Every college football fan gripes about consistency. Every team everywhere has off-weeks. Every team everywhere has a quarterback or offensive line or set of safeties that look fit to beat the world for a half, a week, a month, and then suddenly look like boiled crap at what is always the worst possible time. So Auburn fans are not alone.
But I’m starting to wonder if the Chizik era really is becoming the model of inconsistency, if we Auburn fans really do, in fact, have even more reason to complain than most. Last year we had one team for the first five games, a second one for three games, and then a third for the final five. This year so far we’ve played two games; in one, our offense racked up 600-plus yards and 52 points while the defense gave up yards in bunches, and in the other, the defense held a dynamic, well-coached offense to 14 points and fewer than 250 yards in their own stadium while the offense went an entire half without scoring and put up just 17 points themselves.
In a word: AAAAAARRRGGGGHHHH. Look, I can handle worrying over my football team. But at this point, I don’t even know what I’m supposed to be worried about. The sputtering, suddenly identity-challenged offense? The panic attack-inducing defense, which even when it plays well always seems on the verge of some catastrophe and hasn’t yet faced a serious threat from a well-executed downfield passing attack? Neither, since Auburn is–after all–2-0 with a solid SEC road win already under their belts? (Don’t forget that an awful lot of smart people expected Auburn to lose that game last night.) Both, since a win over Arkansas St. was mere formality and the one over State one dropped pass away from serious doubt?
Like I said: I don’t know. But regardless of what I’m supposed to worry about, what I do find myself worrying over is the inconsistency. We know what this offense is capable of; after last night, we know what the defense is capable of. The Arkansas St. game is why we’re so upset about the offense’s performance in Starkville; the defense’s performance in Starkville is an even greater indictment of the ASU game than anything we’ve said about it. If we get both the erratic, mistake-hampered, confused-looking offense from last night and the poor-tackling, coverage-shy defense from the opener at the same time, the results are not going to be pretty. And even getting one of the two will probably be enough to ensure doom against the Arkansas’s and South Carolina’s of the world, much less the Tide.
But there’s a flip side to that equation, to. It’s like a Punnett square–maybe neither you nor I have blonde hair, but if one of our parents did, we can still have a blonde kid. Just because we haven’t seen what happens when both the offense and defense are on their game–the lower right corner of the square, where we get “OD” as opposed to “Od” or “oD” or, horrors, “od”–doesn’t mean we’re not going to see it at some point. I’ve come back time and again to the wisest thing anything said about Auburn’s 2009 season, Dr. Jolley’s comments on the midseason swoon, and I come back to them again today:
Auburn fans need not to ask, What have you done for me lately? But rather, What have you shown me is possible?
Auburn has, unfortunately, shown that a very poor overall performance is possible. But they have also shown that a victory over any team on the schedule is possible. The defense from last night combined with the lethal attack we saw Week 1, at the beginning of last season, against Ole Miss last October? That is a team that, as the saying goes, can play with anyone. The potential is there. We’re not just idly hoping for it any more, the way we did all offseason. Now we’ve seen it. Now Auburn just has to turn that awesome potential into something kinetic. We’ll power the program to those 10 wins. We’ll power the program for years, maybe.
So, to sum, I don’t blame anyone for getting frustrated over the offense. We didn’t know they were capable of that. But that frustration has to be matched with at least as much enthusiasm for what the defense accomplished. The floor for this team might have sunk a bit. But the ceiling has also been raised, and I don’t have any doubt at all that this team’s best performances are still ahead of it.
Other assorted observations
— Like everyone else, I had steam coming out of my ears as Auburn walked up to the line and wound the clock down throughout the second half. We’ve been promised a Gus Malzahn offense, and whatever else it might have been, that was not a Gus Malzahn offense. However, two points:
1. If Auburn was going to throw the brakes on the offense, wasn’t that just about the perfect time to do it? It’s a Thursday game following a Saturday evening game where the defense faced 84 snaps; the D had been on the field for six possessions in the first half, including back-to-backers after the Carr muff; and then they started the second half giving up a 12-play, 6-minute touchdown drive, then going right back on the field after the onsides kick. No doubt they needed the breathers, and particularly since we know preserving those guys’ stamina isn’t just an in-game goal but a season-long one, doesn’t it make some sense to have taken preventative measures now?
2. Of course the offense’s second-half performance was a disappointment. To cross the State 40 four times (all four times) and come away with a grand total of jack squat is a terrible, terrible job of finishing drives. But it’s not like this was a Franklin-style festival of three-and-outs, either. The Tigers burned off 6:16 (!), 3:06, 2:18, and 4:11 on their four drives and ran 30 plays. The offense didn’t exactly do its job, but it’s also incorrect to say it didn’t make a solid contribution to the defense’s game-winning effort.
— I know this is going to sound crazy coming from an Auburn fan, but … shouldn’t Auburn throw the ball a bit more? Though I know sacks (MSU had two) and scrambles throw off the numbers a bit, Auburn passed only 21 times compared to 46 rushing attempts. More than once after the first-half pick, it felt like Malzahn just didn’t trust Newton to make the downfield throws he’d attempted (and largely succeeded on) Week 1. Some of that was also State playing deep–Mullen mentioned he didn’t want to give up that kind of huge play–but Auburn has to find some way to get the ball to Zachery and Adams. They’re too good to finish with a combined 70 receiving yards, and Newton’s arm is too strong for him to finish averaging just 7.5 an attempt (especially when his longest completion came courtesy of Emory Blake).
— I have to say that Luper’s 1,000-yard guarantee for Fannin is in some pretty serious trouble. I’m not one who wants Fannin to move back to H-back full-time–the run that got called back for Greene’s idiotic hold is proof that he can still make serious, positive contributions from the tailback spot, and of course that killer blitz pickup means he’s a must on passing downs–but Dyer’s just the more decisive back right now when it comes to carrying the ball.
— A shout-out to Jeff Grimes for having Brandon Mosley ready to play last night. Once again the line was more “good” than “dominant,” but it wasn’t Mosley (I don’t think) getting beaten for sacks or committing silly holding penalties. (Still: please come back soon, Lee.)
— The muffed punt, the blocked field goal, and the onsides failure are some pretty serious black marks, sure. But Auburn averaged more per punt return and about 10 yards more per kick return last night. Shoemaker’s 33-yard net is kind of lousy, but he also put two critical punts right at the 10-yard line for fair catches. Special teams ain’t there yet. But if Carr can make this a fluke rather than a trend, I still think they’re moving in the right direction.
— In the same vein, Auburn committed only four penalties, and one of those was an intentionally-drawn delay of game to give Shoemaker more room for a punt. Yes, the other three were all absolute killers–the illegal formation that canceled out a first-half first-and-goal, the Greene hold to negate a first down inside the 15, the pass interference on Thorpe to bail MSU out of 3rd-and-15 on their final drive–but still, three “real” penalties is a damn sight better than what we’ve usually seen from Chizik’s Tigers. All I ask for is improvement, and for a week, at least, we got it.
— I asked for Auburn to convert two-thirds of their third downs last night. They went 6-of-14 instead, including failures on two 3rd-and-1’s and one 3rd-and-3. Blecch.
Your bottom line
The defense is getting all the accolades today, and they deserve every freaking one of them. Did you know State averaged just 3.6 yards-per-play? That’s a tiny, tiny number, smaller than they averaged in any single game last year, even smaller than what they managed against the ’09 Tide. Obviously the Bulldog receivers’ hands of [pick your rock-like building material of choice] played a role in that, but that’s still phenomenal defense, especially on the road, especially against a team whose option/short-passing game I thought was a terrible matchup for Auburn.
Of course, it helped the defense, too, that the offense wasn’t doing its usual thing. This is the big question facing Auburn’s coaching staff going forward: if the Arkansas St. game is too far in one direction for the offense, and the MSU game is too far in the other, how do they find that balance? I know a lot of Auburn fans feel like it’s already time to jump off the big-season bandwagon, but the offense has played one bad half out of four and the defense one bad half out of four; is that so bad? The two colossal special teams blunders hurt, but overall, Auburn was the decisively better team last night: they outgained State by more than 100 total yards and a good-sized 1.6 yards a play. And hell, man, they won. On the road. Against a well-coached team. That wanted this one and wanted it very, very badly. There’s negatives, sure, but there’s a hell of a lot of positives. Last year the Mississippi State game was the best game Auburn would play all season; I’m more than fine knowing that’s not the case this year.
So: it’s my opinion that if–or when–they can cut down on the special teams gaffes, find the proper balance with the offensive tempo, and maintain some of the defensive improvement, everything we want for this team is still very much in play.
Photo by Van Emst.
How much did the backups play on D? I didn’t see them often at all.
Great write-up Jerry. I don’t disagree with any of it.
Quick question- -how is it that we consistently have illegal formation penalties that kill us in year 2 of the Gus system?
Also- I thought a factor on some of those 3rd down non-conversions was that we took SO LONG to get the play in, and after that– thanks to the cowbells, it took along time for Cam to get everyone going– so we were snapping it rushed, and basically ran ourselves into busted plays. If we wanted to slow things down, you’d think the sidelines could still run at hyper speed, and just tell Cam to hold on until we got under 5 to comfortably snap the ball. Seemed like a big issue- -probably one we won’t encounter again on the road until the Iron Bowl, though.
The only trend I’m really worried about is end-of-first-half management. There are some scattered extenuating circumstances, but Messrs. Chiz and Gustav have managed to whiff several times in just 15 games: Tennessee, Alabama, Arky State, and now MSU. And I think there was one other game in which we weren’t aggressive at all in going after a FG attempt. Auburn isn’t yet good enough to be leaving low-risk opportunities on the field. This may have cost us the Alabama game, and it will cost us at least one victory this year if it continues.
That was tubershell, if I’ve ever seen tubershell. We were definitely playing more “not-to-lose,” and I thought we were definitely going to lose after the blocked field goal, and pass interference call. Luckily they were worse than we were last night, and we hauled butt outta there with a win. I’ll take 2-0 no matter what package it comes in. Now let’s get Ziemba healthy for Clemson.
Justin / AubOrange says
A day later, for me, it’s hard to be unsatisfied.
Watching that MSU receiver in tears after the game will tell you have much they cared. We should be just as happy as they are sad.
Maybe I’m too optimistic, but it’s encouraging that we could get a win in these scrappy, physical, cloud-of-dust SEC games that break out every so often, when we couldn’t do it last year against Kentucky.
The defense won the game. That just feels good to say. Hopefully they’ll build up some of that defensive swagger that we haven’t seen in a couple years now.
(The only thing I’m unhappy with is special teams. A muff punt led to their touchdown, and a block took a field goal off the board. That’s a 10 point swing! We would have beaten them handily on national television and we’d be feeling pretty good right now. The blocked field goal especially. We have one of the best kickers in Auburn history back there, and we can’t even block for him??)
We all just need to exhale for a moment.
Remember, we have 9 days between games and 16 days between conference games. The latter I think is especially important.
The schedule still sets up well for us and we’ll get better.
Question….. Why are the tight-ends not being utilized more? There was not one pass thrown to a tight-end in the first two games… (not that I remember anyway). A short toss to the tight-end over the middle would be the perfect play IMHO against an all-out blitz like Miss State threw at us last night. Complete 2-3 of those and they would be more reluctant to blitz.
What I took from last night is that we found a way to over come negative plays and pull out a victory….To me that is real growth…Especially the 3 and out forced after the onsides….And it does feel great to say that the D won that game….It really did feel like a Tuberville game last night, whic=h I am fine with….Now we have nine days to prep for Clemson, the IB last year showed what we can do when we have extra time.
Also Im fully on the train of moving Mario back to HB…We need a north-south runner like Dyer, not one that tries to go East West like Franklin wanted….That will never work in the SEC, the Ds are too fast….If Mario cannot get it together, then it is Dyer’s time.
Will someone e-mail the equipment guy and tell him to find some longer cleats for Onterio? Gaaaaahhhhhhh how many more times do we have to watch him fall down when there are more open yards to be had?! Actually i don’t think it’s the cleats, but he needs to lose the bad Barney Rubble running-in-place imitation. It is a trend now and he needs to get it corrected in all seriousness. Don’t try to make such extreme cuts. Heck a couple of times last night he fell just running straight ahead. I don’t get it.
mario should be at H-back…no doubt about it…he is a great open field runner, very good receiver and good blocker…he is exciteing to watch….he runs too tall to be a every down back…he is prone to fumble, and he is prone to get -6 yards on a off tackle play. give him is 3 carries and 4 receptuions a game at H-block and he will be a extremely valuable player.
two 3rd and one failures for us…please get well soon Ladarious Phillips..we need you!
the secondary took away the deep stuff…we need to be happy throwing the short pass when that happens…4 yard passes with the chance to break it long are nice things. Also, let Caudle throw it deep again.
Yeah I’ve been wondering why Lutz isn’t seeing the field more also. Seems like having a TE for blocking and options for Dyer/McCalebb would be pretty sweet.
Fannin seems to have been stuck into the role-player mold, which is probably OK, I mean, he’s good at it.
Michiana Tiger says
Defense did a heck of a job, but I still believe that MSU dropping 4 or 5 passes (and not just the last drop) played a much bigger role in the win than what everyone seems to be stating.
I am sorry to sound so pessimistic, but if this trend continues, we are going to be in deep trouble! I remember a similar scenario when we played Tennessee last year when they too had quiet a few drops. Roof and Chizik still have a lot of work to do on the D before you plug this one into the Punnett square.
Foy Onion says
Third down conversions – What makes that 6-of-14 mark even worse is the fact that at one point we were 6-of-10.
Overall, though, I’m happy with the win. We will get offense and defense on the same page before too long. When that happens, look out!
I too thought McCalebb’s problem was the cleats. Against Arky State, he was constantly getting to the edge- -cutting, and then falling on his keister. But I think I figured out a little more by watching Cam and Dyer run versus McCalebb. Cam and Dyer run controlled, almost looking like they are going half speed. It gives them the ability to cut quickly, absorb hits, etc. McCalebb has his legs going 1,000 miles an hour, and it’s almost like he’s way out over his skis–unbalanced, and then if he tries to cut, he goes down (untouched). It’s frustrating. He’s got to learn when to run all out, and when to be controlled.
I still don’t feel that great. All this game did was remind me of how erratic we were last year and how that never seemed to improve. There are reasons to believe that the potential for improvement is greater this year than last year thanks to depth and freshmen playmakers, but I think we are beginning to see the trend of Chizik football.
And others have mentioned it, but our execution of offensive plays seems out of whack from getting the plays in to Cam deciding whether to hand the ball to the running back or keep it. Just not sure why we are still having trouble with the basics.
Do the pass vs rushing attempts take into account that Newton ends up rushing on around 50% of the non-screen pass plays?
i agree Michiana, though the defense seemed much improved, statistically it had a lot to do with poor play from the miss st receivers.
overall i think it was a combo of people making too much out of this game before hand, making the players push it instead of hammering it like they should, and make trying to ease Cam in too much. The kid can play, so can the others around him. show that you believe that (coaches) and let them go to work.
also, i love Kodi…a lot. but he should never be asked to throw a ball more than 10 or 15 yards. of all the times, this year and last, that he had tried to make that toss throw…he has only completed it once. that pass to Lutz last year. even that throw back to Cam last night he threw horribly off of his back foot. that is a great play if well executed, be we got very lucky last night.
thanks for the write up Jerry, i waited all morning for it…always do.
Great thread, guys.
Luke, Jon Evans, Corey Lemonier (who was responsible for Relf’s goal-line fumble IIRC), and Nosa Eguae all saw time, and Chris Davis was indeed called on for dime duty as we all know. Not sure about Whitaker or the other backup LBs.
Marmot, I would point you towards AO’s comment–maybe we’re still not where we want to be, but last year, when the offense was hot garbage, they were just bad enough and the D just soft enough, we lost this kind of game. There’s been improvement. And there’s going to be more down the road. I think.
Re: the TEs, I think it’s a lack of throwing the ball in general, frankly. When you only throw 20 times a game and you have this many players to spread the ball out to, there’s not many catches to go around to the Swede Killa. But I think that’s a shame–a little slant like the kind Todd missed Trott on vs. ‘Bama should work, right? We’ll see.
Jerry, in my opinion this is one of your best entries. Using the Punnett square analogy really put it over the top for me. Put me right back in my seat in freshmen bio and also applied perfectly to the first two games. Keep doing what you are doing.
2-0! I’ll take it, but it was bittersweet. Sure I thought we’d throw up 50 pts again, but it’s nice to know that when the D is struggling the O picks it up and vice versa. Hopefully we won’t have a game where they are both off, though it will happen eventually…hopefully against a cupcake where we can still get a win out of it. I want to see what Dyer can do with a 20 carry game. I love fannin, but there has to be a reason the coaches aren’t giving him the touches as the “starting” tailback. It looked like his shoulder got dislocated last night which wasn’t the first time in history and will haunt him holding the ball for the rest of the season. Every third down from now on should be a newton run/pass option play on a roll out. Was it just me or after the newton pick did we not challenge them vertically again? Save for the burns overthrow on a brilliant playcall. newton one on one against a 6′ or smaller safety for a jump ball. love it! however, burns cannot throw worth a crap. its a wonder the throwback to newton didn’t get picked because I didn’t think that ball was ever coming down. All in all happy to be 2-0 with a road win under hostile cowbell conditions and know that we are capable of giving clem some stiff competition at a minimum and blowing them out if we can put it all together on both sides of the ball. Remember this is a young team that should get better as we go and we haven’t seen LP or Reed yet and stevens is MIA.
Almost forgot- Congratulations Nick Fairley. I think you have SEC D player of the week locked up, but if not the bar has been set very high.
It’s too bad that one of our deepest positions on the team (WR) is also one that is the least utilized. At least so far.
Like everyone else, I am just glad we won. Our defense did look better, but I am not ready to say all problems are fixed yet. If state had a quarterback that could hit an out route, they would have killed us. But they consistently threw those passes at the receivers’ feet. They had some success with short screens and underneath throws, just like Northwestern, WV, etc last year. It always seems like our secondary is a yard or two behind the receiver. That being said, our front four are beastly; they consistently put pressure on and half of those sacks last night came without blitzes. And our linebackers are solid too, Eltoro keeps getting better and better.
And Jerry I do agree that our offense looked off balance. There was one series in the first half where we were back inside our own 10 and we ran it with McCalebb up the middle 3 straight times. Not only is McCalebb not the back for that situation, that was nallsminger-esque playcalling. We had success with screen passes on the first drive, don’t know why we didn’t stick with it. Maybe as the season goes on we start passing more.
I also noticed that McCalebb seems to be falling over his own feet a lot. It’s like he gets going to fast and loses his balance. Also, something else I hope improves: Newton seemed to hold on to the ball a little too long on some of those read options (once causing a fumble). But that should clear up with time.
Ok, I didn’t mean to be such a debby downer. I will always take a win over a well-coached, super hyped SEC team in their own backyard with 4 days rest.
Yeah, H, I meant to mention–I sort of did last night–that even aside from the tempo issues, that was far and away the most conservative game I’ve ever seen Malzahn call. Where’s the guy who called the pump-and-go vs. LT last year? Is Chizik keeping him in a box? It’s weird. I’m hoping it’s just a road game thing.
Justin / AubOrange says
Re: Ziemba, I don’t know if you all noticed this tweet;
And, what’s interesting, it was retweeted by a lot of people, including Marcus McNeil(!). Pretty cool that they have a little relationship going, even if it’s just following eachother on twitter.
And you guys are making waaay too much of a thing out of McCalebb. So he slipped twice, it’s not that big a deal. It’s not his cleats, it’s not his running style, it’s the astroturf at Davis-Wade that he wasn’t used to. Plenty of our guys were struggling with it.
Hell, he had a great game. For 5.7 a carry, he can slip all he wants to.
I really do y’all think … that game last night had to be the loudest Miss. State’s stadium has ever been right? Cowbells given the OK … sold out … the crowd looked bananas … Thursday night game on ESPN … Mullen fever/statement game for the new coaching staff … I’d like to see any other school march in and grab a win out of that. Hats off to our Tigers!
I think McCalebb has been coached to go down before contact when he’s got no more running room. I don’t have a problem with that if it keeps him healthy. Even if that is true it doesn’t explain why he always seems like he’s about to lose his balance.
And I would never question Luper… except for this. If McCalebb will never be big enough to be more than a semi-fragile speed back then why have him gain any weight at all and compromise his greatest asset, his speed? Maybe the gain in durability off-sets the loss of speed.
I hope we sign two awesome running backs in this class. We need them bad.
“I really do y’all think”? That was supposed to be “What do y’all think.” I need to catch up on sleep tonight!
That’s just it. This offense is not supposed to be balanced with the defense. The whole team is supposed to be commited to the up-tempo. It’s only effective when it’s run full speed. If the defense wants rest, 3 & out will do that for you.
If we’re going to try and balance our offense with defense, we need to change our offense. If we’re going to stick with Malzahn’s offense, the D will just have to come along when they can. We can win the shootouts (except maybe against Arky) if we’re not worried about how tired our D is.
I almost had a heart attack when Gus called then double pass on a crucial 3rd down. It worked, but only just barely.
Good win, not pretty but a wins a win.
So the astro-turf is not the reason for McCalebb’s slip ups because Davis Wade Stadium has a natural playing surface, not astro-turf. It’s grass.
Justin / AubOrange says
Prescription Athletic Turf? Sounds like turf, and it sure did look like it on TV.
Prescription Athletic Turf is a fancy term for natural grass with a really sophisticated drainage system.
And, if you look closely at the photo at the top of this post, you can tell its the real thing. But I agree, there are a few stadiums with absolutely pristine natural playing surfaces. Scott Field is one of them, Pat Dye Field is another. Is it a coincidence that AU and MSU also have the agriculture programs in their respective states? And that the other universities in their states have inferior playing surfaces? (see the beach at Bryant Denny, and the fact that Ole Miss completely gave up on trying to grow grass, in Mississippi!)
A win is a win. Apparently, we have issues, but a win is a win.
Justin / AubOrange says
Upon further review, yeah it’s grass. Good call w4au. My bad.
But man it looked like turf didn’t it?! Especially with the logos, like at midfield. Usually toward the end of a game at JH (or, you know, anyone’s stadium) the logo starts to deteriorate. But theirs held up perfect, and it was white too! That’s crazy. And impressive.
I swear I saw more guys than Onterio struggling with it. Maybe I’m crazy. Still, it only happened like twice and O-Mac will be fine. I for one don’t want him to change a single thing about his running if he’s getting 5.7 a carry.
– Good point regarding the pace to start the second half and wanting to make sure the defense was rested. I still don’t like the strategy. I’m okay with slowing things down and burning clock in the 4th quarter with a lead, but up to that point, scoring is paramount.
– Something to consider on the lack of passing…you lost your starting left tackle and probably your best pass protecting running back. If you feel like you can drive the football and eat up clock without passing it, that’s probably not a bad idea. Let’s face it, until Dyer gets a little more experience, we are living and dying by Cameron Newton so why risk getting him hurt. I’m not saying I agree with the strategy because it wasn’t like the result of the game was decided. I’d also be interested in a second look at the game to see how many pass attempts there were before and after Ziemba and Fannin go down.
– I’m going to watch the game again, but my initial perspective is that Newton needs to improve on finding the open man when there’s a blitz. It seemed like he bailed out and tried to make something happen without going to the hot read. Of course, as I think you noted, there were little to no slants over the middle, so who knows.
– I’m not terribly worried about Gus trusting Newton to throw down the field. I mean we threw plenty down the field last year with Todd and I refuse to believe that Gus thinks Todd’s arm is stronger than Newton’s.
i think we will all appreciate this game a whole lot more in a few weeks when we see just how improved this dan mullen coached team is.
they gave us all they had at home for a nationally televised game under the lights. i honestly don’t think any team in the sec would have beaten them by much more than a touchdown last night. i really think this was the type of game in which even Bama would have just snuck out with a 16-7 or so win.
I totally agree.
I saw Dyer do an excellent job in pass protection one play. Plus Mario wasn’t lost to injury until one of the very last drives. On the play basically right before the blocked FG, actually.
The loss of Ziemba may have had something to do with it. I also think that early interception played a part. I think we’ll see the passing game open back up real soon.
Anyone else missing the pump fake? I didn’t get to see the ASU game, but I didn’t see that at all in the MSU game. That was a staple of the deep ball last year, and it’s amazing how well Todd pulled it off. I hope Cam can learn to do it just as well.
The Punnett Square analogy is genius.