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The AU Wishbone: Into the Meat Grinder

grinderThe “easy” early season schedule is over – Auburn has the toughest remaining schedule of any team in college football.  The 2014 “Special Director’s Cut Extended Edition” of Amen Corner begins on Saturday with LSU coming to Jordan-Hare.  It’s time to get some revenge for our only regular-season loss last year. It’s time to repay the Karma Gods of Rain for fouling up our offense in the first half. And it’s time to kick off the meat (grinder) of the 2014 season in fine style.

Let’s get to it.

Did you see last week’s column?  If not, go here.

In case you missed last week’s wonderful column it was delivered late and posted late but there is still plenty of entertaining and relevant things to read in it including:

–          Van’s trip report on Kansas State

–          The ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ nature of the SEC West race

–          A rant about the silliness of the ‘sign stealing’ debate (if you aren’t sick of that topic already).

–          Some of the best Photoshop work Van has ever done (says John).  Really. Bill Snyder as medieval scribe? Of course. What else would he be?  “Dear Montravious Adams…”

–          Enjoy.


What did we learn from Louisiana Tech?

You’d think it would be hard to find fault with a 45-17 win on Homecoming. Given the talk this week, however, you might be wrong.

In witnessing Auburn’s rather… unexpected…ways of scoring against the Bayou Bulldogs, we learned that even a non-conference game against what amounts to a “directional” opponent can be dangerous for Auburn—and dangerous down the line, affecting the much more important conference games to come, perhaps.  No fewer than four starters left the game with injuries during the La Tech game and, if they do not play against LSU, it could have a direct impact on the outcome of that game.

We learned that Quan Bray is possibly ready for a huge breakout senior season—a QUANtum leap, perhaps—and that October is now QUANtober. Bray is averaging 24.5 yards every time he touches the ball (!!!) – if he had enough yards to qualify (QUANtify?) for the national rankings he would be second in the country in yards per play in the All Purpose Yards category.  (In terms of yardage he gives you both quality and QUANtity!) And if someone on your team is averaging 24.5 yards every time they touch the ball?  Well, we will not be QUANtent until Auburn gets that person the ball more often.  (Wow—the QUANtent of the preceding paragraph was QUANtitatively unQUANtifiable!)

We learned that despite winning the 45-17 over Louisiana Tech and averaging 6.76 yards per play, the offense continued to struggle running the ball, when compared to the 2013 Auburn Tiger rushing juggernaut.  Just as in last week’s Kansas State discussion, there is a legitimate cause for concern. This does not mean the sky is falling and we should rend our garments and moan to the heavens and pray to the gods of the gridiron to deliver us. It simply means we need for this very unexpectedly shaken-up and reshuffled O-line to get its act together quickly, for the new(ish) H-backs to do a better job (dare we wish for a Prosch-ian job? Or something at least approaching it?) of clearing the way for Cameron Artis-Payne and company, and for the receivers to do a better job of holding their blocks on the edge (and without committing holding penalties).

Sure, it’s great to enjoy being 4-0. But it’s also important to recognize the very glaring flaws that remain in Auburn’s offensive attack after four games and get them corrected as soon as possible.

What do we need to know about LSU?

First, this isn’t the 2010-12 “top 5 in the country” team that was so experienced and talented at so many positions.   This particular LSU team comes into town with plenty of talent, but without the proven and experienced players in big SEC road games.

Earlier this week, Les Miles made the somewhat surprising decision to announce that LSU would be going with their freshman quarterback, Brandon Harris, as the starter over their heretofore starter, the struggling Anthony Jennings. While this is understandable from a sheer talent and results standpoint—just compare the two QBs over the course of the season and the choice appears obvious—it also puts the Bayou Bengals in the rather undesirable position of starting a freshman on the road at night in Jordan-Hare Stadium. There is a very definite “risk/reward” scenario involved in such a move, and LSU has to hope the rewards of what is possible with Harris in charge outweigh the potential disaster that could come from throwing him to the wolves—or rather to the other Tigers and their 87,000 fans.

One thing is certain: Auburn’s coaches have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Harris, as Gus and company recruited him heavily out of high school and know him very well.

With a young quarterback you would assume that LSU would rely more than ever on a strong running game.   In last year’s game LSU running back Jeremy Hill (now thankfully in the NFL) repeatedly tore through the center of the Auburn defense like a battering ram through a paper mache door.  This year’s LSU rushing attack has some big names (Leonard Fournette was compared to Adrian Peterson and Michael Jordan in the pre-season) but against tough competition they have not produced.  In LSU’s two games this season against quality opponents the Hat’s team has been limited to 2.59 yards per carry.  If Auburn can continue that trend and shut down the run then it forces Harris to try to beat the home team by himself.

The good news for Auburn is that this is now the same level of LSU defense we have seen the past few years.   Would you believe that LSU is 12th in the SEC in rushing defense and ranks BELOW VANDERBILT in that category? Against Wisconsin and Mississippi State the LSU defense allowed an average of 6.48 yards per play on the ground.   If Auburn can get its running game going this is the week to do so.

Until such a time as Auburn faces Florida State in a bowl or playoff game, and given that Van has dubbed the 2014 UGA game one as well, this is Auburn’s only true “revenge game” of the year. Here’s hoping our Tigers play up to the level required to exact some vengeance for the 2013 edition of that old Milli Vanilli standard, “Blame it on the Rain.”

The Wishbone Power Rankings

The Elite:

Auburn  (Until we have reason to rank them otherwise, here the Tigers stand.)

Alabama  (We will know more after the Dark Enemy goes a few rounds with Admiral Ackbar. Note: This game is Van’s “Lock of the Week,” for bama, though he wishes it wasn’t so.)


The Very Good:

Texas A&M   (How strange to see the Aggies a road dog against Miss State! Another game where we will learn a great deal.)


The Good:

Miss State  (Beat TAMU and you are for real, Doggies!)

Ole Miss   (Beat ba—um, yeah. We’ll see.)

South Carolina  (Oh the pain of having what you did to Mizzou last year done back to you at your house!)

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

Georgia  (This team is so hard to figure out. Are they good? Bad? Mediocre?)

Missouri   (Maybe Gary Pinkell only dressed out the junior varsity to face Indiana?)

LSU (A better team than this ranking would indicate, and we fully expect them to give Auburn a real test at home on Saturday.)


The Not-So-Good:

Florida   (Can they get it together and rally, or are they becoming the 2012 Auburn of the East? And won’t it be interesting to see the top available coaches—whoever they are—choose between Florida and Michigan?)

Tennessee  (On the rise.)

Kentucky  (On the rise—for Kentucky.)


The Wretched:

Vanderbilt  (Is Woody Widenhofer still available?)

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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