The Dirty Dozen – Week 1
Adjusting our expectations of our future lineup
Major Reisman: “One”
Team: “Down to the roadblock, we’ve just begun”
The Dirty Dozen looks at the games that Auburn’s opponents play throughout the season, highlighting points of interest, tendencies and potential issues for their remaining season and their future game against Auburn.
ad·just·ment – n, plural: adjustments – A small alteration or movement made to achieve a desired fit, appearance, or result.
The difference between the SEC and other conferences is environmental. An organism must adapt to changing conditions, often rapidly in order to survive. Five separate conference teams showed that this week as they took either close or tied games into the locker room and emerged with entirely different game plans to play in the second half. Two of those teams even waited until the fourth quarter, but the results were the same. The teams that played late bore little resemblance to what they looked like in the first half, usually on one but sometimes even on both sides of the ball.
John Chavis, Ellis Johnson, Jeremy Pruitt, Kirby Smart and to a lesser extent Dave Wommack (due to the fact the Ole Miss looked worse for longer than any other) all taught a class on defensive adjustments that should be required knowledge for all defensive coaching staffs in the country. Rhett Lashlee and Jake Spavital taught entire graduate level programs in a single evening, but Dan Werner, Cam Cameron and Mike Bobo also displayed why the SEC is the best in the nation. It’s not just the talent level of the athletes. It is also the wealth of coaching talent at all levels that make this conference the epitome of excellence.
It’s the difference between relaxing on a green sward on a pleasant breezy day by a babbling brook with wildlife no more dangerous than a gopher or a garter snake to deal with, and surviving in a steamy southern swamp with assorted tigers, gators, bears and various junkyard dogs all chasing you. It takes an entirely different set of skills to succeed in such a place.
Just ask Bret Beliema.
If you’ve been following this series, you know how this works. But if you’re seeing this for the first time I give a rating for each game based on the table below. I’ll also conduct an analysis of that team’s Efficiency Rating as the season progresses and present to you my comments about last week’s games:
!!! – Best game of the week
!! – Surprisingly good
! – Average to good
? – Why did I watch this?
?? – Who would watch this?
??? – What the hell is this?
ER = Efficiency Rating (see my Cafe Malzahn updated numbers)
If one doesn’t get you, the other one will
Giving ’em Both Barrels Edition
Arkansas (0-1 ER:12) at Auburn (1-0 ER:23) (19 point favorite) AU 45 – Arkansas 21
RATING:!! – A little concerning at first, but the Tigers settled down in the second half.
OFFENSE: Brilliant, in both the new and old versions of the HUNH. Jeremy Johnson had one of the best first halves of any SEC quarterback this first week, including those of Dak Prescott and Kenny Hill. He equaled Dak Prescott in scoring and had a higher completion percentage than Kenny Hill, in addition to having more passing yards than five other SEC starters had in their entire games. Duke Williams also looked outstanding in his first conference game and the potential passing numbers that can be generated by this offense are eye-popping. Nick Marshall returned for the second half and the Auburn offense was as productive as the first half, only with Cameron Artis-Payne having the second best game performance in the conference running the ball, trailing only the record-setting performance of Todd Gurley. The offensive line bulldozed the Arkansas defense all night. Two halves, two quarterbacks, and two outstanding game plans highlight a future for Auburn that is as bright as can be.
DEFENSE: Raise your hand if you felt the Auburn defense was in trouble the first half. You were right, but after a dismal first half Professor X adjusted his X-men and they turned into a brick-wall-qb-harrasin’-monster that held a Razorback team that just racked up 151 rushing yards the first half on only 21 carries (7.19 YPC) to just 2 yards on 8 carries in the second half (0.25 YPC). Not only did Arkansas not score in the second half, they never even crossed their own 40 yard line, gaining only 1 first down on their own (and two by penalty) in the entire second half.
KEY STAT: The Auburn defense surrendered only 51 non-penalty yards the second half, after giving up 270+ the first half.
COMMENTS: While the defensive effort in the first half was difficult to watch, the team that took the field in the second was playing at or near SEC Champion level against a much improved Arkansas team. Inter-division wins are going to be tougher than ever this year, and Auburn has more than any other team in the SEC West. Let’s keep it that way.
Arkansas (0-1 ER:12) at Auburn (1-0 ER:23) (19 point underdog) Arkansas 21 – AU 45
RATING: !! – Good effort in the first half, zero positive adjustment in the second, or after the lightning delay
OFFENSE: Hard to judge this one. Arkansas’s starting front line is bigger than all but 8 or 9 NFL teams, and their first half statistics showed an impressive improvement over last year’s run performance, with more than adequate protection of their quarterback. However, there was a dramatic drop off in performance after halftime, where both the Auburn defensive adjustments and better conditioning began to show. By the end of the game, Brandon Allen was running for his life and the line was at least a step behind on their assignments. His receivers didn’t help as much as they could, but since Brandon only had two seconds to go through his progressions, I don’t know if they could have made a difference or not.
DEFENSE: Poor pass rush, bad decisions by linebackers, large gaps between zone defenders, mismatched man-to-man defenders and bad tackling on all levels spelled a very long day for the Hog defense. 595 yards is more than any Arkansas team has given up since Johnny Football torched them for 712 the year he won the Heisman trophy. There is much room for improvement at Fayetteville and if it doesn’t happen soon, this may be the last year of the Beliema experiment.
KEY STAT: Only 2-11 on third downs, despite having three scoring drives in the first half.
COMMENTS: Next up is Nicholls State, but after that things don’t get any easier for the Hogs for the rest of the season as their other three out-of-conference games are potential ambush scenarios with high-powered offenses (all scored over 42 points this week), and of the rest of their SEC plate, only Mississippi State is unranked (but still managed 49 points in their game). Likelihood of Arkansas regressing from a 3-8 season to 1-11? Very high. One might even say “‘elevated.”
North Dakota (0-1 ) at San Jose State (1-0) (no line) SJSU 42 – ND 10
RATING: ! – An easy, efficient win.
OFFENSE: Fifth year senior Blake Jurich looked sharp in his debut as a starter, leading a balanced attack along with sophomore running back Thomas Tucker adding 81 yards on 20 carries as they rolled over North Dakota. Wideout Tyler Wilson was the star with 10 catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns. The only drawback was Jurich’s tendency to stare down his receivers, but his accuracy more than made up for that quirk as he threaded the needle several times.
DEFENSE: Occasional overpursuit by the linebackers led to some big plays, giving up 10+ yards on several key carries by the undersized ND running backs. Secondary was a little porous, giving up 14 catches to 9 different receivers, but this game was well in control until late when they allowed a final minute touchdown.
KEY STAT: 22-25 passing for 250 yards by Blake Jurich
COMMENTS: Outclassed their Big Sky opponent on several levels, including special teams where WR Tyler Ervin had some big punt returns, one for a touchdown. It will be another story in Jordan-Hare, but I wouldn’t overlook Jurich making some plays. He seems to have a good arm and is mobile enough to make plays on a rollout or scramble.
SF Austin (0-1 ) at Kansas State (1-0) Kansas State 55 – SF Austin 16
RATING: ?? – Outclassed a vastly inferior team for an easy win
OFFENSE: Ran more than they passed, for a steady but not spectacularly balanced performance (4.3 yards per carry) against an FCS team that has never beaten an Big 12 opponent in eight tries.Jake Waters had plenty of protection and completed 68% of his passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns. Only a mid-third quarter interception long after the game was decided marred a rather impressive performance. Kansas State was never challenged and all their starters were on the bench by the 4th quarter.
DEFENSE: Had three sack and nine other tackles for loss against the ineffective SF Austin offense. Gave up several big plays, but not enough to allow SF Austin to threaten the outcome. SF Austin was able to pass against the Wildcats, but only entered the red zone three times, scoring just 10 points. There just wasn’t enough of a challenge to judge whether this is a good team or just a better team than an FCS team with a history of losing records.
KEY STAT: K-State was 8-14 on third down conversions
COMMENTS: It’s hard to judge what kind of team K-State is this year. We’ll likely have no better idea next week after they host an Iowa State team that just got shellacked by North Dakota State 34-14. They’re playing under a legendary coach, have high expectations, a motivated fan base and quality athletes, but until they meet the Tigers, we won’t find out if they can perform like this against a quality opponent.
La Tech (0-1) at Oklahoma (1-0) (38 point underdog) OU 48 – La Tech 16
RATING: ??? – A chance to replace the Oklahoma scout team for a day.
OFFENSE: Managed only 42 yards and a single first down in the first 28 minutes of the game before mounting a single drive for a field goal before halftime to pull within four touchdowns. Nothing worked against Oklahoma’s starters, and very little worked at all until the entire Oklahoma bench was playing late in the game with a 38 point lead.
DEFENSE: Even less worked on the other side of the ball against the high-paced Oklahoma offense which ran and passed with abandon against the overwhelmed Bulldogs. Oklahoma punted only once in the game, late in the 3rd quarter.
KEY STAT: QB Cody Sokol still managed to complete 22 of 36 passes (61.1%) with one interception. Not bad, considering AJ McCarron managed only 63% in the Sugar Bowl (19 of 30) and two interceptions.
COMMENTS: The first of two top ten rated 2013 conference champions for La Tech in the first month of play. The second is Auburn on 27 September. The Bulldogs hosts La Lafayette next week.
Wisconsin (0-1) at LSU (1-0 ER:10)(5 point favorite) LSU 38 – Wisconsin 34
RATING: !!! – Another classic battle in Baton Rouge
OFFENSE: How many times have you heard this one? For three of four quarters, LSU did almost nothing offensively. The Bayou Bengals managed a single big pass play the entire first half and trailed 24-7 on their first possession of the third quarter. The quarterback looked lost, the starting halfback was hitting a brick wall at the line of scrimmage and LSU had just stalled on an offensive three-and-out for the fifth time of the night. Then the Mad Hatter called a fake punt, and the entire game turned around. LSU scored 21 points on the next four possessions and looked amazingly like an SEC contender while doing so. Just another VooDoo win on a rainy night in Tiger Stadium.
DEFENSE: Looked porous and out of position to stop the Wisconsin running game for most of three quarters. Looked confused in the second and third quarters as the Badgers started to balance their attack. Then shut out Wisconsin for three three-and-outs and two interceptions in the final 5 Badger possessions. A masterful adjustment by John Chavis and a gradual wearing down of a quality opponent.
KEY STAT: Wisconsin QB Tanner McEvoy accomplished only 8 completions in 24 attempts in his first start.
COMMENTS: The Mad Hatter strikes again. It would be overly optimistic to rule LSU out based upon the first three quarters of this game. As bad as it seemed offensively, the defense made Wisconsin earn every yard, and then shut the door while scratching out a quality win against a ranked opponent. They have four more home games against non-rated opponents to work the early season kinks out before going on the road to Jordan-Hare in October.
Southern Miss (0-1) at Miss State (1-0 ER:30)(30 point favorite) Miss State 49 – So Miss 0
RATING:??? – A complete mismatch
OFFENSE: Dak Prescott’s best game in his career and the best passing total of any Mississippi State quarterback in nearly five years. He hit his receivers short, long and with confidence as the Bulldogs rolled over a completely out-manned Southern Miss team. Junior Josh Robinson added 87 yards on 14 carries in addition to 49 yards receiving, and Nick Griffen powered into the endzone on a 2 yard dive as the team cruised against a team that has lost 24 of their last 25 games.
DEFENSE: Pitched a shutout, but still gave up 283 yards, 212 through the air. Southern Miss only earned two first downs in the first half and only penetrated the Miss State red zone once, only to have a Field Goal attempt blocked and returned by Miss State for a touchdown. Otherwise, Miss State looked a little weak on underneath coverage, but that was only in comparison to the opponent they faced. Too soon to tell for sure if this defense has deep faults.
KEY STAT: 2 turnovers – Dak Prescott threw a single interception and a mishandled ball got away.
COMMENTS: Dak Prescott looked very good in his first start as a Junior. He’s rapidly developed into a confident and dangerous SEC quarterback with a high upside of size, mobility and improving accuracy. It remains to be seen if this is his year as the schedule is filled with ranked teams.
TAMU (1-0 ER:20) at South Carolina (0-1 ER:9) (10 point underdog) USC 28 – TAMU 52
RATING: !! – If only for the surprise value
OFFENSE: Manhandled at the line of scrimmage, the Gamecocks couldn’t establish any run production and except for a couple of deep touchdown passes had a rough start passing the ball. Then it turned ugly. An increasingly harried Dylan Thompson looked worse and worse as the game spun out of control, and the offensive line spent most of their time on the turf watching their quarterback run for his life. Double teaming down linemen left them unavailable to stop blitzing linebackers. Very poor blocking all game long. Otherwise Nick Jones looks like a dangerous receiver deep.
DEFENSE: Another mismatched line couldn’t apply any appreciable pressure on Kenny Hill and the linebackers were repeatedly out of position for either short passes, screens or the inside run game. Completely baffled by the Texas A&M offense. Coverage seemed tight, but every single play seemed to have one receiver unaccounted for, and Kenny Hill made them pay dearly. A very poor performance.
KEY STAT: Gamecocks went 2 for 9 on 3rd down conversions. The yellow flag had twice as many (4) just on 3rd down interference penalties called against TAMU
COMMENTS: If it wasn’t for that gaping hole over the middle of the TAMU defense, this game would have been a lot worse. It’s hard to ding QB Dylan Thompson for his 50% completion rate, as half the time he was forced to throw due to pressure (and took repeated crushing hits as he did so). When there was blocking the running backs Wilds and Davis looked good. But 90% of the time the offense and defensive lines just looked bad. Spurrier has a lot of work to do before playing any other SEC teams or this will be one of his worst seasons as a coach.
Boise State (0-1 ) at Ole Miss (1-0 ER:21) (10 point favorite) BSU 13 – Ole Miss 35
RATING: ! – Shaky start against an inferior team, but closed well
OFFENSE: Bo Wallace threw 13 for 18 completions in the first half with good protection and plenty of time. Unfortunately, three of those were to three different Boise State defenders. Other pass completions were by virtue of the excellent hands of Cody Core and Laquon Treadwell, who both had over 100 yards receiving. Many throws were behind, short or high to his receivers. Running the ball was by committee, but there wasn’t a significant commitment to it. Hugh Freeze was definitely trying to give Bo a chance to air it and work out the early season jitters. The result was a very shaky start but improvement late in the game, which is probably why he did this against an unranked opponent.
DEFENSE: While the defensive line showed itself to be a force, linebacker and secondary play was less than stellar. Of the 135 yards surrendered on the ground, 69 of them were on three 20+ yard runs where the linebackers were well out of position. In coverage, they were even worse as 26 completions went to a running back or slot receiver on underneath and dump routes. Surrendered a whopping 26 first downs, although they kept Boise State out of the endzone for much of the game.
KEY STAT: Ole Miss had 10.8 yards per pass play. If it weren’t for the interceptions, this would have been a blowout.
COMMENTS: Despite the final score, this was an ugly game with some troubling faults that will be exploited by the bulk of the SEC West if not fixed soon. Hugh Freeze’s team can score when they get down to business and Wallace can be a good quarterback, but you’d be hard pressed to prove it the first three quarters of this game.
TAMU (1-0 ER:20) at South Carolina (0-1 ER:9) (10 point favorite) TAMU 52 – USC 2
RATING: !! – We have a new media darling – Kenny Hill
OFFENSE: Didn’t miss a beat since the departure of Johnny Football. Kenny Hill looked amazing, but how much of that was simply time in the pocket (measured in centuries) or throwing high-percentage short passes is hard to tell. There were 12 different receivers in the game that caught passes, but a third of them (14) went to only one – Malcome Kennedy. The next best, Josh Reynolds caught 6, and five others caught just one each. Since the Gamecock secondary didn’t bother to tackle, the after-catch yardage gained inflated the numbers a bit. But it was still damned impressive.
DEFENSE: This is not last year’s defensive line. Time and again the young TAMU down linemen blew through blocks and pressured Thompson into bad throws before drilling him into the turf. Well coached linebackers timed their blitzes perfectly and were adept at moving to the ball on run plays. A vast improvement on the weak link of the 2013 team. However, there is a hole in the TAMU defense just beyond the linebackers underneath the safeties. When he had time, Thompson hit this repeatedly for big gains or touchdowns.
KEY STAT: Only 2 punts by TAMU.
COMMENTS: Neither team played at their preseason ranking. TAMU looked every bit the top ten team (if not top 5) and South Carolina will likely drop to the low 20s. This is why the game is played – every single prognosticator had the Gamecocks competing for an invitation to Atlanta and TAMU languishing in the lower half of the SEC West. That assessment will now have to include the fact that Kevin Sumlin is a heck of a coach even without Johnny Football.
Clemson (0-1) at Georgia (1-0 ER:21) (7 point favorite) UGA 45 – Clemson 21
RATING: !! – A similar score to the Auburn – Arkansas game, but a different story
OFFENSE: Sputtered early, although they matched scores with Clemson until halftime, with the help of Gurley’s 55 yards on four carries and a 100-yard-tailights-to-daylight speed run through the Clemson special teams. In the second half Georgia started to move the ball, but it really erupted in the fourth. It was all Gurley as he torn through the Clemson defense for 105 yards and two scores on just 4 carries. Georgia couldn’t miss as they began to rout the visiting Tigers. Hutson Mason was productive, but hardly overwhelming as he completed 18 for 26 for only 131 yards. Michael Bennett had a couple of big catches, but most of the others were high-percentage short passes. This may be a one-dimensional team behind a quality running back, outstanding as he is.
DEFENSE: Looked out of position and open to big plays early on, allowing a whopping 135 yards passing on just 8 completions in the second quarter alone. But did snag an important interception. However, after halftime Jeremy Pruitt’s defense shut the door, allowing 0 net yards on the ground and only 15 through the air for the entire second half. This was one of the best defensive performances in 30 minutes of play that Georgia has ever accomplished – just as impressive as Gurley’s nearly 300 all-purpose yards.
KEY STAT: The Dawgs recorded four sacks on Clemson’s last twelve plays under center (four three-and-outs).
COMMENTS: The Dawgs never quit, and they showed just as convincing a turnaround on defense as LSU or Auburn. Gurley is a beast of a runner and showed tremendous promise. Nick Chubb showed some speed too as he also scored in the fourth on a 47-yard jaunt through the tired Clemson defense. The only drawback is that Hutson Mason is no Aaron Murray, and it showed. Georgia really needed a deep threat in that game and Mason just couldn’t seem to deliver.
Samford (0-1) at TCU (1-0) (no line) Samford 14 – TCU 48
RATING: ??? – Another early season mismatch
OFFENSE: Dismal. Crossed the 50 yard-line only twice in the first half, and scoring only once after falling behind 24-0. The passing game was ineffective, completing only a few passes, before sacks and an interception closed the book on that dimension. Never threatened at all in the second half as the Bulldogs only achieved a single first down, by virtue of a penalty. Their only other score was a 55-yard pick six.
DEFENSE: Had an early sack and that 55-yard pick six for a touchdown. Those were the only defensive highlights of the game as the Bulldogs surrendered 555 yards to TCU in an absolute rout. TCU did punt five times, mostly due to their own issues than anything the Bulldogs managed.
KEY STAT: 9 first downs all game long. Only 1 in the second half.
COMMENTS: Head Coach Pat Sullivan did not travel with the team as he is recovering from neck surgery. We wish Pat a speedy recovery so that he can direct his team to victories in every remaining game save the one in Jordan-Hare.
West Virginia (0-1) at Alabama (1-0 ER:12) (26 point favorite) Alabama 33 – WVU 23
RATING: ! – Efficient against an unrated team, but a relatively narrow win.
OFFENSE: Alabama ran and passed the ball well against a scrappy West Virginia defense and put up some big numbers, but it wasn’t nearly the breakout win they were expecting. The Mountaineers actually made a few coverage adjustments that negatively impacted Blake Sims’ efficiency in the second half. Otherwise, the Pro-set served them well and they ended up with more rushing yards than they had in all but two games last year. Sims threw for 250 yards, well above the Tide’s average.
DEFENSE: Defensively, it seemed that Bama toyed with West Virginia for three quarters, then shut the door hard in the fourth. The Moutaineers rushed for -20 yards in the entire second half and even though the Tide gave up over 200 yards through the air, West Virginia were only able to score on two field goals.
KEY STAT: 538 yards of total offense and yet ended four drives kicking field goals? Bama lacked momentum at key points in the game.
COMMENTS: Marking this as anything more than early season jitters would be a mistake. Bama had a much better start this year than last year’s yawn fest against Virginia Tech, but it seemed a bit underwhelming of a win, especially with the other actions around the league. There is much talk that Alabama might lose that preseason #2 ranking over this, but I say absolutely not. They’re still the second best team,… in the state.
Cafe Malzahn numbers for Week 1
Of all the SEC teams, Mississippi State played the most efficient game. Surprisingly, TAMU wasn’t nearly as impressive on defense as they appeared in the game. I was quite surprised that their numbers didn’t show what I thought was a superb performance. There were some troubling aspects of their game with South Carolina that didn’t jive with the score. Likewise, LSU played as badly as Vanderbilt did in a loss, statistically speaking, only awakening to win in the fourth quarter.
Florida’s game was postponed of course, but the two surprising performances in the East were Kentucky and Tennessee. Missouri had significant trouble on both sides of the ball, and despite Gurley’s play, Georgia showed only mediocre numbers on offense. However, it’s too soon to tell if these are accurate or just first game nerves.
The first week of these Flying Tigers is over, and the prospects for the future couldn’t be brighter. The schedule is packed with quality teams that will both challenge and yet serve as well publicized victories in the race for the playoffs. This team has the potential to really achieve something special this year.
The Flying Tigers was the name given to American Volunteer Group fighting for the Chiang Kai-shek government during late 1941 and the first half of 1942 when they were incorporated in to the US Army Air Corps. Pilots were paid a contractual salary that was three to five times what they would earn in any of the air arms of the US military. There were ‘rumors’ they might earn a bonus of $500 for every Japanese plane downed during operations. Evidently it worked to entice some of the military’s best pilots. In independent combat operations until July 1942 the AVG shot down Japanese planes at a 15-1 ratio, better than any other Allied unit in the entire Pacific Theater at the time.