A weekly update on how Auburn’s future opponents are faring and where Tiger fans’ worry level should be headed.
Week 6: Arkansas. Certainly, taking down a rejuvenated-ish Texas A&M team 47-19 in a neutral venue is a feather in the Hogs’ cap. Ryan Mallett returned to the form he showed for three quarters against Georgia, throwing 27 times for 10 yards an attempt and 4 TDs, and the much-maligned Hog defense held the nominal No. 1 offense in the country to just 17 points.
I’m not sure it’s time to revert back to those preseason “this year’s Ole Miss!” expectations quite yet, though. True, there’s nothing to complain about in the Hogs’ offensive performance (aside from three turnovers), but the defensive woes aren’t solved just yet: A&M actually finished the game having outgained the Hogs 458-434, put together seven drives of 40 yards or more, and had four different drives deep into Hog territory end without points. If that still sounds OK given A&M’s sterling offensive ranking and the relatively limited 4.9 yards-per-play, well, consider that A&M built that ranking in only three games of up-tempo offense against the horrorshow defenses of New Mexico, Utah St., and UAB; doing better than those three by about a yard-and-three-quarters isn’t insignificant, but is it enough to make me think the Spread Eagle 2.0 isn’t going to do its usual damage (or more)? No, no it is not.
Prepare yourselves now, folks: you’re likely about to see the highest-scoring, wildest Auburn affair since Terry Bowden was walking the sidelines, and maybe since longer ago than that.
Worry Level: Up, but not that far up
Week 7: Kentucky. For the second straight year, the ‘Cats put up way more of a fight against the Tide than might have been expected. Kentucky 1. stayed within a possession of the Tide for 29:39 of the first half before handing the Tide a fumble return TD just before the break 2. hounded Greg McElroy (15/26, 5.7 yards an attempt) into the worst day of his young Tide career 3. were only outgained by 51 yards on the day, total …
… and, of course, were still run over by a 38-20 final score. 4 back-breaking turnovers had a lot to do with that, as did an even-worse-than-it-looks 17-31, 168-yard (5.4 per), 3-INT, 1-TD performance from Mike Hartline. The overwhelming sense your humble Auburn Blogger got watching this game was that the ‘Cats were (and are) a blue version of Auburn’s opponent last Saturday: terrific skill players (Randall Cobb is the second-best WR in the league right now, and it’s not close), stout enough defense, giant gaping hole behind center. Unless Hartline shows some remarkable improvement in Columbia this week, it’s awfully hard to see him leading a team into Jordan-Hare and outscoring the hosts.
Worry Level: Steady
Week 8: LSU. I don’t always agree with Kyle, but he gets the response to LSU’s utterly bizarre 20-13 win in Athens exactly right: in the end, you can see whatever you want to see in the two teams (or four teams, if you accept that the teams that came out of the locker room were entirely different from the ones that went into it at halftime) involved in that … thing … that they played.
I suppose you have to give the Tigers credit: road wins over decent-to-good SEC teams don’t come easily, wins in which you outgain the home team by nearly 100 yards are even rarer, and perhaps most encouraging for LSU fans, Gary Crowton’s running game looked fully functional for the first time in weeks. (Ignore the final 3.5 yard-per-carry average; a bushel of Georgia sacks have that number pretty distorted.)
At the same time: how impressive are those 20 points and even that 5.1 yards-per-play mark against the same defense that gave up all those points to South Carolina and Arkansas? How impressive is the defense, really, when Joe Cox is having one of his Evil Joe days and the Dawg running game still looks stutteriffic at best?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s very impressive. Somehow, we still have to wait another week to find out what we really ought to think about this team.
Worry Level: Up, but not that far up
Week 9: Ole Miss. The Rebels had the sort of somnabulant game that seems pretty much the norm for anyone facing Vandy this year, averaging right around 5 yards a play in a 23-7 win that was over at halftime. Snead threw three picks, but that’s just what he does sometimes, of course. There’s nothing here that makes you think they’re way better than what they showed against South Carolina, but nothing here to make you think they’re not right where Houston Nutt wants them, either.
Worry Level: Steady
Week 10: Furman. The Paladins took one on the chin Saturday, losing their first Southern Conference game of the year, 19-12, on an Elon field goal with 2 seconds to play and an insult-to-injury Phoenix fumble return for TD on their desperation kickoff return.
Worry Level: Flatlined
Week 11: Georgia. I could spend a lot of words here trying to decipher the mystery that is the most schizophrenic SEC team I can ever remember watching, but I think the one thing we can say for certainty about the 2009 Dawgs is this: when Joe Cox is on his game, the Dawgs can score on anyone. When he’s not, they can pretty much be stopped by anyone. And while that doesn’t exactly explain the defense’s wild mood swings (or why that D’s spent much of the year spitting nails inside their own 30 and getting pushed around outside it), it does kind of explain how the season’s gone: Good Joe leads explosive victories over SC and Arkansas (the latter on the road!) and a stirring second-half comeback vs. LSU that would have won the day if not for special teams breakdowns; Evil Joe leads punchless loss at Okie St., white-knuckle victory over a bad Arizona St. team, and a butt-ugly first-half offensive performance vs. LSU that necessitated the stirring comeback in the first place.
So: which of these two Joes will Auburn get to face later this year? Your guess is as good as mine, but until we see Good Joe reappear …
Worry Level: Down a smidge
Week 12: Alabama. For the first time this season, Alabama seemed to actually play below their accepted level of play, particularly on defense. OTS at RollBamaRoll:
Moving to the defensive side of the ball, things weren’t so pretty. Kentucky has an offense that will almost certainly finish near the bottom of the SEC in most statistical categories, and they scored 20 points against us. Making matters worse, we never really stopped them, and they should have scored more. Again, we never really stopped them, they only stopped themselves. Had Kentucky not been so hell bent on shooting themselves in the foot, they could have legitimately scored 30+ points. Kentucky effectively had 11 possessions yesterday. Of those 11, they scored on four of them, four of them resulted in turnovers, two of them stalled out with four dropped passes / penalties, and the Tide forced all of one legitimate stop. In other words, Kentucky had 11 possessions yesterday, and on 10 of them they either scored points or stopped themselves with their own incompetence.
Unfortunately the running game that struggled against Arkansas showed substantially more pep against the ‘Cats, but still, there’s a lot more complaints like the one above at the link. The smart thing to do is simply to write it off as one bad game–which ‘Bama was certainly due for–but you still have to wonder: if Kentucky can move the ball a little bit …
Worry Level: Down just a touch from what was already maximum Worry
The Conquered: Good news on this front in the middle of last week, as on Wednesday La. Tech stonewalled Hawaii and West Virginia overcame a slew of fumbles to see off Colorado 35-24 in a Thursday-nighter. Would have been nice to see the ‘Eers lay it on a little heavier, but no question Colorado was the more desperate team.
Miss. St. continued both their offensive resurgence and their maddening habit of being their own worst enemy, as four lost fumbles and five total turnovers turned what could have been a huge upset into a 42-31 defeat at the hands of Georgia Tech. This marks the second straight week State has outgained their opponent and lost. It could always be worse, though; just ask Ball St.
Overall: No major changes, but between LSU’s victory and Arkansas’s offense getting its head screwed on straight again, the road slate does a look a little bit tougher again.
Hog photo via.