Let me say, as I begin, that I have no insider information about the state of Chris Todd’s throwing shoulder. I know only what those who have watched the last two games know. And it looks to me as if the shoulder has regressed and taken Auburn’s offense with it.
Todd does not look like he did up to and through the Tennessee game. His windup seems longer — straining — and his demeanor after plays is unsure, anxious.
Two plays stand out from the Kentucky game.
One is obvious: the unforced, unimaginable underthrow to a wide open Mario Fannin.
The other is less obvious: a 3rd-down throw into the dirt on the next-to-last drive. (If I remember correctly.) I don’t know what was going on downfield, and maybe what was going on there would explain it, but the throw looked like an admission of defeat, of an arm that could not force a ball into a spot, even with the game on the line. Maybe I am wrong about that. Maybe I am wrong about Todd’s arm.
But I don’t think I am wrong about his arm. Right now it appears he can no longer shoulder the load at quarterback.
I don’t mean that Auburn should replace him. Who would take over? But Auburn is going to have to find a way to get the running backs, particularly Fannin, more involved in the game, especially on short throws. And Auburn is going to have to throttle back on offensive pacing, although the offensive struggles of the last two games have already forced some throttling back. Can Auburn score enough out of such a reduced offense to be competitive? I don’t know. But if Auburn cannot, it is looking at Arkansas-game-like defensive struggles. The depth issues on defense cannot survive four quarters of 3-and-out. By Kentucky’s final drive, no player on defense had anything left. We will see a lot more of that to finish the season, I fear.
The other problem seems to be that the progression of defensive coordinators — from Tennessee’s to Arkansas’ to Kentucky’s — has figured out that if the wide receivers are neutralized, the running game can be, not stopped, but contained. More attention has been focused on Auburn’s wideouts. That attention, coupled with Todd’s throwing difficulties, has turned an offense frightening to opponents to one that threatens itself with friendly fire. Auburn fans can only hope that Coach Gus can figure out a way to retool or that Todd’s arm recovers. Otherwise a long night in Red Stick will just be the first act of a long tragedy likely to end in a splash of crimson.
Having said that, I want to make something clear.
Auburn was good for five games.
True, the opponents were not all top-tier teams, but Auburn played really well. Even if the season spirals, Auburn fans should keep those five games in mind. Those games give a taste, all too fleeting, I admit, of what this staff can do when it has the players, the depth, it needs to compete. The last half of this season may be difficult. But Auburn fans need not to ask, What have you done for me lately? But rather, What have you shown me is possible? Can Auburn fans be patient enough to keep a positive “feel” around the program even if the current product unwinds in slow turns of injuries, fatigue and shorthandedness?
Dr. Jolley is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at Auburn University. He works in the theory of judgment, the history of 20th-century philosophy, metaphilosophy and philosophical psychology. He also likes football and was recently profiled by The New York Times. His book “The Concept ‘Horse’ Paradox and Wittgensteinian Conceptual Investigations” was published in 2007. “Leisure with Dignity,” his column for TWER, runs bi-monthly to monthly. Write to him at email@example.com.
* Graphic by Thor Burk.