As you know, from time-to-time your humble Auburn Blogger likes to get together via the amazing medium of e-mail for some fun and wholesome Q n’ A with the bloggers of Auburn’s opponents, looking for some of that proverbial “inside scoop.” This week I’m happy to be exchanging commentary with Juco All-American of the SBNation Ole Miss blog Red Cup Rebellion. I think the best way to describe RCR is that an Ole Miss blog calling itself “Red Cup Rebellion” and written by various hellraisers calling themselves “Juco All-American,” “Whiskey Wednesday,” “The Ghost of Jay Cutler,” etc., raises certain kinds of expectations–and RCR pretty well meets all of those expectations.
Without further ado, here’s Juco’s A’s to my Q’s, and you can find my A’s to their Q’s here. I also guested on RCR’s weekly radio show/podcast; you can listen to that by visiting their homepage and checking the widget on the right.
1. So, these last couple of weeks we’ve seen Jevan Snead carefully remove his head from whichever orifice he’d had it crammed into previously and finally start winging the ball around like the future NFL quarterback we saw over the second half of 2008. Is that Snead back for good? If he is, given that he hangs out with this McCluster guy and Branden Bolden in the backfield, how would you propose Auburn attack the Ole Miss D? (Note that we’re using the term “attack” here a little loosely. I should probably put scare quotes around it.)
“I assume you meant to say, ‘How would you propose Auburn attack the Ole Miss O?’ (Dammit.–ed.) So much of that depends on Dr. Jevan and Mr. Snead. Is ‘Good Jevan’ back after last week’s career performance? I don’t know and, really, can only hope he continues to perform well.
“I think that we have seen a maturation of Jevan during this season. Early on, the line was giving him no protection at all. He was running around for his life, and Jevan struggles when that’s the case. He has a gunslinger mentality and has too much faith in his arm, causing him to throw the insane number of picks he has. He isn’t afraid to throw into double or even triple coverage while scrambling–it’s very Favreian of him.
“Honestly, I would follow the South Carolina blueprint to beat Ole Miss. Stop the run. Hope that Jevan turns the ball over two or three times. Double-cover Shay Hodge. He’s the receiver we throw to when we’re looking to gain more than 8 yards or so. If you do that, your defense will probably stop us.
“Oh, one more thing: this isn’t exactly something you can really coach, but tackle Dexter McCluster. The first guy has to bring him down. Dex is often given the ball with one defender to get around before making a big play. If that defender brings him down, he doesn’t have a big impact on the play. If that defender is caught flat-footed or assuming that they can arm tackle him because of his size, he makes them pay.”
2. Jumpin’ jehosophat the Rebel defense has been good this year–even in the Rebels’ losses, they only gave up 16 and 22 points (and those 22 weren’t even their fault, as we know). Why have they been so stout and are there any soft spots Auburn could poke at if Auburn theoretically had something to poke with?
“Yes. They’re quite good. The Rebels are tied with the Texas Longhorns to rank ninth in scoring defense, allowing just 13.5 points per game. As you stated, many of those points are not even by the fault of the defense. Our offense has given the ball to the other team within our own 30 numerous times this season. No defense is going to be able to consistently perform under that type of pressure. They’re also excellent in red zone defense, allowing opposing offenses to only come away with points 69% of the times they get inside the red zone and scoring touchdowns to end only 35% of those drives.
“Last season, our secondary struggled. But they improved as the year went on and, unlike the offense, they picked up right where they left off this season. The Rebels are giving up only 165 yards per game through the air coming into this game. Our corners and safeties are all veterans who, despite their size, hit very hard and play very aggressively. God’s gift to the passing offense (at least, per Bama fans), Julio Jones, couldn’t bring the ball down in the endzone against the Rebels. He had three opportunities to do so, but was swarmed by our secondary big time.
“The defensive line has been discussed ad nauseum but there’s reason for that: they’re incredible. We have four ends who could start at a lot of other schools. Of our three tackles, two are gap fillers who excel at putting themselves in good positions to let other defenders make plays. The other in the primary rotation, Jerrell Powe, makes plays more-or-less by himself. He’s the closest thing we have to last year’s Peria Jerry.
“I guess the weak point then is the linebacking corps. They struggle significantly in reading misdirections, draws, or quarterback runs. If you want to beat Ole Miss, run middle screens and draws all day long. Our ends are overly aggressive, opening holes where delayed runs go. Our linebackers have trouble in coverage on screens for some reason. They have gotten better at this as the season has worn on, and looked alright against Arkansas, but they’re still lacking. Run both of those a lot. You’ll probably be successful.”
3. In that Thursday night struggle in Columbia, the Rebel offensive line looked particularly sieve-like. (I seem to recall one of your number at RCR being especially, ah, displeased with a certain Mr. Bradley Sowell.) I’m assuming there’s been some improvement or we wouldn’t have seen the kinds of numbers they’ve put up the last two weeks, but have they improved enough for your liking? Auburn’s defensive ends have, in fact, shown up the past couple of weeks; any chance they get pressure on Snead?
“They were pretty terrible that Thursday. Really, they were pretty terrible up until the Alabama game. Sure, we lost to Alabama because of our offense, but not because of the offensive line. Jevan wasn’t sacked in that game. In fact, he hasn’t been sacked in the past three games. (FANTASTIC.–ed.) Sure, some of that is on Jevan. He has done a good job of escaping some pressure in the pocket and throwing it away when he needs to, but most of that rests on the rapid maturation of the offensive line.
“Our starting left tackle, RS Soph Bradley Sowell, was terrible through the first three games. His porous play was really exposed in that South Carolina game. When Eric Norwood lined up across from him, there was a greater than 65% chance that Norwood was going to get to Jevan Snead and at least apply pressure. There were times when he’d get simply knocked on his back before rolling around on the ground like an upended box turtle. As a result, there was a ton of mud slung Bradley’s way, a lot of it even from my fellow bloggeurs.
“But you know, Bradley has come a very long way. Now, I don’t think anyone would say that he’s a liability. In fact, he may be the second best offensive lineman on our team right now (center Daverin Geralds is NFL-ready). He makes better moves with his hands and feet and, most importantly, plays with an aggression which was lacking during the first few weeks of the season.
“In answer to your question, sure, there’s a chance to get pressure on Snead. Neither of our tackles have proven themselves to adequately protect Jevan on a weekly basis. Just attack them over and over. One of them will likely struggle somewhat. Just don’t expect it to be as easy as it was for South Carolina.”
4. Early kickoff, on the road, against an unranked-but-somewhat-competent opponent, coming off of a big home win … this has all the markings you’d expect from the traditional Houston Nutt Letdown Game, doesn’t it? In fact Auburn’s biggest and best hope is probably the Houston Nutt Letdown game, because if the Rebels play the way they did last week, forget it. How likely do you think that letdown is? Will it matter?
“Well, I hope that we have gotten the letdown games out of our system already. I’m not expecting a third consecutive 500+ yards of offense day, but I would hope that we don’t come out looking like we’re just ready to finish the game and get home.
“On the Houston Nutt bit: I think that the concept of the Houston Nutt letdown game is a little bit overplayed. I would guess that any coach who is good enough to coach in a BCS conference for 11+ seasons with two teams in the relatively difficult long-term situations of Arkansas and Ole Miss has blemishes on his record. The truth is that Ole Miss just can’t consistently compete. Right now, we have some solid starters. We have a few players in the two-deep who aren’t significant drop-offs. However, all of our offensive line backups leave us praying that no one gets hurt. In a situation like that, where you’re essentially unable to consistently recruit quality depth, any coach will falter every now and then.
“Now back to the original point, this game could be a letdown game waiting to happen. I’ll agree with you there. Auburn put up a great deal of offense against a very good Tennessee defense. If the orange and blue Tigers can create the difficulties they created for the Volunteers, this could be a high scoring affair. The Rebels have a great shot at scoring a lot of points if they don’t turn the ball over often, something which is never a guarantee for this team. I don’t see both of those situations simultaneously converging with some consistency, so such a letdown isn’t terribly likely, but it’s far from unlikely.”
5. Lastly, maybe Ole Miss won’t quite live up to the SI covers and top-5 rankings and whatnot, but the Rebels will be favored in their last five games and with all due respect to a feisty State team that’s probably playing a little better than the Tigers are at the moment, Auburn is (on paper) the final major road test of the season for Ole Miss. If the Rebels sweep and finish 10-2, is this still going to feel like a satisfying season after the wave of preseason hype? What if they drop one somewhere–then what?
“Let me start by saying that the top-5 ranking was totally bogus. We did absolutely nothing but remain undefeated against the likes of Memphis and SELA with a bye week sandwiched in there. We climbed the polls simply because other people lost. I’m okay with people saying ‘Ole Miss didn’t do what they should have’ or whatever, but folks are actually faulting us for that #4 ranking as if Jevan Snead, Houston Nutt, and Archie Manning are AP voters. Anyway, I digress.
“Before the season, I said, ‘nine wins, and I’m happy.’ I still certainly feel that way. Remember, we won eight in the regular season last year, so nine or ten, while not as magical as some would have hoped for, is still an improvement. If we win nine, we’re likely to head back to the Cotton Bowl and would even have an outside shot at the Capitol One Bowl. We’re not a team that’s accustomed to going to New Years Day bowls so, to go to the Cotton bowl one year and the Capitol One bowl the next would be a huge turning point in our program. I don’t think we’re capable of consistently making significant noise in the West, but if we are to unleash any hidden potential, now’s our chance.
“As an aside, many of our fans are ridiculous. They’ve mailed the season in already as one that has gone down the tubes. If we lose another, they may stop paying attention altogether. Because of our pre-season hype, people are already clamoring about making changes to the coaching staff or taking Nutt’s playcalling duties away from him. What they don’t understand is that we…. Ole Miss… we are looking at a potential 10-2 or 9-3 season with a repeat of last year’s 8-4 campaign being a worst-case scenario.
“If we lose more than one more, it really has been a poor season based on the possibilities headed in and the talent on the roster, but fans still have to be content with 8 regular season wins. Like I’ve drilled into your head already, we are Ole Miss. Forty years of a few ups, some downs, and a whole lot of mediocrity aren’t erased by one or two good seasons.”
Thanks again to Juco All-American. Second half of the recap coming soon.