nature of the BCS, and such is the reason why I love a four-team playoff.
(And no, Oklahoma did not make its case very well by getting destroyed by USC. But let's just say that I doubt an Auburn team that barely took out Virginia Tech was going to do much better against the Trojans. We'll never know, obviously, and clearly we'd have learned with a four-team playoff, but my belief is simply that Auburn was screwed out of the right to get thumped by USC just like OU did. And because they were left out, they got to finish second in the polls instead of third or fourth. This Auburn team was great; that USC team was nearly untouchable. Though yes, it would have been fascinating watching the Auburn defense versus the USC offense.)