Monday, September 5, 2011
Utah State Review (AU 42 USU 38)
Photo by Todd Van Ernst/Auburn University
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."
—The opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities
Things are never as good as they seem. And as poorly as we played Saturday to open the 2011 campaign and defense of the national title, things aren't as bad as they seem either. Yes, I was just as flummoxed as you were at our inability to contain another true freshman 2 star QB. Our propensity to allow an unknown QB run roughshod over us has unfortunately become the norm under Coach Ted Roof. Before I get into our inability to stop the run (which can't be pinned entirely on the young defensive line alone), let's address this true freshman QB and our game plan with him. I am continually amazed at the lack of desire to confuse, blitz, be multiple, stack the box and make young, inexperienced QB's beat us their arm? There was no reason in the world to have our corners playing 10-12 yards deep, allowing a QB that's never attempted a collegiate pass to build confidence with each uncontested throw to the flat for 10-15 yard gains. Granted, if our defensive backs made an open field tackle at any point in the game, perhaps the yards after catch would have been less...nonetheless, why give a freebie to a newbie? Why not make the guy figure out where the next blitz in coming from? Why not bring more rushers than they have blockers and let your cover men run with receivers? Give the corners and safeties the opportunity to run stride for stride with WAC receivers (cause God knows they couldn't tackle WAC RB's) and make a Frosh QB beat you down the field repeatedly with precision passing under pressure? Sorry...I don't get the philosophy!
The more pressing issue was the inability to stop the run. This has to change in a hurry. If this continues, we lose more than we win this season. And as I said previously, the DL should not receive the brunt of the criticism. Granted, no one along the front four was dominant and disruptive of the Utah State running attack, but most quality defensive lineman aren't. The elite (i.e. Nick Fairley) are...but they are the exception, not the norm. Most excellent, capable defensive lineman are like Zack Clayton. Guys you don't see along the stat line because they're too busy taking on multiple blockers and holding their position in order to let the LBs, and secondary make all the tackles unimpeded. There in lies the problem. Our tackling. Atrocious! Part of me wonders whether the "smart" practicing (i.e. scrimmaging the young guys so much and holding out the guys the staff had penciled in as starters) caused a little rust to build upon our defender's basic fundamentals. This can't get much worse than what we witnessed Saturday, so improvement here is inevitable. I also wonder how much alignment was a problem. We took several timeouts on defense because of confusion. Who knows how many times we probably should have taken timeouts because we weren't properly aligned or didn't communicate the set to all 11 defenders? I've heard some rumblings this was a huge problem Saturday, which if is indeed the case, should be another area of improvement in the short-term.
Another perceive problem I believe can be corrected sooner rather than later...the playing rotation. It's great to get a lot of guys on the field to keep guys fresh. I have a hard time believing however, it's a good idea to pull guys off the field because of a set rotation just as the guy is getting comfortable on the field. This is especially true for young players. Barrett Trotter would never get into a rhythm if he played every third or fourth series! What makes us think that our LBs or DLs or anyone else can? We need to find 11 guys that are fundamentally sound, understand their role in each scheme, and have a mad demeanor about them for 60 minutes. Substitute for them when they need it, or if they're not getting the job done. But not just for the sake of playing a ton of guys. It makes me think this game was viewed as a dress rehearsal of sorts, to see who's ready and deserving of SEC play. However, we found out Utah State came to win a football game, threw caution to the wind, and nearly handed us an embarrassing defeat!
Offensively, hard to get into a flow when you never have the ball! Scoring 5 TDs on 54 plays is pretty dang impressive in my book! And Tre Mason stole a possession from the offense too (I hope he steals many more!)! The inability to run the football was frustrating, but it's what Utah State was hell-bent on doing. That's why they were gashed in the passing game! They still haven't stopped a crossing route on us, but we were determined we could run the football on all downs, especially 1st and 2nd. It cost us a few possessions when we probably should have been airing it out. Coach Malzahn wants to run the football; has to run the football to be successful in most games, but the way Utah State was playing we probably should have been passing to set up the run rather than running to set up the pass. All that being said, I can't complain when 42 points are on the board.
Standouts for me...Emory Blake-fearless and consistent! Barrett Trotter-poised and confident, the picture of calm within the storm! Cody Parkey-a true weapon to have a kicker put the ball in the end zone (or stands) consistently! Tre Mason-hits the hole with reckless abandon!
This outing could be a blessing in disguise or a disgusting sign of things to come. My hope is it's a wake-up call heard loud and clear to group of talented kids that rolling out the AU logo on the side of the helmet won't get it done. They have to understand every team in the conference has circled them for retribution this season and expect you're opponent to play their best ball Auburn. Utah State was ready; I'm sure Mississippi State will be too. All offseason I wondered how this team would respond to adversity, having so many new faces playing key roles. We'll get our opportunity to find out Saturday morning on the Plains! And we'll see if the old adage, "the most improvement in a football team is from week one to week two" holds true! I hope it does. I believe it will! This team will improve each week. Hold on for the ride!