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The Wishbone: The Cure for What Ails Us? (Bacon is Always the Answer.)

Some thoughts on the victory over Bye University last Saturday and the game to come against the Fighting Babes (Baa Ram Ewe!  Baa Ram Ewe!), while settling in to watch Gus Malzahn’s high-octane Auburn—errr, we mean Arkansas State—team face Florida Atlantic on Thursday night:

While we have become accustomed to late season bye weeks to prepare for games against our rivals, this year’s early season bye week came at a good moment.   The Auburn offense clearly needed some time to regroup, fix the mistakes in execution and come up with an entire sixty minute game plan that can succeed.  Auburn fans needed a respite from the frustration and disappointment of a 1-3 start to this season, as well as an LSU game that generated hope but did not generate a win.

In hindsight, should Coach Chizik have channeled former NFL  coach Dennis Green and his famous rant after the Bears fought off an upset from the Cardinals?  “They are who we thought they were – and we let them off the hook!” As stated last week, LSU has an excellent defense and a solid running game.  Les Miles knew his defense could hold down the Auburn offense so he didn’t take any chances after the game settled down.  And as Van pointed out last week (ranted is a better word –Van), the Auburn offense could not take advantage of the opportunity.

Thoughts from In and Around the SEC (or, how we spent the bye week watching teams other than Auburn)

Van goes first:

Texas Tech is undefeated, after Tubs beat Iowa State, coached by his last DC at Auburn.

Miss State now has double the wins (4) of Auburn and Arkansas combined (2).

Miss State is going to be 5-0; they face Kentucky Saturday.  If they can get past Tennessee on October 13, they’ll be undefeated when they travel to Tuscaloosa on October 27.

Florida-LSU and South Carolina-Georgia on Saturday are both matchups of undefeateds. Somebody’s 0 has got to go. If Georgia wins and Florida loses, the Dawgs can pretty much book reservations in Atlanta for the East’s annual sacrifice to the West.

Oregon is good; they have a system they like, it’s fun to watch, it’s mostly effective, and they recruit to it well. But are they as good as they were on offense two years ago, when we played them in Glendale? No. Could this #2-ranked Oregon team hang with Alabama? No.

Is this the one year Oregon could actually beat LSU? EerrrrmmmmmmmMaaaaaybe.

Was South Carolina impressive in their second half surge against Kentucky, or unimpressive for playing so poorly in the first half? Yes. (And the halftime score would’ve been worse if not for Kentucky’s utter incompetence.  Given the ball on SC’s 10 yard line with nearly a minute left in the half, they somehow managed to allow the clock to run out.  Not only did they fail to score a touchdown, they didn’t even get to attempt a field goal and had to walk to the locker room empty-handed with the ball on the SC 1. That is horrible.  (I mean—Les Miles would’ve done the same thing… except that if it had been him, South Carolina would have been penalized for some obscure violation on the last play, Les would’ve called for a field goal with no time on the clock, the ball would’ve bounced off the kicker’s facemask and into the end zone, and Les’s team would’ve fallen on it for a touchdown.  But other than that…!)

Georgia is an enigma. They were outplayed in most of the second half by Tennessee but managed to win a shoot out.  Tyler Bray saw Kiehl Frazier fumble away a game or two and replied, “Oh yeah? Well, watch this!”

Arkansas has become the second team ever to begin the year in the Top 25 and lose four games before October. (The other was 1984 Pitt.)

Auburn and Arkansas enter their game with each other on Saturday with a combined record of 2-7.

Arkansas gave up a lot of passing yards to Texas A&M. That’s probably not much of a concern for them this week, though.  Meanwhile, Arkansas rolled up over five hundred yards of offense and only scored ten points.  How do you not even manage to stumble blindly into the end zone more than once, with five hundred yards?!

I never dreamed it would be October and we would still be awaiting Auburn’s first win of the season in regulation.

John responds:

MSU is going to have one of those “step up and win 9-10 games be third in the west” years.

I think UGA is pretty good.  I think they could lose at USC this weekend and that game will determine who the East winner is.   I think UF is getting better but is not on the same level as those other two teams.

LSU – we will learn a lot this weekend.  They screwed around Saturday with Towson but I think they will come out Saturday and attack against UF.  It should be a good game. I suspect Mettenberger will play better and LSU will attack more on offense.

Oregon – their defense is MUCH better than the year we played them so I think they could hang with Alabama.  I think their offensive line would probably get overpowered again.   They lost to LSU last year but turned it over 3 times leading to LSU scores.  I would love to watch that matchup.

Arkansas is not a confident team right now.   Auburn needs to come out attacking and jump on them with both feet – don’t let them hang around and feel good.   I would let Frazier throw it a lot in the first quarter.   The Arkansas players know that this isn’t their year and that the current coach will be gone in a few months.  They don’t have any confidence in the schemes and game plans and the assistant coaches have to be sending out resumes.

I had seen Rutgers play South Florida or whoever the week before and was not impressed.  Then they went into Arkansas and beat the Hogs solidly and the Rutgers quarterback had 397 yards and 5 touchdowns.  Frazier can break out this week.

The bad news is that we have never done well stopping that offense.   They aren’t running the ball well or pass blocking well so maybe we can get in the backfield a lot and disrupt them.

Burning Question of the Week:  What would Auburn’s Record be with Michael Dyer on the Roster?

Van:

With Michael Dyer still on the Auburn football team–and staying out of trouble– the Tigers’ record at this point in the season would be no worse than 3-1, and possibly 4-0.  Why do I say so?  Not because of any deep statistical analysis or modeling, but simply because of the circumstances of each game. The Tigers came up only a few points short against Clemson and LSU.  In neither game could Auburn establish a solid run game between the tackles–something Dyer excelled at.  Given a few more points (which Dyer might have provided) or even just a few more first downs (which Dyer definitely would have provided), along with the defense having to be on the field a little less of the game, there’s no doubt in my mind  the Tigers would have won both games.  Heck–Auburn would’ve beaten LSU if they’d simply run Tre Mason a half-dozen times off-tackle more than they did.

The Miss State game is trickier, and I’m less confident in calling that game a win with Dyer on board.  But the Tigers did seem to deflate late, when it became obvious the offense couldn’t get anything going.  Dyer might well have made a difference there, providing a few more first downs, keeping drives alive, and giving the defense a sense that their work was worth it–that stopping MSU might actually lead to our offense scoring more points. So–in sum, the Miss State game is definitely questionable, but the other two would very possibly have been Auburn wins.  And the Louisiana-Monroe game would never have gone to overtime.

John:

I think Van’s first assumption, “staying out of trouble,” is a big one.  But I will let that go to focus on the football question, which is interesting.  I do believe that Auburn is missing a strong inside running presence and that Loeffler may have called more inside runs if Dyer was available.  This would have been most valuable when Auburn needed a few first downs in the second half of games.   The Louisiana-Monroe game is the best example for this scenario.  I don’t think he would have helped at all against LSU.

However, I think Auburn’s problems don’t have a lot to do with the running game or the lack of performance at tailback.   I think Tre Mason has been pretty good and Mike Blakely has shown flashes of being very good (other than the fumble).  Mason, McCalebb and Blakely are all averaging over five yards per carry. And that is what Dyer averaged in 2011.  Also, part of Dyer’s success was the Malzhan offensive design and the value of a strong inside runner in that offense.  Finally, Dyer got twenty carries per game the last two years.  Let’s give that many carries to Mason or Blakely and see what happens – I believe that we will be fine in the rushing department.

Whether Dyer was on this team or not, Auburn needs to execute better in the passing game or it would not matter who we had in the backfield – you aren’t going to be beat good teams being one dimensional.

How would you answer this week’s burning question?

How to Bring Home the Bacon (Keys to the Arkansas Game):

1)     Force some turnovers.  This Arkansas team is very generous—it wants to give the ball away.  Arkansas leads the nation in fumbling the football.  (Just think about that for a minute.) Arkansas is also worst in the nation in turnover margin (by almost a full turnover per game).  (Yes, they are worse than Auburn.)  Because both teams have been turnover-prone, whoever takes advantage of this on Saturday will probably win.

2)     Make someone other than Cobi Hamilton beat us.   Hamilton has almost as many catches as the second and third best receivers combined (and the second best receiver—tight end Gragg—is injured and may not play).  Auburn’s defense needs to know where Hamilton is at all times and tackle well when he does catch it.

3)     Auburn needs to have a game plan that can be successful for four quarters.  Whatever Auburn has been doing offensively as far as adjusting the game plan and play calling as the games have gone along is not working.  Auburn needs to have some plays Frazier is comfortable running set aside for the second half.

4)     Auburn needs to attack on offense and take advantage of a reeling Arkansas defense.  Arkansas is last in the SEC in big plays allowed – they have allowed 101 plays of over 10 yards through 5 games – that is 20 plays a game over 10 yards!!  Auburn has allowed half that many plays over four games.  Kiehl Frazier can have success against this defense – at home, with an extra week to prepare, with the other team coming off a terrible road loss.  If there ever was a time for Frazier to have some success, this is it.   No, he isn’t going to turn into Cam Newton overnight.  But Arkansas is allowing 8.4 yards PER PASSING ATTEMPT.   So Auburn had better make some attempts Saturday if we want Frazier to have some success and confidence before the upcoming road games.

5)     Special teams needs to get its mojo back.   One of the most shocking parts of the LSU game was that the Auburn special teams were not excellent.  That is how high the standard is for that unit – we were shocked that they were not outstanding.   Time to fix that.

The Wishbone’s Top Ten Favorite Arkansas Pork Products from the “Magical Meat and Turnover Animal”:

10.  Bacos
9. Deviled Ham
8. Arkansas Highway Patrol
7. Those pig hats
6. William Jefferson Clinton
5. Pork chops with black beans and rice
4. Ham (non-deviled)
3. Bobby Petrino Road Pizza
2. Pulled pork, barbecued slow and low
1. Bacon

Wishbone Power Poll

The Elite:

Alabama  (We really enjoyed the 15 seconds that Ole Miss was ahead Saturday night.  Thanks, Hugh Freeze!  And—has anyone noticed how easy Alabama’s schedule seems, the rest of the way?)

LSU  (We suspect LSU will play a little better against Florida than it did against Auburn… or Towson. If not, they will drop out of this spot very quickly.)

The Very Good:

UGA  (At the end of this day, one shall stand, one shall fall. Unless it’s Georgia that falls, because they don’t play anyone else.)

South Carolina

Florida

MSU

The Good:

Texas A&M  (Easily the most fun team to watch in the SEC, but let’s see that offense go on the road in conference play. )

Tennessee (Three turnovers by Tyler Bray in the final three drives, while trailing UGA by a single score. Ouch.)

Auburn  (Van is not entirely comfortable with ranking AU here, despite the performance against LSU.)

Missouri

The Not Good:

Vanderbilt

Ole Miss

The Wretched:

Arkansas  (The only question Hogs fan care about is who the head coach will be in 2013.)

The Couldn’t Score a Point Against SC with a Minute to Work With, Inside their Twenty, Because they Let the Clock Run Out:

Kentucky

Related: The Top 5 Auburn Bye Weeks of All Time.

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.

Order Season of Our Dreams — every “Wishbone” column from the 2010 preseason through the fabled Date in the Desert, plus a stadium full of extras.

Keep Reading:

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Playboy in Jordan-Hare… 1994

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