Afterthoughts: Hope is a Wonderful Thing….
Yet another season of Auburn football is upon us. The Plains are abuzz with talk of things like the Gus Bus, a fresh Toomer’s Corner tradition, and a newly resolved Quarterback controversy. The season officially began a few days ago when our beloved Tigers began the year with a win over Mike Leach’s team, (which I do not view as a pushover by any means), and that has brought us all something that I, personally have had none of for about two years now:
What I saw in the Auburn football team Saturday night brought me something that a Gene Chizik lead team completely drained out of me over the last two years. What I saw Saturday night was a team that, despite quite a few shortcomings, BELIEVES that they can win. I still maintain that a 6 win season this year is great for us. I’m OK with that. But honestly, I don’t give a two tenths of a rat’s rear end about wins this year. This year is about one thing to me:
I want to see a team that is better than last year’s. I want to see kids out there playing hard, disciplined football and making us all proud. I want to see improvements in fundamentals, attitude, and scheming.
Saturday night, I saw ALL of that.
Saturday night, I saw a complete Auburn football team that gives me great hope for the future. Are we going to challenge Bama for supremacy this year? No way in hell. But you know what? We damn sure will in the future if this keeps up.
I’d like to add a few individual breakdowns of key areas. We’ll break it down into threes:
The secondary is so much better it was just unreal. They were tight on receivers all night, breaking up passes, being physical, and making that poor opposing quarterback have nightmares about Auburn DB’s. Last year, every time our opponents dropped back to pass, I visibly cringed and prepared myself for how horrible it would inevitably be. Saturday night, as I watched the secondary make play after play after play, I began to believe. We intercepted more passes in ONE GAME that night then we did ALL of last year. And most importantly of all, when the game was on the line in the 4th quarter, our entire secondary turned into a bunch of Darelle Revis clones, effectively shutting down the pass. When Tre Mason fumbled the ball, the defense (ESPECIALLY the secondary), came right back into the game and said with authority “WE DON’T THINK SO, BOYS.” Would that have happened last year? I think not. It’s like they left last year and came back better. Of course, everyone here knows how vocal I was in my undying, eternal hatred of Gene Chizik’s horrible, pathetic, (insert string of 4 letter words that would make any longshoreman cringe), defensive scheme. Ellis Johnson has fixed that problem and things will only get better. There were times where it looked like Mike Leach had him totally out-schemed, but that’s not an overly bad thing. That’s like getting dunked over by Michael Jordan, there aren’t many people that can out-scheme the Mad Genius, just like there aren’t many people that can stuff a basketball back in Michael Jordan’s face. The point is, the defense this year looks WORLDS better, except in one key area, which will be brought up later.
As good as the defense was, the offense was not up to par. While they definitely were not bad, there is a LOT of improvement that needs to happen. Even Gus admitted this in the post game interview. For one thing, our receivers seem to have no idea how to catch a football. Some of the problem was 1st game jitters, I’m sure, some of the problem was Nick Marshall’s lack of touch and experience. Someone has to tell him that he doesn’t have to throw a 5 yard pass as hard as he can. I expect Marshall to get better, but if he doesn’t, it’s Wallace time. I was seeing a lot of balls sailing over heads, lots of drops, lots of bad throws. The playcalling was WAY better than last year, (of course that’s not saying much, because my 4 year old could have called a better offense than SL), but the execution wasn’t quite there. Gus was right, improvements are needed or we will lose to ASU next week. Film will be looked at, things will be worked on in practice, and they will get better. Despite all the shortcomings, there were flashes of brilliance. They got better as the game went on, the OL looked MUCH better than last year, and the running game is solid. A few tweaks here and there, and this will be a good offense. Once again, the difference between last year and this year is the HOPE I feel now. I don’t feel hopeless. I feel like the future is bright. I feel like this team can win.
Undoubtedly the WORST component of the night was the linebacker play. Our LB’s are HORRIBLE. Jake Holland WON the starting job in practice, and the fact that he is so bad is scary, because he is supposedly the best of the bunch. They were out of position, taking bad angles, missing tackles, getting run over, basically everything that they could do wrong, they did wrong. Most of the time, pass completions by the opposing team were due to LB’s screwing up. This, to me, is the most glaring weakness we have, and if I were an opposing offensive coordinator, I would be drawing up a thousand plays to create LB/WR matchups for when it was time to play Auburn. This is an area that HAS to improve. I hope they get better, and I don’t blame the coaches. Not yet. They have to work with what they’ve got, and right now the cupboard is bare. Nevertheless, I feel that they at least have a chance to be adequate, once they get some work in. But Saturday night’s performace was the most glaring failure of LB play I’ve seen in a long time. They look just as bad as they did last year, which doesn’t give me a warm fuzzy.
The game is over, and right now I give the team a C plus. We are an average football team right now, but that is not a bad thing. If you look deep, you can see the effect this new coaching staff is having. That, more than anything, is what gives me hope. There is no more of the playing favorites that was Gene Chizik’s horrible personnel management. There is more discipline. There is more work. There are better fundamentals. There is better conditioning. And most importantly, there is a belief in their leader, Coach Malzhan. Some of you might be upset at only a C plus. But……think of where we were last year. Think of the horrible, profanity laced squawking that peppered my rantings……er……columns then. There is your difference. This year, there is improvement. There is discipline. There is talent. And above all, there is HOPE.
In my eyes, after last year, a C plus ain’t so bad, is it?