“The only difference between myself and a madman is that I am not mad.”* Honestly? I don’t think there’s really any debate about it: Mad Dr. Gustav was the best assistant coaching hire in the country this past offseason. Turning the 104th-best offense in D-I into its third-best (or, when all is said and done, at least one of its top 10) looks good enough on paper, but even those numbers don’t do Malzahn justice. To turn the same bunch of players that ate away our very Auburn-rootin’, football-watchin’ souls in last year’s Tennessee or Vandy games into the current batch of thrill-a-minute homewreckers … well, it’s as close to earning the full definition of the term “miracle” as anything else I’ve ever seen done in the world of football coaching, and not to get provincial, but I’m not sure anyone who wasn’t an Auburn fan in 2008 would understand the full depth of the transformation. He really is a genius.
So it’s nice to see him getting his due from a variety of sources today. As Will has already pointed out, they’re coming in from all over: Chris Low at ESPN, Stewart Mandel at SI, Smart Football’s Chris Brown at Dr. Saturday–Malzahn even got a shout-out yesterday from ESPN recruitnik J.C. Shurbutt as one of the SEC’s most underrated recruiters.
It won’t surprise anyone who’s read him before that the most intriguing take belongs to Brown. On the play that crushed poor Miss. St. beneath its heel (and which Malzahn faked to spring Zachery on a reverse on the first play against WVU) Brown writes the following:
Since he was at Springdale, Malzahn has been running a version of the old Wing-T “buck sweep” (also sometimes called the “truck sweep”) from the shotgun. Most teams don’t use this because it’s a kind of slow-developing play to the outside, but Herb Hand once mentioned that it averaged more than 10 yards an attempt at Tulsa for a full season. The play is classic Wing-T: The line, tight ends, and receivers all block “down,” or step to their inside to get an angle to cut off defenders’ pursuit, while both guards pull and lead to the outside. Meanwhile, the quarterback executes a fake, causing the defense to hesitate for just a moment, and off the runner goes. And if the generic buck sweep is classic Wing-T, the Auburn version is classic Malzahn, an age-old concept combined not just with the shotgun but with a funky formation and receiver motion. He can use a variety of sets and looks, but against Mississippi State running back Ben Tate scored on a long touchdown run on this play where Malzahn brought the receiver in a sweep motion and the quarterback, after handing it to Tate, faked giving the ball on the reverse, then faked again as if he was setting up for a play-action pass, all of which is possible in this system.
There’s a diagram to go along with this paragraph and a hundred other things besides. Read the whole thing, or lose.
Good as Brown is, my favorite quote of the season-to-date regarding Dr. Gustav’s work comes from Kiffin the Elder, via the Younger:
My dad said the other night, `It’s like trying to read a book and someone’s waving their hand in front of the book.’ You are trying to look at what’s going on but you can’t really see it and you can’t really focus because there is much misdirection and so many shifting motions.
This is why Kiffin the Elder has as much of a problem preparing for the Spread Eagle 2.0 as Malzahn has in getting ready for the Vols: Auburn’s offense is currently sui generis, completely unlike anything the Vols and the Kiffins will have faced before and almost impossible to simulate on the practice field. I’m biased, but if there’s a more fascinating match-up in college football this weekend than Auburn’s offense going up against Tennessee’s defense, I’m not aware of it.
From the beat. First, there’s been some compromise on TigerWalkGate from the Vol end: Fans OK, band and cheerleaders not. Still not sure this is really about ambulance access and not UT’s four straight losses to the team arriving this weekend, but I can also admit I don’t know about the geography surrounding Neyland as they do.
As for news concerning the actual team, Grimes isn’t spilling the beans either about who’s starting at right guard, but the coyness further enhances my impression that Byron Isom will be back in the lineup. (Click that link for 1. a terrific quote from Grimes about the preciousness of the “13 opportunities to step out and play in a game” and 2. some info from Taylor on the situation regarding Travante Stallworth and his military father. I can’t help it: Stallworth’s one of the freshmen I’m particularly rooting for.) Elsewhere, that was Darrell Roseman playing the other night, so Andre Harris’s redshirt is intact; Jay Boulware is defending “The Others” on the special teams unit, as well he should; and Taylor expects Burns to play.
Polls. When even Mandel can’t figure out why your team isn’t ranked, it’s safe to say there’s no good reason for it. (Well, other than the reason that pollsters have turnips for brains.) All the more reason for Auburn fans to throw their support behind the BlogPoll, which slides Auburn in at No. 23 this week and looks more and more like the one sane person in a room of, I don’t know, David Archuleta obsessives.
The polls are also K-Scar’s topic du jour, and if I completely disagree with him that Chizik should keep an eye on the polls about worrying about polls because OMG 2004 ALL OVER AGAIN–seriously, that’s very least of Auburn’s worries–he’s dead right that this sort of thing probably wouldn’t happen when you get an ESPN- and Chick-fil-A-fueled opening week showcase.
BlAUgosphere. We’re to the point where Auburn Bloggers are turning their attentions to the Tennessee game: Rob Pate’s unique perspective on road games is worth a read, as is Acid’s look at UT-Auburn history–make sure to check out where the last few Auburn teams to win in Knoxville ended up.
Here at TWER, Thor Burk has his weekly viewing guide up–be sure to root on West Virginia tonight. (And take Georgia to cover.)
Etc. Craig Sanders talks a little bit about his decision, saying he committed to ‘Bama because it was “the popular choice” … TeamSpeedKills reviews their preseason look at Auburn-UT and changes their prediction.
*It’s a Salvador Dali quote.
Photo by Van Emst.