So, like Santa Claus, Marcus Lattimore is coming to town. And, forgive the tortured metaphor, we’re going to find out once and for all whether Auburn’s run defense is going to be naughty or nice this year.
The good news is that my knee-jerk appraisal of Auburn’s run defense to date under the Chizik/Roof regime would be: solid against power backs and more conventional schemes, wobbly against speed backs and runs out of the spread. Given that a) Lattimore is most definitely more power than speed b) Spurrier’s schemes are sound but hardly a mystery by this point, you’d think Auburn might be well-prepared for The One That Got Away.
But, like I said, that’s a knee-jerk appraisal I’m forced to admit could be too-heavily colored by the job Roof’s charges did against Mark Ingram. It was an amazing effort, but it was still just one game. Does the power/speed dichotomy really hold up over the course of the 16 games Auburn’s played under Chizik and Co.?
I thought I’d do some quick research to answer that question. Below is a list of the noteworthy backs Auburn has faced, divided into rough “power” and “speed designations, with their stats and cumulative totals for each category listed. Results:
Noel Devine (West Va. ’09): 15 carries, 128 yards, 8.5 YPC, 3 TDs
Derrick Locke (UK, ’09): 19 carries, 126 yards, 6.6 YPC, 0 TDs
Michael Smith (Ark. ’09): 18 carries, 145 yards, 8.1 YPC, 1 TD
Dexter McCluster (Miss. ’09): 22 carries, 186 yards, 8.5 YPC, 1 TD
Andre Ellington (Clemson ’10): 22 carries, 140 yards, 6.4 YPC, 1 TD
Totals: 96 carries, 725 yards, 7.6 YPC, 6 TDs
Anthony Dixon (Miss. St. ’09): 20 carries, 92 yards, 4.6 YPC, 1 TD
Montario Hardesty (Tenn. ’09): 21 carries, 90 yards, 4.3 YPC, 1 TD
Charles Scott (LSU, ’09): 10 carries, 20 yards, 2.0 YPC, 0 TDs
Washaun Ealey (UGA, ’09): 18 carries, 98 yards, 5.4, 1 TD
Mark Ingram (‘Bama ’09): 16 carries, 30 yards, 1.9 YPC, 0 TDs
Trent Richardson (‘Bama ’09): 15 carries, 51 yards, 3.4 YPC, 1 TD*
Jamie Harper (Clemson ’10): 19 carries, 44 yards, 2.3 YPC, 0 TDs
Totals: 119 carries, 425 yards, 3.6 YPC, 4 TDs
Secondary options for virtually all the teams listed above continue to follow the expected speed/power split. On the speed side, Kentucky’s Randall Cobb went for 109 yards on 12 carries (9.1 YPC); LSU’s Russell Shepard for 71 yards on 6 carries (11.8 YPC); and Georgia’s Caleb King for 66 yards on 10 carries (6.6 YPC), if you want to include him under “speed.” (He’s a little tougher to define than most.) On the power side, Ole Miss’s Brand Bolden gained only 12 yards on 6 carries while Arkansas thumpers Ronnie Wingo and Broderick Green combined for only 35 yards on 14 carries, a 2.5-yard average.
Let’s first of all make clear that there’s not enough evidence here to suggest that Auburn is likely to shut Lattimore down entirely. The Ingram, Scott, and Harper stonings aside, Ealey had himself an excellent day against Auburn, and Dixon, Hardesty, and to a lesser extent Richardson all had relatively productive (if not spectacular) outings. Even if Auburn is on its game, as solid as Lattimore and the Carolina line have been to date, he’s almost certainly going to get some yards here and there.
But in my opinion it’s also very unlikely, looking at the above, that Lattimore blows up for the kind of win-the-game-singlehandedly-type performance he enjoyed against Georgia. Of the power backs listed above, only Ealey had a legitimately game-changing level of production, and he had the benefit of playing Auburn at their most vulnerable–at the very end of last year’s 11-week slog and with one of our starting linebackers out for most of the second half. Since then, the Auburn rush defense has completely stuffed a Heisman winner and mostly stuffed that same back’s entire ground game, one of the best in the nation; largely shut down a well-coached and -conceived Miss. St. running game on the road; and held Clemson’s rugged Jamie Harper to precious little. The trend is positive, and indicates there is a chance, at least, that Auburn renders Lattimore nearly irrelevent.
That said, Ellington’s success a week ago is a warning that not everything is perfectly hunky-dory. Lattimore may not be as quick or nearly as shifty as Ellington, but if Auburn’s linebacking play doesn’t improve (especially against the draws and delays that are a Spurrier staple), there’s also a very real possibility Lattimore could have an Ealey-style big day all the same.
Still, the bulk of the evidence points towards Stephen Garcia having to make plays on a regular basis for Carolina to emerge with the win. If Lattimore was a McCluster or Devine he might have been able to almost take the day off, but the most likely outcome is that Lattimore won’t be able to do enough all on his own against this Auburn defense for the ‘Cocks to come away with a victory on the road.
*Richardson is a difficult back to categorize, since he’s got more jets than Ingram but obviously has a lot of grind-it-out strength as well. I finally decided his ruggedness was more definitive of his “style” than his speed. Also, ‘Bama’s straightforward pro-style approach fits much more snugly with UT’s, LSU’s, UGA’s approaches than WVU’s, Kentucky’s, etc.
I’d label Trent Richardson an All-Purpose Back myself, but to each his own.
I think Lattimore is a quality player, and will certainly turn heads during his college career. Having said that…. I have really been underwhelmed with Georgia’s new DC at times.
I personally think Garcia is going to have to wake up and play consistent football for South Carolina to win more than 8 games this season. He still has his WTF moments from time to time.
To me, it’ll come down to which QB can handle his Ad libitum moments with poise.
Thanks for the very interesting breakdown, Jerry!
I agree w/ you and TD that Garcia’s performance is likely the real key. I look for Lattimore to have a decent day, but if we can get to Garcia, I think he’ll make enough mistakes to affect the game’s outcome.
Lattimore has no richardson behind him though, so if the focuses on and stops Lattimore, that should force Garcia to have to win the game and i like option the best.
:: knocking on a big wooden desk ::
I’m more concerned with SC’s tall, talented receivers against our shaky secondary
What do the stars beside the backs other than Ingram mean?
Sorry, meant Richardson
I seem to recall that ~30 of Hardesty’s yards gained came on a draw play at the end of the half when we were in something along the lines of a cover 4 deep zone.
I think this is more a symptom of our defense being more vulnerable on the perimeter than up the middle. You see it all over the defense. Any play designed to get outside seems to give us problems. Like those damn bubble screens. Our defensive backs aren’t very physical, and seem to have more trouble then they should getting off their blocks to make a play. I’ve also been disappointed by the level of play from our defensive ends. Has Goggans done anything this year? He looks totally lost out there.
I haven’t watched him this year yet and I trust you have, but last year after watching all the HS highlight tapes: I classified Lattimore as speed and Dyer as rugged. Hope I’m wrong.
So this post begs the question, How many speed backs do we face this season? My count is 2 with Locke at UK and Sheppard at CornDog U. Any I missed?
There are a lot of ways we can get beat, if our offense goes 5 drives in a row with complete suckness like they did in the first half last week then we will lose half our remaining games. Speed back/power back/heisman winning back/6’5 receivers and rocket armed QB’s all have the ability to beat us if our offense has another half that bad…wil our offense have more halves like that? I don’t think we will have many, but that is why I am excited about this coming game. Realistically, Lattimore should scare everyone…as should garcia, as should our inconsistent o-line play and horrible penalties.
we have got to make more 3rd and 2’s …3rd and 1’s. I’d also like to see more bootlegs and rollout passes…and we should be having a minimum of two passes a game to mario our 2nd leading rec last year.
Acid Reign says
…..The thing about Trent Richardson is that he does both roles well. He can be gone in a flash, and he can run over tacklers. My god, he made the Penn State D (Linebacker-U) look like high school guys upon occasion! The only knock on Richardson is that he sometimes takes on contact that he doesn’t have to, and gets tripped. Ingram’s far better at riding his blocks, and getting down field unopposed.
…..Lattimore wearing number 21 bothers me. I was a HUGE James Brooks fan in my high school/college years, and there’s a certain amount of awe that irrationally fills me when I see a good back wearing that number. Jerry, I hope your great research holds true this weekend!
…..It will be an interesting Saturday. Let’s hope Auburn gives a good effort, and Stephen Garcia has one of his statistically normal games. Ted Rood’s gonna make him try to win the game. No doubt! I’m going to drive down early and just bask in walking around campus. I’m going by myself this time, just me, just FOR me; no one else to entertain or guide. I can’t wait!
Reid, the “further evidence” section began as a whole series of footnotes before I realized I could lump them all togther in the body of the post they way I’ve done here. Then I forgot to delete the asterisks. Apologies.