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The AU Wishbone: Auburn Gets off the Snyd against KSU

Ed. note: Our apologies: This was supposed to hit the Internet on Friday. But even late it’s great.

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Early in the season Auburn faces a tough, quality opponent and the game is in doubt until late in the 4th quarter.  The Auburn offense struggles as the running game doesn’t have a good day.   At the end of the game Nick Marshall makes a big play passing the ball to seal the win.  Are we talking about last week against Kansas State?  Or perhaps the September 14, 2013 game against Mississippi State?

Everyone needs to chill. We’ve seen this movie before, and the sky is not falling.  In fact, the best is yet to come.

What did we learn in Manhattan?

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We learned that even when Auburn doesn’t play its “A” game on offense that it can beat a Top 20 quality opponent on the road.  We learned that despite the best efforts of Big XII officials Auburn’s defense played its best game in years and shut down Kansas State’s offense.

We also learned that this team isn’t executing at the same level on offense the 2013 team was at the end of the season.  As Rhett Lashlee described it this week, “We didn’t execute worth a crap.”  The good news is that the coaches got plenty of “teachable moments” out of a game that Auburn ultimately won.

Auburn went into a non-conference stadium whose team and fans had been dreaming about beating a big name SEC foe for years and took care of business.  A team whose very smart coaching staff had developed several key adjustments and approaches that very successfully (at least for a while) nullified the things Auburn likes to do best—run the ball and throw quick slant passes. But now we, our players and our coaches have seen those concepts deployed against our team and they have had to figure out ways to adjust on the fly to them. Best of luck to the remaining teams on our schedule as they attempt to do the same thing. Nobody will catch Auburn by surprise with that approach again this year.

Just like the early season games against LSU and Mississippi State helped the 2013 team forge its identity, this Kansas State team helped the 2014 team.  That fact will become more apparent as the rest of the season unfolds.

Don’t panic about the offense and be very encouraged about the defense.

Trip Report from Van

Manhattan: bustling metropolis of American culture.  Well, the other one is. Manhattan, Kansas, on the other hand, is sort of like if you dropped Mississippi State into the middle of a vast field.

That said, my family and I very much enjoyed our trip. We were right next to the lead bus as the team disembarked for Tiger Walk and got to see Gus and the players up close, and my youngest got to meet Aubie in person (finally) and got a big hug and photos with him. We were pleasantly greeted by nearly everyone we encountered in purple (the only exceptions being the guy students, who were in full “belligerent” mode, as one should expect).  Those folks were very pleasant but they wanted a win and they wanted it badly, and their disappointment at the end was palpable.

I wish we could have arrived sooner and seen more of the town, but alas the Thursday game date did away with any possibility of making the trip an extended vacation or an extended visit to Kansas in general. Maybe next time we play them there—I’m thinking that’ll probably be sometime around 2094.

The Rock – Paper – Scissors Nature of the SEC West

Often in college football it is not as simple as one team is better than another one.   Obviously when a very talented team plays a much weaker opponent this is the answer.   But when SEC West teams meet this season the difference from top to bottom is not so great.   So the outcomes of the game may often be determined by the traditional things we expect to determine the outcome of a college football game – home field advantage, turnover margin, etc.   In this case the outcomes may be determined by the matchup between what a team does well and an area where another team is weak.  If a team is great at passing and its opponent is poor at pass defense that is a great matchup and leads to a better chance for a win.

So let’s look at the SEC west and see where the obvious strengths and weaknesses are.   We looked at what each team had done in four major categories – rushing offense, passing offense, rushing defense and passing defense.  Where are the strengths and weaknesses of each team?  If a team was in the middle of the pack in the SEC or hasn’t shown a weakness yet (even if we believe it is there) we did not count it.

Screenshot 2014-09-28 10.48.20So what does this information tell us about the matchups to come?

1)     MSU looked great against LSU but will have problems against the passing games of Alabama and Texas A&M.

2)     LSU has given up big chunks of rushing yards to Wisconsin and Mississippi State.   With Auburn, Arkansas and Alabama still on the schedule they may have problems staying in the top half of the SEC West.

3)     Ole Miss is solid but not great in every area  – but they haven’t been tested yet.  The one thing we have seen so far is that they have problems running the ball.

4)     Bama is probably weak on pass defense but we need more data to confirm what we have seen so far this year (and what is a carry over of a problem from last year.)  West Virginia passed the ball well against Alabama but they have done that against everyone.

It’s too soon to draw sweeping conclusions from this data, but (if it holds to form) it does give us a glimpse into what to expect as the season unfolds and the SEC West teams begin their war of attrition against one another. It definitely shows the balance across the entire range of West teams, and further reveals just how thoroughly the West may beat itself to death before the end of November. The playoff committee will have to look long and hard at this situation when the time comes to select the four playoff teams.

A Brief Rant about “Stealing Signs”

If two teams and two coaching staffs are facing each other across a football field and the defensive coaches yell “blitz! Blitz!” at the defensive players and the defensive players start creeping up to the line of scrimmage, are the offensive players and coaches supposed to ignore it? Pretend like they didn’t hear it?   If a team makes the same signal every time for an offensive play they run every time during a game while in plain view of the opposing team, coaches, a national television audience and a stadium full of people, should they be surprised when people figure out what that signal means and do something about it?  Apparently we are to understand that when a quarterback tips a play off by the way he steps back or if a receiver tips a play off by the way he comes off the line, that is called “good scouting.”  But if a guy on the sideline tips the play off because he makes the same hand motion every time a certain play is called, that is “stealing.”  OK.

We heard this whining from FSU fans regarding the BCS National Championship game.  “Clearly that is the only way the Auburn defense could have stayed on the same field with the FSU offense, which was the greatest offense ever assembled in the history of organized sport,” they mostly asserted.  [We are paraphrasing here, but that was the thought.]  If FSU failed to change its signs one calendar year after Demayane Craig left the coaching staff, then we are to believe that is a terrible violation by Auburn rather than stupidity on the part of Florida State.

Watching the other team signal in a play and then attempting to use that information to your advantage is not illegal in college football.  In the NFL teams have radio receivers in the helmet of the quarterback and speak directly to him with the play call through an encoded transmission.  NFL rules prohibit teams from attempting to intercept and decrypt those signals.  This is not the NFL.  Teams stand on the sideline holding up posters and waving their hands around to signal in a play – in plain sight of the opponent.  Every team attempts to read the opposing signals and gain information from it, but in most cases people are not aware of it.

Why does Auburn get accused of “stealing signs?”  First, one of the reasons Auburn gets accused of stealing signs is because Auburn’s defense has not been great for several years so, when it actually plays well, people want to search for a reason.  An underhanded reason.  Second, Auburn adjusts much faster and much better on defense to what opponents’ offenses are doing than almost any college team.  Why is that?  One obvious reason is that the Auburn defensive coaching staff has a combined 105 years of experience, most of it in the SEC.  There is nothing that an opposing team is doing that they have not seen and defended  probably many times before, so when something happens on the field they are able to quickly communicate to the players how to handle it.

The bottom line on this topic –ignore the silliness. Coach Snyder himself already retracted the “stealing” assertion at his press conference last week. If some sportswriter wants to write a column that categorically excludes Auburn from the playoffs based on such talk, that’s based on her foolishness, not Auburn’s nefariousness.

What do we need to know about Louisiana Tech?

In the first game for either team Oklahoma beat La Tech 48-16 in a game that the Sooners led 31-3 at the half.   That is pretty much what we expect from this weekend’s matchup with said Bulldogs.

Their passing offense isn’t bad with Iowa transfer Cody Sokol throwing to senior receiver Sterling Griffin the most.  And former Mississippi State and Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz returns to Auburn to lead the defense.

Beyond that, look for a tune-up game in which the starters all come out of the blocks roaring, anxious to show the coaches and fans that they can in fact execute better than “crap” and that they have learned valuable lessons from their recent visit to America’s Heartland.

It doesn’t bode well for La Tech. They get to be the punching bag as Nick and CAP and Corey and company exercise the last lingering Wildcat demons.

Five Things We Want to See Against La Tech

1. The starters roll. Nick, CAP, Corey, Duke, Sammie—light it up and get a nice break while the backups come in early.

2. Jeremy Johnson with extended playing time.

3. The defense keep looking awesome.

4. Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber carrying the load.

5. Solid play by the offensive line and the H-backs. And by the special teams.

The Wishbone Power Rankings

The Elite:

Auburn  (When you go on the road and beat a quality opponent without playing your best then you are an excellent team. It’s astonishing how commentators practically punished Auburn for a win in a game they’d spent the entire previous week predicting could be a TRAP TRAP TRAP upset!)

Alabama (Jacob Coker for Heisman!  TJ Yeldon for Heisman!, Derrick Henry for Heisman! Amari Cooper for Heisman!)

 

The Very Good:

Texas A&M  (The non-conference schedule of Easy-Bake Oven, Krispy Kreme and Dunkin Donuts is behind them—IF you believe the hype about Arkansas being rejuvenated post-Auburn into a powerhouse. Can the Hogs hang with the Aggies? It should be fun to watch, at least for a while.)

 

The Good:

Miss State  (Biggest win ever for Dan Mullen? And they almost blew it anyway.)

Ole Miss  (Do we know anything about this team yet? Show us something for real, Freeze!)

South Carolina (They did something no one but James Franklin has done – they made Vandy look competent for a quarter.)

Arkansas (Bert being Bert. He has a chance to shock the world on Saturday.)

Georgia (Was their annual loss to Spurrier symptomatic of another overrated UGA squad, or just the Head Ball Coach working his hoodoo on a team that will otherwise prove to be a juggernaut? Only time will tell.)

Missouri  (Better than a MAC team, but not a Big 10 team. Van is embarrassed and humiliated and has stashed his Mizzou jersey deep in the recesses of his closet. Again.)

LSU (A One dimensional team – they can run the ball but that is it. Can Les keep them out of the West basement—and who ever thought we’d be asking that?)

 

The Not-So-Good:

Florida (2014 Florida – same as 2013 Florida. Can Muschamp avoid a “Lane Kiffin-ing” before the season is over? And how ironic that it could happen in part because of the coaching of Lane Kiffin last Saturday?!)

Tennessee (unlike Florida they actually have hope.)

Kentucky  (Will probably beat Vandy for an elusive SEC win.)

 

The Wretched:

Vanderbilt  (Did Vandy improve or did South Carolina just not focus at all?)

 

You can read previous Wishbone columns (and listen to Van and John’s great podcast) here.

Keep Reading:
* ‘Jeopardy’ contestant whose ‘Cheers’-referencing final response went viral wishes she’d written ‘War Eagle’
* Recent Auburn grad featured in ABC News segment on professional Viners
* Fore Eagle! Auburn fan Zach Manning describes the moment he found Rory McIlroy’s tee shot in his shorts pocket
* Teen who poured her Auburn soul out after wisdom teeth extraction recovering nicely, dishes dirt on Dayton
* Auburn coaches lose it after beating Florida State in 1990
* Three fun plays you never see in highlights from the 1994 Auburn-Florida game
* Auburn fan in Omaha watches Auburn beat KSU to pass time in iPhone 6 line, tells TV news crew ‘War Eagle’

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