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Assume Crash Positions? Wishbone thoughts from ULM to LSU

The recent struggles of the 2012 Auburn football team and the looming games with SEC powers have led one of our intrepid authors (along with many fellow Auburn fans) to struggle with doubt and with a real concern about where the 2012 football season could go.  As fans, one of the hardest things to do is look at your team that you had high hopes for and then have to accept that those hopes may not come true, or close to true.   Could Auburn still turn this season around and have an excellent season? Yes, but they will need to play in ways that they have not shown that they can in the first three games.

Are we jumping out of the window or sending the jet in search of Bobby Petrino?  No, not there yet.  But the best word to describe this Auburn season so far has been disappointing.

So John asked Van:  What is the one thing that bothers you the most about the 2012 Auburn football team?  And Van replied:

How to choose?  I suppose the thing that bothers me the most is that they simply give me no hope.  In every other season when Auburn has been underperforming or just flat losing, there was still something you could point to–something they could hang their hat on.  This year, and especially against the more powerful teams, I can find no reason for hope.  I look and look and I simply can’t find any logical, reasonable rationale for how Auburn can beat Georgia or LSU, to say nothing of Alabama.

People point to big upset wins we’ve pulled off in the past, and they say, “Hey, if we won those games, we can win now.”  Um, no.  The two have nothing to do with one another.  We didn’t beat LSU in 1994 because “anything can happen;” we beat them because we had a great defensive secondary and they had an idiot for a coach.  We didn’t beat Florida in 2001 because “We’re ‘All In’ and ‘real fans;'” we beat them because Tuberville had figured out how to defense their passing game and they had almost no running game.  There were very specific reasons why we were able to win the big upset games we’ve won in the past. What can you point to this year and say, “This is why we can upset LSU?”  I don’t see it.

Last year LSU (and the other major powers on our schedule) beat our brains in.  Those games were not close.  Heaven help us, our team this year is not nearly as good as it was last year.  Could this year’s team beat last year’s Florida or South Carolina?  Will this year’s team win eight games and play on New Year’s Eve?  I don’t think so. So why should I think this year’s team will do better against LSU than last year’s team did?  All signs point to us doing worse, not better.

A close second would be:  The team shouldn’t be this bad, and I don’t fully understand why it is.  Sure, there are the same things we hear all the time– “The team is young” and so on– but even the areas we thought would be strengths, to see us through the tough times, haven’t turned out to be very strong.  Aside from the kicking game and the occasional good run from Onterrio or Mason, what do we have?  Not much.

John, you and I wrote a book about how great it is to be an Auburn Tiger in a year when things are going well.  But we didn’t just talk about how great things are when everything’s coming up roses.  That book is filled with cautionary tales– talk of hexes and jinxes and the myriad ways things can go wrong in a hurry, and have in the past.  It’s partly a history book of the bad as well as the good.  We understand the past, we lived it, and we continue to draw lessons from it.  I’m looking deeply into Auburn’s football history for answers right now, and I can only be honest:  I don’t see any.

I hate to be negative.  But looking at the negative and understanding it and coming to grips with it—that’s the first step in improving things.  There’s certainly a place for “rah rah” and “All In” and what have you, but there’s also a place for cold-eyed realism.  I really hate to be negative, but right now, negativity is what this program is giving us.  And I need to understand why that is, so I can just maybe use this little soapbox here to be one small part of the solution rather than simply being a blind optimist and ignoring the problem.


Here are Auburn’s current SEC and national rankings in several major categories:

(Van notes: Who here expected that adding two new teams to the conference would immediately allow Auburn to rank 13th and 14th in some of these categories? Sheesh!)

Passing offense (13th in the SEC, 111th in the nation)

Total offense (14th in the SEC, 102nd in the nation)

Scoring offense (14th in the SEC, 104th in the nation)

Rushing defense (14th in the SEC, 107th in the nation)

Turnover margin (13th in the SEC, 111th in the nation)  Thanks Arkansas!

The only non-special teams categories that Auburn is not ranked in the bottom five in the SEC are most sacks and fewest sacks allowed.

No further comment required.

Where are all the young 4 and 5 star players on defense?

The 2012 Auburn team has seen its share of young player on offense playing and showing potential – Avery Young and Greg Robinson on the offensive line, Sammie Coates made some exciting plays this weekend and Mike Blakely has shown potential.

But where are the talented young defenders?  Here are some players that were competing for playing time in fall practice that we expected to be on the field and make a difference this fall:

Erique Florence was a four star safety out of high school in 2011.  He was in the discussions for playing time during fall practice. He has played in two games this fall without recording a tackle.

Kris Frost was one of the top outside linebackers in the nation out of high school – a four or five star player.  He has not recorded a tackle this fall in three games played. Fellow second year linebacker Justin Garrett has four tackles.  (Daren Bates and Jonathan Evans are seniors – who will replace them?)

Robinson Thereze was a four star cornerback out of high school.  He played in the MSU game but has not recorded a tackle or made any other impact.

The best freshman defender has been cornerback Josh Holsey, who has played only special teams and made three tackles.

In 2013 when Bates and Lemonier are gone, who will make a play on this defense??

ULM Thoughts

Coming off an overtime win against the mighty Warhawks, we now get to play the other good football team from Louisiana.

1. Auburn cannot continue to turn the ball over expect to beat anyone, much less teams with enormous amounts of confidence and dangerous, experienced quarterbacks like ULM.  The Blakely fumble and the awful Frazier interception tore the game out of Auburn’s complete control and made it a tie game.

2. The defense played well for a large stretch of this game (the last seven minutes of the first quarter and the first ten minutes of the second quarter).  During this time ULM was held to three punts.   But on the next drive ULM completed a long pass on 3rd and 9 and then their quarterback, Browning, ran up the middle for a 39 yard touchdown.

3. Special teams coordinator Jay Boulware continues to earn his salary.  Auburn’s special teams have been outstanding again and are keeping this team in games when the offense and defense might take them out of it.

LSU Thoughts

So Van asked John: What are your thoughts heading into the game this weekend? And John replied:

One of the things I most want to see is that I want to see Auburn fight and not get pushed around and intimidated.  This has not happened to Auburn a lot over the last ten years but LSU intimidated Auburn in Baton Rouge last year as the game went along.  The big hits on defense and especially special teams made Auburn feel like they could not compete.   They just wanted to get out of that stadium and get on the bus.  Auburn needs to keep attacking and fighting in every phase of the game for all 60 minutes.

Hey – LSU starting quarterback Zack Mettenberger has never started an SEC road game before. He has played three home games, two against North Texas and Idaho.  The other was against Washington, who was awful on defense last year.  Mettenberger will have to deal with Jordan-Hare at night.  LSU also lost its best offensive tackle to injury a few weeks ago.  If Lemonier and Ford can get some heat on Mettenberger early he may not handle the hostile environment well.  How will he respond when it is 3rd and 10 and the crowd is going bananas?  No one has any idea, including the LSU coaches.  Road games in the SEC are HARD and quarterbacks will struggle to deal with it the first time or two.

On the other hand, the LSU defense is watching tape of this Auburn offense and the way Frazier has been playing and they are probably drooling – they will be like sharks in the water after Frazier in this game – trying to hit him early and get him out of synch. Auburn has to have some success running the ball to keep Frazier from becoming the target.

Auburn has played a LOT of nickel defense the first three games to deal with the 3 and 4 wide receiver offenses that we have been seeing.  Against LSU, Auburn will be in a more traditional 4-3 most of the time.  This should help with the run defense – emphasis on should.

One of the big issues from last season was that Auburn was not competitive in these types of games – will that change this week??

The Wishbone Power Rankings

The Elite:
Bama  (Good lord. It’s like the late 1970s all over again.)
LSU  (These days, you exist in our world for one reason only, LSU: to prevent Alabama from winning actual championships. You succeeded once last year, with the conference title, but on the big stage you laid an egg.  We can’t trust you anymore.  Or USC, either, now that Stanford’s exposed them.  Who’s left to tackle the Tide on their way to another crystal football?  Oregon??  Oh, please.  Though we could at least borrow some Ducks t-shirts from those same bama fans…  No, let’s face it: We’re now moving closer to another LSU vs Alabama rematch of a rematch of a rematch.  Shoot us now.)

The Very Good:
South Carolina

The Good:
Florida  (Starting to look more and more like the Florida of old. Seeing Florida go up to Knoxville and sock it to the Vols in Neyland while the orange-clad hordes looked on in dull shock seemed so familiar and reassuring somehow.)
Texas A&M  (The poor state of Houston’s program right now tells us that Kevin Sumlin really did have something special going on there; maybe he’ll get it cooking at College Station now.)
Tennessee  (Reality bites.  And feels an awful lot like the 1990s.)
Missouri  (Nice job of taking care of the out-of-conference jumped-up riffraff last weekend, Truman. So far, so good, noobs.)

The Not So Good:
Auburn  (See everything above.)

The Wretched:
Arkansas  (Dear lord in heaven make it stop.)
Ole Miss
Kentucky  (Every coach in the conference thanks Joker for having a seat hotter than theirs.)


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 are waiting for you here.

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