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The Wishbone: Kickin’ Mutt Butt

Still only one thing we got to say to them boys...

Georgia has it rolling, baby.  They’re a freaking juggernaut now.  Don’t believe us?  Here’s a handy checklist:

Won seven games in a row since their ugly, 0-for-2 start?  Check!

In control of own destiny for the SEC Championship Game?  Check!

Mark Richt’s seat is ever-so-slightly cooler?  Check!

And now, 13-point favorites over Auburn?  Check!

Thirteen-point favorites?!  Well, then—clearly the Georgia Bulldogs somehow have become a monster team and are mowing down everyone in their path, and will provide a massive challenge for LSU in Atlanta in a few weeks, right?

Wait, wait—hold on a second.  Who did they beat, during this run?  Let’s see:  Coastal Carolina… Ole Miss… Mississippi State… Vandy… Tennessee… Florida… New Mexico State.

Whooo.  Brutal run there, Dawgs.  And they still have Kentucky left after Auburn and before Georgia Tech.

What this tells us is that UGA is a good team, but certainly not a great one.  Not vastly superior to Auburn; instead they are on par with the Tigers.  Georgia has more wins but Auburn has faced a much tougher road.  The Bulldogs have faced three teams in the BCS Top 30 and lost to two of them.  Auburn has faced five teams in the BCS top 30 and won two of them.

Doggy Defense.  Georgia’s defense is excellent this year.  Overshadowed by the defenses in Saturday’s “Game of the Epoch” (or Eon or whatever gigantically huge time frame you like), UGA is nonetheless easily the third best defense in the SEC.  But third-best in the SEC still means it is in the top 8 or 9 defenses in the whole country. Auburn is going to have to play very well on offense and the Tigers will earn their yards this week.

Having said that, Georgia can be had by a running game that’s working.   South Carolina (in the distant past when they had both Marcus Lattimore and Stephen Garcia) rushed for 273 yards against this team—in Athens.  Vandy rushed for 241.  Auburn can and will run the ball with some success on Georgia on Saturday afternoon.  Just how much success remains to be seen.

A Decent Offense.  While of course Georgia misses AJ Green, they are still third in the SEC in total offense behind Arkansas and Alabama and they possess a solid run-pass balance with freshman Isaiah Crowell (back from a drug suspension) playing well.  Aaron Murray is completing 60% of his passes but is averaging one interception per SEC game.  The big tight end, Orson Charles, leads the team in receptions and is second in yards.  He is Murray’s security blanket and a key for Auburn in the game will be limiting his catches and yards.

This Special isn’t Very Special.  UGA’s big weakness is special teams.  Georgia is 103rd in the nation in kickoff return coverage.  Tre Mason and company should be fighting on the sideline over who gets to field the kicks against them.  Florida averaged 40 yards per return against this team. The Dawgs are last in the SEC in net punting.  Additionally, they are very shaky at kicker.  Blair Walsh has gone from solid kicker to someone the coaches don’t trust.  He is 13 for 23 this year and his declining performance is impacting UGA’s decision making in certain areas of the field.

Auburn must take advantage of the UGA special teams in order to win this game.

Things We Think We Know: 

1. A gentle reminder for Auburn fans:  Auburn won the national title in 2010.  This year’s team is one of the youngest in America (two senior starters on offense—OLs Mosley and Greene—and two on defense, Neiko Thorpe and Eltoro Freeman.)  Auburn has played one of the toughest schedules in America and at the end of the season it should end up being the toughest schedule faced by any SEC team. Getting to seven-to-nine wins in this situation is an outstanding accomplishment.   Sometimes as a group and as individuals we need to step back, take a deep breath and appreciate where we are and what this team has accomplished this year.

2. How young is this Auburn team?  And how much real production are we getting from each class of players?  Let’s take a look.  We will look at the defense first—how many tackles have the seniors accounted for? What percentage of sacks has been made by sophomores? And so on.  The percentage given is the percentage of the team total that each class has accounted for, so we can see what will be lose after this year and how much is coming back:

Tackles (total tackles) %

FR     16.95

SO     41.45

JR     22.65

SR     17.10

Sacks %  (Not surprisingly, the sophomore class is the leader in this category.)

FR     11.76

SO     44.12

JR     20.59

SR     17.65

Passes Broken Up %  (This one may be our favorite.  50% of passes broken up are by freshmen!)

FR     50.00

SO     10.71

JR     3.57

SR     17.86

Quarterback Hurries %   (Again, not losing much here.)

FR     38.00

SO     10.00

JR     44.00

SR     2.00

3.  With a certain Mr. Blake back on the field and a lesser defensive opponent the last time the Tigers played, the Auburn passing game re-emerged as legitimately dangerous.  But–why throw it only fifteen times?  Why not throw it more to give Moseley some more confidence heading into games against teams with tougher defenses than Ole Miss?  Perhaps Malzahn wanted to keep the rejuvenated passing game under wraps and only pull it out when Auburn really needed it?  With the bye week allowing a much-needed chance for Trovon Reed and Blake to completely recover, the combination of those two and future Mackey Award winner Lutzenkirchen give Mosley and Auburn legitimate hopes of a dangerous and balanced offense heading into the Georgia and Alabama games.

4.  It seems clear to anyone who watches week to week that the SEC is down this year.  But is it really?  Auburn is obviously down quite a bit from last year, and Kentucky seems to have dropped off a cliff without “The Most Valuable Player in SEC History When Judging by the Drop Off After he Leaves” Randall Cobb.  But Georgia is much better than last year and Vanderbilt has replaced Kentucky as the “bad team you don’t want to play.”  Vanderbilt improved itself more than any team in the SEC and moved up from truly wretched last year to “I’m glad we don’t play them this year” dangerous.  After looking at the Sagarin rankings from USA Today and comparing now to the end of last season, the SEC is actually up slightly this year on a per team average basis.  This seems shocking, especially considering the national media’s statements about the conference as a whole.

5.  Speaking of the burning questions facing the public—where are we on the Chizik UnderArmour white windbreaker-shirt thing at this point?

Do the sleeves zip off?  Have you ever seen another human being wear something similar? Would you wear it out of the house?  Is it a hot seller?  One article that came out last year during the national championship game build-up is that the Auburn equipment manager cut the sleeves off to the length that the head coach requested – that is why you cannot find one like it.  The Wishbone demands answers. Why?  Because the Wishbone wives and kids are pestering us with questions about it, obviously.

And Finally:  Hey, look—it’s Georgia Week!  Still getting used to the bye week falling prior to Georgia?  So are we. But all signs (and coaches’ comments) indicate that it couldn’t have come at a better time.  The team needed a couple of days away from football, and the injured players will surely benefit from extra time to get well.  In past years we have faced Georgia at the end of a long, grueling, two-and-a-half-month run of continuous football.  Getting the off-week in now, and then playing a…shall we say, imminently beatable…foe the week before Alabama, represents a vast improvement, schedule-wise.  We say bravo.

Not much this time around from us about the rich and convoluted history of the Georgia game.  Honestly, we threw that (and everything else about Auburn-Georgia) at you last year at this time, in “Auburn-Georgia: The Past is Prologue.”

We do have one little statistical tidbit for you, though:  From 1983-2001, Auburn went 9 – 1 vs. Georgia in Athens.  What, you may ask, does that have to do with 2011?  Only this: Auburn is quite comfortable playing between the hedges, be those hedges in Auburn or in Athens.  And if we extend it all the way up to the present, Auburn’s record in Athens since 1983 is a still-sterling 10 – 4.

And here’s one more thing to get you fired up for this year’s renewal of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.

Time to spank dem mutts’ butts!

The Wishbone Power Rankings

The Elite

LSU.  No debate about who is first now.  Despite everything they kept doing wrong (nearly every drive in the first half was sabotaged by a self-inflicted penalty of some sort), they hung around and hung on and pulled it out.  That defense is scary.

Alabama.  My kingdom for a kicker!  And, look—honestly, if you cannot score more than six points in your own stadium, including an overtime period…and you don’t even win your own division of your own conference… do you really deserve a rematch with the #1 team in the country?  Of course not.

The Very Good (But not as “very good” as they looked about a month ago…)

Arkansas.  A home game against a Top 10 team and no one outside of Athens, Georgia watched.  And as mediocre as South Carolina has become, we still suspected this would be a close game, because Arkansas has been cruising for an upset for a while now.  Extremely narrow wins over Vandy and Ole Miss do not make for good omens against LSU (soon) and the Capital One Bowl or (they wish) a BCS bowl game.

The Good

Georgia.   New Mexico State won’t roll into Athens with that weak stuff again! UGA showed them! Yeah!

Auburn.    Kicking back, resting up, healing the wounds, and getting ready for our old friends from the state next door.

South Carolina.  The biggest Auburn fans ever, this week.  The way things are looking now, though, you have to suspect that the SEC Championship Game victory margin record set by Auburn last year may only end up lasting one year, regardless of whether it’s Carolina or Georgia going to Atlanta.  Ouch.

The Mediocre

Florida.  Moved down to the mediocre.  A 6-6 record in Muschamp’s first year.  How did the Gators slide so far so fast?  This is a team that was winning national titles just a couple of years ago.

Tennessee.    Watching UT now is like watching a one-armed man in a boxing match.  (And even one arm may be overly generous.)  But hey—their fraternities apparently produce better kickers than some schools have on scholarship!

Mississippi State.  Guess who gets to suffer the wrath of Nick Saban this week?  And guess which team’s kickers will be under the microscope big time?

Vanderbilt.  Always just a couple of plays or players away…

The Wretched

Kentucky.  Hey, we won a conference game!  And not just won, but (in the last couple of minutes of said game) blew the doors off the opponent! It was awesome!  What’s that?  You’re asking who we beat?  Is that really important?  Um, well, actually… our opponent was…

The Sub-Wretched

Ole Miss.  But hey—their long, national Nutt-mare is over.  Now keep your filthy alien rebel bear paws off our Gus!

Photo via The Corner News.

Related: Remind the Georgia fans in your life who are still whining about Auburn’s treatment of Aaron Murray that Cam Newton is a quarterback, too.

Van Allen Plexico managed to attend Auburn (and score student football tickets) for some portion of every year between 1986 and 1996. He realizes that’s probably not something one should brag about, but hey. He teaches college near St Louis (because ten years as a student was somehow just not enough time to spend at school) and writes and edits for a variety of publishers. Find links to his various projects at www.plexico.net.

John Ringer graduated from Auburn in 1991 (which may be the greatest time ever to be an Auburn student – SEC titles in 1987, 88 and 89 and the 1989 Iron Bowl). His family has had season tickets every year since well before he was born and he grew up wandering around Jordan-Hare on game days. He currently lives in Richmond, Virginia where he spends way too much time reading about college football on the internet and teaching his children to love Auburn football.

Previous Wishbone columns can be found here.

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About Van Allen Plexico and John Ringer

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