Thursday, September 29, 2011

South Carolina Preview

Seeing Auburn on the field inside Williams Brice Stadium is always emotional for me. My first and only trip to South Carolina was in 1997, a true freshman, starting at free safety. Early that Friday morning the day before the game, I received word Brian Tribble...a treasured family friend, the announcer of all my high school games, my minister of music, co-worker of my mother, spiritual role model, the man who was to marry Dana and me...was murdered within our very own church office building. I grieved in my dorm room within Sewell hall all morning. I drove with my best friend to tell my future bride the horrific news in the courtyard of the Quad Dorms. The three of us cried for hours.

The last thing on my mind was the South Carolina Gamecocks. I boarded a Delta jet and said a word to no one the entire trip. When we arrived at our hotel I asked and received my own room, skipped the team movie, skipped team dinner. I couldn't get the mental picture of Brian being shot repeatedly in the head inside an office I grew up in, a place my mother worked every day, out of my head. I wept at the thought of Brian's wife, left to raise four young kids, one a newborn, by herself. I didn't study game film, our game plan, their personnel. I cried. All night.

That morning I woke up pissed. I was mad, confused, and lonely. Felt so helpless and far away from home. We boarded the buses and headed to the stadium for an early morning start. I'll never forget that Tiger Walk as long as I live. As I walked through the crowd, I kept my head down, my headset on, and tried to hide the tears in my eyes. As I approached the end of the crowd I looked up to see my parents, the last remaining fans of Tiger Walk. I could tell they had been crying and their tears were contagious. I threw myself into their arms and fell apart.

Coach Oliver didn't bench me. He never even questioned me if I was ready. He only came up to me during warmups and said he loved me, and he was sorry. I played a decent game. Nothing special. South Carolina wasn't great offensively so my job was pretty easy. I do remember though being on the field to start the fourth quarter. The band began playing. The stadium was loud. The Auburn fans were up and shaking their pom-poms. And I visualized Brian watching me from above. I cried the entire drive.

It was the biggest loss of my young life. And the trip to South Carolina will forever be tied to it. To this day I think of Brian on a regular basis. His initials were written on my wristbands beginning the next week to honor his memory and to inspire me to play my heart out. A die-hard Bama fan, he came to see me play two weeks prior in Auburn against Daunte Culpepper and Central Florida. He truly fell in love with his Auburn experience!

On to this game. It has the makings of challenging the scoreboards ability to not explode from over-use. Which typically means it'll be a defensive struggle! Not in this case. I think it becomes a race to 40. First team to 40 wins.

To be successful we have to establish the running game with Mike Dyer. He needs to steal the spotlight from Marcus Lattimore. In order to do that we have to soften the defense with passing efficiency and some semblance of success in QB rushing yards. It can't become a game where we play from behind and in predictable situations or else their defensive line will have their way with us.

Defensively we must tackle. We must take chances. We must swarm to the football and tackle as a unit. Make Lattimore earn every yard he gets. He's a great talent and will have some success as will their receivers. Weather the storms and play the next play. Create turnovers.

We have the ability to win this game. We need to win this game. And we will.


Dr. Z's Carolina Preview, Brah

"Pass the Funions, man..."

Has there ever been a more lovable cartoonish character in modern college football? Steven Garcia is South Carolina's Randall "Pink" Floyd. I bet he never signed any pledge.

I have taken a strange liking to Garcia. He's just livin, man. L-I-V-I-N. Livin the college star's dream. I bet Rob was practically just like Garcia when he played. Let's look at a pic of Rob back then...

OK, so not exactly the same thing, but Rob played defense, and according to Rob, defensive guys don't get to do things like have multiple chicks in their hotel rooms prior to bowl games, unless their last name is Spikes or Dansby.*

Our best hope for the weekend is a theory I like to call "Steven being Steven". If Garcia is his normal self in this game, we have a good shot at pulling of a victory. He gift wrapped the 2010 game with two fumbles (Conner Shaw, Steve's Hitler youth-looking backup helped with two INTs).

Our big problem in the game will be stopping or at least limiting Marcus Lattimore. We must put 8-9 in the box and stry to shut down the run game and make ol Greazy beat us. He may hit on a big play or two, but he'll likely turn the ball over.

I think we will score points on SC's defense. The haven't looked all that spectacular this year considering all of the talent the have over there.

I haven't liked like our chances in this game since the pre-season. Taking a young team on the road to a play a Gamecock squad that will most certainly be out for revenge after the SEC championship game will be a tall test.

As always, we need to jump out early and dampen the crowd. That was worked to perfection a couple of weeks ago at Clemson, but we just could not maintain. This weekend, we'll have to do that.

I think we'll stop Lattimore somewhat, but I have little faith in our defense right now to get off the field and prevent drives.

I see a similar result in this trip to Carolina....

Auburn 24
Cocks 33

*I have no knowledge of Takeo Spikles or Karlos Dansby having multiple girls girls in their room prior to bowl games. So if you read this blog guys, please don't come to Trussville and beat me up.

*Photo h/t to EDSBS's LSU Freek.

Monday, September 26, 2011

FAU Reax: Are Things as Bad as They Seem?

Is anyone's job on the line?

Well that didn't give anyone a whole lot of confidence did it? That was as listless a performance as I've seen in the Chizik era, and if you can find an Auburn fan that tells you that they are looking forward to October, you are being lied to.

I honestly am scratching my head about what exactly has happened to our offense. The Tigers were rolling right along until the second quarter against Clemson. The wheels came off the Guz bus for some strange reason, and they weren't exactly back on for FAU.

Defensively, we still have light years to go before we even come close to our mediocre unit we rolled out in 2010.

I expected better. Even with the youth, even witht the new faces, I expected better. I think we all did.

I don't want to make too big a deal about this game Saturday, but it's critical from the pyschological standpoint. If we go out there and get embarrassed, then the fragile psyche of this young Auburn team could blow apart. If we can come up with a win, or even a close loss agaisnt an East favorite, then we can feel a little better. But I will say it again, Saturday is critical.

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 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.

Poor execution-

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!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Florida Atlantic Preview

There's no need to write an extensive preview for this game. If FAU manages to keep this one close, Rivals, Scout, and ESPN recruiting services should be shut down by executive order, immediately after our defensive coaching staff is dismissed!

I still don't feel like all's lost or the sky's falling. As sickening as it's been to see our defense shredded on a weekly basis, it's unfortunately become the norm and I've grown to expect it. That being said, in my mind, each game is a race to 35. If we get to 35 points we have a shot. This week I don't foresee 35 being an issue. Going forward...if we don't score at least can almost bet the farm we fall short!

I'm interested to see the defense tackle, play fast, improve timing on blitzes, blitz like your life depended on it, create a turnover, and make a team punt once or twice!

Offensively, I'd like to see us get Mike Dyer 25-30 carries/game, convert at least 50% of third down attempts, see our offensive line get more aggressive, Onterio McCalebb break a big play, rushing yards from the QB position, and complete some intermediate level throws...meaning not bubble/swing routes or the deep ball (seems like it's all or nothing with our passing game).

Florida Atlantic-13

Dr. Z's Florida Atlantic Preview

Old man yells at cloud.

So the Howard Schnellenberger farewell tour makes it way through Auburn Saturday. No word yet on if he will coach the game from a rocker on the sideline. At least Schnelly has the good sense to retire before age 80 (looking at you Joe Pa).

Howard is best known for the rejuvenation of "The U" at Miami, winning the national title in 1983*. But he does not get much credit for being the brains behind Bama's 3 national titles in the 60's. He was the Bear's Guz Malzahn back then, though no one at the Capstone would care to admit that.

After Miami, he took over a Louisville program and made it respectable, beating fellow Bear Bryant sound-a-like Gene Stallings in the 1991 Fiesta Bowl 31-7. Many would argue that Bama should have hired Schnelly in the 80's while floundering under Perkins and Curry. Count me as one who is glad they didn't.

He only managed one train wreck year at Oklahoma, then bailed for some strange reason, only to show up at Florida Atlantic a few years later.

I like Schnellenberger. He is probably one of the better Bryant disciples in the coaching business. Similar in many ways to Brother Oliver, he's under appreciated an often scorned by the Bama nation.

He has no shot this year at being competitive for one main reason. The Owl offense averages 97 yards a game. So this week really is the irresistible force (Auburn D) meeting an immovable object (Owl O). I don't really think it's supposed to work out that way, but we'll just go with it.

Auburn hopefully gets well this week against a much lesser opponent. Hopefully we'll remember how to tackle, and get some much needed confidence on defense.


*If it would have been Bama the U jumped in the polls to #1, do you think they'd be claiming 14 National titles now?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dr. Z's Clemson Review-Stink, Stank, Stunk

Coach Chizik likes to talk about "imposters" during a game, where he describes the ebbs and flows of momentum.

After re-watching the game, I can say without question Auburn played a pretty good role as imposters Saturday. Because the first quarter, we were just that.

I honestly could envision a huge blowout after the 90 yard drive to put AU up 21-7. Dyer was unstoppable. Trotter was getting pretty good protection and making accurate throws. The defense was forcing 3 and outs.

Then I am not usre what the heck happened. The defense reverted back to its (normal I guess) 2011 self. We could not tackle, DB's were out of place. No linebacker play (other than Darren Bates).

Offensively we had no continuity. It was a trainwreck, the Hindenberg, Hurricane Katrina, the Carter administration. Take your pick.

What transpired was 600+ yards of Clemson offense, half of which was after missed tackles.

I give Clemson credit, they battled back when they could have folded. The were the mentally tough team Saturday. Auburn was just plain mental.

Looking down the schedule, a defense that plays this way winds us up with 3 more wins...maybe. But I really don't see that being the case.

We all new that we'd lose a few games this year. The schedule is a murderer's row. We all should expect better, and I think in the coming weeks better is what we'll see. To get better, some leaders have to emerge. Whether it be Eltoro Freeman or Darren Bates or Nosa Egua, someone has to take charge on the defensive side of the ball. I don't mean a rah-rah guy. I mean a guy who steps up and makes a big play. That sort of thing is contagious. See last year with Nick Fairley v. LSU or Josh Bynes v. Arkansas

I think we have that guy on offense, but he needs more touches. I think we can all agree, 16 carries was not enough for Mike Dyer. He should ( and I suspect will) be getting 25-30 a game. Tre Mason looked a little doe-eyed in his first road game. That will improve in two weeks, but he should be there to spell Dyer right now, and that is about it in my humble opinion.

It's a long season, and there is no reason to fret. This Saturday, we get to take our frustrations out on a former Bammer in Schnelly. If you're still feeling low, this video should help. Nothing cheers me up like a dancing toddler.

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're benched!

5. Linebacker play. None existent!

6. Pass rush. None existent!

7. Leading tackler...Neiko! 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!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dr. Z's Clemson Preview:

Ugliest. Mascot. Ever.

Week three is a pivotal game, but more for the Clemson Tigers than the Auburn Tigers. If you recall, last season Clemson went in the tank after losing in a brutal, physical game where they had us on the ropes. After seeing them in person, I expected them to have a pretty good 2010, but they never really returned to the form they showed in the first half of the 2010 AU game.

I like Clemson (don't mispronounce it among their fans, it really irks them. It's Climp-son). They're fans are a lot like us. Thier school looks a lot like ours. Climp-son is Auburn-lite. Plus they are way more tolerable than Gamecock fans. I hope they have a decent season after we've break thier hearts again.

As for a game breakdown, they run the Malzahn spread (like Auburn). They have a very good tailback (like Auburn) and so far this year, they haven't played a lick of defense (did I mention they were like us?)

I look for another high scoring game. My big concern is Climp-son getting ready for this game since camp opened in August. (Jay Barker says so. He's BFF's with Dabo Sweeney) Have they been game planning for Auburn like they did last year? Will Climp-son throw all of their eggs into the Auburn basket even with a huge game against Florida State looming? I think if Dabo had to choose, he'd rather beat Auburn.

I do not, however, think he has the coaching chops to get it done.

Auburn 44
Auburn Wannabes 34

Clemson Preview

At the conclusion of last year's Clemson overtime win, I really felt like we stole one! We were outplayed, outmatched, out-coached for most of the game, yet rallied to do just enough to snatch a win from a hungry Clemson football team. And as I reflect on the entire 2010 National Championship season, it's that Clemson game I feel like ignited a spark and unleashed an attitude of competing for four quarters regardless of the circumstances. This proved vital against South Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia, and of course Alabama.

Auburn resonates with this Clemson team because of their coaching staff. At least four coaches (Steele, Harbinson, Pearman, Swinney)either played, coached, or did both at Alabama. To say these guys get energized and heartily express their utter disdain and dislike towards Auburn to their team all week would be quite an understatement. They have an ingrained bitterness toward Auburn that is not lost on a team (Coach Tuberville was that way with Mississippi State). Make no mistake, the Clemson coaching staff, thus it's players, have this game circled on their calendars. Throw in the way last year's game unfolded, I would bet they've longed for this game since they walked off Pat Dye Field!

What's remarkable about Clemson to this point is how similar their on-the-field issues are to Auburn's. The press clippings I’ve read after Clemson’s first two games go like this…”missed assignments, work in progress, more physical up front, young guys thinking and not reacting, poor tackling, loss of key starters, etc." Sound familiar? Clemson was losing to Troy at halftime and beat Wofford (in same division as Samford...actually playing Samford this week) by a single TD. Wofford completed but TWO passes all game on EIGHT attempts! Those two completions went for 127 yards and a TD! They rushed for 272 yards! I have a hard time believing Clemson is that bad. I think it has more to do with Clemson preparing for Auburn the past month as opposed to Troy and Wofford and the coaches used those two games as a dress rehearsal for Saturday. Expect a better Clemson football team!

Keys to the Game...

1. Ball control. When you go on the road you've got to move the chains and you need to be successful early. Third down efficiency both offensively and defensively will be the difference.

2. No unforced errors/turnovers. Have to be perfect with ball security and decision making. Clemson has struggled to be consistent on defense...we can't make life easy by throwing INT's or laying the football on the ground.

3. Play physical. Week two saw us improve exponentially in this area. We have to continue with the growth and knock Clemson off the football, tackle with authority yet precision, and continue throwing the proverbial hook, jab, and uppercut all afternoon.

4. Relax. Going on the road for the first time is always a challenge. Communication will be altered, but it has to function without hiccups.

I expect this one to be another close game...would you expect anything less? And like I said last week...until the nation's longest winning streak is snapped, it won't be predicted by me!


Monday, September 12, 2011

Mississippi State Reax: Cardiac Kids Do it Again

Call us when you beat somebody, Danny Boy.

There's nothing more enjoyable than sticking it to the world. With everybody disrespecting the reining national champs, what does Auburn do? In the words of Lou Brown in the movie Major League, "We go out there and give em all one big s$#t-burger to eat."

All of that and a nickel gets you a four point underdog status against a team that was on the ropes to the wife's Alma matre, the fightin Terriers of Wofford. I saw the score at the tailgate of the Clemson-Wofford game. I rushed over to Beth and said "Wofford's leading Clemson!" Her reply: "That's nice. Can you change Bryant's diaper?" I've mentioned before my wife does not care much about football, right?

As for the game, I keep thinking if these guys grow up a little bit every week, by the Georgia game we'll be a sight to see. Offensively, Dyer runs like he's angry. And you don't ant to make him angry.

Other than the pick six that looked like I threw it, Trotter was again better than advertised. The offensive line looks much better with A.J. Green at tackle. They continue to improve, and again, by week 7 or eight they should be pretty salty.

Am I the only person who thinks our kicking game is upgraded from last season? Parkey and Clark are boomers. Flipping the field is something we haven't seen from Auburn in quite a while. Those two guys will win us a game or two before the season is done.

On that note, the special teams are the best part of our team right now. Give Coach Bouleware some bodies to work with and all of a sudden it's the most important aspect of our team.

Defensively, we still have miles to go. That being said, I think we have come a long way. I like how much better we tackled Saturday, and other than 3rd down, I thought we played OK. Maybe if could just keep the scoreboard on 2nd down throughout? I still think this defensive unit will continue to improve, and be a pretty good defense by the end of the season. It is important to keep in my all of the pro-style offenses we'll face down the road. Ted Roof usually schemes better against those types of teams for whatever reason. Here's hoping that holds true as we make our way down the schedule.

So, there you have it, the nation's longest win streak is still intact. Chizik and Company take the kids on a road trip to Carolina Saturday. I hope they enjoy it better than my long road trips to the Palmetto Sate.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mississippi State Review (AU 41 MSU 34)

Intensity level remarkably higher--players and coaches!

I was proud to watch everyone fight! Of course it wasn't always pretty. Sometimes it was downright tough to watch. But what stood out to me was the effort, the desire to compete from start to finish, the tenacity and belief in one another to do just enough to win the football game--all character qualities you can't coach! It was evident improvement up front, the physicality in the trenches, was astounding in one week of work. Yet, it's also evident there's an overabundance of room for growth; for improvement in virtually all areas of this football team. That's exciting! Knowing this young group is experiencing the growing pains we all expected, yet doing so while pulling out victories against talented football teams, when at times victory seemed an impossibility, is the mark of a special team. It's a reflection of the coaches and the direction of the program when you believe you're supposed to win games because you're Auburn! I don't care about the defense giving up 333 yards on the ground as long as I see fantastic effort being put forth and pads popping each play. Chris Relf gashed us for a ton of yards, but Chris Relf lost his helmet damn near every play and he felt each one of those carries well into Sunday evening I'm sure.

What I liked...

1. Starting the game by forcing a State punt, obtaining excellent field position, establishing the running game, and putting 7 early points on the scoreboard. Picture perfect start.

2. Vastly improved fundamentals. Tackling was noticeably better from week one, specifically from our safeties. Of course we gave up far more yards on the ground to call the defense a success, we still eliminated all the lunging into thin air and tackled the ball carrier when he arrived.

3. Corners played in the face of the receivers every snap. A far cry from the 10-12 yard cushion we gave the Utah State receivers. And for the most part, the corners did an excellent job of blanketing the State receivers down the field, particularly #11 Chris Davis. Thought he played his best game yet.

4. Emory Blake continues to impress! He has obviously become Trotter's go-to receiver and I don't blame him. Exciting after the catch, fearless in traffic, and as sure-handed as they come. Two games into the season, he's an All-SEC selection!

5. Demetruce McNeal played his best game in an Auburn uniform. Takes his first career INT to the house and tackled with sound authority.

6. Mike Dyer ran more determined. Unbelievable balance and great speed. Now ready to see Mike run over people at the second level.

7. Cody Parkey- excellent on kickoffs and smooth with his field goals. Both field goals were right down the middle.

8. Coach Chizik coaching with fire! He was constantly on the refs and much more animated with his players and assistants than I can recall. He was emotional for his team from start to finish which tells me he didn't feel he coached his heart out last week against Utah State. He's asking his players to leave it all on the field, and I felt he did the same against State!

9. Offensive line play- protected Trotter well, and paved the way to 235 yards rushing (6.5 yds/carry).

10. Tre Mason and the kickoff return team. Never seen a team stop kicking to a player in his second collegiate game. Unbelievable back there. Reminds me of Javier Arenas returning punts...a threat every time to change field position or go the distance!

11. Coach Chizik not sitting on the ball and running out the clock to end the 1st half. Huge decision to go for points with minimal time remaining.


1. The Barrett Trotter INT!? Not sure what he saw, but he gift wrapped 7 points to State!

2. The Barrett Trotter moustache!? Typically I wouldn't mind it, but as a father of five including three little reminiscent of a perverted child molester. Sorry dude, but I say shave it off...unless you think it's good luck. In that case, I can adapt!

3. The defensive philosophy against the option. Slow playing the QB with a defensive end allowed Chris Relf to keep the ball in hands longer and hold the defense hostage. I would have liked to see our defensive ends punish Relf immediately. Get the ball out of his hands, force an early decision/pitch, and rally to the football and bring down the tailback. The option hurt all game long, but if we had punished Relf immediately every time he started down the line of scrimmage, State would have stopped running the option to protect the QB.

4. The golden eagle, Spirit, colliding with the sky box. WTH?! Kudos for shaking off the hit and finishing strong however!

5. 3rd down efficiency. Defensively we must learn to win the third down battles. What's most frustrating is many of the third down conversions the defense allowed were third and long. Can't continue to stay on the football field for 97 plays! Will ultimately catch up with us if not corrected. Offensively, 4-12 on third down for the game. Both units must improve here.

6. The celebration penalty on Robensen Therezie. As a ref, you have to want to make that call. The kid did a fist pump with a head bob. Not in front of his opponent. In no way was it taunting. It wasn't a "look at me" moment. It was a classic example of out-of-touch old white men making rules that limit spontaneous enjoyment of college football players. Start paying attention to what refs do when players score or make a big play. They immediately get in their face and limit celebration, sometimes pushing players to their huddle or sideline. Relax and let these guys enjoy a few moments of grandeur. They work year round to have the opportunity to make a play for their team. They make a play, get excited, and the rules punish them for it. It's ridiculous and has gone overboard. Choreographed celebrations and taunting the fans or your opponent deserves a flag. But what Therezie did or Nick Fairley in the Iron Bowl last year did drawing a flag is laughable.

7. Defensive ends are creating super-sized running lanes by screaming up the field without squeezing the tackles. Speed off the corners is great, but we're making the tackles life easy on running plays by running ourself out of the play. State allowed us to do it, then ran right through the lane our ends left.

8. Trovon Reed? Where is he? Keep waiting for his impact to be felt. I'm growing impatient.

Can't wait to hear how fast Mississippi State's stock falls this week. Last week they were Alabama of the 1970s. After losing to Auburn when no one picked them to do so, they'll be labeled Mississippi State of the 1970s. Because no one that loses to Auburn could be a decent football team, right?! 2-0, 17 in a row, and sitting alone atop the toughest division in college football! War Damn Eagle!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Dr Z's Miss. St Preview

We're simplifying our defense this week. So easy a Caveman could do it?

I have to say, this one has me uber-worried. Mississippi State demolished a really bad Memphis team last week. But to put it into context, Memphis likely one of the bottom 10 in D-1. You never thought you'd hear someone say they missed Tommy West, but they're saying it in Memphis right now. Mike Dubose has worked wonders with that defense over there.

My big concern is Auburn. No matter how you spin it, that victory last weekend showed some glaring deficiencies on both sides of the ball. The defensive line battled like the French circa May 1940 against Utah freakin State. We flat out got pushed around the entire game. Ted Roof's answer is to simplify. To that I have to say two words- "Uh-oh.".

My colleague Rob spent the better part of his review wondering aloud why we didn't show more to confuse a freshman quarterback. Chris Relf comes in with tons of experience backed a by a very good running attack. Let's not forget Dan Mullin was the guy behind arguably the best 3 years in Gator history. We saw what happened to Urban Meyer after Mullin packed his bags for Starkville. Again, to reiterate, Ted Roof's answer is to simplify. Again, color me less than optimistic.

Offensively, I think Trotter and company hold hup just fine. Gustav is too good not to find ways to exploit the State weaknesses, espcially at linebacker. I look for Dyer to have a better day, and for Lutzie to show why he's the best tight end in college football.

7 point home dogs? I find that hard to believe no matter how bad we looked. Mullin is still looking for a signature win. So far, the best thing on his resume is beating a bad Florida team last year. I have to believe that last week was a wakeup call for our young team. I'd be willing to bet practice was a bit more physical. Hopefully, our guys respond.

I may be incredibly wrong here, but I say...


Sore Losers in the Cam Newton Sweepstakes-30

Mississippi State Preview

Mississippi State always represents a physical challenge. Even when State is not a legitimate contender they have always played a hard-nosed brand of football. They've always filled their roster with players carrying an enormous chip on their shoulder because the recruiting process made them feel less desirable, less talented, a step slower, an inch shorter, a few pounds lighter to the upper echelon SEC teams. Therefore, State always plays pissed off for 60 minutes desperate to prove their worth, particularly against Alabama and Auburn, two teams many on the Bulldog roster believe overlooked them.

The importance of this game is not lost on any player, coach, or fan base. All desire wholeheartedly to begin the SEC division race from the top rather than digging out of a hole. Every year we hear how improved Mississippi State is...they're over the proverbial hump...true western division contenders...Dan Mullen is a genius capable of solving any defense, etc. Though I do agree Mississippi State is a much improved football team under Dan Mullen, State still has a hindering, uncoachable issue they've yet to overcome. This issue was raised by Mississippi State beat writer Logan Lowery from on our radio show this week...State is not used to winning. Not used to the pressure of being the favorite. Two wins against the West in Dan Mullen's tenure...both against Ole Miss! Contrast to Auburn, a team not used to losing, a team expecting to win no matter how the game invaluable intangible!

Last year this game was the coming out party for Nick Fairley. He entered this game a virtual unknown outside of Auburn, AL and left a household name. In order for Auburn to match the physical attack of State, this game must also be the coming out party for someone along the front seven! Who will it be? How about Corey Lemonier, or Jeffery Whittaker? Maybe it's Jake Holland? Perhaps Eltoro Freeman becomes the force we've hoped for since his arrival? Defensively, our intensity and tackling have to be light years ahead of last week or it's not even close (an analysis you all know)!

Keys to the Game:

1. Our offense needs to control and protect the football. No turnovers allowing a short field against a vulnerable defense. Take what State gives us and utilize the athleticism of the QB (whoever takes the snap) in the running game to hold linebackers for the split second it takes to get Onterio to the corner, or Dyer through a gap.

2. We can't just win the special teams battle, we must dominate it. This is the one area we're actually quite experienced and it must show. Field position will be priceless. Special teams needs to generate a score!

3. Crowd must come to ready to play! With morning games we lose the buildup, the anticipation as fans. Same is true only magnified as a player. It's difficult for the players to be as jacked up at 11:00 AM as they are at 6:00 PM. The crowd must create the energy and it needs to start from Tiger Walk and never cease! This is especially important for a young group. They need you and I to be loud, to be energized, to make things as difficult for State as we possibly can. Jordan-Hare is one the greatest home field advantages in all of football when it's rocking. Make it a miserable place for State to be!

4. Defense must grow up, wrap up, fist fight for four quarters, arrive at the ball angrily, swarm to the football, get lined up, communicate, create turnovers, be multiple, be great on third down, refuse to allow a State to run the football at will...basically they must be everything they weren't in week one!

I don't buy into the Mississippi State hype. The boy has cried wolf too many times and rings hollow with me! That being said, the play of the defense last week, at all levels, was too poor for me to believe it is capable correction in one week. I think it will be a dramatic improvement, but it remains a work in progress. The saving grace will be superior talent in orange and blue combined with an immense desire to prove the Utah State performance was an anomaly. Until the longest winning streak in college football comes to an end...a loss won't be predicted here by me. Auburn players believe they're supposed to win. Mississippi State players are not so sure.

Mississippi State- 31
Auburn- 34

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Utah St. Reax: Better Get Better

Just continuing with the French Revolution mantra.

That could only have been uglier had we not pulled off the miracle of all miracles in the last 2 minutes. I had given up. And mentally I had done what many of the Auburn fans did Saturday...left early. But our guys showed they still have a little bit of magic left in the jar from 2010. A touchdown followed by the best onside kick I've ever seen, followed by another touchdown, and we get to celebrate (sort of) a win.

That fortunately masks the worst performance by a Chizik coached AU team. I include the 2009 LSU and Kentucky games in that bunch. It was bad enough that Rob goes Charles Dickens on us. I would've chosen Oliver Twist, where a poor young street urchin grows up before our very eyes, leaving a sad commentary on the welfare system of England in the 17 and 18th century.*

Rob raises some interesting points and questions about our defense. Did Ted Roof ultimately feel like he could stay in the game playing base defense? Was it complacency or genius that we stayed so vanilla against a freshman QB making his first start? Whatever the reason, the tackling was flat out awful. If that doesn't improve, it will be a long, long year for the boys in blue.

I will say I thought Barrett Trotter was pretty good in this game. His throws were right there. He got the ball to the receivers who in turn made plays. He did all we asked of him and more, leading two TD drives in two minutes to snatch a victory quite literally from the jaws of defeat. Our QB will be fine. He's the least of our worries.

The offensive line generated almost no push, and Gus, in my opinion, kept going back to the run when he could have (and maybe should have?) thrown the ball more on first down. I like Dyer in the wildcat, but something seems amiss with him. We saw him very little on the first two series. But then again, we saw the whole offense very little in the first half. Most of that we can lay at the foot of the defense, who absolutely could not get off the field on 3rd down.

Tre Mason will be a great one before he leaves. That kid has some wheels. I hope he touches it even more in the weeks to come, at least in a non special teams setting.

The meme for this week better be "Get better". And fast. The SEC schedule is brutal, and as Coach Dye said recently, The boys in Starkville will be licking their chops after watching us on Saturday.

Here's hoping our guys get better this week...and fast.

*Yeah, that's right, an Auburn blog with Charles Dickens references.

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!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Dr. Z's Utah State Preview-Let's Get it On!

Finally, the 2011 season is upon us. I am so ready to see our boys in blue hit the field. We won't have to wait long Saturday. I hate these 11 AM kicks. Don't sleep late Auburn fans, or you might miss Ontario's 80 yard run in the first quarter.

So for week one we get the Utah State Aggies, located in Logan, Utah. When I think of Utah, I think of these guys...

You know, happy white people with lots of kids. (Wait, is Rob a Mormon?!)

The only other thing about Utah I know is they have strict alcohol laws. If you see a big happy family of white people mulling around campus, don't offer them any booz. Also no sweet tea, they can't do that either. That Mormon rule may actually be a good one, since Milo's sweet tea is the closest thing to crack there is.

Anyway, as far as the game goes, look for a slow start from Auburn. Our doe-eyed freshman will need to get hit in the mouth once or twice before they remember that they are here to play football. And when they do, I bet they'll be a sight to see.

Look for Omac and Mike Dyer to have big days, but Tre La Soul will be the guy we are talking about on Monday.

Defensively, I expect our guys to play well. I am pretty excited to see Jake Holland running the defense. I do not expect as big a drop off at LB as some may think. He played a good bit as a frosh. Look for him to step up and be a breakout player.

I also can't wait to see Craig Sanders. He has been an absolute beast in the weight room in the off season, going from 225 to almost 270 in a little over a year. We all saw this guy's motor on special teams. I cannot wait to see him on the defensive line.

I have no idea what to expect form this team. If some leaders show up, the sky is the limit with the talent we have. It's going to be a fun ride in 2011.

Auburn 54
Ragin' Mormons 24