A weekly update on how Auburn’s future opponents are faring and where Tiger fans’ worry level should be headed.
Week 3: West Virginia. If you noticed East Carolina’s early double-digit lead on the ‘Eers last Saturday, you may be thinking that West Virginia wound up wheezing to their eventual 35-20 home victory.
Not so much: WVU rolled to 509 yards of total offense behind QB Jarrett Brown, the senior pictured above, who finished 24-of-31 for 334 yards and 4 TDs. The ‘Eer rushing game wasn’t quite as dominant, gaining 4.7 yards a pop on 37 carries, but still showed huge strides since last year’s WVU meltdown at ECU. And then there was the ‘Eer defense, which held Patrick Pinkney and Co. to 237 yards–enough to give the home team a whopping 272-yard advantage in the box score. If not for four ‘Eer turnovers and a handful of special teams breakdowns, the score would have been substantially more lopsided.
In short: if Auburn fans were harboring any hopes that Year 2 of the Coach Stew era would get off to as sputtery a start as Year 1–hopes that got a boost in WVU’s indifferent Week 1 performance against I-AA Liberty–it might be best to give them up. Brown is clicking, Noel Devine is Noel Devine, and the disorientation period of going from RichRod’s schemes to new(er) OC Jeff Mullen’s appear to be behind them. Auburn will likely get every bit as big a test as expected this Saturday.
Worry Level: Definitely up
What could I possibly say that hasn’t been said before? Like Murray says to his band Flight of the Conchords after the only person in the audience sneaks out mid-set, “This is a new low.”
Worry Level: Just about rock-bottom
5: Tennessee. By now you’ve probably noticed the air whooshing out of the Vol ballon as quickly as that pants-ing of Western Kentucky filled it up. As 180-degrees apart as Tennessee’s former and current coaches might be in temperament and philosophy, the book on the 2009 Vols currently reads the exact same way as the 2008 Vols: solid defense, passable running game, horrorshow at quarterback that tears the whole thing down. At the end of the day, the Vols gained just 208 yards at home against last year’s No. 47 defense, which has since lost its coordinator … and still found time to turn the ball over 4 times.
There’s no other word for that than pathetic, and whether the game is in Knoxville or not, another offensive outburst from Auburn this week would make it very hard to see a Crompton-led offense keeping pace with the Spread Eagle 2.0.
Worry Level: Down
6: Arkansas. Hogs had a bye. Since my buddies over at Arkansas Expats spent the week talking to Ken Hatfield and worrying over potential “gang rape” charges against the Hog hoops team, I’m assuming Mallett didn’t break his ankle in practice or anything.
Worry Level: Steady
7: Kentucky. Also had a bye. As you’ll see this is a recurring theme this week.
Worry Level: Steady.
The good news for LSU is that after a week of “What’s wrong with LSU’s defense?” chatter following the Washington game, Los Otros Tigres had little-to-no problem shutting down Vandy’s new Tulsa-lite attack, holding the ‘Dores to a measly 210 total yards. The bad news is that apparently the defense stole their mojo from the offense, which failed to break the 350-yard mark themselves. QB Jordan Jefferson had a particularly rough game from a statistical standpoint, completing 20-of-29 but for only 4.8 yards an attempt and no touchdowns.
As strong as Vandy’s secondary is, there’s not too much shame in that, but it’s still hard to say where in these first two weeks LSU’s really looked like a legitimate SEC West contender.
Worry Level: Down, ever-so-slightly
9: Ole Miss. Also had the week off. However, remember that Memphis team the Rebels struggled with for nearly three quarters? They got hammered by that noted power, Middle Tennessee St. Doesn’t mean much, of course, but maybe it means the tiniest something?
Worry Level: Down, ever-so-slightly
10: Furman. 38-20 win over UT-Chattanooga. I don’t care.
Worry Level: Flatlined
11: Georgia. In the most surprising scoreline of the new season–and of many seasons–the Dawgs went from putting up 10 points on Oklahoma St. to putting up 41 in a death-defying four-point home victory over South Carolina, who themselves went from scoring a single touchdown against N.C. State to hanging 37 on the Dawgs.
Which means that your guess is as good as mine when it comes to Georgia. Are the Dawgs the offensively hapless defense-and-field-position first outfit we saw against Okie St., or the light-’em-up big play masters that hang on by the skin of their teeth we saw against Carolina? If the Dawgs ever combine the defense we saw Week 1 with the offense we saw Week 2, they’ll be world-beaters; if they combine the offense we saw Week 1 with the defense from Week 2, they won’t beat anybody.
There was one thing we can say about Georgia in both performances, however: they got outplayed. It’s not often you see a team get outgained by more than 100 yards and lose the turnover battle 3-1 and still come out on top, but Georgia managed it, thanks to Spurrier’s continued inability to find a running game he can count on to turn red zone possessions into seven points rather than three. That the Dawgs let the same Carolina team that sleepwalked past N.C. State that opening night do the kind of damage they did between the hedges makes me think that maybe, just maybe, we’re going to see the combination of bad-offense-bad-defense more than we see the other one.
Worry Level: Mostly confused, but maybe down a bit
12: Alabama. Trailed Florida International for half-a-second early in the second quarter before opening up a final advantage of more than 300 total yards and pushing the final score out to the expected margin. Kickoff coverage looks like an ongoing problem, but other than that, there’s nothing to see here we didn’t already see in the Tide’s frightening opening-week performance.
Worry Level: Steady
The Conquered: helping or hurting? A trip to the option-masters at Navy isn’t the easiest of assignments, but La. Tech still didn’t do Auburn any favors by going scoreless for the final three quarters in a 32-14 loss. Tech managed just 167 yards total and averaged a whopping .6 yards per carry against an undersized Navy front. Bleccch. Tech lost to Navy weak sister Army last year and still earned themselves a heck of a season, but they haven’t shown any signs just yet of being the better-than-average WAC team they were advertised to be.
Overall: The overall picture looks rosier and rosier, as the road dates at Tennessee, LSU, at Georgia–which all looked unlikely at best and just plain out-of-reach at worst when the season kicked off–all now look like games Auburn should be competitive in, at the least.
That said, Auburn will lose a big chunk of momentum without a win this week, and Brown and WVU made it clear against ECU that that win will not come easily in the slightest.