Sunday, October 14, 2018

Game 7 Review: REIGN OF FIRE

Tennessee 30  Auburn 24.  I was there yesterday right in the middle of Apocalypse Now in Jordan Hare.  I watched till the brutal end surrounded for most of the game by joyous Vol fans.  It started out well with great weather, a flyover by a B2 stealth bomber (!!!) and a touchdown by the home team on the first possession.  It all went downhill from there and now there will truly be a "reign of fire" down on head coach Gus Malzahn for this complete disaster.  I have been going to Auburn games regularly since 1983 and I have seen some pretty brutal losses.  However I am not sure I have ever seen Auburn upset by a team it was favored by over two touchdowns to in the state Tennessee was in.
I also do not think I have seen a team with this much talent completely go down the tubes.  This team will have to beat Ole Miss next which is still possible to just go 6-6 assuming likely losses to Texas A&M, Georgia and Bama.  If you look at Auburn's semi-recent seasons where the team did not have a winning record, you usually see some talent but not near as much as this team.  The Auburn teams in 2012, 2008 and 1998 had some pieces but none had a defense close to this team nor a quarterback that had a chance of ever beating Bama no matter how strong the team.  It boggles the mind how bad a coaching job Gus Malzahn has done to lose to a team that had lost 11 conference games in a row, a team that lost 40-14 to West Virginia, 47-21 to Florida (at home) and 38-12 to Georgia this season. 
I tell you though, after this complete debacle, it is hard to decide who is the bigger incompetent boob, Gus Malzahn or the MORON or MORONS who decided to give him a SEVEN YEAR 49 MILLION DOLLAR CONTRACT WITH A PERCENTAGE BUYOUT WHICH CURRENTLY IS OVER 30 MILLION DOLLARS.  Auburn pretty much deserves to be in this spot with leadership that STUPID.  I know last year's team had some big wins but just read some of the game reviews in this blog from 2014, 2015, 2016 or see them all summarized after the LSU game in 2017
Some of the opinions set forth in this blog might be up for debate but I think I have certainly proven that Gus Malzahn is not worth a SEVEN YEAR 49 MILLION DOLLAR CONTRACT WITH A PERCENTAGE BUYOUT WHICH CURRENTLY IS OVER 30 MILLION DOLLARS.  I mean ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  Do the "top men" who make decisions like this at Auburn do their due diligence or get any outside opinions?  I mean how in the world could you give a contract like that to a man who had gone 8-5 with the talent he had in 2014 and then 6-6 in 2015 and then 8-5 again in 2016.  Those seasons all include losses to both Georgia and Bama.  It was equally as obvious that the talent level on the team had dropped some and was fixing to drop a LOT.
I am not up for dissecting ANOTHER Malzahn debacle, I mean you just get tired of saying the same things over and over and over again.  I will say the one thing that has stuck out to me as Stidham has struggled is the whole quarterback deal.  Gus Malzahn runs an option offense that is meant to have a mobile quarterback.  He won his only two championships at Auburn as a coordinator and a coach with a mobile quarterback.  So considering that fact WHY IN THE HECK HAVE WE NOT HAD ONE SINCE THEN?  I mean this offense is where drop-back quarterbacks GO TO DIE.  Jarrett Stidham is just the latest one to regress in this offense.  He now joins Barrett Trotter, Jeremy Johnson and Sean White.  These quarterbacks strengths do not go with this offense at all.
Enough though, what is the bottom line here as we sift through the ashes of this season?  First, I do not want to hear people talking up Tennessee.  They will likely not win another conference game this season.  They are not a good team.  This loss is one of the worst losses in Auburn history and certainly Malzahn's most embarrassing.  The season is over and the coaching staff has completely failed.  However, we are still stuck with Malzahn through next season at least if not two more.  You simply cannot fire him and pay that kind of money out.  It is just wrong.  Auburn does not need that kind of really bad publicity.  It would be a mistake as big as giving the ridiculous contract to him. 
So with that said, we simply have to go forward in one way or another.  There is nothing that can save this season but we can get some young players valuable experience and maybe along the way pick up a decent win.  First I think you have to start Malik Willis if for no other reason than to give us another running threat and help this awful offensive line.  Run blocking is easier than pass blocking.  Also Stidham has had his chance and I just do not think at this point he is able to contribute in any meaningful way.  I hate it for him but it is simply where we are at.  He has lost the team and I just do not think Willis could be any worse and he can run.
We then need to get Asa Martin some meaningful reps and continue to utilize the young wide receivers (as much as they can be utilized in this offense).  On defense you have got to blitz more.  We simply do not have a good pass rusher and we have to blitz more.  We either need to get a stop or get off the field.  We cannot continue to allow these long torturous drives.  We need to get some of the younger guys on the line and at linebacker some experience as again almost the entire front seven is gone after this season.  There is nothing that is going to make anyone feel any better about a lost season but we can at least get something out of the rest of the season by getting these young guys experience.
I admit though that everything I just said though true rings hollow in the big picture.  I ended my last post asking the question "will the decision to commit to Malzahn long term ultimately help Auburn or put the Tiger program into an extended tailspin?"  I think I know the answer now unfortunately.  The decision to give him this contract is going to put he program in an extended tailspin. We are most likely going to take it on the chin again next season even getting these players experience.  Recruiting is going to suffer and this time we cannot bring in a new coach to stop the bleeding.  The program will just continue to slide as the leadership has to wait till the time when it is fiscally possible to change head coaches.  It is going to a long and excruciating wait.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Game 6 Review: The Outlook is Stark

Mississippi State 23  Auburn 9.  I have seen the end of several head coaching careers at Auburn.  I do not think Auburn has, contrary to popular opinion, ever pulled the trigger on a coach too early.  It has always been the obvious right time.  The NCAA and his own health problems spelled the end for Coach Dye.  The worst recruiting class in modern day history was curtains for Terry Bowden.  Everything kind of sliding off the table made it clear it was time for Tuberville to leave and Chizik had to go after the worst season ever.  I think the end is nearing for Gus Malzahn at Auburn but thanks to the idiotic leadership on the plains giving him that ridiculous contract it is not going to happen.  I fear the loss last night might signal Auburn sliding into that black hole the University of Tennessee currently resides in.

I mentioned all of Auburn's modern head football coaches above.  The common theme in their departures except for Coach Dye was current or imminent recruiting problems.  You have to stop the bleeding as soon as possible to prevent a long term program slide.  Auburn was able to do that just in time after Bowden had alienated most of the high school coaches in the state.  Auburn was able to do that after $aban came in and Tuberville had lost that fight to recruit.  Auburn did it again with Chizik after the worst season ever and Malzahn has done some good recruiting.  However it appears that while the rankings might not show it yet, recruiting has started to slip the last two years.

Auburn was led last season on offense by NFL prospects Braden Smith, Austin Golson, Casey Dunn and Darius James on the line plus Kerryon in the backfield.  It is obvious now that Kerryon was the leader of the offense and Jarrett Stidham was effective when Kerryon had his back.  It is apparent now that Stidham is not a great leader and not half the player without all those guys from last season.  The offense was still not great against tough competition last season but good enough with a great defense.  Auburn lost a few key difference makers off the defense last season but still has a fearsome front seven this season.  However the offense, Malzahn's specialty, is just not good enough to get wins even with a good defense.

This season, in terms of competing for a championship, is over.  I thought it was over after LSU but it is definitely over now.  That automatically gets me thinking about Auburn's future outlook.  I have to say, as this post is titled, the outlook from Starkville, Mississippi last night is indeed stark.  I do not see any upcoming All SEC offensive linemen in this group.  The best candidate is five star Calvin Ashley who was whipped badly last night but even if he can be resurrected it will probably take a few years.  These guys are just not that good and I just do not see them improving enough from the disaster they are now.  I mean you have to be really good to make this ridiculously predictable offense work.

I do not see a great running back in the bunch.  Asa Martin was Mr. Football last season and probably the best chance but like Kam Martin and Boobie Whitlow he is undersized to be that every down power back.  That could change but will it change enough or matter behind a mediocre offensive line.  The passing game does not matter.  Gus cannot coach up a passing game and the only time it is effective is if...  Auburn has a great running game.  So if Auburn does not have a great running game there will be no passing game to bail it out, i.e. even incoming super frosh Bo Nix.  That was patently obvious last night as Auburn had to try and throw the ball against a good defense.  It is also obvious that every single quarterback that spends more than one season with Malzahn regresses as a passer, EVERY SINGLE ONE.

That is just the offense.  The defense which got absolutely bludgeoned last night could lose almost the complete starting front seven.  All the linebackers and Dontavious Russell are seniors and the other best defensive linemen, Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson, will almost certainly leave early.  I believe the defense will take a huge step back next season.  Let me pause though to recognize senior linebacker DeShaun Davis, the guy is a beast.  He got hurt pretty good but immediately came back in.  The guy is absolutely giving it everything he has and it is sad this season could not have been better for him.  He is not the only one either, I know the majority of these guys are working their butts off. 

Unfortunately for these players they are led by the most stubborn-to-a-fault person I have ever seen in head coach Gus Malzahn.  It really boggles the mind.  The last time the defense really killed the team was !!! 2014 !!!  The offense has consistently been the problem since then.  There have been some all-time horrible offensive coaching jobs along with the predictability and lack of any semblance of a modern passing game.  AFTER ALL THAT THE LEADERSHIP AT AUBURN MADE THIS GUY THE FIFTH HIGHEST PAID COACH IN THE COUNTRY PAYING HIM SEVEN MILLION DOLLARS A YEAR.  The morons also gave him this percentage buyout garbage which makes it impossible to fire him for at least two more seasons.

Back to the start of this post and Auburn pulling the trigger to fire coaches at the right time.  Again I think Auburn has made all of its modern coaching changes at the right time.  The interesting thing about now is that I think Auburn will need to change coaches at the end of next season and they will not be able to.  The question is will the decision to commit to Malzahn long term ultimately help Auburn or put the Tiger program into an extended tailspin?

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Game 5 Review: ALERT

Auburn 24  Southern Mississippi 13.  There were a lot of alerts going off yesterday in Jordan Hare Stadium.  First there was a weather alert right before halftime that delayed the game almost three hours.  I have been watching Auburn football for a long time.  I think that is the longest weather delay in Auburn history.  I think there was one in 2009 before the West Virginia game and the monsoon that fell on Jordan Hare but I know it was not that long.  The were also a lot of alerts going off around Auburn's offense and they are not good.  The offense or more specifically the offensive line did not play well again and in fact seems to be getting worse.

I am sure those guys are sick and tired of hearing about it.  I know they are trying hard.  I know they have busted their butts all year long and sacrificed so much of their time to be an Auburn football player and a starting offensive lineman on this team.  Unfortunately at this level, sports are harsh and unforgiving.  It is many times or most of the time not fair but it is just part of it.  I want to be clear here at STR that while I may be critiquing a players performance I am never blaming the player.  The players are not paid millions of dollars to run these programs, the coaches are.  Yes it is hard and even harder to do it right but that is why they are paid the big bucks.

Sometimes the coaches and players can do everything they can and they are just not good enough to compete in their conference (take almost the entire modern history of Vanderbilt University).  However even in that case leadership has to look at the future and figure out where the program is going and if there is a legitimate hope of things getting better.  The leadership at Auburn University did that research and made those decisions last season and decided to go all in on Gus Malzahn.  I disagreed at the time and I think the early results are showing it might be an all-time bad decision.  It looks to me like former offensive line coach Herb Hand was smarter than we all thought he was as he got out with all those seniors last season. 

I have broken down the Auburn passing game MANY times in this blog and summarized it again last season after the LSU gameI will not do that again but will just do another high level look at Malzahn.  The sunshine pumpers will talk about two SEC West titles and two wins over Bama.  The rest of us will talk about every other game he has coached at Auburn.  Gus Malzahn was undoubtedly the right hire in 2013.  He and his coaching staff were the right people at the right time with a team that had talent and was a perfect fit for this offense.  It is obviously one of the greatest seasons in Auburn history and I will never forget it but even in that season, his greatest, Gus Malzahn's offensive tendencies lost him the national championship.

All of Malzahn's offensive predictability and stubbornness were on full display the next three seasons and this from a coach who's specialty is supposed to be offense.  Malzahn tanked with a very talented team in 2014 going 8-5.  Auburn then sunk lower to 7-6 in 2015.  Here I will allow for a drop in recruiting after the bad 2011 and horrid 2012 seasons but even with that said Malzahn still showed no attempt at innovation on offense.  Auburn then went 8-5 again in 2016 and everyone blamed it on injuries but it was just plain bad coaching against Georgia.  Auburn then rebounded last season to finally beat its biggest two rivals who were ranked #1 at home and go 10-3.

However the main reason for Auburn's resurgence last season was the Auburn defense.  The best decision made in football after 2014 was the decision to hire Will Muschamp for one season.  The dividends on that investment were the big wins last season.  The best players on defense were direct Muschamp recruits (Jeff Holland and Carlton Davis) who were only coming to Auburn because of him and I believe his influence was a big part of Auburn getting several more of those defensive guys who are doing so well this season and last.  I will also give Malzahn credit for recruiting Braden Smith, Austin Golson and Darius James plus Kerryon and Stidham.  He also let offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey go against his predictable tendencies in those games which resulted in some big plays.

As I said though at the time, these were big wins but just going against tendencies was not a recipe for long term success.  You also have to keep recruiting great offensive linemen (and as we will see next season defensive linemen) to run the Malzahn system and the coaching staff has failed there.  Also they are failing on the field as well this season, as a friend just wrote me: "what kind of modern day college offense has ZERO ANSWERS FOR A STANDARD BLITZ???!!!???  These opposing defenses are not splitting the atom, they are just blitzing the hell out of us and we have no answers, none, zero, zip.  No hot routes, no dump offs, etc... This isn't rocket science people."

It is not rocket science but if history is any indicator Gus will not change and we will plod through the rest of this season like we did in 2015 and 2016.  We do have a much better defense but this offense is really struggling.  The different stats from last night are pretty eye-opening.  Here are the greatest hits I read from Auburn Undercover and
  • "Auburn finished with only 96 rushing yards, providing the Tigers with their first back-to-back games under 100 yards for the first time since 2012. For Malzahn, it was worse: this was the worst back-to-back performances by a rushing offense in 14 years as a college coach."
  • The game included eight punts, a fumble and a missed field goal for the Tigers.
  • Auburn’s offense has failed to score 30 points against an FBS opponent heading into the sixth game of the season (and the EASY part of the schedule!).
  • Stidham was sacked three times, including a strip fumble.
  • Auburn has averaged less than 3 yards per carry against FBS teams this season (Washington, LSU, Arkansas and Southern Miss).
  • Last night the offensive line was charged with four false-start penalties in three quarters and was flagged for two holding penalties totaling 38 yards.
  • More on whole team penalties, in the first quarter against Southern Miss, Auburn had about as many yards of offense (63) as penalty yards (58). 
  • Auburn's offense had more penalty yards (63) than rushing yards (43) at halftime.
  • The offense went three-and-out five times in the first half and five minutes into the third quarter, Auburn had more yards punting (263) than total offense (231).
I think that about covers it.  The point is Malzahn and his staff have not gotten the offensive linemen in to run his system and then on top of that he will not really make any changes to his offensive system to help.  Auburn just runs out there almost every down with three wide receivers, a running back and a fullback and tries to be a power running team.   It just makes no sense.  Auburn had the same problem in 2015 and instead of using the non-running accurate quarterback to throw a lot of short passes and get the stable of decent wide receivers involved, Malzahn chooses to run up the middle the majority of the time.

I will not even bother in delving into the fact that every quarterback that has stayed in his system for multiple seasons has gotten worse.  I will just say that since Jarrett Stidham played his finest game against Bama last November he has not been a very good quarterback and that is coaching.  You add it all up and things just continue to look worse for this Auburn team and this season as a whole.  Last week I thought this offense with all it's problems would be better this week and could get through October unscathed.  After watching last night I am less sure but again both Mississippi schools have plenty of problems as well.  I guess my final word this is I hope we do not have to sit through another 3-2 game against State like 2008 next Saturday.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Game 4 Review: Tired and Uninspired

Auburn 34  Arkansas 3.  The Auburn offense under Gus Malzahn continues to find new ways to test us.  This last Saturday even in a 34-3 win they manage to stink it up so bad that it ruins any joy gotten from a big win score-wise.  I mean it is bad enough watching some of the horrific offensive performances we have seen in tough losses the last few years (2015-16 Georgia, 2016-17 Clemson, seemingly any game against LSU) but now these terrible performances are not only causing losses (LSU) but ruining wins.  Again as I have said many times on this blog... I HATE THIS OFFENSE.

I find myself, as the title of this post indicates, so TIRED of watching the Gus Malzahn offensive system and completely UNINSPIRED after watching this latest offensive performance.  It is of course compounded by the absolute demolition machine currently running in Tuscaloosa.  The Tide seemingly have their strongest offense under $aban while Auburn continues to sputter under Malzahn.  A bunch of senior offensive linemen, a very good defense and SEC MVP Kerryon Johnson got Auburn a big win against Bama last season but the teams seem to be going in opposite direcitons this season and that always makes things harder.
That leads into the Good, the Bad and the Ugly this week...
The Auburn defense was good but Arkansas' offense this season is definitely one of the worst SEC offenses I have ever seen.  They are awful and I mean AWFUL.  I actually cannot believe they were able to rip off the few big plays they did.  The have no line, they have no quarterback, they have no receivers, etc...  The only player I saw that looked remotely decent was running back Rakeem Boyd.  He had 8 carries for 66 yards and an 8.3 yards-per-carry average.  Every other player was awful, uh why did they not get this guy the ball more?  It was a good job by the defense though, you hold a team even one as bad as this under 300 yards total offense and you have done a good job.
The special teams though were the highlight of the night.  They blocked two punts and Noah Igbinoghene took a kickoff 96 yards for the touchdown.  Ryan Davis had 84 yards on two punt returns and Anders Carslon appears to have gotten on track under 50 yards.  I mean that is just a monster night on special teams.  It is good to see our special teams back being "special" after a couple of off years.  Kudos to coach Larry Porter.  He appears to have come in and done a great job.  Decent special teams are something everyone takes for granted.  Nobody notices until you stink it up and bad special teams usually lose games.
There really is no way around it now.  Auburn's offensive line is just not that good.  The sunshine pumpers continue to hold out hope.  They say it is not too late, they can still come together.  Heck I saw ol' Phillip Marshall on Auburn Undercover writing about how many stars each lineman had and try to prove they really are awesome no matter how bad they look on the field.  You know that is desperation from a guy that has always expressed his dislike for recruiting rankings.  I think these guys are really having to close their eyes and shut out reality to keep writing that stuff.  The harsh facts tell a different story...
I read this stat this morning and I think it speaks for itself:
"Against the 119th-ranked defense in the country, Gus Malzahn’s offense was held to 225 yards (and UNDER 100 yards RUSHING). Its average starting field position was the Arkansas 49-yard line. It managed only 17 offensive points through three quarters." 
I mean come on, you can alibi for the offense against Washington and LSU but against this Arkansas team at home???  The same Arkansas team that got smoked at home last week to NORTH TEXAS.  An Arkansas team that is much worse than their teams the last two years that Auburn destroyed 52-20 and 56-3.  It was an abysmal performance by the Auburn offense no matter how you slice it and as always it starts up front.  The running backs may have missed some holes and Jarrett Stidham definitely missed some passes but again IT STARTS UP FRONT.  The running backs were frequently met in the backfield or the line got no push.  Stidham was pressured and sacked four times. 
Actually it starts with recruiting and Gus has not done a good enough job on the offensive line.  We have some decent guys but these are guys you plug in around some really good guys like Braden Smith last season.  There is no outstanding player to build around this season and that is on Gus.  We will see this on the defensive line as well next season.  There is just a huge difference between a 4 star wide receiver or "athlete" and a top offensive or defensive tackle.  Great tackles on the offensive and defensive lines are really where great teams start.  Auburn just does not have the talent up front and will continue to be exposed against good teams this season. 
I made the huge mistake of turning on the Bama game this past weekend and watching a few minutes of it.  I mean COME ON.  Bama is so ridiculously loaded it is hard to believe.  It is also hard to believe that while they might not cheat as much now there has never even been a dim light shown on the "rules-stretching" that has gone on during the decade building up to this team.  Where are the sports journalists from all across the nation whose sole purpose in life was to find dirt on Cam Newton and at Ole Miss and other schools.  They are nowhere to be found and it appears the entire national media will not be happy till Bama wins every game 100-0.  I just do not understand it.
You then add to that Nick $aban's constant abuse of the media and scolding of his own fans and you really wonder why nobody in the national media will take a hard look at this guy?  You instead see one puff piece after another worshipping at his altar.  This is while just a few years ago you had the New York Times publishing a completely false hatchet piece on Auburn every few months.  Every other program seems to rise and fall while Bama and $aban just cruise on and it seems like the ride will never end.  It certainly is not going to end this season as you combine Bama's overwhelming talent with their underwhelming schedule. 
Auburn gets Southern Miss next week before going all conference games the rest of the year till Liberty between Georgia and Bama.  The preseason is about over and everything will probably look a bit better against Southern Miss.  I think Auburn can still probably sweep October in conference as well against State, Tennessee and Ole Miss.  That is no guarantee but they all have their problems as well and even with Auburn's shortcomings they have more talent than those teams.  The Mississippi games will definitely be tough especially on the road but the defense should give Auburn a good chance to win those games.
The bills come due in November with three tough conference games with each one getting harder.  First up will be Texas A&M who appears to be much better than I thought almost beating Clemson at home and doing decent against Bama for much of the game before it got away.  The home team has also never won in this series since Texas A&M joined conference.  Auburn assumed home wins over the Aggies in 2014 and 2016 and came away disappointed both times so the Tigers cannot over look A&M again.  Auburn will have to be much better than this past weekend to have a chance to beat the Aggies.  I am just not sure how much better Auburn can get on offense.  They have the month of October to figure it out if they can...

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Game 3 Review: Add another one to the list...

LSU 22  Auburn 21.  Add another one to the list.  I guess I need to update my post from last week on this series and add this one so it is ready to post again next season.  Once again an LSU football team found a way to beat a better Auburn team in excruciating fashion.  It is just par for the course for Auburn in this series.  Auburn will just about always inexplicably lose to LSU even when Auburn is better.  How many times am I going to have to watch LSU somehow someway break our hearts?  If history is any indicator it is going to be a bunch more times if I am still around watching Auburn football.  I will say they got some help in this one but there were plenty of reasons for yesterday's collapse at Jordan Hare Stadium. 
The only good I can see from this game is going ahead and getting this letdown out of the way early.  It is obvious this team is not championship caliber and it would have been more painful to drag this out and then lose to Mississippi State or Texas A&M or even wait all the way to Georgia.  Unlike last season there will not be some miracle comeback to reach Atlanta.  Auburn's SEC championship dreams never really had a chance with their schedule and now we clearly see they never had a chance because the team is just too weak at certain positions. 
NOW hold the phones, I will check myself, things could be a LOT worse.  As painful as yesterday was it is sure a lot better than being an Arkansas or Florida State fan right now.  I could also add a bunch more programs to that list that have seemingly had the bottom fall out.  However I am not sure anyone has reached the depths Arkansas has already hit, losing to Colorado State and then getting blown out at home by North Texas.   It does not look like Arkansas will win another game this season.  So things are not that bad but I think those schools would also admit that it hurts pretty bad too when your team is pretty stocked and you give away a big conference rivalry game to a lesser team.
LSU is a decent football team.  They put up an inspired effort and with a little help they got over on Auburn.  However the boys from Athens and Tuscaloosa are going to run this team out of the Stadium.  I also think they will lose to Florida and either Mississippi State or Texas A&M.  I cannot believe how bad our defense was in spots to let LSU's awful quarterback make the plays he did.  The guy is terrible!  His completion percentage took another hit yesterday and still rests UNDER 50% (!!!) yet somehow he hits that ridiculous late touchdown and one third conversion after another (???).  There is no way an offense with that guy leading it should have scored that many points.
Auburn's secondary played terrible and the fact is the Tigers do not have a pass rusher.  They sure miss Jeff Holland BAD.  Of course he also misses Auburn bad since he is unemployed football-wise.  All we heard in the off-season is about Nick Coe, T.D. Moultry and "Big Kat" Bryant.  They were nowhere to be found yesterday.  LSU quarterback Joe Burrow had so much time so many times yesterday.  Of course when Auburn did get pressure the secondary either did not cover or committed a penalty.  I mean come on guys, when LSU lobs it up to the same guy who is covered 2 or 3 times in a row it is obvious the whole point is to try and draw an interference penalty.
Auburn has a great defense against the run but as I have said over and over while others slobbered over him, Kevin Steele is not that good against the pass.  He has proven it time and time again and proved it again yesterday.  Now let us not spend the whole time here on the defense though, there was sure an equal amount of bad on the offensive side of the ball.  The only difference is that we heard over and over in the offseason from coaches, players, etc... how good this defense was going to be.  So far they look like a big strong group that is undisciplined and not that good against the pass.
On to the offensive side, it is obvious now that Auburn has a below average offensive line in most spots.  They are nowhere remotely close to a line on a championship team and while they might improve they are not going to make it there.  They are just not that good.  It is also obvious that while "Boobie" Whitlow is a decent running back, he is not near as good as all the other running backs Auburn has had for the last decade.  Gus can and will keep trying to base his offense on these two positions but it is not going to work.  Auburn has called more and better pass plays but the offense will never change from being run-based under Malzahn and these guys are just not good enough.
I have never blamed a loss on the refs but I will get as close as I ever have in this one.  Yes Auburn could have and should have won this game regardless but that was the worst reffing I have seen in a long long time.  I guess the last one that comes to mind was the national championship game where Florida State threw the ball 35 times and had to block a dominant pass rusher who is still starting in NFL and not ONE holding penalty was called.  Auburn did not have that kind of pass rushing yesterday but I saw Auburn defensive linemen literally being tackled multiple times and NOTHING WAS CALLED.  Auburn wide receiver Darius Slayton was held by the waist and NOTHING WAS CALLED.
I do not argue the fouls called on Auburn but the OBVIOUS and I do mean OBVIOUS calls not made on LSU.  You HAVE to call it both ways.  I am sorry but as bad as Auburn played they would have won if the game had just been officiated poorly.  The referees were quick to call Auburn center Kaleb Kim for holding and he deserved it.  Those calls stopped two Auburn drives and were major moments in the game.  HOWEVER if LSU had been called for the OBVIOUS holding and tackling of our defensive linemen that would have stopped their drives as well.  I want to be real clear here, their holding was every bit as egregious as Kim's holding.  Auburn does have a good defensive line and LSU's line has not been great up to this point.  THERE IS NO WAY LSU COULD HAVE THROWN 35 PASSES WITHOUT SEVERAL HOLDING CALLS.  THAT IS A FACT.

Auburn wins if one or two well deserved holding penalties are called.  Auburn was also called for multiple pass interference calls and most were deserved but at least one was very iffy and those calls won the game for LSU.  HOWEVER Auburn wide receiver Darius Slayton was held late in the game by two hands on his waist miles away from the line of scrimmage.  THAT ACT WAS MUCH MORE EGREGIOUS THAN MOST OF THE CALLS ON AUBURN.  Also if that EASY call was made Auburn likely scores and puts the game away.  I am sorry I usually never blame the refs but the acts I am talking about were patently obvious and these no-calls also helped decide the game as much as the calls that were made.  The refs almost single handedly kept LSU in the game.

Auburn will get a couple weeks off and destroy poor Arkansas and Southern Miss before heading to Mississippi State.  Gus will run the ball 60 times the next two games like Alabama State.  The team will most likely not improve but everyone will start patting them on the back talking about last season.  It is not going to happen with this bunch.  I thought this team would be a lot better but they have been exposed on the offensive line and at running back.  These guys can be stopped but Gus will still base his offense on them which leaves the team open for upset against anybody remotely good.  That adds up to a likely 8-4 season that ends on a really down note in my book but again as we will see next week it could be worse.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Game 2 Review: NEMESIS

Auburn 63  Alabama State 9.  I actually spent all day elsewhere and my TV provider unfortunately does not carry the SEC Alternate channel so... I did not see a second of this football game.  However after looking at the stats I am glad I did not put myself through that.  It was typical Gus Malzahn cupcake game where he ran the ball 60 TIMES and Jarrett Stidham only threw 11 passes (there were 14 overall) and I bet half of those were glorified pitches.  Yay we can run on Alabama State.  I cannot imagine a more boring game to sit through.  No thanks.  I have now been through enough of these with Gus Malzahn that I cannot stand watching them.
So what can we talk about?  I guess in anticipation of the upcoming LSU game we can talk a little bit about the LSU rivalry.  It has featured some big wins for Auburn but it has also included some of Auburn's most painful defeats.  I have even called LSU Auburn's nemesis.  They just seem to pop up at the worst times and ruin a season and it has happened many times now.  It is just uncanny as you look through the history of the series.  I believe Auburn's history and tradition far outweighs LSU but they have beaten some of Auburn's best teams.  I mean when you start sifting through the records it just makes you shake your head.
Let's go opposite this week and go with "The Ugly, The Bad and The GOOD"...
I have already written this up in the most read post on this blog.  It is what I consider the worst loss in Auburn football history.  I am of course talking about the 1988 Auburn vs. LSU game.  This is painful but must be covered in any retrospective on this series:
"This is a hard one to write.  This is the worst one for me and for Auburn in my opinion.  First to set it up, we knew this was a very special team.  This senior class at that time was the winningest in Auburn history.  We knew this team was as good or better than anybody else in the country and that this defense was something very special. 

This game was played on October 8, 1988.  Auburn was 4-0 coming into the game while LSU had lost two tough ones on the road at Ohio State and Florida.  The loss to Florida would be their only one in conference this season.  The two teams had not played since Dye's first season in 1981.  It was of course a Saturday night game in Baton Rouge as it always seems to be when we go to LSU.

I had come home from Auburn that weekend and had planned to watch the game with my family.  Unfortunately my dad had to go out of town on a business trip and my mom and I started out watching the game.  She cleared out shortly after halftime if I remember correctly.  By the third quarter I was pacing and fuming like well.. an agitated tiger in his cage. 
Auburn controlled the game but just could not get points on the board.  As it got later and later, I got more and more worried.  Auburn kicked a field goal in the second quarter and then in the fourth quarter.  I remember having a very bad feeling in the fourth quarter when we did not punch it in but just got another field goal.  We just needed one touchdown.

It was excruciating to watch.  There was just so much on the line for Auburn and they were so close to escaping with the win.  Everyone knows how it turned out though, LSU drove the ball down the field in the last two minutes.  Auburn got it to fourth down around the 13 yard line and then LSU quarterback Tommy Hodson completed the touchdown pass to running back Eddie Fuller and LSU would win 7-6.  No I will not be providing the link for that play...

The legend of the game would grow in coming years as it was claimed that the eruption in the stadium after Fuller caught the pass actually registered as seismic activity.  Thus the nickname "The Earthquake Game" was born.  It certainly was a real earthquake for Auburn as they would have definitely played Notre Dame (and Lou Holtz) in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship and they would have won that game. 
Auburn would have won that game because the Irish was a running team and nobody ran the ball on this Auburn defense.  But... since Auburn lost to LSU Notre Dame would get their national title against West Virginia.  West Virginia, a team who would probably have been lucky to be in the top 15 in the country but was given their shot by doing it the "Miami Way", i.e. going undefeated with a few big wins but a much easier schedule than everyone else like say Auburn.

Auburn would go to the Sugar Bowl and lost a close one, 13-7, to a good Florida State team who had only one loss as well but lost big to Miami early in the season.  I remember it being an uninspired performance as I believe this is when the LSU loss finally hit home for the players.  It was certainly still with all of the fans..."
The memory of this game still makes me sick to my stomach. 
That is just the worst game.  LSU has wrecked several more good Auburn seasons as well.  The two teams did not play from 1942 though 1968.  In 1969 LSU would beat Auburn and Pat Sullivan by blocking an extra point 21-20.  The next season in 1970 Auburn and Sullivan would again lose to LSU in the rain and mud.  Looking back Pat Sullivan only lost 5 CONFERENCE GAMES in his career at Auburn and TWO were to LSU.  The other defeats were one a piece to Tennessee (1969), Georgia (1970) and Bama (1971). 
These two LSU losses were major factors in Auburn not winning the conference in '69 and '70.  It would not be long before the Bayou Bengals would taint another great Auburn season.  The 1972 Amazins' beat everyone including #2 Bama in the famous "Punt Bama Punt" game except... you guessed it, LSU.  Bama destroyed LSU but LSU would play their finest game of the season and beat the 1972 bunch pretty bad, 35-7.  If you are keeping count that is three horrible losses in four years!  These were some of Shug Jordan's finest teams.  Record-wise they were all better than LSU but it just seemed LSU had Auburn's number.
Oh and LSU would beat Auburn again the next year in 1973 and then again in 1980 (as every SEC team did that year).  Auburn won a few but over the last 25 years the Bayou Bengals would ruin Auburn's chances at a title several more times.  In 1995 LSU would beat a better Auburn team 12-6 in the ungodly humidity in Baton Rouge (I was unfortunately there) and would do it again the next season in Auburn as the old Auburn barn gym burned behind the stadium.  Auburn would miss going to Atlanta by one loss both of those seasons and they were better than LSU both of those seasons.
Auburn only had to beat LSU to get to Atlanta at the end of the 2001 season (the game was postponed because of 9/11) but lost that one too.  Auburn would become one of the only teams in SEC history since divisions were formed to go 7-1 in conference and miss Atlanta in 2005.  The only loss was of course to LSU in overtime as Auburn kicker John Vaughn missed five field goals.  Two years later LSU in Les Miles' first season would beat Auburn on a Hail Mary to end the game.  I mean is it starting to sink in???  Am I getting through???  These guys are Auburn's true nemesis!!!
In the Gus Malzahn era there have been two awful losses by good Auburn teams to LSU in 2013 and last season.  However the historic trend was broken and those two awful losses did not cost Auburn their shot at a title.  Maybe the curse is lifting, maybe things are changing, maybe it is Auburn's turn to start putting some of these losses on LSU...
I mean wow that is a LOT of bad there.  It just boggles my mind how many bad losses Auburn has to LSU.  Fortunately there have been some big wins as well.  I think the record is still tilted in their favor but that is what makes these wins so sweet.  Interesting enough, Auburn's first win over LSU since the series started back in 1969 was in 1981, Pat Dye's first season in 1981.  Auburn would only go 5-6 that season but they would beat LSU 19-7.  Another interesting note from that game was I believe Pat Sullivan's brother Joe Sullivan was quarterback for Auburn that day.
Auburn would get some measure of revenge for the heartbreaking loss in 1988 by beating LSU in an eerily similar game the next season 10-6.  Auburn would go on to win a share of the conference title that season.  I was a student in the stands that day.  That victory actually started a four game winning streak over LSU, the longest in the entire series for Auburn.  In 1992, the SEC would split into divisions and LSU replaced Tennessee on Auburn's schedule.  That first season the Tigers from the plains would beat LSU in their biggest win of the season 30-28.   
The next season the amazing 1993 team would travel to Baton Rouge and put a complete beatdown on LSU 34-10.  I was there and it still maybe the best road win I ever witnessed.  It was so much fun.  Auburn dominated and quarterback Stan White broke Pat Sullivan's record for the most career passing yards at Auburn.  The play that stands out to me is a flea flicker off a reverse where White threw a long touchdown.  I was there with a friend of mine from Auburn and man we were whooping it up, I am actually surprised now that I know LSU fans better that we did not get in trouble that night...
The next season would feature the game that is probably the game that pains LSU fans the most.  It was a unique one-of-a-kind win like "Punt Bama Punt" or the "Kick Six" that you will never see again.  It was "The Interception Game".  I was there and it was my now wife of almost 25 years first ever Auburn football game.  She sure started on a good one although it did not look good in the fourth quarter with Auburn down 23-9.  There was no way LSU should have lost this game.  Auburn's offense was awful.  However LSU for some reason kept throwing the ball and the result was an inconceivable.  Auburn would intercept the ball FIVE TIMES with THREE PICK SIXES in the FOURTH QUARTER to win the game 30-26. 
Auburn scored NO offensive touchdowns in that game and scored 30 points.  The game stands as an absolute nightmare for LSU fans and football coaches everywhere of what might could happen.  It definitely felt good to give LSU one of those type of losses after all the pain they had inflicted over the years.  We now come to what I consider the most underrated win in Auburn history.  You never hear it mentioned with some of Auburn's big wins and you do not hear much about Dameyune Craig's epic performance.  Craig led one of the greatest fourth quarter comeback drives in Auburn history in this game.
It is up there with Pat Sullivan's epic last minute drive to beat Tennessee in 1971.  It is up there with Randy Campbell's drive to beat Florida State in the final seconds in 1983.  It is up there with Jeff Burger's end of game march to beat Bama in 1986.  It is up there with Slack-to-Wasden in 1989.  It is up there with Jason Campbell's unbelievable late throws to beat LSU in 2004 (which is next up after this entry).  It is up there with Nick Marshall's play to tie the game in 2013 to set up the "Kick Six".  In fact of that list this drive and Sullivan's were the only ones on the road in enemy territory.
Auburn was good in 1997 and would be the first team in Auburn history to get to Atlanta.  However they would not have gotten there without this monstrously underrated win.  People tend to forget Dameyune Craig after Cam Newton but Craig was an amazing player.  He was one of the first that was exceptional running and throwing.  On this night the deck was also stacked against him.  First it was a Saturday night in that hell hole in Baton Rouge.  Auburn did not have much on a running game and the defense was getting absolutely shredded by LSU running back Cecil "The Diesel" Collins.  They guy ended up with 232 yards rushing and two touchdowns.  
Auburn was down 28-24 and got the ball back on their 20 yard line with 3:26 remaining.  A field goal would not help, Auburn had to score a touchdown.  If Auburn gave it back to LSU they would not get the ball back.  It was now or never.  Dameyune Craig coolly led Auburn down the field and to the game-winning touchdown.  He finished the game with 342 yards passing and two touchdowns.  Craig not only put up one of the biggest clutch drives in Auburn history but broke LSU's heart as well.  I do not know why you do not hear much about this game but it is up there and definitely one of Auburn's biggest wins against LSU.
Before I finish this section let me pause to recognize some of the beat downs we laid on LSU during this period especially the ones involving Nick $aban.  Before that though Auburn would get one of their most improbable routs in 1999 over LSU 41-7.  This was Tommy Tuberville's first season and before this game Auburn had barely beaten Appalachian State and Idaho.  It was just incredible, it featured a touchdown off a fake kick and a dominating performance by Auburn receiver Ronnie Daniels.  This is known as "The Cigar Game" as Tuberville was trying to start a tradition after big road wins which was then labeled as the most insulting thing ever even though Bama has done it for forever against Tennessee, well maybe when Tennessee still used to be an actual competitive rival. 
Auburn then stomped $aban in 2000 and 2002, 34-17 and 31-7 respectively.  However Auburn's greatest win over LSU during the $aban era and maybe the biggest overall was in 2004 where Jason Campbell led another famous do-or-die drive and hit wide receiver Courtney Taylor first on a 4th and 12 play to keep the drive alive and then again on 3rd and 12 at the LSU 16 yard line for the game winning touchdown.  This would turn out to be Auburn's closest game and maybe it's biggest win for the 2004 perfect season.  This loss would send $aban running from LSU to the Miami Dolphins after the season.
Unfortunately though Auburn would lose 7 out of the next 9 games to LSU.  Auburn won a slugfest in 2006 7-3 and then Cam Newton had one of his greatest games as an Auburn Tiger, possibly his greatest play to help beat LSU in 2010 24-17.  Auburn just took LSU's manhood that day as the vaunted LSU defense was the #1 rushing defense in the SEC coming into that game with a bunch of future NFL players but Auburn still had over 400 yards rushing.  I was there and that was a game for the ages.  I will never forget Cam's run and Ontario McCalebb taking it to the house for the win.
Auburn is 2-5 against LSU since then, the biggest win was Auburn's 41-7 blowout of the Bayou Bengals in 2014 at Jordan Hare.  That was far and away that team's best performance of the season.  Auburn won again in 2016 at home and that brings us to this coming Saturday...
Well there is a good summary of the history of this series.  I am not sure even the Iron Bowl or any of Auburn's great rivalries have as many historic or memorable games than this series.  Something odd or memorable just always seems to happen in this series.  There is a good chance this coming game could be a match up of top ten teams.  Auburn and LSU both started the season with big wins over Washington and Miami respectively.  This will be the opening conference game for both teams.  There will be a lot on the line Saturday afternoon in Auburn and you just never know what might could happen.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Game 1 Review: HUSKY

Auburn 21  Washington 16.  It definitely was not pretty, in fact it was at times really ugly, but in the end it was a win and that is all that counts.  The Auburn football Tigers defeated the #6 Washington Huskies in an extremely hard fought game.  It is a big win ANYTIME you beat a top ten team to open a season.  It is an even bigger win for Auburn after losing two in a row in the same place to end last season.  As usual I plan to break down the game in my usual format of "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly".  This game really breaks down into those categories really well.
I think the place to start here is obviously the Auburn defense.  They bent, they committed some stupid penalties, they got passed on, etc... but in the end they came through.  They held a very good offense that included a senior quarterback and a great coach to UNDER 20 POINTS.  They continually stopped Washington in the red zone when it really counted.  Washington went to the red zone five straight times and came away with just 16 points.  Is their luck involved in that?  Yes but there is also clutch defensive play like senior Darrell Williams diving pass tip preventing an easy Washington touchdown.
The defense certainly bent between the 20s and was susceptible to the pass (as it has been the entire time Kevin Steele has been there) and that will need to improve.  Washington ended up with almost 400 yards of total offense with almost 300 of it in the air.  The defense also committed numerous penalties including multiple pass interference calls.  However in addition to coming up big in the red zone the defense had 5 sacks and 9 tackles for loss plus they caused two turnovers.  They just stuffed the Washington running game and came up with the big play when it was needed and that is the mark of a good defense.
The other good thing and the best thing on offense was quarterback Jarrett Stidham.  Stidham is one of the most talented quarterbacks to ever suit up for the Tigers and that is saying something.  Even being constrained by the Malzahn offensive system and an average to below average offensive line he played a brilliant game going 26 of 36 for 273 yards and a touchdown.  He did a few dumb things but for the most part made good decisions and made some great throws.  In the end he led a clutch 76-yard touchdown drive to win the game that included a big 20 yard throw to Darius Slayton.  The only thing I will really complain about is his running.  Coaches PLEASE get Stidham to stop running.
I have to say here that everyone else was right and I was wrong.  I was actually a bit positive about our offensive line and wow they were bad most of the game.  Everyone else in the offseason talked about what a concern they were but I thought our starting lineup was better than people thought especially with J.B. Grimes returning to coach them up.  They just did not get that push up front but of course the coaches do not help them out much by continuing to run on first down most of the time.  The coaches also continue to run out of three wide receiver sets or telegraph runs with Chandler Cox or Jalen Harris in the game. 

Again Auburn does NOT run the HUNH (hurry-up-no-huddle) offense!  The coaches substitute almost every play which negates any hurry up.  I do not know how many times that needs to be said before people start understanding.  You cannot HURRY if you SUB.  Chip Lindsey continues to get a big few plays going against Malzahn tendencies but it is not enough to change the predictability of this offense.  In my opinion, you have to run a series of plays in a row without subbing to make the "hurry-up" even a little effective and to not make your offense so predictable by substitutions.  This offensive line is just not good enough to overcome our offense's predictability against good teams.

Of course it was the first game and I do believe in the old coaching axiom of a team improving the most between the first and second games.  I know that is true of the soccer teams I have coached.  Also, Washington was a good team with a good defense.  They really impressed me on both sides of the ball with their grit.  I think one of the keys to Auburn's season now will be how the offensive line plays in two weeks against LSU at home.  The other bad thing about the game was the penalties (!!!).  I mean wow, I know it was a Big 10 crew and they were not that good but that was still bad (12 penalites for over 100 yards).  That has to be cleaned up immediately and I think it can be.

The only ugly thing I saw in this game was the absolute BONEHEAD decision to fake a PAT in a match up of top ten teams.  Auburn almost lost this game because of that monumentally bad decision.  For the most part, trick plays are for losers.  You do not need them if you are a good team.  I thought this one was really stupid and took away momentum as well as putting Auburn in a bad situation the rest of the game.  I am sorry there is no good argument for it in this game for me.  Malzahn just cannot help himself in these early games.  He has to try something stupid just about every year like the rotating quarterbacks two years ago and then this crap.

The ugly outside of this game will be a continual entry in this section and that is having to hear the continual national and regional blather about Bama and their quarterback as they play the easiest schedule in the country.  Bama is literally guaranteed 11-0.  Their backups could probably go 11-0 against this schedule.  The only team that has a chance of beating them is Auburn and the refs will make sure that does not happen in T-town.  All we can hope for is somebody beating them in the playoff but unfortunately the likely #2 seed in the playoff, Clemson, is the only team with a schedule easier than Bama.  It is just sickening.  They will be all we will hear about week after week while the rest of college football knocks each other off because they have to play decent schedules.

I actually had another entry on the good side that I did not get in and that was the special teams play.  Ryan Davis was fabulous returning punts and Anders Carlson outside of one bad miss was awesome in his first game.  Davis is a playmaker and will be one of Auburn's most important weapons all season.  I think the jury is still out on the running backs.  They were not great but the line was getting no push so it is hard to judge.  I thought Kam Martin was good in spots and "Boobie" Whitlow finally showed some of the potential I have heard about all spring and summer running for the game-winning touchdown and the first down to end it. 

Auburn now travels home for four games in a row including two-in-a-row against LSU and Arkansas.  I love the LSU being back at the third game of the year like it used be when the conference changed to divisions.  It took the place of the Tennessee game at that third game spot.  I think you need play somebody good in that spot.  It is time to find out where you are and I think this Auburn team can make a big statement during this four game homestand.  First up though is a scrimmage against Alabama State.  My only concern in this game is many times Malzahn leaves the starters in too long in my opinion.  Get them out early, let the subs play and lets get ready for LSU.