Posted on: December 2, 2011 3:17 pm
Edited on: December 9, 2011 7:21 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
A final decision from North Carolina on their vacant head coaching position may still be several days away. But one thing that does seem clear is that Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn will be a major factor when that decision is made.
Malzahn has been rumored to have been one of the Tar Heel administration's leading candidate since mid-November, and the Birmingham News reported Friday that the 46 year-old offensive whiz had his official interview Thursday.
Though the News declines to specify how the interview went, message board scuttlebutt ($) suggests Malzahn did well, and you'd have to think the former Tulsa coordinator would have been comfortable with the man interviewing him--that would be new Tar Heel athletic director Bubba Cunningham, who just-so-happened to be the A.D. at Tulsa when Malzahn was serving under current Pitt coach Todd Graham.
Beyond that, there's another factor working in Malzahn's favor. Namely, it's that two of his biggest competitors for the UNC job -- Houston's Kevin Sumlin and Southern Miss's Larry Fedora, who'll meet in Saturday's Conference USA championship game -- have multiple suitors (Sumlin in particular) and could be in new positions before Cunningham is ready to make an offer.
If Malzahn is hired by the Tar Heels, Auburn could be due for a major shakeup on their coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof has come under widespread fire for his defense's performance this season and could be on his way out; running backs coach Curtis Luper is a finalist for the vacant UAB head coaching position; and wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor is reportedly "in the mix" for the head coaching job at Tulane.
For a full, updating team-by-team overview of 2011's coaching changes, check out (and bookmark) the Eye on CFB Coaching Changes One-Stop Shop. And voice your opinion for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year by voting HERE.
Posted on: November 12, 2011 6:55 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
WHY GEORGIA WON: When you're talking about a 38-point victory, there's a lot of things to point to. But there's this, more than anything: against competent quarterbacking, Auburn's secondary simply hasn't been up to the task in 2011. Tajh Boyd? 386 yards, 4 scores, 0 INTs. Tyler Wilson? 262, 2, 0. The Jarrett Lee/ Jordan Jefferson tag team? 219, 3, 0. When not going up against Stephen Garcia at his lowest point or Florida's freshman backups, the Tiger defensive backs may as well have been had "TORCH US" signs pinned to their backs.
Murray looked like he might not quite rise to that "competent" level in an erratic performance against the Gators two weeks ago, but he was razor-sharp from the gun against Auburn--and duly shredded the Tiger defensive backs, with corner T'Sharvan Bell (among others) burned again and again by Murray's accurate back-shoulder throws. For all the things done well by the Dawg defense, running game and special teams (whose sore-spot kick return coverage totally shut down the Tiger return game), as soon as Murray showed his brief midseason slump was behind him, the Tigers were done. Until Gene Chizik and Ted Roof can solve their woes in stopping the pass, the Tiger defense -- as it has been since Chizik's hire -- will remain an up-and-down, roller coaster proposition at best.
WHEN GEORGIA WON: Auburn was already in a deep hole midway through the second quarter, down 21-7 and facing a 3rd-and-7 on their own 17. Clint Moseley's gift of a pick-six to Bacarri Rambo, however, made it the kind of hole that the Tigers wouldn't be able to climb out of if they had all week.
WHAT GEORGIA WON: the right to play Kentucky next Saturday with the SEC East on the line. But you know what? Given that Kentucky lost by 30 points to Vanderbilt, let's go ahead and call a spade a spade: the Bulldogs won the division today. They're going to go to Atlanta.
WHAT AUBURN LOST: any sense of defensive improvement over the course of the season for one thing. Likewise, any illusion that the Tigers belonged in the top third of the SEC this season. To lose to teams like Arkansas, LSU and Georgia, all on the road, is one thing--and given how incredibly young the Tigers remain, probably forgivable. But for Auburn to not even be able to stay competitive shows how far Chizik's team will have to go between 2011 and 2012 to return to the conference's elite.
Posted on: October 16, 2011 2:42 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
A handy recap of who (and what) really won and really lost in the SEC's Week 6.
WINNER: Trent Richardson. On a day when the SEC failed mightily to produce anything resembling a classic game -- of the league's five matchups, two were won in overpowering fashion by its resident pair of 500-pound gorillas, and the other three were all varying degrees of "slopfest" -- Richardson nonetheless delivered a classic performance. The career highs in yards (183 yards) and touchdowns (four) were nice, but lots of running backs can amass gaudy numbers. What made Richardson's night special was the fury with which he punished Ole Miss's defenders on his runs between the tackles, and then the startling elusiveness he flashed once he found the open field; this juke is going to be a staple of highlight reels for weeks to come. The statistic that best reflects Richardson's night? The 11.2 yards he averaged across his relatively meager 19 touches.
With Marcus Lattimore going down with an injury today (more on this in a moment) and Tyrann Mathieu having a quiet day by his standards despite the total domination shown by his LSU secondary (1 pass broken up, 1 tackle, nothing in special teams), Richardson is now the SEC's far-and-away most viable Heisman candidate. And if the Ole Miss game is any indication, his campaign might just be getting warmed up.
LOSER: the SEC East. Thanks to the decline of Mississippi State, the East's record vs. the West isn't quite as lopsided as it was last year. But that doesn't mean the top of the division is any stronger than it was last year; based on the evidence of Saturday, it's even worse. South Carolina scored a total of two touchdowns while wheezing their way to a four-point win over a State team in offensive disarray. Georgia collected four turnovers from Vanderbilt and outgained the 'Dores by nearly 100 yards and still came within one Hail Mary off a receiver's hands from losing in Nashville. And Florida gained all of 194 yards against the nation's 105th-ranked defense at Auburn. Sure, the East champion won't have a prayer against LSU or Alabama, but with two of its title contenders having already lost to Gene Chizik's team and the third barely any less convincing-looking, the East champion might not even be any better than fifth-place in the West. Still.
WINNER: Ted Roof. After his Tiger defense was eviscerated for more than 1,150 yards in just two weeks by Mississippi State and Clemson, Roof was the most unpopular person on the Plains this side of Harvey Updyke. But thanks to the rapid maturation of players like sophomore defensive end Corey Lemonier (three tackles-for-loss, two sacks, four QB hurries vs. Florida) and sophomore cornerback Chris Davis (five tackles, one pass breakup), Roof's unit suddenly looks in much better shape than celebrated coordinating counterpart Gus Malzahn's--and was largely responsible for both Auburn's win in South Carolina and over Florida Saturday. The Gators' quarterbacking woes no doubt helped, but short, quick running backs like Chris Rainey have given Roof's defenses fits in the past. In the present, Rainey was bottled up to the tune of just 33 yards on 16 carries.
LOSER: South Carolina's offense. Let's get the obvious out of the way first: if Lattimore's injury keeps him out for any extended length of time, that's a massive, massive blow for the Gamecocks. Players of the big sophomore's ability simply aren't replaceable in midseason (if ever), and Carolina doesn't have much depth behind Lattimore to begin with; his substitute against the Bulldogs was true freshman Brandon Wilds, who entered the game with all of eight career carries.
But there's even more worries for Steve Spurrier past his running back situation. Connor Shaw's explosive performance against Kentucky looked like a mirage after he threw for an average of just 5.5 yards on his 28 attempts, with two interceptions; his banged-up offensive line opened holes for just 2.6 yards a carry, two weeks after Lattimore averaged less than 4 vs. Auburn; and Alshon Jeffery continues to be nearly invisible, collecting the game-winning TD vs. State but just four other receptions for all of 20 yards. If Spurrier can't fix things -- and likely do it without Lattimore -- his team may not win again until the Citadel visits on Nov. 19.
WINNER: Rueben Randle. Is anyone happier about Jarrett Lee's late-career renaissance than LSU's No. 1 receiver? The former five-star struggled to make an impact his first two years in Baton Rouge, but with Lee at the controls Randle has become one of the league's biggest deep threats. After 5 more receptions for 86 yards and a score against Tennessee, Randle is averaging an even 19 yards per reception--the best mark in the SEC for any receiver with more than 20 catches for the year.
LOSERS: Anyone who tuned away from Georgia-Vanderbilt. Though it was too sloppy by half to qualify as a good game, the ending of Bulldogs-Commodores was as wild as any game in the SEC this season. Up 33-28, the Dawgs drove deep into Vandy territory and looked to have the game salted away before Aaron Murray was picked off by Casey Hayward at the Vandy 2 with 2:30 to play. But Jordan Rodgers was only able to drive the 'Dores to their own 25 before being picked off himself with 1:10 left. The Bulldogs weren't able to run out the entire clock, though, and had their punt blocked, almost returned for a game-winning touchdown, and eventually recovered by Vandy at the Bulldog 20 with 7 seconds left. Rodgers' Hail Mary hit a falling Chris Boyd in the hands, but Boyd was unable to bring it in, and one final desperation play fell short ... after which Vandy head coach James Franklin and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham nearly sparked a brawl by angrily yelling at each other at midfield.
Not a bad bit of drama for a game the few people who were watching potentially turned off once Georgia went up 33-21 early in the fourth quarter.
LOSERS: Gamblers who took South Carolina to cover the 3.5 points against Mississippi State. The Gamecocks' voluntary safety on the final play of the game -- reducing a four-point margin to two and flipping the result of the game against the spread -- cost worldwide bettors as much as $30 million, according to one report. We're skeptical the numbers for your run-of-the-mill SEC game run quite that high, but we'd still advise Spurrier not to walk down any dark alleys this week.
WINNERS: Hearts belonging to fans of Alabama and LSU. While fans in Columbia and Auburn and Athens and Starkville have all had their turns reaching for the blood pressure medication (Auburn's more than once), those in Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge haven't had to worry. After winning their two games Saturday by a combined 90-14 score, the Tide and Tigers have now won their eight total SEC games by an average score of 37-8. The closest call? LSU's 19-6 "escape" at Mississippi State, which at the time was viewed as a disappointment for the Bulldogs.
Now, we're wondering if maybe they ought to put up a plaque to commemorate the achievement.
Tags: Aaron Murray, Alabama, Alshon Jeffery, Arkansas, Auburn, Brandon Wilds, Casey Hayward, Chris Boyd, Chris Davis, Chris Rainey, Clemson, Connor Shaw, Corey Lemonier, Florida, Gene Chizik, Georgia, Gus Malzahn, Harvey Updyke, James Franklin, James Franklin the Vanderbilt coach not the Missouri quarterback, Jarrett Lee, Jerry Hinnen, Jordan Rodgers, Kentucky, LSU, Marcus Lattimore, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Ruden Randle, SEC, South Carolina, Steve Spurrier, Ted Roof, Tennessee, The Citadel, Todd Grantham, Trent Richardson, Tyrann Mathieu, Vanderbilt, Winners and Losers
Posted on: October 15, 2011 11:07 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
AUBURN WON: The high-flying, high-scoring fireworks of 2010 faded even further into the Tigers' collective memory after another stuttering offensive performance, but precious few on the Plains will care: Gene Chizik's Tiger cubs are 5-2 and 2-1 in the SEC. Backup quarterback Clint Moseley came off the bench to lead a key second-half touchdown drive, and thanks to a string of muffed punts the Tigers finished with a 3-0 advantage in turnover margin.WHY AUBURN WON: In a matchup where both offenses needed all the help they could get, Florida gave Auburn's far more than Auburn gave Florida. The Gators' first muffed punt -- one Will Muschamp hotly contended had been a result of catch interference on the tigers' part -- set up a 25-yard Barrett Trotter touchdown pass, the only TD for either team the entire first half. And with Auburn leading 14-6 late in the fourth quarter, another muff set up Cody Parkey's game-icing 42-yard field goal.
In-between those two poles, the Florida offense moved the ball at least as effectively as Auburn and maybe better. (Which is not to say either team moved it well; the teams combined for just 474 yards of offense and at one point had 12 total punts to 15 total first downs.) But two red-zone possessions for Florida ended in just 3 points -- one of them a turnover on downs in the fourth quarter when backup QB Jeff Driskel overthrew an open receiver on 4th-and-3 -- while Auburn's one ended in a 14-yard Onterio McCalebb touchdown to open the fourth quarter.
With the Gator offense never looking capable of mounting a large-scale comeback under either Driskel or Jacoby Brissett, that Auburn got both more opportunities and took better advantage of them was always going to result in one outcome.
WHEN AUBURN WON: Parkey had missed a pair of 40-plus-yard field goals already, but Chizik elected to let him try the game-clincher from 42 even after a false start penalty ... and with just 42 seconds left for the hapless Gators to work with after a hypothetical punt. But Parkey made that decision look good, hitting the kick and deciding the game.
WHAT AUBURN WON: The Tigers were projected to take a massive step backwards this season and have, in many ways; the defense has spent whole games getting shredded, the offense whole games going nowhere. But with Gus Malzahn's attack carrying the team early in the year and Ted Roof's defense doing so against South Carolina and Florida, the team has somehow emerged at 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the SEC ... and both their losses have come at top-10 teams on the road. The Tigers aren't what they were, but they haven't gone away, either.
WHAT FLORIDA LOST: Muschamp wasn't happy with his team's efforts against Alabama or LSU, but there was only so much the Gators could realistically do with John Brantley out. Auburn, though, showed Florida a passing game scarcely any better than their own--only for the Gators' special teams, running game, and red zone defense to give their freshmen quarterbacks so little help that the aerial draw didn't matter. Now the Gators have all-but officially dropped out of the East race, and even a winning regular season isn't guaranteed. The shine on that 4-0 start is officially off.
Posted on: October 1, 2011 8:11 pm
Edited on: October 1, 2011 8:23 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
WHY AUBURN WON: Because as terrible as Trotter was, Garcia was arguably even worse. The senior completed just 9 of his 22 passes for all of 160 yards, with one touchdown and two typically ugly interceptions. Remove a second-quarter 50-yard scoring bomb to an otherwise-quiet Alshon Jeffery and Garcia averaged all of 5.2 yards per-attempt against what few will debate is one of the SEC's most flammable secondaries.
With Garcia struggling, Auburn was allowed to tee off on Lattimore, holding the All-American to a pedestrian 3.9 yards per-carry on just 17 attempts. As for that latter number, Carolina fans will no doubt wonder why Lattimore wasn't fed the ball more often, particularly with the Gamecocks facing 1st-and-10 on their own 30 in the fourth quarter, up 13-9. Spurrier called for passes on both first and second down, with the result an incompletion and a sack. Carolina would have the field flipped on them following Auburn's next punt, starting at their own 12, and the Tigers would go on to start their ensuing possession on their own 43. Result: the game-winning touchdown drive.
To be fair to Auburn, though, they've made a habit of corralling Lattimore even when Garcia is playing well. (And to be fair to Spurrier, a first down handoff to Lattimore on that possession that began at the 12 lost two yards.) After three career games against the Tigers, Lattimore still has only 183 combined rushing yards--no doubt the biggest reason Auburn has gone 3-0 in those meetings.
WHEN AUBURN WON: Not until the Gamecocks' final desperation drive ended with Bruce Ellington being tackled in-bounds at the Auburn 30 and time expiring. But should it have? The gain was good enough for a first down and Ellington appeared to be tackled with 2 seconds left on the clock. But with the whistle blowing late, the officials elected not to put any time back on the clock for a last-gasp try. Gamecock fans will no doubt howl, though running the field goal unit on for a successful 47-yard try with no timeouts -- as would have happened if the play had been whistled correctly -- would have been quite the accomplishment.
WHAT AUBURN WON: Somehow, some way, Auburn's 11th straight game decided by a single possession. At 4-1 and 2-0 in the SEC, the Tigers have all but wrapped up a bowl berth -- not a given when the season began -- and could even crack the polls next week. The 13 points for Carolina is also a vindication for embattled defensive coordinator Ted Roof, whose unit had come under serious fire after their lackluster start to the season.
WHAT SOUTH CAROLINA LOST: With the Gamecocks' upcoming schedule (at Tennessee, at Arkansas, vs. Florida), any realistic hopes of wedging their way into the national title picture is almost certainly gone. Losing to a double-digit underdog at home won't do anything for their SEC East hopes, either; even after the win in Georgia, their margin-for-error in the divisional race is now eliminated. Oh, and Spurrier can only hold off the quarterback controversy for so long with Garcia playing like this. We think that's it.
THAT WAS CRAZY: No play more epitomized the often Keystone Cop-style display from both teams than the hideous interception thrown by Trotter into double coverage to Gamecock corner C.C. Whitlock (just three plays after Garcia's own wounded duck pick) ... only for Whitlock to get the ball stripped by Lutzenkirchen during the return, handing it right back to the Tigers. The drive would end, naturally, in a horrible lofted pass by Trotter to the back of Carolina's end zone, which was picked off by ... C.C. Whitlock.
Posted on: September 18, 2011 1:44 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Until proven otherwise, yes, Arkansas is a step behind LSU and Alabama. Thursday, the Bayou Bengals put together what we'd confidently call the most impressive defensive performance by any FBS team this season. Saturday, well, Alabama didn't do a whole lot in their 41-0 workout against North Texas. But we know what the Tide are capable of with that defense, as the previous week's throttling of Penn State proved.
But Arkansas? Their Saturday performance against Troy might be the first one by any of the consensus top three teams in the West you could legitimately describe as "disappointing." After scrimmages against FCS Missouri State and FBS-in-name-only New Mexico, the Trojans were the first Hog opponent of the year capable of doing much more than meekly rolling over ... and Troy did much more than that in Fayetteville, rolling to 457 total yards (three more than the Hogs) and cutting a 31-7 deficit to 31-21 midway through the third quarter. Bobby Petrino's teams made major mistakes on both sides of the ball, turning it over three times on offense -- including a pick-six from Tyler Wilson -- and allowing the Trojans seven plays of 20 yards or more.
It might be just a one-week fluke; it might be the Hogs looking ahead to next week's showdown against the Tide; it might be something more serious. Whatever it is, it's the kind of sloppiness we haven't seen yet from the Tide or Tigers--and reason enough to doubt the Hogs can upset the LSU-Alabama apple cart until they do.
Florida is a frightening, frightening football team. The old adage says that to win in the SEC, you have to run and stop the run, and everything else will take care of itself. So maybe it's time to start taking the Gators as a serious conference contender--and not just on the East divisional side of things. Defensively, Will Muschamp's team held Tennessee to minus-9 yards on the ground and their tailbacks to less than two yards a carry; offensively, they netted 134 themselves with Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey averaging 5 yards an attempt.
No doubt there will be stronger running games to shut down and stronger front sevens to run against down the road. But as long as Florida stays anywhere near this productive on the ground, their hat will remain in the ring.
Houston Nutt is on the hottest seat in the SEC. It's one thing to lose to Vanderbilt; the Commodores don't do it often, but occasionally they do leap up like those crocodiles in a Discovery Channel documentary about African water holes and drag some unsuspecting SEC wildebeest into the mud. And with James Franklin having instilled a stunning amount of confidence in the downtrodden 'Dores and NFL-bound corner Casey Hayward leading one of the league's best secondaries (one that now has three pick-sixes in three weeks), that's an occurrence you can expect to happen more often.
But to lose to Vandy 30-7? To go without a single point against Vandy for 57 minutes? To be outgained by the 'Dores by 153 yards? There's no other word for it than "embarrassment," one that without question ranks along the very lowest points of the Ed Orgeron era. Nutt's biggest misstep has been his butchering of the Rebel quarterback situation; after waffling all offseason between Randall Mackey and Barry Brunetti, Nutt seemed to settle on JUCO Zack Stoudt against BYU on little more than a whim. Stoudt responded by fumbling away that game, then topping himself with five interceptions Saturday in Nashville.
With the Rebel offense in total disarray and what seems like the team's only potential SEC win on the road (at Kentucky in November), an Oregeron-esque 0-8 mark in the conference -- and a 2-10 or 3-9 overall record -- is entirely in play. And as much support as Nutt earned in his back-to-back Cotton Bowl seasons, last year's loss to Jacksonville State and Saturday's horrorshow has burned through virtually all of it with the Rebel fanbase ... and maybe even Nutt's boss. When Georgia comes to Oxford next week, Mark Richt will clearly need a win in almost the worst possible way. But we'd argue Nutt will, somehow, need one even more badly.
Auburn's defense is even worse than it should be. Yes, the Tigers are ridiculously, fatally young. Yes, Clemson is loaded with explosive playmakers that will give more veteran units fits, too. Yes, the up-tempo nature of Gus Malzahn's offense --particularly when it struggles, as it did for the final two-and-a-half quarters Saturday -- puts a hefty portion of extra pressure on that defense.
But that's still no excuse for numbers like Clemson's 14-of-18 mark on third-down conversions or 624 total yards, numbers far beyond what Dabo Swinney's squad managed against either Troy or Wofford. While Ted Roof is public enemy No. 1 among Auburn fans right now, Gene Chizik also has some questions to answer. As many, many positive things as he's done at Auburn (for which he's rarely received enough credit), Chizik also has yet to translate the acumen that made him such a successful assistant into any kind of defensive consistency on the Plains.
South Carolina hasn't put it together yet. A week after edging Georgia as much on Georgia's fatal mistakes as the Gamecocks' own play, Carolina needed a last-minute stop to hold off Navy. The talent in Columbia demands that the Gamecocks remain the SEC East favorites, but they haven't played like it yet.
Kentucky's bowl streak is in serious, serious jeopardy. With the Wildcats unable to overcome an inexperienced Louisville team in Lexington, it's a difficult, difficult thing to find four more wins on the UK schedule. Jacksonville State, you'd hope. Home to Ole Miss, sure. And after that? Best of luck, Joker Phillips.
Tags: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Barry Brunetti, Bobby Petrino, BYU, Casey Hayward, Chris Rainey, Cotton Bowl, Dabo Swinney, Florida, Gene Chizik, Georgia, Gus Malzahn, Houston Nutt, Jacksonville State, James Franklin, Jeff Demps, Joker Phillips, Kentucky, LSU, Mark Richt, Missouri State, Navy, New Mexico, North Texas, Penn State, Randall Mackey, SEC, South Carolina, Ted Roof, Tennessee, Troy, Tyler Wilson, Vanderbilt, What I Learned, Will Muschamp, Wofford, Zack Stoudt
Posted on: September 17, 2011 3:51 pm
Edited on: September 17, 2011 3:52 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
CLEMSON WON: The nation's longest winning streak is over. Chad Morris's offense outplayed former mentor Gus Malzahn's as the homestanding Tigers racked up 624 total yards and scored five touchdowns in a seven-possession stretch to break the game open. Auburn had no answer for explosive Clemson true freshman receiver Sammy Watkins, who finished with 199 yards on 17 touches rushing and receiving and a pair of touchdowns.
WHY CLEMSON WON: Auburn had already had major issues getting stops on third downs, ranking 116th in the FBS entering today by allowing a 57 percent conversion rate. But the Tigers took things to a whole new level of third-down incompetence against Clemson, watching the home team convert a staggering 14-of-18 attempts and 10 straight in the second and third quarters. (Trust us, Auburn fans: it only seemed like all 10 of those came on the same curl route to Watkins. But we don't blame you.) The end result was that a defense that had already faced more plays than any other in the country faced 92 more and looked entirely spent by the late third quarter.
But while Auburn's defense deserves plenty of blame, Clemson's offense deserves an enormous amount of credit, too. Quarterback Tajh Boyd was sensational, completing 30 of 42 passes for 386 yards, 4 TDs, and no interceptions. Watkins was unstoppable, but the rest of the young Clemson receivers weren't much worse. (Three other Tigers finished with four or more receptions and an average of 10 yards or more on those catches.) And the Clemson offensive line held Auburn without a sack.
WHEN CLEMSON WON: Auburn looked like they might have yet another rabbit to pull out of their collective hat when they drove to the Clemson 8, down 14 with 10 minutes to play. But a Michael Dyer run went nowhere, a false start moved Auburn back to the 13, and on the next play Barrett Trotter threw an interception to a diving Coty Sensabuagh. Even if Clemson hadn't run off the game's remaining 9:34 on their ensuing drive, the game had been decided.
WHAT CLEMSON WON: A 3-0 start, the validation of Morris's hire, the silencing of the murmurs of discontent surrounding Dabo Swinney, confirmation that the young stars on the Clemson roster will be heard from during the ACC season ... it may just be one win in the record books, but for Swinney (collecting arguably the biggest W of his Clemson tenure) it counts for an awful lot more than that.
WHAT AUBURN LOST: The streak, for starters, with whatever modicum of optimism remained regarding Ted Roof's defense right behind it. All of Auburn's realistic goals (bowl game, SEC West spoiler-dom, valuable experience for roster full of underclassmen) are still in play, but there's no longer any illusions: the Tigers will go as far as Auburn's offense will take them. And when that offense doesn't score a touchdown over the final 38:54, it can't take them very far.
Posted on: September 8, 2011 3:58 pm
Edited on: September 8, 2011 5:44 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Each Thursday we demand the SEC give us answers to its most pressing questions. Here those are:
Mike Bobo: do you know what you're doing with an up-tempo shotgun offense? After rumblings from fall camp that Georgia would unveil a no-huddle spread offense gainst Boise State, the Bulldogs didn't quite go the full Dana Holgorsen ... but they definitely flirted with it, breaking away from their traditional pro-style I-formation look for a multitude of quick snaps, multi-receiver sets, and shotgun handoffs. The results were occasionally spectacular (see Brandon Boykin's 80-yard touchdown run) but more frequently sputterrific (see the other 25 rushes for all of 57 yards, or Boise's six sacks).
So why the change? "We wanted to get more plays, which we didn’t do on Saturday,” Bulldog coordinator Bobo said. “But we’re committed to doing it, and more plays equals more opportunities, and more chances to score.”
This is true, technically speaking. A faster tempo does lead to more possessions and plays packed into a game, and more scoring chances. But that's true for both teams, not just the one running the no-huddle; barring onside kick shenanigans or the occasional odd break at the end of a half, possessions in football are always going to be equal. For seasoned practitioners of the no-huddle like Holgorsen or Gus Malzahn, tempo is partially about giving their offense as many opportunities as possible, but it's also about making it more efficient by keeping an opposing defense off-balance and wearing it down over the course of 60 minutes.
Bobo is not one of those seasoned practitioners. As the Athens Banner-Herald points out, in 2010 Georgia ran fewer plays than any other team in the SEC. Suddenly lurching into a part-time, only-half-committed shotgun spread outfit seems from here to be a good way to neither execute that plan well nor the Bulldogs' traditional power-running and play-action bread-and-butter. One Georgia blogger has cleverly referred to Bobo's plan as the Cheesecake Factory offense--one that attempts to do everything, and in the end does none of it well enough to win.
Mark Richt, for what it's worth, is firmly on board with Bobo's approach. But if it doesn't pay far more dividends against South Carolina than it did against Boise (and if there's a bigger red flag than giving up six sacks to the Broncos the week before facing Devin Taylor, Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney, we haven't seen it), Richt may pay for that support with an 0-2 start and the hottest seat in the country.
Auburn's defensive line: what can you do with Mississippi State? The surprising thing about Utah State's 84-play slice-and-dice job on the Tiger defense wasn't the 22-of-31 passing from true freshman Chuckie Keeton, or the resulting 13-of-20 mark for the Aggies on third- and fourth-down conversions; Ted Roof's Tiger teams have always had issues with a tight, controlled passing game like USU's. But they've also usually been stout enough against the run to make up for that Achilles heel -- Auburn led the SEC in rush defense last year -- making the true stunner the Aggies' 227 yards on the ground.
Unfortunately for Roof and the Tigers, things only get tougher this week. State boasts the league's best dual-threat quarterback in Chris Relf, a veteran line featuring three senior starters, Dan Mullen's tried-and-true option schemes, and one of the nation's most underrated tailbacks in Vick Ballard. Even Auburn is obviously a far cry from Memphis, but the 309 rushing yards and 8.1 yard per-carry average racked up by the Bulldogs in Week 1 still make for a hell of a warning shot across the bow of the Tiger front seven.
That front seven should get a boost with the return of suspended senior linebacker Eltoro Freeman, and Roof's long track record of run-stuffing success suggests some level of improvement is due. But the Tiger front remains so young -- all four starting defensive linemen are sophomores -- that it will take a major, major leap forward for Auburn to avoid getting steamrolled. Are they up to it?
Alabama: is your offense good enough to stake a claim to No. 1? Maybe we'll be proven wrong about this. But the guess here is that despite the change of venue to Happy Valley, there won't be any more competitive drama in Saturday's Alabama-Penn State clash than there was in last year's 24-3 Tide throttling in Tuscaloosa. Nick Saban's loaded roster of future pros dominated the Nittany Lions physically in nearly every aspect of the 2010 meeting, and that's not a problem we see Joe Paterno repairing in the space of one offseason.
Which means the burning question is one of degree: does the Tide offense have the chops to go on the road and put together a performance worthy of putting the team in the top-of-the-polls discussion? Underrated though Kent State's defense may be (10th in FBS total defense in 2010), the Tide still looked surprisingly sloppy on attack, despite the 48-7 final. The quarterbacks threw four interceptions; the offensive line missed a handful of assignments; the Tide receivers and quarterbacks put the ball on the ground four times.
Were those opening-week jitters ... or something more serious that might deprive the Tide of championships once the 2011 season is finished? A dominant performance against a Lion team with plenty of questions of its own in the front seven would go a long way towards affirming it was the former.
Also worth asking: Can Tennessee's Janzen Jackson-less secondary hold up against Cincinnati's lively passing game? (The league's most underrated Week 2 matchup could be decided here.) Can Vanderbilt look like a real team another real team? (Despite their 45-14 win over FCS Elon, the 'Dores were outgained by 14 yards. Jury's well out.) Will Kentucky or Ole Miss show any signs of life on offense? (If the 'Cats and Rebels can't get better against Central Michigan and Southern Illinois, respectively, it's going to be a long season.)
Tags: Alabama, Auburn, Boise State, Brandon Boykin, Central Michigan, Cheesecake Factory, Chris Relf, Chuckie Keeton, Cincinnati, Dan Mullen, Dana Holgorsen, Devin Taylor, Eltoro Freeman, Georgia, Gus Malzahn, Jadeveon Clowney, Jerry Hinnen, Joe Paterno, Kent State, Kentucky, Mark Richt, Melvin Ingram, Memphis, Mike Bobo, Nick Saban, Ole Miss, Penn State, SEC, SEC Interrogation, South Carolina, Southern Illinois, Ted Roof, Tennessee, Utah State, Vanderbilt, Vick Ballard