Monday, September 26, 2011
Florida Atlantic Review (AU 30 FAU 14)
Well, it was another ugly game. This team did little to make me believe they're ready for big boy football and the unbelievably difficult gauntlet they're about to endure. Why was the effort against FAU so lackluster? Partly by design, partly by poor mental preparation against an inferior squad, partly by allowing a miserable football to hang around and grow confidence and make them believe they're suppose to compete, but mainly because of poor execution on the part of our Auburn Tigers.
Partly by design-
Auburn held out 4 starters, including our best defensive player to date in corner Chris Davis, always dependable and clutch TE Phillip Lutzenkirchen, guard John Sullen, and OLB Jonathan Evans. Holding these guys out was critically necessary to allow peak performance against South Carolina, but the reality is this team is not good enough to hold out starters...no matter how bad the opponent may be!
I also felt like we were overly vanilla offensively on purpose. What has been our bread and butter all season...the crossbuck sweep with Mike Dyer over right tackle. No one's stopped it yet. How many times did you see it Saturday? Never. We know that play works...I guess Coach Malzahn wants to develop a second successful running play. I think our coaches use these games to work on perceived weaknesses and try to strengthen them with true game experience. I think that was the game plan with Utah State too, but nearly backfired when Utah State was better than what our coaches expected! As much as we all wanted to see Auburn hang 80 points on the scoreboard (and don't get me wrong, Coach Malzahn wanted to score a ton of points and rack up gaudy numbers) the offense never found it's spark because of bad QB play by Trotter and the inability to control the line of scrimmage with traditional running plays.
I'm not sure how big the loss of Sullen was along the offensive front, but truthfully, against FAU, we should be able to walk out a unit composed of all true freshman and move the football consistently. Offensive line play has been a disappointment.
Poor mental preparation-
This one shouldn't be an excuse, but as a former player I know how hard it is to get up to play an opponent like FAU. Think about your excitement level walking into Jordan-Hare or even turning your TV on to watch AU vs LSU, Alabama, UGA, Florida compared to La Tech, Utah State, or Florida Atlantic. Now magnify that infinitely for the players and you're starting to scratch the surface of the difference in intensity and mental focus. I agree with those that believe this team has no business taking any opponent lightly...but until you've experienced the high of competing at the highest level, you can never fully understand the difficulty in competing against the lower tier. It takes an immensely disciplined, supremely coached, senior-laden football team to play every game like it's your last. We're not there yet. Not even close.
Allowing FAU to hang around-
You begin play with an INT. I didn't see the throw so I can't comment as to the decision, the play call, the execution. But talk about a shot of confidence to start a football game! "Here, we know you've struggled terribly offensively and we've been the worst defense in all of college football to date...why don't we just give you the ball at the thirty! Let us make life easy for you!" Some things you just can't do. Turn the ball over in the red zone, shoot yourself in the foot with drive killing penalties, allow unblocked rushers a free run at your QB. This is offensive football 101. Somewhere in this curriculum, I'm sure, not throwing an INT to open a contest is taught and recited quite often.
I still feel like in order for this offense to be at it's best, Barrett Trotter (or whoever lines up at QB) has to run the football with success. He must have some success to at least threaten the defense with the QB run. If not, all the action taking place in the backfield is completely meaningless. It's designed to hold backside defensive ends and linebackers for the split second it takes Mike Dyer to run off tackle or Onterio McCalebb to break containment. Until defenses believe it, our running game specifically, but our entire offensive identity is handicapped and diminished by the lack of the QB run threat.
Lots of bad throws, struggling offensive line attempting unsuccessfully to control a Sun Belt line of scrimmage, allowing the FAU offense room to breath with third down conversions...over 100 yards on the ground...and to win the time of possession battle. These were the things that stood out to me.
But, on a positive note...we're 3-1. We see there's no shame in losing to Clemson. We see some young guys stepping up making crucial plays...see Jermaine Whitehead. Emory Blake continues to impress. The defense played better (I guess). We have to decide are we going to stand toe to toe and fight (for 4 quarters, for yourself, for each other, for respect, for Auburn) or are we going to play timid and scared and in awe of our surroundings? We're about to find out!