Thursday, August 30, 2012

Clemson Preview

Two years in a row the outcome of the Clemson game has set the tone for Auburn football. In 2010, a hard-fought, evenly contested battle proved that Auburn team's uncanny resilience in come-from behind fashion and catapulted the Tigers toward the National Title. In 2011, this game displayed Auburn's defensive failures, poor tackling, awful 3rd down efficiency, minimal play-makers on either side of the football in a loss that foreshadowed many more to come just like it. The Clemson game sets the stage.

I enter this contest extremely optimistic for several reasons...

#1 The trenches This game will be won or lost up front. We are better than Clemson in the trenches. Our defensive line should outplay every defensive line in the SEC minus LSU (however, we have more depth than LSU here) this season. Clemson's OL is young, unproven and not ready for what will roll into the Georgia Dome. It should be the difference in the game. If our defensive front doesn't harass Tajh Boyd all night and control the line of scrimmage against an inexperienced offensive line, pack it in for a long season. Offensively, yes we too are young, but so is Clemson's DL. Whatever disadvantage there is in starting 3 new players along our offensive line it's negated by Clemson countering with newbies as well. Our new starters are grown men, guys as talented at their positions (Tackle) than most in college football.

#2 Special teams Steven Clark is the ultimate weapon. Last season he kept Auburn in games we otherwise would have lost, and nearly single-handedly beat South Carolina on the road. More of the same from Clark and he puts both our offense and defense in fantastic position to be successful.
Coach Boulware always has his troops respecting their roles, regardless the special team, and we have guys that give maximal effort. Cody Parkey is as solid a kicker you can hope to have. To lose the special teams battle would require a monumental performance by Clemson that I don't believe they have in them.

#3 Brian VanGorder His attention to detail, his teaching, his demand for excellence both physically and mentally has transformed the mindset of this defensive unit. They won't be perfect and they'll struggle some against the elite talent of the Clemson skill players. But they won't go 14/18 on 3rd down conversions...that I guarantee. I like the matchup of VanGorder vs Clemson OC Chad Morris all day long.

#4 Kiehl Frazier Having a dual threat QB always means your offense has a chance. It always puts the defense on it's heels. It always means a broken play can survive and be a positive. I believe in Kiehl and think he has all the tools. I think the experience he gained last season will slow the game down for him when he trots out to the huddle for the first snap. Eager to watch him manage a game from start to finish.

#5 Rallying cry Never underestimate a team playing for something/someone. This team lost teammates, friends, family just a few shorts months ago. When these guys suit up Saturday night, they'll remember those who aren't there anymore. They'll rally around a cause...the cause of doing their teammates proud...honoring the fallen with their play. I too experienced loss of a close friend while at Auburn and it's a powerful motivator. It's a mechanism to push you beyond your comfort zone, to stick your head in a pile maybe you typically wouldn't, to hit a guy a little harder than you typically would have, to fly to the football even when the old you thought you'd never get there on time to be involved in the play. It's big. You can't coach it. You can't artificially create it. But this team has it and I think we'll see it.

#6 Home Field Advantage We've played in this venue so often the past 2 years our guys will be more comfortable and familiar with the surroundings. Plus, Auburn will travel better than Clemson and be louder than Clemson fans.

I do believe Clemson has some success offensively, and I concede their skill players scare me. But I don't believe Clemson can play four quarters of football successfully controlling the line of scrimmage against us. They hit a few explosive plays, but we wear them down all night on both sides of the ball.

Clemson- 20
Auburn- 27

Dr. Z's Clemson Forecast


So it's the rubber match game against the team with the coach with the stupid name.

My thought on Dabo is that he is borrowed time. I still question his coaching chops, and I wonder if the Clemson fan base will put up with him after another year of blowing games he should win and getting blown out in big games with a plethora of talent.

I still like Clemson. I enjoy the fans that I know from my wife's home state. They long to break from mediocrity. Last year they thought they had made it, only to get embarrassed by Darth Visor in the regular season finale and then get really embarrassed by West Virginia in the bowl game.

Clemson ended a long losing streak to Auburn last year in a game where it looked like the Navy Tigers would blow them out early in the game. I still am unsure as to what actually happened in Death Valley (the Clemson version that is). I think it was a combination of not running (name redacted)* enough and putting too much on Barrett Trotter. Barrett went in the tank after halftime and didn't get out again until the Chick Fil A Bowl. I often wonder if the season would have been better had the Clemson had a different outcome.

Ready for my first football cliche of 2012? This game will be won or lost in the trenches. And to me, it will come down to whose inexperienced O-line performs. Clemson is all kindsa banged up on the front. Auburn has loads of talent and potential, but almost no experience on the offensive front.

Auburn's defensive line is being touted as one of the best in the country. I don't see how Clemson is able to maintain a rushing attack if Auburn tackles well. Tajh Boyd is a very good quarterback, but has a propensity to throw the ball up for grabs. If Ford Lemonier, Equae, Sanders, etc (man do we have a truckload of good defensive ends) get pressure, and there is no reason to think they won't get pressure, Boyd may have a long day.

I think Auburn wins this game, running the ball effectively and controlling the clock. I don't think we'll see many more of the 41-38 type games anymore, but I do think it will be in the 20's somewhere.

To all the fans going over to the ATL, try not to make fun of the sad, sad Tennessee fans on Saturday after they lose the JV game to N.C.State Friday night. Otherwise have a blast!

Dr. Z's pick:
Auburn 27
Clemp-son 21

*I will never mention Michael Dyer's name again on this blog. He's dead to me

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fall Camp Musings

Well, we can all tell it is August just based on the inane bullcrap that gets spewed for lack of news.

First we hear of Jovon Robinson being removed from the practice fiel due to a conselor changing his transcript. Of course, Auburn did it, right? I mean only Auburn has the power to do such things. I mean, after ll they were totally busted by the NCAA for paying Cam Newton $200K. Oh wait, no they weren't.

Which is why of couse the Atlanta Journal's Constitution's Recruiting columnist Michael Carvell decided to say that the NCAA was investigating Rueben Foster' commitment to Auburn when actually, it was the AHSAA checking in to make sure Foster's transfer to Auburn High was Kosher. It gets cleared up a bit here. I still haven't seen a retraction or apology from the AJC o Carvell. And ESPN and Yahoo sports are still saying NCAA. Good luck, Mr. Carvell, on becoming the next Joe Schadd. You are well on your way.

On the actual football field, Auburn is enjoying an embarrasing wealth of defensive linemen as well as a great deal of depth in the backfield.

Qustion marks abound at quarterback, but the smart money is on Keihl Frazier over Clint Moseley, who still appears to have the same dead arm he battled all spring. I am optimistic about Frazier, mainly because in this offense he doesn' have to be Cam Newton. He has to manage the game and make a play every once in a while. I also kep hearing bout what a good kid we have in freshman Jonathan Wallace. He has been one of those under the radar guys that will shine one day.

Finally, I have heard some message board rumors about my esteemed co-blogger being injured severely over weekend. Let me be the first to reassure you all that Rob is OK. He just won't be dancing anytime soon.

Over the weekend Rob was at his neighborhood pool when just yards away a young girl on her bicycle was hit by a car (the young lady wound up with a broken leg, but she'll be fine). Rob, in an attempt to be the good samaratan he always is, jumped the fence of the pool to try to aid the young girl in the accident. While jumping, Rob stuck the landing...literally, into some pruned shrubbery that went right into both feet. Rob required stitches in th bottoms of both feet and is not able to walk fo two weeks, causing the mot bizarre injury since I pulled my hamstring vacuming a couple years ago.

He was heard murmuring something about being glad that this happened now and not two years from now because under Obamacare, they would have jut amputated his feet.

Paging Dr. Hawking

My goodness, is everyone as ready for some real football news? Bring on Clemp-son.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What to Expect in 2012

In my last post prior to the Chick-fil-a Bowl (my apologies to those offended by Chick-fil-a and their "fringe," "unpatriotic," "out-of-touch," "burn down their chains," "maime the CEO" because he holds the biblical view of the family...I'm hoping the sarcasm is abundantly clear) I ended my post by stating...

"Auburn will hire capable coordinators, will sign a tremendously talented class, and will be right back in the hunt next fall. The roller coaster cycle has us in a downward plunge at the moment and the Chick-fil-A Bowl is our opportunity to begin our ascent. Get ready for the ride cause things are about to get interesting!"

Hire capable coordinators...check. Sign a tremendously talented class...check. Will be right back in the hunt next better believe it! That process formally begins today as our Auburn Tigers take to the field to start the process of becoming a team.

People ask me daily what I think about this years team. The answer is--it depends on their mental foundation...meaning, how badly do they want to be great and how hard are they willing to work to accomplish greatness? None of us know that answer. Only the guys that put on the helmet, lace up the cleats, study the film, run the sprints, endure the heat, battle their brothers, follow instruction can answer that question. How well they gel and become a team, a group of guys committed to excellence and demanding it every single day, no days off, no prima donnas doing their own thing, will determine how successful they'll be on the scoreboard.

From a pure talent standpoint, this team will be light years ahead of where they were last season. And it starts up front. Auburn's trenches will be virtually unrecognizeable compared to last season. Our defensive front four will wreak havoc in this league from start to finish. They are deep, talented, and hungry to make an impact and the implentation of Brian Vangorder's defense will help this group be more productive than any other over last season. Corey Lemonier will continue to be a beast, however Dee Ford and LaDarius Owens are guys I'm most interested in seeing compete. Both are guys I expect to have break out seasons and become household names across the conference. Jeff Whitaker, Gabe Wright, DeAngelo Blackson, Kenneth Carter provide the interior depth to wear on an offensive line as the game progresses. This group was pushed around last year, they were green and they made life difficult for their defensive teammates. This year will be just the opposite.

The linebackers are my biggest concern this year on the defense...not due to talent, not due to Jake Holland controlling the middle, but due solely to the lack of tested depth. The LBs struggles last season had more to do with the defensive line not holding their own. That won't happen this year and no one will benefit more than Jake Holland. Kris Frost is set to make a push to have his jersey hanging in Anders Bookstore this time next fall and Daren Bates is a football player and will need to be the emotional leader. They just need to stay healthy. Jonathan Evans is the darkhorse here to win some meaningful playing time and frosh Cassanova McKinzy will see the field regularly as well.

The secondary will be damn good. Coach Willie Martinez is a phenomenal DBs coach and he has a plethora of young talent to utilize. I was amazed the difference I saw early in spring with fundamentals, footwork, and confidence. Chris Davis will compete for All conference honors and Mincy/Therezie/Bell are all too good to not play. AU will have a tremendous nickle and dime package when needed. I'm most intereted to see where Jermaine Whitehead lands and how well our safeties tackle. Whitehead is as football savvy as they come and my hope is he ends up at safety alongside Florence. However it shakes out, the defensive backs will create more turnovers and be a superior unit this season, mainly because of the improved play of the front seven.

Offensively (yeah, defense first on this blog!) it starts with Jeff Grimes finding the right 5...and no coach in America has more young, eager, talented linemen from which to choose. I thought our offensive line was our most glaring problem as well as the most obvious disparity between those that competed at the highest level in this conference (Bama, LSU) and those that didn't (us). We WILL run the football this year, but we've got to have 5 guys develop into a cohesive unit quickly to run it with success.

Kiehl Frazier is the guy and will be fine. He'll have some growing pains with a young offensive line, but the better we establish the run, the better life becomes for Kiehl Frazier. I have all the confidence in the world Kiehl is ready for the gig and becomes the QB defenses in this league don't want to play. A true dual threat guy is a nightmare to prepare for and if the running game is hitting on all cylinders, the play-action pass is deadly. Nevermind a quarterback that can tuck and run. Kiehl has the right demeanor, he's a natural leader, and he'll put up terrific numbers this fall.

I'm intrigued to see if one tailback becomes the premiere back or if we take a running back by committee approach. If I had to guess, Mason would be the guy and Grant would be a close second. Jovon Robinson will get carries early as well. Who steps up?

Lutz and Blake are sure things, but another threat needs to emerge. Can Trovon Reed finally live up to the hype? I think he does this season and look for him to play a prominent role in the passing game. I also like Ricardo Louis and think he has all the tools to make an immediate impact. Again, lots of potential in this area...who steps up?

Special teams will continue to loom large and pay enormous dividends for this football team. We're blessed with superb kickers/punters and guys giving effort on special teams because it means something to them. No drop-off here.

I would say if this team doesn't win 9 games this season, it would be a disappointing year. The schedule is a bear and the talent is young, but the talent is better than we've had in a long time. I'm excited for football season and eagerly await to see the creation of this 2012 team! War Eagle!

The Fall (or Fail) of Michael Dyer

You all may remember my daughter's commentary on Michael Dyer at the end of last season.

Auburn cut Dyer loose for a myriad of reasons, but tops on the list was he thought he was bigger than the program. So he had to go.

Instead of taking his punishment, getting out of the doghouse and playing one more season on the plains, he chose to follow Gus Malzahn to Jonesboro Arkansas, take a chance on sitting out for a year, and go from there. Keep in mind option one most likely meant a first or second round draft pick. Now, who knows the future for this once can't miss running back who looked like a special player.

You might ask why I write about Dyer. He's old news to many, I guess.

But I just cannot shake how collosally stupid one young person can be. He probably should have been prosecuted with the other former Auburn players in that attempted robbery after the national championship in 2010. After all, it was his gun. Instead of learning a lesson from that, he gets pulled over with pot and a gun in his car in Arkansas several months later. The now maligned state trooper tried to cut him a break, and he'll probably lose his job over the incident. After all, cover up adultery in Arkansas by state police is one thing. They have a long history of doing that from Clinton to Petrino. But letting a kid slide on pot and pistols is another.

I'm not defending the officer. Dyer should have been prosecuted. Maybe that would have been a wake up call for this overly entitled young man who has been able to do pretty much anything he damn well pleases because he's a special talent on the gridiron.

But at some point, Michael Dyer, MVP of the 2010 National Championship Game, needs to learn that negative actions have consequences.

What happens to him now? Maybe he pulls a Maurice Clarett and goes into the draft in 2013. Maybe he finds a small school to dominate until said draft.

It won't matter.

Until he has to take some responsibility for his actions, he will fail.

And it's just my opinion here, so take it with a grain of salt or several, but the culture of recruiting today can turn 17 and 18 year olds into ego-centric knuckleheads. The fact that a college wants you to come play for them at all is an ego-boost. I got letters from lots of schools for baseball, and I wasn't even very good. But the ego boost was absolutely there. That was twenty plus years ago.

Now, on top of the letters, recruiting sites post about these kids, ESPNU puts their name across the ticker at the bottom of the screen. They are rockstars.

Some kids handle it just fine. Others, like Dyer and Zeke Pike if he doesn't change his ways), obviously do not.

But enough of my soap-boxing for today. We'll be back later this week to talk about the 2012 season. I'm sure all of you are waiting to hear what Rob has to say about the latest version of the Auburn Tigers.