Sunday, September 18, 2011
Clemson Review (AU 24 Clemson 38)
It began so beautifully. Yet became an embarrassment. Watching it was gut-wrenchingly frustrating, a reminder of how incredibly far we have to go as a team, and perhaps even more obvious--how far we've fallen from the pinnacle of college football! I can swallow losing, as bitter as losing is, but the way in which we lost in Death Valley was anything BUT what Auburn defense should be! That was incredibly pathetic on all fronts...position by position, coach by coach, quarter by quarter as we got worse as the game progressed.
Contrary to the opinions of many, I don't think Coach Ted Roof deserves all the blame for this. Don't get me wrong, he has fielded some incredibly horrendous defensive performances and schemes since his arrival to Auburn. He does some things, or probably better stated, doesn't do some things to make life miserable for opposing offenses. In particular, his resume of allowing young, inexperienced QBs to run roughshod and consistently put up Heisman worthy numbers, year...after year...after year, pushes me to the verge of spontaneous combustion and is inexcusable. However, as a defensive coordinator, his only job is to put players in position to be successful and make plays. Many times against the Clemson Tigers, he did just that. We didn't have guys make plays. Instead, we took a giant step backwards in the basics of defensive football fundamentals. Atrocious tackling, inability to shed blocks, inept wrapping up, lack of swarming to the football, running ourselves out of position. It all ran rampant, was contagious, and was extremely frustrating to all!
The most incredible/ridiculous of all was the inability to get off of the football field on third downs. The third down conversions is the Achilles heel, the reason for and largest contributing factor to all of our defensive woes. It's why we rank in the 100s in virtually every single defensive stat and dead last in all of college football (120 out of 120) in making teams punt. And if it doesn't change, it'll prevent us from becoming bowl eligible!
The next most incredible/ridiculous reality is that as poorly as we played defensively, a TD on the drive concluding with a Trotter INT puts us right back in position to win the football game...on the road...against an inspired team/coaching staff/fan base...despite the fact we played piss poor defense! If you're looking for positives...there you go!
What I liked...
1. The start. A few three and outs. An offense moving at will, establishing the line of scrimmage and imposing our running attack. Thought at first we were going to run Clemson out of the stadium! And we may have if we give the ball to the offense more often.
2. Darren Bates. What?! A defensive guy!? He wasn't perfect by any stretch, but he was the only defender that stood out to me with his effort and pop when he arrived to the ball carrier.
3. Fourth down stop and go route to Emory Blake for the TD. Impossible for a safety to cover that. You're taught back there to know the situation..."know the sticks" (first down marker). Every safety in America bites on that...fantastic call and execution.
4. Mike Dyer. Continues to impress and improve each week.
What I disliked...
1. The final Clemson drive. Held the ball nearly the entire fourth quarter. Absolutely ridiculous! Put every cover guy on an island, rush the rest and hope for the best. If they hit the home run and score at least you get your offense back on the football field. To sit back, bring 4 or 5 and allow Clemson to methodically march down the field the entire fourth quarter does both the defense and offense a disservice. Which brings me to dislike #2.
2. Defensive coaching staff/Ted Roof. Again, I would probably split the blame close to evenly if not more heavily weighted in the direction of the players lack of execution than the defensive scheme. But Ted has to think outside of the box. He needs to get away from this traditional scheme and move towards a Joe Lee Dunn unorthodox philosophy. If he doesn't believe we don't have players capable of standing toe to toe with offenses effectively for four quarters, then you've got to mix it up. Do something crazy! Put all eleven on the line of scrimmage, ala Bill Oliver, and make the QB uncomfortable. Are you gonna blitz everyone, bail out to zone, bail out and double all in cuts, play man to man on one side of the field, zone on the other? Who knows? Not the opposing offense. Keep the QB and OC guessing. You just might create a turnover. Or force a freaking punt! But the "die a slow death" philosophy is brutal. I'd rather die quickly than slow and painfully.
3. The Trotter INT. Pump fake towards Emory, eyeball Emory, eyeball Emory, throw to Emory. As a defender, he made life easy. Barrett leans on Emory Blake during crunch time and for good reason. But he can't stare down his receivers like he did in that situation. He'll learn from that I'm sure.
4. The missed tackles. Lunging, diving, not grabbing cloth. I don't know what else to say. We have too many guys who'd rather attempt and fail at a "pretty" tackle like they see on Sunday rather than an "ugly" but effective tackle. The new rule should be if you tackle below the knee and miss...you're benched!
5. Linebacker play. None existent!
6. Pass rush. None existent!
7. Leading tackler...Neiko Thorpe...safety! Never a good sign. In a 4-3 defensive scheme, if your middle linebacker isn't far and away your leading tackler something is awry. I believe that's obvious!
8. Tre Mason's difficulty catching the football. Two consecutive uncontested drops.
9. Onterio McCalebb between the tackles. If he's touched, he goes down. Chances are he's gonna get touched running between the tackles. Screens, draws, sweeps, hot routes, receiving...these things I get. Onterio over center...I don't.
10. Return game looked bad. Tre Mason didn't seem to have the burst we've seen and struggled to reach the 20. Trovon Reed fielded a punt in the end zone?! Step backward here!
11. Offense disappeared in the second half. Granted, the defense limited their opportunities, but 3 points in the second half will never cut it for this team.
We all knew there would be growing pains. Most recognized Clemson would play inspired football and we'd get their best shot. I don't think any of us expected to see us regress. We seemingly had nowhere to go but up, to improve, to become comfortable in our own skin, to maximize our strengths and protect our weaknesses. We proved otherwise!
We now come to a critical juncture with this team. A juncture I'm interested in seeing how this group handles. It's easy to be a leader and be on the same page when you win football games. It's radically different and threatens to be divisive and corrosive when you lose. The very fabric off "all in" and "family"...values Coach Chizik has worked tirelessly to instill since his arrival will be challenged mercilessly! Who holds the locker room together? We will see!