Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Rocky Top Preview...I hate that place

How lucky am I? I get to write about Hillbilly opponents for the second time in three weeks.

Give the Tennessee Billies some credit. They are way more refined than the West Virginia Billies. The women actually take the tobacco out of their mouths to swear at you while tailgating.

If your are headed up to Koxville for the game, I envy you. Envy because I wanted to go to this one. I had planned on it for a year. About a month ago the Mrs informs me we will be headed to her school's homecoming this weekend. My wife graduated from Wofford. So instead of tailgating in Knoxville I wil be in frickin Spartanburg, SC for the frickin Wofford homecoming game. So for the second week in a row I'll be watching an Auburn game in a bar in South Carolina. Marriage, what are you gonna do? I told her if I wanted to watch second rate football I'd drive down to Legion Field and check out UAB. She still told me I had to go...

Since I have in-laws there, I (unfortunately) have spent way more time in Knoxville that any non-Tennessee person should have to spend. It's an ugly place with ugly people with lots of dental problems. The big river right by the stadium? It happens to be the most polluted in the country. I'm talkin 2 headed catfish polluted. So if you happen to be going by boat, do not fall in or all your skin might fall off. I cannot figure out how they recruit so well there because it is an ugly campus in an ugly town that makes Baton Rouge look like Venice.

I don't know what it is about Tennessee. Nobody in the conference can stand them. Ask anyone from Bama, Florida, Georgia, etc. Whether it be too much orange or not enough quality dental care, Tennessee folks are just hard to be around. I think only LSU is more reviled around the league, but at least they have good gumbo.

As far as the game goes, It really could be a battle. The defense for UT scares me a bit. They played pretty well straight up against the Gators. The have some pretty serious injuries at linebacker, though, losing Nick Reveiz, their leader on the defense to a season ending injury. The may be looking at a true frosh as a replacement. Not good when trying to figure out decipher Guz the Mad Librarian's motion offense.

Our other ace in the whole this game is Jonathan Crompton, arguably the worst QB in the conference. David Cutcliff called him uncoachable a few years ago. Looks like he was right, because he can be counted on for about two picks per, or a fumble. Basically any way he can get his team beat, he'll do it. Crowd the box. Stuff Hardesty (who hasn't practiced yet this week!) and the run game and make Crompton win it with his arm (something he has never been able to do).

The key in this one to me is getting out early. We need two early scores in the first. If we can jump out to a lead, I think the Vols fold. The Tennessee fans are very close to turning on this staff. This defense is very close to turning on their inept QB. I predict a big play early by Super Mario, a first quarter pick, and Smokey isn't the only one howling at the end of this one.

Auburn 34
Vols 21

UT Preview

No one likes Tennessee. Similar to Notre Dame (albeit nowhere near the extent) you either love them or hate them. Some programs reek of unmitigated arrogance and Tennessee ranks high on the list (encroaching upon, however yet to surpass, our brethren from Tuscaloosa).

Knoxville will be abuzz as undefeated and unranked Auburn rolls into town to take on their beloved Vols in a prime time national broadcast. I read on the university is attempting to forbid Tiger Walk for "security and safety measures" at Neyland Stadium. Good luck with that. That will be more challenging than slowing down those on board the Gus Bus. By the way, Tiger Walk is at Gate 7, 2 hours prior to kickoff!

We shouldn't take it lightly that this will be the first road game of the year for this young team (for some, I'm sure, their first trip on a plane as well!). The stadium is vastly overrated however. It's a sight to see no doubt, but it's no louder than Death Valley or Jordan-Hare or the Georgia Dome when it's at its loudest...and rumor is this will not even be close to a sell out.

I always felt like road games brought you closer together as a unit. You have an extra 1/2 day to start thinking about the game for travel, and it's the quintessential "us against the world" mentality and it's a fun role to play. Nothing like taking the air out of a raucous crowd on national television. It's exponentially more satisfying than the most deafening roar at your home stadium. When on the road, you don't have to worry about gathering tickets for visiting family members and friends--there's just much less peripheral distractions on the road.

Tennessee's defense will be the toughest we've played to date. At times our offense will appear inept and downright foolish against a speedy, tough-against-the-run defense and if it gives effort for four quarters, UT's defense will keep them in the game. I don't believe they can keep Chris Todd and Auburn's offense in check all night, especially if Jonathan Crompton puts them in terrible situations repeatedly (here's hoping for the same Crompton we've seen for two years shows up Saturday night!!).

What I see as key in this game however is not if Auburn can run the football, how our young guys respond to being on the road for the first time, or getting out to a fast start, but rather if our defense can routinely stop the UT running attack. If we stuff Bryce Brown and Montario Hardesty on first and second down, then the game falls on the shoulders of Crompton. Unless Crompton transforms into Heath Shuler or Peyton Manning...having the game on his back is all we can hope for. I like our chances of outscoring a Crompton-led attack.

I expect a nip and tuck game throughout. I like to believe Auburn's offense is explosive enough to deny being contained very long. I also like to believe Auburn has yet to show all of its pressure packages defensively. Tennessee will come out swinging ferociously will Auburn respond on the road? Special teams must improve this week...we can't give Tennessee a short field or special teams points.

If we run it with success...this game is not close. If we struggle running the ball, which I goes four quarters. Auburn also plays with a chip on its shoulder playing the "lack of respect" card for no top 25 ranking. Here's your chance on a national stage to show the voters who you are!!


Monday, September 28, 2009

Ball St. Reax-As Expected?

Sometimes I forget which #12 I am watching lately...

After 2008 I should never say a game went as expected. I read our friend Jerry's game review over at warblogeagle. I agree pretty much that even during that UT-Martin game last year, we were in doubt (at least somewhat) as to how the game would turn out. To me, it was a pretty scathing indictment as to how far and how fast the Turberville regime had sunken in a matter of a year

Flash forward to 2009, and we are feeling uncomfortable with a 54-30 pasting of Ball State? This is an opponent we thoroughly dominated, and really could have beaten as bad as we wanted to. Things are definitely different for the better for sure. Just how much better? We'll have a better idea after Saturday night.

First off, Chris Todd is out of his mind good right now. 11 TD's and 1 INT through 3games. He makes good reads. His throws are crisp and on time to receivers. He has a pretty good idea about what is going on right now. This is his team and his offense. Ball St crowded the box on us early. Ball St. got pwned in the second quarter by Todd, Adams and T-Zach.

Defensively we dominated the first half. Yeah, yeah, Ball St scored thirty points. But they had 76 total yards in the first half. Our 1st team defense played two series in the second half. We created two more turnovers, by ripping the ball out. Tackling was better. Darren Bates is the biggest sleeper I have seen in a while. Rivals and Scout whiffed on this guy. He flies around and makes plays. I keep forgetting he is a freshman. Needless to say, he has a huge future at Auburn.

I am concerned by special teams coaching. Is it a coincidence that the only coach brought over from Iowa State coaches the weakest unit on our team right now? That is probably unfair to pin it is all on Bouleware, but it doesn't look good and Rob is right, it will get us beat down the raod if it isn't improved. The kickoff team and punt coverage are just bad right now. We always kick it left on kickoffs, and we don't kick it very deep.

Punt coverage is also mediocre at best. Durst has been OK I guess. And I suppose it is a good thing when you don't have to punt the ball 11 times a game like last year.

The fake punt was the dumbest call I have seen in a while. Fourth and 13 up 30-7 and we fake a punt, fail, and get our biggest home run threat banged up in the process. We need McCalleb on the outside, and we need him 100% for Tennessee.

Kodi's banged up too but should play. If he doesn't I think it will be fine because Mario could get some time in the wildcat, which I had hoped to see anyway. He is more like Arkansas McFadden or Miami's Ronnie Brown running the wildcat. I think Mario might be better in a goal line situation. Not that I can complain about the way Kodi has performed so far.

Byron Isom, whatever you did say you are sorry. That is how my 2 year old gets out of time out. I advise you to do this as well. We need you out there.

All in all a solid day. What I expected? I just can't say because I have no idea what to expect from this 2009 team. But my expectations, along with many others in the Auburn family are quietly growing. A win in the armpit of of Appalacia Saturday night and people will begin to notice.

Ball State Review: 54-30

A couple of concerns stemming from our week 4 performance against a vastly inferior opponent:

1. Special Teams- Continues to cost us field position, hidden yardage, and points. If not corrected immediately, will begin to be the difference between W's and L's. Most glaring, the inability to consistently field a punt and the lack of kickoff return production. This is compounded by being ranked dead last in the country in punt return production as well as not having a kicker capable of kicking the ball off in (or even close to) the end zone. Without researching it, I would guess our average starting field position is around the 25 whereas our opponents would be close to the 40. Not good, and will be costly.

2. Defense- At first glance, you see 30 next to Ball State and cringe. And I agree wholeheartedly 30 points given up to Ball State is a cause for concern. 260 total yards allowed is quite impressive however, and many of those came at the expense of seemingly 11 true freshmen/walkons getting their first playing opportunities. Tackling was better, but we were extremely soft on the edges. I've got to believe we played nothing but base defense and have much more disruptive and aggressive schemes waiting to be unleashed in Knoxville. We need to be more dominant against the run on 1st down however, to increase 2nd and 3rd down pressure.

3. East-West/Lateral Running Game- This was the last week we outrun a defense to the edge. From here on out, it's straight downhill or negative yardage. Would like to see us be more effective at imposing our will running the ball as opposed to racking up yards on big plays alone. Granted, the big plays are fantastic, but again, they'll be limited drastically in SEC play.

Game Ball--Chris Todd

Ultimately, this was a difficult situation for our players to be in. A sandwich game between W. Virginia and Tennessee against a team these guys know nothing and care nothing about, with a another rain delay in a stadium and Tiger Walk I'm sure was less enthusiastic than the prior weeks.

Tennessee will be an enormous measuring stick for this teams toughness. First road trip for a young bunch against a team not afraid to punch you in the mouth. Easy week to mentally prepare for. Even easier when the national polls believe you're unworthy of a top 25 ranking!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ole Miss Debunked

That didn't take long

Call it Nutt being Nutt. Ole Miss being Ole Miss. Same story with Houston Nutt coached teams. He's a 8-4 coach. Enough said. I say 8-4, but just wait till Coach O's players are gone, and he may find 8-4 a chore at Mississippi. He left a better job at Arky...not that he had a choice. Same ole story with same Ole Miss too. Can you name the only team in the west to never see the SEC title game?

The SEC West looks pretty open to me, at least for the second spot until somebody de-thrones the (threw up in my mouth) Tide. It's a long season and you just never can count on much, except for an Nutt choke job.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ball State Preview

Truth be told, Auburn is preparing for two teams this personnel--Ball State, by scheme--Tennessee. Sure, the coaches say all the politically correct things, i.e. "We take one game at a time, we respect every opponent," yada, yada, yada. But in reality the coaches are looking forward to and preparing for Tennessee.

It's a sneaky type of preparation. They do not admit to the players what they are doing. "Ball State is multiple and they do a lot of things!" they exclaim at practice and in the film room. But every few plays the scout team runs in practice, whether by formation, blocking scheme, pass route, defensive alignment, etc., it will look eerily similar to what Tennessee was doing last Saturday in Gainesville. Because that's exactly what it is...the coaches preparing the players for Tennessee schematics without saying so to the players. When I was a freshman, I had no idea. As I aged, it became quite obvious.

Tennessee will never be mentioned. No one will say, "Remember this because we'll use it next week!" No, instead, highlight reels will be made with every good play Ball State has made this season, and probably even last season, making Ball State look like the New England Patriots. The players will be given bios on the Ball State personnel to read about how great they were in high school, what their major is, what their favorite color is, and what their girlfriend's name is.

Ball State will start this game with more emotion than any game they play all year. Their coaches are already pumping them full of stories ranging from David and Goliath, to outright fabricated propaganda...the likes that could only be rivaled on social-progressive smear sites like the This will be their biggest stage all season and they'll relish the role. Expect teams like this to hang around for a quarter before reality sets in.

I'm looking for Auburn defenders capable of form tackling and getting off of the field on third down. Offensively, I'd like to see a few additional receivers become relevant, no turnovers, and increase the tempo to full tilt. All in all, it's a tune up for next weeks challenge in Knoxville.

Ball State-7

Trust me...I'm a doctor!

Dr. Z's Ball State Preview

Ball State's most famous alum is David Letterman. Actually he's the only Ball State Alum I've ever heard of. Like Ball State, Letterman had a pretty good 2008. He managed some pretty good jokes at the expense of John McCain and Sarah Palin. In 2009, both appear to have faded back into obscurity.

I can say I am glad we didn't play this bunch in 2008. Last year we might have been in trouble. The Cardinals were a a stellar 12-2 last year. Nate Davis was a stud QB. Head coach Brady Hoke made all the right calls. Both are gone now. Hoke took a better job and San Diego State. How bad is your program when your coach leaves for a better gig at SDSU? Nate Davis left early for NFL riches. Most of the O-Line, receivers, corners, etc are all gone. The result? 0-3 with loses to N. Texas, New Hampshire, and Army. You have to hand it to them, nobody goes to the outhouse like this bunch of Cardinals.

One cause for concern is a jittery little 5'6" running back named MiQuale Lewis. He was named to the Doak Walker watchlist earlier this year, and is a bit of a home run threat.

Here's one amazing story I read about Ball St. They have a 33 year old defensive end. That's right. Brandon Crawford is a 33 year marine veteran who at age 29 decided to play football. This guy is my age. He's playing college football. I could not even imagine trying to get out there and play a competitive sport at my age, considering I pulled my hamstring while vacuuming yesterday.

My blog buddy Rob might very be able to get out there and do it. He still runs marathons. Oh wait,sorry, half marathons. Cowboy up, Pate. You need to be more like Mr. Crawford. He's a man. He's (almost) 40!

Anyway, Auburn gets back to basics on D this week and tackles the little running back. We force a couple more turnovers for good measure.

Todd plays well again, and Ontario finds the edge again this week. Hopefully Neil Caudle throws a TD pass or two in mop up time this week as well.

Auburn 54
Fightin Lettermen 10

Monday, September 21, 2009

W. Virginia Reax: Confused...But Happy

Okay. Raise your hands if at 14-0 you thought this was over.
I will freely admit that. We've been conditioned over the last 3-4 years of watching Auburn to think game over when we get down 14 points. Our M.O. has been been to get ahead and hang on for dear life.
I spent the evening prior to the game at a fancy wedding at a resort on the Isle of Palms, S.C. where I endured a conversation with this pompus little Charleston D-bag in a bowtie who told me how Clemson "pulled an Auburn" in their earlier game. Ugly win,he said for the Purple Tigers. As I walked away to get another bourbon/ginger I thought to myself how ugly and hard we have been to watch over the last few years. Not just for us Auburn fans, but for everyone around the country, including 25 year old D-bags who wear bowties & keep their Costa Del Mar sunglasses croakied right around their neck during a wedding. Seriously dude, put the shades in your pocket. Your fraternity days are over.
It's hard because we a conditioned to think we are toast after watching our defense get shredded. Something new happened this week. Something I cannot recall in years of Tubbervillian rule. We got up off the deck, didn't panic, and got back in the damn game. Noel Devine was all he was cracked up to be. I hope he goes on to a great NFL/adult film career. But we held him in check just enough in the second half to make a difference. It was refreshing in every aspect.
Stop our running game? No sweat. Chris Todd, Darvin Adams & Co will make you pay. Rack up yards against our thin defense? No problem. We'll create our own opportunities with pressure and turnovers.
For good measure we'll then crush your soul with Super Mario.
So what does the future hold? No idea honestly. I will tell you I think we will be in most games just because we can score, and we make the other guys turn it over.
I thought we were going to get our doors blown off after getting ripped by the "Ers in the 1st. I will admit it. But this is a different year, a different attitude and a different Auburn football team.
We're not there yet. But we are alive and kicking...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Week Three Review

Can someone PLEASE TACKLE this fool!!!!!

My take on the West Virginia Game...

1. Overcoming an early deficit/adversity--I was interested to see how this team would respond being down 2 scores. Didn't take long to find out (they handled it much better than I did)! Fighting an uphill battle seemingly all night, both sides made the plays necessary to get a victory.

2. Coach Trooper Taylor's enthusiasm!--Sure I wonder like you, "How are we making necessary in-game adjustments while our assistant head coach is acting more like Aubie than a football coach?!" I don't know...but I do know his enthusiasm is infectious and I would have loved to play for someone as exciteable and openly enthusiastic for his players successes.

3. Opportunistic Defense--The turnovers were the difference in the game. We'll talk about the tackling under things I HATED!

4. The fans hanging tough through the rain delay--Gotta say, if I had been there I'd been somewhere with a roof over my head. Kudos to the fans for braving the severe weather, packing the house, and being noisy. It means everything to a player!

5. Darvin Adams--He gets my game ball, no contest!

6. Capitalizing on turnovers--24 points off of turnovers is deadly. Making our opponents pay with touchdowns as opposed to field goals is equally as devastating for the opposition.

What I Liked
1. Chris Todd--Converted some difficult third down conversions. 4 TD passes! Still throws the ball into a crowd without hesitation. And can't stand it when we have designed running plays for Chris. But overall, another steady, poised performance and without it we lose this game big.

2. Punt protection--West Virginia never got close! Still hate the formation though as it limits communication.

3. Wes Byrum's consistency--The field goal to get the first points on the board was a must have and he nailed it from over 45 yards out.

What I Disliked
1. Kickoff return coverage--Way too many yards allowed...West Virginia started from the 50 yard line all night. That's unacceptable and too difficult a position to put the defense in.

2. Our running game--We had a few nice pops here and there, but overall, the running game left a lot to be desired. Our only nice running plays were straight downhill, not the lateral garbage. There's a time and place to run a few east-west plays, but you can't base out of it in this conference. The defenses are just too fast. 100 yards rushing won't cut it most weekends from here on out.

3. Seeing Zeimba jump offsides--I thought those days were over, but Zeimba continues to increase his NCAA all-time record of offensive tackle false starts in a career.

4. Offensive speed of play--I also thought the days of lining up only to look over at the coaching staff prior to running a play were long gone as well...obviously I was mistaken. Again, I understand the premise, but for a team that has gone out of its way to tell us how incredibly fast this offense can be run...let's see it!

What I Hated
1. TACKLING...or better stated..Attempting to Dive within the Vicinity of the Ball Carrier--As a former AU defender, this made me exorbitantly ill! This was the worst attempt at tackling and containment of a quarterback since, well, last years West Virginia game. Perhaps the field conditions played a part (a wet field favors the guy who knows where he is headed prior to the snap, no question). Maybe West Virginia's skill players are faster than I believe they are. Either way, I've never seen anything like it and it has to be corrected in a hurry. A physical, fast team with like Tennessee will run around and through us if we don't improve. The only reason I can come up with for the pathetic nature of our tackling is our limited amount of preseason scrimmaging and "live" work due to limited numbers. We couldn't afford to lose anyone, so we limited contact in practice. Time to get back to the fundamentals, see what you hit, and don't leave your feet.

2. Return game--We are losing the hidden yards with our return game both, punt returns, and most significantly kickoff returns. Don't know if we returned one past the 30 all night.

Overall, pleased to be 3-0. Better tackling and improved running game, and we're well on our way! With an inferior opponent coming town in Ball State, getting back to basic fundamentals will be heavy on the agenda this week for the Tigers! War Eagle!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dr. Z's West Virginia Preview

When they hit town, try not to stare.

I can honestly say I do not know what to think of the West Virgina folks. They seem boorish, cocky, and according to many of our friends who made the trip to West V last season, downright mean. Maybe this is because the play football in a lousy conference. Maybe it is because they are still mad at RichRod for wanting to get out of there.

I can understand, I guess, being in a foul mood from the RichRod stuff. The cockiness, not so much. Having thrived (if you call averaging 9-4 thriving) in a bad football conference for the last few years riding the coattails of Pat White.

When they show up on the plains Saturday, make sure you smile at these people and welcome them, and put your couches under lock and key because WVU fans love to burn couches. If you're nice enough, they might even offer you moonshine and smoked raccoon at their tailgate.

As far as the game goes, I am sweating this one a bit. Before the season began, I was counting this one as a loss. Now things are different. Like many Auburn fans over the last few weeks I have become addicted to touchdowns. I cannot get enough of them. Tubbs and the BBQ bunch tried to make me quit cold turkey last year. Now I have Gus as my new Dr. Feelgood.

If you like touchdowns and crave them as much as I do, you will love this game. I have a feeling it will be an up and down game with a lot of big plays. Noel Devine (great porn name BTW) is a threat from anywhere. WVU brings in a senior QB who has not played much until this year (ask UGA and Joe Cox how that's working out).

I am reading that the 'Ers will likely be missing two defensive starters with injury...bad news when you are trying to slow down Auburn's Warp Speed attack.

I think this one comes down to the wire. Take the over in this one...and try not to O.D. on touchdowns. and trust me, I 'm a Dr....

Auburn 41
Tripping Billies 38

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

West Virginia Preview

As Auburn's biggest test rapidly approaches, I feel more and more confident in Auburn's chances this weekend. Why?

1. Revenge Game: Auburn was embarrased on national television last year in a game I frankly thought was the worst defensive performance by an Auburn team in memory. I thought Auburn quit late in last years game after completely dominating the first half of the game. Players have long memories and believe me, those that were there remember the feeling of losing a nonconference road game and, I'm sure, has been a driving force to not be repeated. I've also heard from many in attendance the Mountaineer fans were not the most hospitable bunch around!

2. Replacing Offensive Linemen: West Virginia is replacing three long time starters along the offensive line this year. This enabled LIBERTY to apply pressure on West Virginia's talented senior QB throughout the game. Auburn's defensive front will be the best front this team faces this season!

3. Auburn's Ability to Run the Football: Two things win games in college football...1. The ability to run the football. 2. An experienced QB(in large part getting teams out of bad play calls and into better ones) . Though West Virginia has a few homerun threats (guys that can score from anywhere on the field [see Noel Devine circa 2008 vs AU]), I feel like AU has more balance and is better able to sustain drives by running the football.

4. Jordan-Hare Stadium: West Virginia will not be intimidated by coming to Jordan-Hare, however, I've got to believe Jordan-Hare will be a bit louder than their games versus Liberty and East Carolina!! Communication will obviously be more difficult (especially for a young, inexperienced offensive line).

There are, however, a few concerns with this match-up that, if not held in check, could make for a long night...

1. Senior QB is big (6'4" 230lbs), fast, and accurate. He's completing over 75% of his passes and rushing for about 70 yards/game as well. He must be rattled, harrassed, and hit at every opportunity.

2. Auburn's Lack of Defensive Depth: This is a game depth could prove to be a major factor. With a dual threat QB, our linebackers and defensive backs will constantly be yo-yoing from pass responsibilites to filling running lanes when the quarterback tucks the ball and runs. The threat of this makes pass drops a bit shallower, putting more pressure on our young defensive backs to cover more real estate alone on an island. Add to the mix a speedster in Devine and you have to remain disciplined in tackling technique--you dive and miss this week and it's 6!

3. West Virginia Defense: This will not be the best defense we face all season, but it will be the best we've faced this year. It'll be interesting to see how our offense responds if it struggles early?!

4. Special Teams: We have to get more production as a whole out our special teams department. Fortunately, West Virginia may be struggling just as much if not moreso than Auburn in this department thus far this season.

Ultimately, I think the game comes down to two things...who's able to run the football most effectively, and who makes the fewest mistakes. The winner of these two categories wins the game. I do not see this game becoming the shoot-out that so many are expecting. Defense will keep both teams in the game early with Auburn pulling away in the second half with Chris Todd spreading the wealth through the air and propelling AU into the Top 20.


Trust me...I'm a doctor!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Early thoughts on Week Three

-Interesting to listen to the radio shows early in the week. Auburn fans call in giddy. (It's almost like we're still drunk on touchdowns...and Crown). You know we're doing something right when you listen to the Crimson Nation call in to these shows. They do their best to downplay. They say it is a long season. They are right of course, but you can hear the uncertainty and frustration in their voices when they talk about Auburn. They almost seem to say "This sucks! They weren't supposed to look like this!"

-Auburn's a 6.5 point favorite going into the game with WVU. Sounds about right.

-Sifting though the WVU blogs, they sound confident about their trip to Auburn, and many feel like they beat a more talented team than Auburn in East Carolina (Here's hoping they are dead wrong). The big early concerns are special teams (sound familiar?) and penalties (WVU had 11 for 165 yards!).

-The 'Ers are experimenting with something called the "Pistol" formation that they put in only a week ago for the ECU game. After two weeks, they also still are experimenting with position changes on the O-line.

-WVU trailed early to ECU, but racked up over 500 yards of offense. Does anyone else get the feeling Saturday night could be a track meet???

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mississippi State Review

It's difficult to not be ecstatic about the offensive production through week two of this very young season.

What I Liked
1. Offensive Line Play--Any time you have 2 backs over 100 yards in consecutive weeks you're doing something right! Are they dominant or is it the scheme or a bit of both? Time will tell, but so far the line of scrimmage has been controlled beautifully by this group.

2. Fake Punt Call--Not so much the call as the confidence. You practice these things so much yet rarely run them because most coaches don't have the man-parts when the time comes. Fourth and 10 on your side of the field and you call a RUN PLAY as your fake...yeah, Gene Chizik owns a pair!

3. Spreading the Wealth--Balancing the carries between Ben Tate, Onterio McCalebb, and Mario Fannin has been a thing of beauty. Getting Kodi Burns involved in imaginative ways keeps the defense guessing and standing flat-footed as well.

4. The block our corner, Neiko Thorpe, had on Antonio Coleman's PICK-6--The drop, ball skills, and dive to get into the end zone were all impressive by Coleman, but what I enjoyed more than that was Neiko Thorpe hustling to get in front of Antonio and obliterating Anthony Dixon at the goal line, allowing Coleman to score.

5. Enthusiastic Coaches--I enjoyed watching the players run off the field after a big play into the arms (or chest bump) of an energized, pumped coach. All of them seem to be tremendous motivators (and excellent spectacle frame selectors). It will be interesting to see their demeanor when things start poorly.

What I Disliked
1. Kicking Game (minus Wes Byrum)--No production from punt returners. Even worse production from kick off returns. Blocked punt is inexcusable and will get you beat faster than any other play in football.

2. Sloppy Tackling--Way too much diving at runners in open space by our linebackers and defensive backs. When I played this was a sure-fire way to find yourself standing on the sidelines, but now-a-days, it appears diving at the ball carrier's feet is how tackling is taught?!

3. Motioning Chris Todd Into The Backfield In the Wild Eagle Formation???? Does anyone really think Kodi Burns is going to hand the ball off or use Chris Todd as the option pitch man? If they do then perhaps the SEC institutions should consider raising the minimum ACT requirements to enroll in school. I'm sure there's a pass play stemming from this, but if that tricks a defense, then re-read the previous sentence.

4. The Absence of Gabe McKenzie--If his hands or his speed are inadequate for this new offense, then make Gabe a tackle or defensive end. He's too big a man, and too talented an athlete to be holding his helmet on the sideline. Perhaps there's an underlying issue I don't know about?

5. Eltoro Freeman--Not personally. I don't know him; I'm sure he's an outstanding person. And really I thought Freeman played fine. But with the hype surrounding him prior to ever donning the orange and blue...I was underwhelmed. In his defense, no one could live up to the hype heaped upon him. The way he was talked about however, made it seem as if the other 10 defenders could take a seat when Eltoro entered the game...he could do it all himself. He's fast as lightning, but sometimes that meant he was that much farther away from being in the proper place. He'll improve weekly and will be a vital asset to the defense as the year progresses.

All in all, it was a great game with the positives far outweighing the negatives. It's great to get that first conference win and continue to build confidence early in the season. Revenge game this week against the Mountaineers. Easy to get prepared for a game like this.

Game 2 Reax: Nobody's Laughing Now

In January of 2008, I drove to work listening to a sports morning show in Birmingham play over and over the now infamous heckler of Jay Jacobs. Jokes were made at the expense of my school that provided me a foundation for a successful career. Like many in Alabama and around the country, they had a good laugh. Another gimmicky spread offense from a quirky former high school coach? Giggles. The Limo gambit? Chuckles abound.

Auburn was a punch line not 6 months ago. A 5-19 coach inheriting a team devoid of talent and playmakers. Some said lucky if they would win four. A notorious pot-stirrer in the radio world here in Birmingham proclaimed Auburn, one of the better programs in the country over the last 25 years, no longer relevant.

Auburn may lose next week to West Virginia. Auburn has a ways to go to get back to the upper crust of the SEC. But answer me this- after a 37-13 manhandling of a La Tech team that won a bowl game and a 49-24 blowout of what is considered to be a pretty good SEC defense, do you hear those laughs now?

After this weekend where a favorite for the SEC west struggled with Vanderbilt, at home, at night while another trailed late in the first half to Florida International, how comfortable are our SEC West opponents today? How good do they feel about their prospects of getting to Atlanta when a 2008 anemic Auburn offense now sits after 2 games at #2 in the country in running the football in 2009? When the top 2 rushers in the SEC wear the Auburn uniform?

After arguably the most impressive start by any SEC school this season, save the Gators, our detractors are a little less vocal. Sure, our friends of the Crimson persuasion said after week one that we'd see what we had after an SEC defense got to the spread eagle 2.0. Those same friends now say wait till we play someone good. When will that be? Week 12?

Kirk Herbstreit got laughed off of the radio for saying Auburn might start out 5-0 or 6-1. He also said with 5-0 or 6-1 start that Auburn would still go 7-5. I agree on the first part, Mr. Frosted Tips.

On the latter-this team, this chemistry, if they start 5-0, (and judging by Tennessee with Crompton at the helm-good possibility), who knows?

The bottom line here folks-after week 2, given the way things are beginning to take shape, my Tigers are not a punchline tonight. Nobody's laughing tonight.

After a night when we destroy an SEC opponent and put out a so/so performance all around, I am sold on Gus Malzahn. I am sold on Kodi Burns. This kid who gave an address that unified a team, now makes an offense easy money in the red zone.

Win Saturday night against West Virgina and I am sold. I haven't enjoyed watching a Auburn team this much since watching Ben Leard shred LSU 10 years ago on a Saturday afternoon in Baton Rouge. Expect another shocker or two like that a decade later.

And savor the fact that nobody's laughing now...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dr. Z's Mississippi State Preview

Week 2 is almost here. I love those fly by four day work weeks. Nothing like a little Auburn football to break the monotony of eye care, although today was kind of exciting since I removed a piece of metal from the left eye of a squirmy 5 year old. Good times. Anyway, on to the Maroondogs of MSU.

Mississippi State as a university is a lot like Auburn...50 years ago. I think they have a two lane highway running through there and that's it. I hear they used to have a grove like at Ole Miss, but they cut it down for pulpwood or something. You might want to fact check me on that.

All kidding aside, the 'Dogs have fallen on hard times lately. A few years ago they hired a Bear Bryant disciple in Jackie Sherrill who cheated his rear end off and was pretty successful at it until he finally got busted. He gave MSU a few of their most successful years ever until they finally landed in the NCAA pokey. Sherrill beat Auburn for four straight years, believe it or not, including two years (97 and 2000) when we made the SEC championship game. After Sherrill's not so graceful exit, MSU called on another Bear Bryant henchmen in Sly Croom, who's claim to fame was embarrassing the Crimson Tide a couple of times. Sly never had a chance given the hand he was dealt. He resigned after last season and an embarrassing loss to Ole Miss.

Dan Mullen began his head coaching career with a win last week over Jackson State. It looked good on paper as a 45-7 whitewashing. I saw a good bit of this game on the U Saturday and the first half was really hard to watch. I'm talkin 4th quarter of AU-Tennessee 08 hard to watch. Sloppy, ugly, all over the place bad. State picked it up a bit in the fourth quarter, but they never drove the ball at all. Everything was a short field touchdown courtesy of a Jackson State turnover. Defensively I thought they looked OK. Pretty hard to tell against JSU.

-Anthony Dixon returns after a 1 game suspension. This guy is good. He ripped us a couple of years ago in that humiliating home loss. My hope is former AU WR coach Greg Knox is as good at coaching up running backs as he was receivers.
-Dan Mullin. I really don't know what to make of this guy right now. He did a pretty good job at Florida as an OC, but let's face it, he had a pretty good arsenal to work with. Nothing like the bare cupboard he has now.
Depth. As in Auburn's lack of on defense. MSU's spread will be more demanding on our LB's and DB's this week. Will we hold up? Here's hoping so because it is not too bold a prediction to say this might be the weakest SEC offense we will see all year.

What Will Happen
AU's offense exorcises the demons of 3-2 with a strong performance. Look for fewer touches from Ontario Speedwagon (check yo-self Chris Berman), but expect a long run or two. Burns throws a TD pass this week from the Wild Eagle. Todd stays solid with another 250+ passing night. The D is soild again, but begins to develop a chip on their shoulder from being overlooked.

It stays tight for a little longer than La Tech, but we pull away in the fourth....

Auburn 31
MSU 14

Looking at Mississippi State

It's hard to say what Mississippi State will look like based on their week one opponent. Not much can be learned, by Auburn's staff or MSU's staff, about the chemistry and abilities of this team. One thing will be evident...MSU will be hard-nosed and they'll believe they can win. They will play with a reckless abandon that comes with having minimal to no preseason expectations, and truth be told--that's a fun way to play. They are a 14 point dog on the road and, I'm sure, relish that role.

I expect MSU to show multiple formations, lots of presnap shifting and motion, and even some trickery in an attempt to confuse Auburn's inexperienced secondary. I also expect MSU to run right at Auburn's linebackers. With thin numbers, and a linebacker corp built on speed rather than strength, this a match-up that favors the bulldogs and their two big tailbacks--Dixon and Ducre (220lbs and 235lbs respectively).

Defensively, MSU will come after Todd. They will bring more rushers than Auburn has blockers and force Todd into quick decisions. They will stack the line of scrimmage in an attempt to elimate the run and make Chris Todd prove he is capable of sustaining drives by making the right decisions under pressure. If Todd is on, and communication with blitz pickups are outstanding...there should be many one on one opportunities for wideouts and running backs to make plays in space.

I expect Auburn to lean on Ben Tate to be the work horse this week in the running game. Sprinkle in a little Eric Smith, a dash of Onterrio McCalebb, and a touch of Mario Fannin from his H-back slot--and Auburn will do everything it can to run the football successfully to take the pressure off of Todd. Second and 3 or 4 is the name of the game. Second and 10, Third and 8 equal a long day. If Auburn is successful running the ball early, it could be a breakout day for our young receivers...particular DeAngelo Benton.

This game will be an excellent measuring stick for both schools. After last years embarrasing (for both teams) 3-2 dud, I expect both teams look to strike deep early. My feeling is Auburn rides the positive momentum to a victory similar in style to last weeks La Tech game...close early, Auburn pulls away in the end.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Thoughts on weekend #1.

Pretty nice Labor Day weekend if you are an Auburn Tiger fan. AU punks LaTech. The Hollis guy at (who picked LaTech to win) looks like an idiot a little earlier in the year than usual. Chris Todd shows off his bionic arm (can't you just hear Dr. Andrews sayin "We can rebuild him, we can make him stronger, we have the technology"). I have watched that 93 yard TD pass to T-Zach 15 times on my DVR. My favorite part is just after the pump fake and right before Todd releases the throw. If you listen closely you hear ESPNU color man Brock Huard say "uh oh..." like he new I was going to spill my beer all over the living room. I even showed it to my 2 year old-"Watch the touchdown, baby." She replied with "Aubie fast. Watch Elmo now."

The best thing about the game is it gives us some hope for the future. Unlike2008, we have a coherent offensive coordinator who doesn't look like he "lives in a van down by the river". We also have a coaching staff who believes in Gustav's system, and the results are nearly 600 yards of offense. The defense, after the most consecutive faskmasks I've ever seen, played pretty well.

The other great thing about the weekend is LeDarius Owens commits to Auburn. We are now stacked with Linebackers in this class. Rob texted me from the Pelham High gameFriday night with "Holland is a beast." Now just goout and find us another lineman or three and we should be solid.

So at least for one weekend things are looking up. I think if we have another solid weekend against the Maroondogs, we have a shot to shock some folks this year.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Thoughts on LA Tech

After a painful year of pulling teeth to gain a yard last season, it was quite refreshing to see creative playcalling and imagination originating from the sidelines Saturday against Louisiana Tech. I was impressed with many facets of Auburn's offensive gameplan Saturday.

First, the rotation was smooth and constant with seemingly two or three players running on and off the field between each play. This creates problems for defensive coordinators because as personnel changes offensively, defenses hope to match what the offensive has on the field. Because Auburn was able to rotate players so quickly without confusion, it created several match-up problems with LA Tech defensively, i.e. linebackers forced to cover receivers. This is an enormous advantage for any offense because the defensive coordinators will not call a play until they see the offensive personnel. With Auburn lining up quarterbacks at wideouts, wideouts in the backfield, running backs at quarterback or wideout, tight ends flexed as wideouts, you just never know what you're going to get.

Second, Chris Todd had zip on the ball! Hallelujah! Praise Jesus. Miracles do happen. I was not a Chris Todd fan last season and openly rooted for Neil Caudle or Barrett Trotter or someone not named Chris Todd to win the starting job this fall. But all summer long we heard players stating Todd's arm was revitalized. I must say, to win a starting job after a fan base, and presumably a new coaching staff and probably teammates, has written you off...your shoulder is surgically are forced to be a spectator in spring drills as a new offense is installed...and you do it in only 9 practices! Unbelievable to say the least. The pass to Adams in the endzone was a beauty; the pump fakes leading to big plays were savvy; the leadership capabilities appear to have taken a giant leap forward. It will be needed because this team will go as Chris Todd goes.

Third, the offensive line has the ability to be absolutely dominant. This group is talented, nasty, big, and experienced. If it stays healthy this team will be in every game it plays.

Defensively, Auburn will continue being Auburn. Defensive line...deep, talented, the strength of this team. deep, can play with any team in America, but if significant injuries occur--the offense better be ready to put up Tulsa like statistics. Secondary...a mix and veterans and rookies with above average talent. This group will get better each week and will be a strength by mid season.

All in all, week one was a positive, momentum building week. SEC play brings with it a completely different mindset and level of play. We'll preview Mississippi State later in the week.

And So It Begins...

So I have been reading AU blogs for years now, the Auburner, the JCCW, Auburn by Beaver, Jay G, etc. It looked like so much fun I just decided to get into it. I asked my good friend and colleague Rob Pate, to join me on this endeavor. He will give you some really good X's and O's stuff on the game. I will try my best to give you comic relief.

We will be back this week to give you a Mississippi State preview, with Rob breaking it down and me just trying to keep up.