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Tigers Find no Answers in “Their State.”

By on September 9th, 2012 in Football 11 Comments »

 

This
was as close as the offense got.

     War
Eagle, everybody. It’s time now for the Acid Reign report, on
Auburn’s dismal 28-10 loss to the Mississippi State Bulldogs. From
where we sat in the nosebleed section of Davis Wade Stadium, there’s
little sugar-coating that can be done. What we saw was an Auburn
roster containing the results of three top ten recruiting classes,
and those guys were absolutely dominated by a team that does not
recruit on the same level. Coaches Gene Chizik and Dan Mullen took
over their respective programs the very same year. At this point, I’m
left wondering which way each squad is trending.

     It
was a dreary, overcast day in Starkville, but you can’t fault the
Bulldog fans for that. They were as hospitable as any SEC fans we’ve
ever encountered on the road, and we had several great conversations
with the maroon partisans. I had packed earplugs in my pocket, in
case the much-maligned cowbell noise got to be too much. For all the
fussing and whining over it, I felt like the bells were a non-factor.
Perhaps we didn’t get the proper effect being way up in the nosebleed
section, but I didn’t feel like they were particularly loud. I’ve
been deafened by air-horns at high school games, and even by the roar
in Jordan Hare Stadium at certain big games. The cowbell noise was
pretty tame. Also, the vast majority of the crowd politely obeyed the
“no-ring” signal on the scoreboard, during plays. Whatever was
wrong with the offense, one can’t blame it on the cowbells.

 

Bulldogs
have installed a “grown man” Jumbotron.

     Many
folks will heap the blame for this loss on quarterback Khiel Frazier,
and that’s certainly the nature of the position. What’s far, far more
alarming to me is the play of the defense. The departure of Ted Roof,
and the arrival of Brian Van Gorder was supposed to make a huge
difference. Last season, Auburn gave up 29 points per game. Here in
2012, the Tigers have given up 26 and 28. There’s been slight
improvement in the pass rush, but the loss of Neiko Thorpe at safety
has proved to be huge. Last year, no matter how badly the play was
defended by the front seven, Neiko would charge up to clean up the
mess. This year, it takes two or three of the guys in the secondary
to gang up and take any ball carrier down. The bottom line is that
we’ve got way too much blue chip talent sitting on the bench on
defense. I can’t understand why, with the abysmal linebacker play
we’re getting on the field, that a speedy, huge talent like Kris
Frost isn’t playing. Jonathan Evans is our best tackling linebacker,
and we sit him down and play nickel most of the game.

     The
secondary is a mess, too. Two of the most athletic, hard-hitting guys
we’ve got, Robensen Therezie and Erique Florence, are sitting on the
bench. There was one step in the right direction this week, as the
coaches got junior safety Demetruce McNeil into the game. This guy’s
a veteran who’s been through the wars, and knows how to track the
ball-carrier down. It’s said that he doesn’t know Van Gorder’s
coverage packages. Clearly, none of the other safeties do, either.
Marcus Green and Chad Bumphis got behind the safeties repeatedly for
big plays.

     Poor
tackling is epidemic on this team, and it’s not just one area. Guys
take bad angles, and are grasping for jerseys, from the defensive
tackles, ends, and on back. It’s reflected in the stats, as Auburn is
generating way too many assists, and not enough solo tackles. Again
the secondary is picking up the bulk of the work. The Bulldogs
completed only 20 passes, but the Auburn secondary had 44 tackles, 30
of those by Demetruce McNeil and Jermaine Whitehead.

     The
offense is certainly plagued by poor throws, but the design is far
worse. Right now, Auburn has the most inept offense in the league.
That includes Florida and Kentucky. Pass plays appear to have no
checkdowns. If the first guy isn’t open, the quarterback bails out of
the pocket and runs around wildly. Frazier had time. The stats only
show two sacks and two QB hurries. By comparison, the Auburn D
hurried Tyler Russell 6 times, and sacked him once. MSU flanked 8
guys out to stop the run, especially the sweeps. While star corner
Jonathan Banks shadowed Emory Blake’s every move, corners on the
other side left their guy to jump into run support. I can’t imagine
how it feels to be Travante Stallworth or Brandon Fulse. They’ve paid
the price for years at Auburn, and are now in the playing rotation. I
saw numerous times that MSU literally put no one on those guys when
they were on the field, or had their guy jump into the running lanes.
Stallworth in particular was ALL ALONE on the wide side of the field
in his routes, and Auburn has yet to even look over there. If we’ve
got a 500-page playbook, an automatic quick throw to an uncovered
wide receiver ought to be in there.

     Yes,
I looked at some boards yesterday, and I saw numerous “yank
Frazier!” posts. Folks, that’s not going to happen. We have few
options other than to stick it out with him. And really, with this
offense, he’s not being given a chance to be successful, and the
other guys on the bench have even fewer tools in their toolbox. If
not Frazier, we go with Moseley and his sore shoulder, or a true
freshman. A panicky bullpen move won’t help, in the long haul. We’ll
be right back in that “no proven quarterback” situation next
spring, with few options. We haven’t had a proven guy coming back
since Brandon Cox in 2007. The right thing to do in this game was to
let Frazier sling it around after it got out of hand. Get him all the
reps against live competition we can.

     Once
again, special teams were special. Only quibble I had was Onterio
McCalebb bringing kickoffs out of the end zone, but with the way our
offense was playing, that was our only chance to score. McCalebb
delivered a touchdown, but he was also chopped down twice WAY short
of the 25 yard line.

Unit grades after the jump.

Unit Grades

Defensive
Line: D.

We were again manhandled in the middle. When guys had a chance to
make plays, they often could not make the tackle. I gave a passing
grade due to a good rush off the edge. But when the other team
decides to run an off-tackle play or a sweep, the ends pretty much
universally get blown off the ball.

Linebackers:
F.

Darren Bates and Jake Holland combined for exactly TWO solo stops, in
the whole game. Throw in Justin Garrett and Jonathan Evans’ few
snaps, and that’s just three solo tackles for the entire linebacking
corps. There was way too much misalignment, diving at the runner, and
missing. This group is just not getting it done.

Secondary:
D.

Giving T’Sharvan Bell a start was a good move, as he came up with
seven tackles and a couple of pass breakups. It’s been a long time
since an Auburn DB broke up a pass. Bell did have difficulty with the
speed of the MSU receivers, and had to grant them room to work
underneath. Chris Davis did solid if unspectacular work on the other
side. With Jonathan Mincy, it’s feast or famine. Sometimes he makes
the bone-jarring play, other times his guy runs loose, or he
interferes. As mentioned above, Demetruce McNeil did well chasing the
ball down. The other safeties who played could neither cover well,
nor make a tackle on their own. We saw safeties not named “McNeil”
run through repeatedly.

Punting:
A.

Some folks would look at a 40.6 yard punting average on six punts,
and not be particularly impressed. It’s important to realize that
half the game, Steven Clark faced a stiff wind in his face, and still
managed to only have one punt returned for 7 yards. MSU’s stadium is
not enclosed, and that wind just howls through there. Clark and the
punt coverage guys did a good job.

Punt
Returns: C+.

Quan Bray fair-caught most of MSU’s punts, as there was little
blocking. Auburn was mostly trying to block the punts. Bray did field
one in traffic late, which was dangerous. Of course, the Tigers were
looking for just anything to get points, at that juncture. Still,
after a near-decade of shaky fielding of punts, we’ll take it.

Kick
Returns: B+.

MSU was trying for all touchbacks, but due to the wind, Onterio
McCalebb got three chances, and he took one to the house. The other
two returns were really poorly blocked. On one, McCalebb ran
laterally, and only got to the 18 yard line.

Place-kicking:
A+.

Even with a stiff breeze, Parkey hit every kick, and produced no
returns on kickoffs. The squib against the wind was expertly done,
too.

Offensive
Line: C.

It was a mediocre performance. Auburn pass protected pretty well, but
didn’t get consistent drive blocking for the running game. It does
have to be noted that Mississippi State loaded the edges of the box,
and dared Auburn to run inside. With no big bruising Tiger backs, and
insufficient push, it wasn’t going to happen, anyway. John Sullen
drew a clipping flag, for one of those “dive at the back of the
knees” deals.

Running
Backs: B.

Even with all of the distractions this week, fullback Jay Prosch
turned in a solid effort, as did the running backs, for the most
part. With the way MSU camped out in the box, it was tough sledding.
After Tre Mason had his first hundred yard game last week, the
coaching staff’s answer this week was to only give him 8 carries in
the game. Brilliant. Mike Blakely ran hard, with little room.
McCalebb was ineffective on the sweeps, due to MSU’s web of defenders
waiting on him. On the lead picture above, Auburn ran a speed sweep
to McCalebb, despite SEVEN defenders either over the tackle, or
wider. McCalebb retreated backward for a nine yard loss, ending any
touchdown chances. Frazier should have kept that ball up the gut, and
we’d have still had 3rd
down from close-in.

Receivers:
C+.

Blocking was very spotty in this one, exemplified on an early
diamond-bunch screen attempt. The three blockers were basically blown
up and the receiver was mugged by a couple of MSU secondary folk the
same time the ball got there. I’ve got to hand it to Brandon Fulse.
That guy brings his lunch pail, and someone on the edge feels the
pain from him every down. Too bad they’ll never throw the ball to
him. He got wide open on his routes. No other receiver blocked well.
Emory Blake was covered up most of the game, and eliminated. Trovon
Reed and Travante Stallworth were wide open frequently, but
apparently are invisible to the Auburn offensive staff. Tip of the
hat to Phillip Lutzenkirchen. He had a brutal day trying to block,
but he showed awesome hands once again on badly thrown balls.

Quarterback:
F.

I could give a barely passing grade here, for a few completions in
the 4th
quarter. Trash time doesn’t count, especially if you can’t do it
consistently enough to at least put a consolation touchdown on the
board. Frazier produced no touchdowns and five turnovers. Some of
those interceptions looked like he was just throwing it up for grabs.
Hopefully, he and the receiver are just making different route
adjustments. Right now on passing plays, Frazier goes to the line,
sets the play, then looks at his receiver. And he’s locked on that
receiver the whole way. If his guy doesn’t get open immediately, he’s
running backwards thereafter. All of the same bad mechanical problems
from game one were still here this week, and appear to be getting
worse. Some of Frazier’s bad throws are caused by him trying to heave
it out there while backpedaling, but most are due to his feet being
set wrong. You can’t throw an accurate ball with your feet
side-by-side/parallel. Gotta plant that back foot perpendicular, and
step into it. Frazier’s not, right now. Never in my wildest dreams
would I have guessed that this would be a problem with this coaching
staff.

     It
was a brutal loss to the Bulldogs. If Auburn plays similarly against
Louisiana Monroe next Saturday, we’re likely to lose that one, too. I
believe the staff and players will keep working hard, and we’ve got
to see some improvement at some point. I think some roster moves are
in order on the defense. And the offense has got to be re-tooled. If
the playbook is too complicated for the team to execute, it doesn’t
matter how many pages it has. If Frazier’s having trouble with his
reads, cut it down to two, and take off FORWARD after that. That’s
what was done with Jason Campbell back in 2002, and we won 5 of our
last 6 games that year.

     Well,
we always pencil Louisiana Monroe in as an automatic win, but that
notion got blown up over in Little Rock last night. The Warhawks took
advantage of poor tackling, and roared back from a 28-7 deficit to
beat Arkansas in overtime. The Warhawks are a veteran team, with many
players that have played in Jordan Hare Stadium against Auburn’s
national championship team. Quarterback Kolton Browning was getting
his feet wet two years ago in Auburn, as were playmakers Jyruss
Edwards and Tavarese Maye. These guys put up 550 yards on Arkansas’
defense, while holding a Bobby Petrino-schooled quarterback to 6 of
20 passing, for only 85 yards. Auburn will have their hands full once
again, this week.

     This
week, we regroup, and keep grinding. There’s no substitute for
experience, and hard work. Let’s stay behind this team, and keep
cheering them on! War Eagle, folks. It’s great to be an Auburn Tiger.

 

 At
least the special teams are still special!

 

11 Comments

  1. Tigertracker . says:

    I’ve had a day to think about it and…
    F#$k. That is all.

  2. Challenger10 says:

    Acid
    I believe you were generous. Overall it was the worst performance I can remember since the Barfield years. I just hope the coaching staff and players have not given up but i did not see much emotion out of anyone yesterday. I hope they hang in there and stay the course.

  3. Todd92 says:

    Good write up Acid and I think you were fair with your grades (generous….but fair). Only suggestion I have is split up the OL into sides for grades…left side gets a B+ with the clipping call on Sullen costing them the A-…… right side gets a D+ for decent pass protection and absolutely zero push in the run game…..and Dismukes gets a C+ with his blown calls on blocking assignments costing him the letter grade.

    The officiating gets a C+ with the personal foul call for unnecessary roughness on Bates costing them a full letter grade…..that call was not only tragic in that it kicked our D squarely in the sack but it was completely moronic that not a single ref had his eyes on the situation but rather every ref was looking at the same spot which lead to them only seeing Bates falling onto the QB and not getting chipped to make him fall. That in my mind broke our back defensively.

    Only thing I can say is "well….sh*t…..worst performance by an AU team that I can recall"

  4. Mic Head says:

    Absolutely brutal. Is this what we are to expect going forward from this HC without a Heisman winner? I don’t understand this dismal performance with all the supposed talent. Lots more
    "q"s than "a"s. Very disappointing, not even two years removed from a NC & we can’t beat State. Crap.

  5. Carrollton Tiger says:

    Sobering game. And I wish I hadn’t been sober.

    I watched the Georgia v Missouri game later last night. My wife noted that "both of those teams are playing at a completely different level than Auburn". And it was true. Auburn yesterday looked like a sloppy high school team.

    I believe that all of our players are trying just as hard as they can, so I refuse to simply blame any one of them for the performance. What stuck out was that this team didn’t look particularly well-coached. Not on offense, not on defense, not overall.

    If the quarterback isn’t producing, or the defense isn’t tackling, is it an individual problem, or a coaching problem? Acid points out that we’ve had great recruiting under Chizik.

    Frankly, the team looks hapless. Was there a plan? Not that we could see. I dearly love my Tigers, but what’s going on here? We shouldn’t have to worry about the Ole Miss game.

    C’mon Tigers, get mean!! War. Damn. Eagle.

  6. Matt Miller says:

    Thanks for the review Acid. As usual, you hit the nail on the head. I’m really glad that ULM had Arkansas this week, because now we will have no excuse to take them lightly. I heartily agree that we need to see some new blood on defense, especially at LB. We made that Tyler Russell look like an NFL prospect. And Frazier did definitely regress. Doesn’t get much worse than that. I really thought we’d be a whole lot better this year all around. I was thoroughly unimpressed. We have to get better. Have to.

  7. au dude says:

    Questions: Why are we not seeing the coaches actually coaching on the sidelines between series? Is that passe? Are there not things to go over, teaching moments in the heat of the game?

    • Acid Reign says:

      …..Got to agree. BVG walked around with his arms folded the whole game. Only real activity I saw was Khiel Frazier raising his arms toward Coach Chizik in confusion, and Chizik rushing out on the field to chew Darren Bates out after the penalty. Chiz didn’t realize that Bates was blocked into the QB on that one. Whatever flaws Bates has, he isn’t a dirty player.

      • Acid Reign says:

        …..And of course, no clue about the offensive staff. Trooper waved the towel. Loeffler was in the pressbox, underneath where we were sitting, likely in the highest point in Mississippi.

  8. R Log says:

    I agree on your comment with checkdowns. They just aren’t happening. Think I’d put that on the QB though. Never heard of a play drawn up with no checkdowns? He needs to be running through progressions quickly. He reminds of of Kodi Burns almost exactly. Do we really want to wait and hope he gets better? I’m watching other games with 1st year starters and they are completing passes…I don’t think it is too much to ask. I think at the end of the game at least put someone else in and see what transpires…

  9. hal young says:

    Not sure that we have a plan B at quarterback at the moment. I think that Clint’s shoulder is still a problem but they are not going to let the opposition know that. I think they are resting it until it gets well rather than throw him out there when it is not ready. On coach BVG – He is not responsible for a position [ not a position coach ] so I am not sure that he would necessarily be meeting with individual groups. He is probably communicating with his position coaches who would [ should ] be meeting with the players. Let us hope that is what is happening.
    To be honest I am not surprised by what I have been seeing offensively except from a play calling standpoint. When you run Mc Caleb in the game on 2nd and goal and get in that set even my little girls know he is going to run the jet sweep. Looking at the pic above it is obvious MSU did. There is no way that call is going anywhere. THey have 8 people lined up starting from the ball over. If Kyle did not know how to check out of that play he should have called time out. That was the beauty of last years check with me scheme where they would line up in an offensive set and then get a play call from the sideline after the guys upstairs saw the defensive alignment.
    Anyway, the reason I am not surprised by what is happening is because we have a new QB with very little game experience in a new and far more complex offensive scheme than he has ever been part of. He cannot play fast because he is not yet comfortable. He is thinking too much and it takes him too long to pull the trigger. I believe our receivers are experiencing some of that as well. They have gone from set routes to adjustable routes depending on what the D is giving them. They have to be able to read on the fly and get open and Kyle has to read that on the fly and deliver the ball to them. It is all too fast for him right now and that is forcing him to hold the ball too long. And I am not sure that our receivers fully know what they are doing yet either. I think that our coaches have made up their mind to just bight the bullet and hold on until the game starts to slow down for these guys and they can execute the offense. There were a lot of people excited about bringing in the new pro coaches and their schemes. Now those same people are pissed. I was pretty sure we were going to have a mess on our hands on the front end. It is too bad we opened with 2 very good teams. Would have been a good year to open with a few lower level opponents to give us a chance to get in a rhythm. We as fans need to hang in there with them and hope they finish strong. I think they will. War Eagle!