Going Ugly Early, Often
To say that the Florida game wasn’t very exciting is a disservice to unexciting games in our past and everywhere in CFB in general. ESPN saved a prime-time slot for this? It wasn’t exactly 2008 Auburn 3, Mississippi State 2 unexciting. That’s the gold standard in Tiger tradition as far as that’s concerned. But Saturday, somewhere in the booth early on, some producer decided to liven the party up by aiming the on-field mic in the direction of a pissed-off Will Muschamp and not even that raised the the needle on the fun-o-meter any. Glad it was on cable though. It reminded me so much of the 1989 game, but without the sheer gut-wrenching terror of the last second winning TD drive.
Putting it mildly, the Gators stunk. No QB play worth mentioning, not one dadgum punt handled properly, and an even worse offensive output than the meager one last week. I’ve seen virtually every Florida game at Jordan-Hare the past 26 years and I’ve never seen a worse outing by their team OR the travellers from Hogtown. I’ve always given Florida their due: no one brings the party to JHS like they do, but the fans were uncharacteristically flat and the team was worse. I kind of felt sorry for them, as much as one can have any sympathy for a team that’s won two BCS crowns in the last five years. I guess maybe it’s because I have so many Gator friends. Or perhaps I was just sorrowful of not experiencing the shoot-out I had hoped for.
Maybe the Gators and their fans all knew the inevitable: 0 for SEC West–again, in consecutive seasons. Probably no other statistic now shows the inequity between the divisions now than Florida being 0-6 against the west the past two years. Alabama and LSU enacted a mighty toll from the Gators this year, so we probably owed them a bit for Saturday, right? Not. But Florida’s offensive woes weren’t entirely all their fault. Our defense came to play. You take no prisoners in the SEC. First-string QB out? Too bad. We’re coming after whoever you got. We knew this was a winnable game and we got it. It wasn’t pretty but that doesn’t matter. This time it was the defense’s time to shine and they came up with arguably their best game of the Gene Chizik era.
The defense has flipped the field on our offense now. They are the engine driving this bus. Throw out the national stats. Stop the presses. Our front four are playing as well as they ever have, including when Nick Fairley terrorized the conference last year. Corey Lemonier took a share of the SEC defensive player of the week. He played like a man possessed, as did the whole front line. QB pressure was monumental in Florida never reaching the end zone, but it was backed up with good play from the linebackers and good coverage from the secondary. We finally gelled in a big game. They held the Florida Gators to 194 yards, with about 30 of that coming in garbage time. Yes, like I said earlier, not Florida’s best outing but we’ll still take credit for it, thanks.
As far as the offense, from the stands it was obvious that we were getting no play from our own quarterback position in the first half. I was amazed that so many fans were clamoring for a change. The people wanted Clint Moseley and they got him. We needed wholesale change. Kiehl Frazier is too one-dimensional right now to be the long-term solution, but it’s still amazing that every time he gets the ball, everyone in the stadium knows what’s going to happen but he still manages to average over five yards a carry. I still think Malzahn is saving his arm for LSU and Alabama. We’ll find out this weekend.
Barrett Trotter is absolutely no threat to run and I believe he’s really banged up right now. After re-watching the game on TV Sunday, I realized that Trotter wasn’t totally to blame for the anemic offensive output we started the game with. Regardless, the team needed a massive shift in another direction and I’m glad it was made. Moseley came out with some early jitters, but throwing a few deep for completions did wonders for his confidence. It was also important that one of the first calls was a QB keeper. Malzahn’s offense is built on the predication that the QB is a legitimate running threat, and Moseley provides that–maybe not as much as Frazier does but you also need a legitimate passing threat.
I think the plan for this game was to run Michael Dyer 30+ times but it didn’t happen. In spite of the time of possession being virtually even, the tempo of this game was slower than the past few weeks and we didn’t even run sixty plays. Dyer had to work very hard for his 73 yards. The Gator defense keyed on him, especially in the wildcat. I’m not certain that we can work him as much as he saw in the South Carolina game. In little more than a week, you’ve seen devastating injuries to Oregon’s Lamichael James and to the Gamecock’s Marcus Lattimore. We don’t have to ride him like Bo Jackson in the 80s. We can’t afford for him to get knocked out.
What we can afford is to spread out the carries. Onterio McCalebb had some success Saturday, but he only had ten rushes and one reception. He’s getting a little less than half the carries of Dyer so far this year. Plays by the receivers in this game were sporadic at best. Too many dropped balls and poor route-running for my taste. DeAngelo Benton was the hero one moment and the goat the next. We still need someone to step up. I’m glad they didn’t try and force Emory Blake back in too soon. We’ll sure need him this weekend though.
Assuming he’ll be the starter this weekend and I expect he will, can Clint Moseley be the spark we need to get the offense firing on all eight cylinders again and will it be enough on the road against #1 LSU? If it’s not, can Trotter swallow his pride, come in rejuvenated and do it for us? Can this young defense build on the paradigm shift it’s experienced the past three weeks and give the offense a fighting chance? LSU is an early 22 point favorite, but conventional wisdom is taking Auburn and the points. All we want is the ‘W’, and somewhere at the intersection of our rising defense and waning offense, maybe we could find a heading to give this young team a shot.
All the good Auburn-LSU games get nicknames: the Earthquake game, the Interception game, the Barn-Burner. Here’s to christening another one!
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