The price of loyalty
Football is a rough-ass game. All the trickeration, the scheming, the Sharpe ratios and clever little screens, all of them boil down to violence. Head-first-into-a-car, brain-rattling, bone-snapping violence. Violence that forces players to actually wear armor. The helmets snap, the pads crack like heat lightning. Line up, fingers in the dirt and hit them other boys in the mouth and may the meanest, toughest prevail.
Such as with that scramble that took Clemson’s diamond-bound quarterback right up to the first down line and straight into Mike McNeill’s helmet.
When he took that shot and then spent the rest of the game visibly in agony, there was a part of me that wondered if the game itself is worth it for Parker even to be taking snaps. Every single play is Russian roulette with his millionaire future, a thousand pounds of athleticism barreling down on his cruciate ligaments. The whistle blows. The chamber spins and clicks back into place. Why does he do it? For an unranked squad, hoping to wrest a BCS bowl out of the scatterbrained ACC, for pride? Sure, it would be the chance of a lifetime to take his Clemson Tigers to the postseason, and the last shot he may have at playing serious football… but he’s already a professional ballplayer, and he could be living that dream just about as soon as he decides to come off the gridiron and steps onto the diamond. This decision is like putting that winning Powerball ticket in your pocket and going to down to the lake… and hoping you don’t fall in.
But to Parker’s credit, however much pain he appeared to feel, however he seemed to wrench as he rolled out and threw, there was never any hesitation on his face. Ever the competitor, ever the opponent making play after play, forcing his body to perform, daring anyone watching to hang onto their doubt. The multitude of perfectly placed balls rained down all game long, catching Clemson receivers perfectly in stride… and then that last, most important play. The fifth quarter. The tight end releases from the coverage in the end zone, Parker rolls out, throws, and it just slips past his receiver’s fingertips. And I think, damn right it’s worth it. He was tough – real tough.
So – while Kyle Parker has my respect, and while I hope he makes it to baseball with his abilities intact: hit him harder next time. Make him mean it when he says, “I’d rather get plowed under by Nick Fairley than catch baseballs in the sunshine for more money a year than some folks see in a lifetime.” Make him prove his loyalties. Patton might say it thusly: make that other poor bastard take a helmet for his team. Because this is the price of loyalty, and loyalty is worth that price. It doesn’t take talent and it doesn’t take gumption to give up.
Whatever else I would know to say about the Clemson game, well, it’s been said already.
Real briefly: on the other side of the ball, Newton had a feast-and-famine night. What I noticed was that on Cam’s two interceptions, the read he made was correct but the throw was off-target. Our offense really lives and dies by the intermediate-to-deep completions. Whenever we hit that ball, all our other playcalls seemed to click right in place. When we didn’t, well… Let’s just hope that Cam puts the ball where it needs to be. If he does, God help the Gamecocks. What hasn’t been seen yet are the charts.
ok so get to it then
Since the last time Spread Sheets came out, I’ve burnt right through two hard drives and had to have my computer completely reloaded twice, in the process losing both the Excel spreadsheet that extracts the data and forms the charts, and Microsoft Excel itself. Thus, the entire machine had to be rebuilt from scratch in a different program (thank goodness for Open Office.) But we are back and rolling and – dare I say – better than ever. Behold, your charts from our Auburn Tigers’ first three games, with a year-to-date running total. Just so you know, there’s a slight improvement from last year’s iteration. From now on, Auburn’s drives will be navy blue, and the opposing team’s drives will be marked with a contrasting team color:
STATISTICAL DOMINATION OF A SWEET CUPPIN’ CAKE WOOOOO.
The appearance of this graph has more in common with the 3-2 debacle than what we might expect for this Auburn squad, fighting to a standstill in Starkville and coming out just barely – less than a touchdown’s worth – ahead. Just for kicks and comparisons, below is the resurrected graph of last year’s tilt with the Mullendogs. As you might expect, last year’s game went quite a bit better. Is this the cowbell effect rearing its ugly, hideously clanking head? Is Mullen putting a team together that’s worthy of respect? Is this evidence that our team was as-yet still disorganized? Probably some combination of the three, compare for yourself:
Onto Clemson, the graph of which confirms everyone’s impressions of that horrible, horrible, abyss of a first half followed by Auburn’s roaring third quarter, followed by us clinging desperately to the lead. (Yeah, sorry about Clemson taking the orange. But the purple would have been indistinguishable from the blue – MSU’s maroon is bad enough.) By the adjusted yards, we basically lost this game – again, confirming your and my impressions:
bug or feature?
Now, that graph looks absolutely hellacious. Okay, more than looks. But interesting tidbits surface when we rake the numbers out (as we are wont to do.) One thing you can do with all this data is split out subsets, compute averages and running totals and the like for individual players, individual downs, individual quarters. As such, I split out the numbers for all the main backfield players (Cam, Onterrio, Mike on our side, and Parker, Ellington, and Harper on Clemson’s) and computed average adjusted yards for each of the six:
|Average Adjusted Yards|
Dead heat among the quarterbacks, Auburn on top in terms of the running backs. Which, as you might imagine, was baffling to me. So, I took the liberty of fully graphing the running totals thereof. Keep in mind that consecutive plays on this graph do not denote actual contiguous plays, but merely consecutive plays attempted by that player. First the quarterbacks:
Holy smokes, Cam’s third quarter was absolutely monstrous, accounting for – let it be said – the entire measure of his success as a quarterback in this game. From the 88th play counted here to the 111th, he rocketed forward for 230 some yards. And while that towering third quarter came mostly on the strength of two touchdown passes, notice that every single play in that duration is positive. That’s flat extraordinary and if this is proof-of-concept of Cam’s potential in Malzahn’s offense (against a quality team) we’ve got the ability to lay waste to our entire schedule. That is, if we execute appropriately and consistently. The first half is a horrorshow.
Notice, too, that Kyle Parker was basically flawless in the first half, with two touches evident and a steady, turf-eating pace in between, rarely committing a profoundly negative play. That’s about as good a half as could be expected for a quarterback. The second half, though, he gained exactly zero yards against the two-yard-per-play ante. While – as you’ll see below – Ellington picked up the pace in the second half, one would think that a quarterback as experienced and talented as Parker would be able to eke out some middling gains even with improved / altered / prioritized pass defense.
Now, the backs:
Ellington obviously had a pretty good game, especially the third quarter. Seems whatever adjustments were made to the defense that kept Parker under wraps also allowed more running room for the Clemson back. But he came back under wraps eventually, reaching a pace somewhere between third-quarter-breakneck and first-half-flat. A lot tougher sledding for Dyer (and even moreso for Harper) who wasn’t able to make much of anything happen at all. But our winner for the night, if you ask me, is McCalebb. He might not have stacked the yards as high as Ellington, but he was unnaturally steady, picking up good chunks of yardage on each of his ten carries and never going backwards. If you ask me, another half-dozen shots from McCalebb might have made the difference in terms of Dyer’s pounding runs and open passing lanes.
But for all the second-guessery, it’s worth pointing out that this offense is feast-and-famine, whether by design or circumstance. Cam’s entire night happened in the third quarter and while he could have done much better through the rest of the game, that’s the way Malzahn’s offense is built to score. Same thing with the running game, which seems to have consisted of “Dyer runs smack into some dudes” and “McCalebb zips around those dudes, who are expecting to get run into.” Is that a bug or a feature? It sure is frustrating to watch when it isn’t mind-blowingly exciting. All I could tell you is, while Malzahn is here on the plains, the old days of Auburn’s turn-it-like-a-gear offense are in the past.
Lastly, here’s how our year looks so far. Keep in mind that the Arkansas State game gives this whole curve a bump to the tune of about 400 adjusted yards (oof):
Wish I’d had time to run South Carolina’s 2010 numbers, finish last year’s for Auburn, do more of the SEC, 2009’s ending top 25… but with rebuilding this entire thing from the bottom up, there just wasn’t enough time to go around. Hopefully, as I have more time this coming couple of months, all that is good and graphed will be heaped on the platter that is Spread Sheets. For now, I’m just looking forward to tonight’s game. Ring they bell, Tigers! On to victory! War Eagle.